Speaking via cell phone before a Friday-night performance at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Arizona, Kelly, the Samples' frontman, listens calmly to the opinions of his former bandmate, Jeep Macnichol, shared in last week's Beatdown. "None of this stuff," he insists, "is going to ruin the feelings that I had while playing with him and what I feel is within that person. I think he's a great guy."
Still, you don't have to be a licensed audiologist to find the trace amounts of underlying emotion that color Kelly's voice, not to mention his own perception of events past.
"On Outpost, I still stand by the fact that 'Did You Ever Look So Nice' was planned as a single long before any decisions were made," Kelly says, in response to Macnichol's claim that 'Big Bird,' one of his compositions, was slated to be the first Outpost single until Kelly balked. "That was specifically because we re-recorded that song even though it was on our No Room album, based on the fact that it never saw its day in the sun. And I felt at the time that it totally represented the Samples. And we all wrote that song together. So I don't know why that could be misconstrued as a Sean song. I just wrote the words to it. We all created music together."
Macnichol, who left the band seven years ago, claims that "Sean threw a fit and screamed at the record company, screamed at our manager and made a huge stink until his song -- a song that he had written -- ended up getting chosen as the single." But Kelly insists the problems were bigger than one song.
"There were far more sour things happening during that recording," Kelly recalls. "We had insane behavior going on in the recording studio between myself, Jeep and a producer named Walt Beery. It was so nasty that I couldn't even let it out, because it could be very damaging. We were just fighting; it was horrible. There was no discussing singles on any level that would have warranted my behavior to stomp around and make a record company do this or that. I was being very, very kind to Jeep during his departure. Back when that happened, we had some outside influences that were insanely negative. And I stripped myself of them. I thought I was being very kind with that. So I don't know why that would have stirred something up with Jeep. And he chose to leave -- that's the irony of it, you know."
Seven years later, Kelly still sounds perplexed. "I've definitely sensed a lot of bitterness from Jeep personally for the last few years," he offers. "To me, I don't hold anything bitter with those guys whatsoever, or how things went. I've got a career going here. It's going great. We're touring."
Kelly and his new compadres are playing six to seven nights a week, all across the country. But given that Kelly is the only original member of the Samples, doesn't he feel a bit opportunistic touring under the Samples moniker?
"I am the Samples," he responds. "I've written 99 percent of the songs. We've played with tons of different musicians over the years. I mean, it's like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But we've continued. And we've been quite successful, actually."
Sure enough. Since Macnichol and keyboardist Al Laughlin left the band in 1997, Kelly and company have released ten albums (four of which are live recordings). But over the years, more than the lineup has changed. Kelly says he's experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth, probably the result of "350-plus hours of therapy." When the Dave Matthews Band, which the Samples had taken under their wing early on, really took off (leaving the Samples behind), Kelly struggled with feelings of bitterness and frustration, which accounts for some of the erratic stage behavior that Macnichol mentioned.
"Yes, there was an enormous amount of stress that happened around the time Dave Matthews broke, because we were helping those guys out like you wouldn't believe," Kelly confesses. "We took them on the road with us. We took them to Boston. We took them all over the country. And we interjected them into our music. We even had Boyd Tinsley play on one of our albums. We were very close. But our manager was closer to their manager, Coran Capshaw, than we were. And he started stripping us away from it. I could see where it was going, and it became very frustrating. And to be honest, yes, I did not know where to put my frustration.