Let’s Go Pistachio: Interview with Musical Artist Kelli Welli
“Let’s Go Pistachio” is a new album by family friendly musical artist Kelli Welli that is filled with fifteen original and humorous songs with a country edge. The album was just released, and the googly-eyed special edition CD is available via Bandcamp and KelliWelli.com.
Kelli Welli is the stage name of Kelli Caldwell, a songwriter and visual artist who was lauded with a 2020 National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Award and the West Coast Songwriters International Song Contest, among other accolades. Kelli wears funny hats at her concerts which contain unique interactive elements. In January 2021, she plans to engage her fans virtually with more live-streamed events while she also stays busy recording new music for her next “Americana” album aimed at grownups. Kelli worked as a clown and a magazine publicist before turning to music. Based in Portland, Kelli is the mother to 7-year-old twins who inspire her.
She recently discussed her career via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the family genre?
Kelli Welli (KW): I honestly didn’t realize until looking back how important a role music has always played in my life. I think it was just always there, like a close friend. The first movies I saw were musicals, I remember what was playing on the radio on the day I decided to run away (down to the end of the driveway) when I was seven, and I was obsessed with my “Grease,” “Annie,” and “West Side Story” albums. I have a solid soundtrack of memories for my young life. When I was in college and on a road trip with my boyfriend at the time. He said, “Hey, let’s write a song!” and I thought he was just being silly, so I said, “Okay!” and then belted out a ridiculous song about the stinky pulp mill we were driving past — but the words and melody came out at the same time, and they totally worked! With a hook and everything. He said, “How’d you do that?” and I said, “I have no idea…” and laughed it off. But I spent the next decade experimenting and writing hundreds of songs a cappella in my car. That was my start in songwriting. I write in a lot of genres, but one of the first songs I finished was a kids’ song called, “Tacos, Bananas, and Toy Boats,” because I had an 8-year-old brother at the time. It ended up being one of the first songs we recorded years later for kids and it’s a favorite in our live shows. I started really focusing on the kids’ genre when I had my own kids, twins, 7 years ago. They really inspire and we actually write songs together — it’s such a wonderful thing to share with them.
MM: What led you start making music professionally and how did your previous careers as a clown and publicist help you in this field?
KW: I was definitely influenced by my mom being an artist and my dad, as well, who is an oil painter in Idaho and a conga player. They were starving artists, yes, but they were doing it, so I grew up just expecting that you “do something” with your art. And I had a make-believe “business” of my own starting at age 6, so I think it was inevitable that I would be entrepreneurial, I just didn’t know it would be focused on music and publishing (writing and design combined). I think my drive to write songs has a lot to do with my drive to tell stories. The craft of songwriting, the specifics of the word choices, really matter to me.
My past work in marketing and PR work helps me think that about my own business. One of the fundamentals of marketing is to self-analyze your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats… that requires honesty with oneself and it can be hard for people to do. But it’s also so important when figuring out how to focus your energy and resources to progress in your small business, be it music or any other industry. That along with identifying goals and target market. That lingo feels like a very separate world from the creative side, where you’re driven by inspiration and a desire to create something meaningful, but self-promotion is necessary these days to evolve from hobby to career.
MM: How did you come up with the fifteen songs on this new album and which do you think is the funniest?
KW: Most of the songs on this album were inspired by or written for kids and friends in my life, including my own kids, Ryan and Kira, and my friends’ kids. They’re expressions of love, really. I wrote “The Smilers” to honor a family of friends who have always seemed to keep laughing and smiling through the toughest of times. They came in to sing backup and clap for the recording — their first time in a recording studio and it was a blast!
I wrote “Kickin’ It with My Chicken” and “Can’t Find My Appendix” for two of my best family friends’ kids. Max was 8 when he lost his appendix, so I wrote him a song. Then I asked his little sister if I could writer her a song, so she wanted it to be about her chicken.
“She’s So Bright” was initially inspired by a young gal I used to know when she got a new wheelchair, I think it was donated by a community org. It’s not so much about her as the first line was inspired by just seeing how bright she was at that moment. But it’s really about female empowerment and meeting challenges with positivity, just happens to be the main character has a physical disability.
Several of the songs came right out of the daily business of being a mom, like “Peanut, Pinenut,” “Jumpin’ Beans,” and “Growing Like a Stringbean,” all came out of my attempts to teach my kids about healthy food choices (not that they’re always eating healthy, but I’m still trying… notice there is not a song on the album about noodles, because that’s what they would eat for every meal if they could). “Let’s Go, Pistachio” came to me while trying to get the kids out the door. “The Waiting Song” and “We’re Almost There” also came during new-mom moments.
I think funniest song goes to “Tinkle Tinkle Toot,” which is so fun to play live. It’s hilariously awesome to make tooting sounds into a live microphone and watch big and little people’s reactions. And then it’s extra awesome to blame it on my bandmate or some dad in the audience. But it’s also fun to know there is parenting purpose in the song, which was inspired by two books we loved and used when my kids were potty training, Michael Dahl’s Duck Goes Potty and Leslie Patricelli’s Potty.
MM: How did the coronavirus change things for your concerts?
KW: Honestly, the quarantine meant a sudden halt to my music career for many months. And I felt desperate about it at times. I had to just stop and get my kids through distance learning in the spring. And I know this has been the case for so many more women out there than men. Women have taken the brunt of career sacrifice for the sake of our children.
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten so far and what has been the highlight of your career?
KW: I’m comparatively new in my music career. The thing that drives me with kids’ songwriting is the idea that some little kids are singing my songs and feeling inspired or believed in. It would be amazing to find out some day they remembered one of my songs. I was really thrilled last year, though, to be a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition and to become a new member of the Recording Academy. I’m hoping to help be part of its more diverse and transparent direction. Folks tell me that my songs have made them laugh out loud, that the lyrics have depth, and that my lullabies have made them cry. It’s so meaningful to know your art has reached someone on an emotional level. Best thing from a little fan though was probably getting a songbook from a gal who had been starting to write songs herself — what an honor to receive that.
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
KW: I hope that investments in professional PR will help establish my music in the places where people discover new music and become familiar with mine. I’d love to record several more albums and to become a more active part of the kindie music community in Portland and beyond. They’re great people!
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
KW: I would love to continue progressing with my children’s and other music, writing for the people I love and sharing songs I’ve written over the years. I would also love to have a children’s book published, as I also love picture books and have written some manuscripts. I would just like to encourage moms and women out there who are trying to figure out how to manage parenting and career, as well as the challenges women still face trying to have equal opportunity in the world. The last four years have been shocking and disturbing in so many ways, but they’re also awoken a renewed vigor to stand up and speak out and strive to overcome. It feels like a pivotal time and we can do this if we women work together!
Download Kelli Welli’s “Pick-a-Song and Play Along” fortune teller style paper folding craft from this link HERE and enjoy the instructional music video. To watch her new music video, click here and her album can be heard here. Each panel suggests a fun family activity to go with each of the songs on “Let’s Go, Pistachio!” Fans may connect with Kelli on Instagram and Facebook via @kelliwellikids Her website is www.kelliwelli.com