You were already very successful as a child. Did you feel good?
Kelly: My parents’ alternative lifestyle of living in a bus or a double-decker boat was something special. I didn’t go to regular school and I don’t have long-term friends, but I’m very grateful that I was able to absorb music with my mother’s milk. As a child, the stage was my playground as the sandbox was for others. Later, in the 1990s, it took on incredible proportions with thousands of children screaming in front of the stage. It was something of a phenomenon like The Beatles and boy bands, and this mass hysteria could also be terrifying.
What stopped you then?
Kelly: The fact that I was surrounded by numerous brothers and sisters certainly had a positive effect. The family network protected me to some extent. However, like many young people in their early twenties, I fell into a kind of life crisis in which I also had suicidal thoughts. That’s when I decided to do psychotherapy. The therapist did not identify any clear depression or serious mental illness. But I was burnt out and lost somewhere in the hype. Therapy helped me to organize my feelings and thoughts in order to better understand myself. My mother’s death when I was five certainly affected me. It was good to get it all sorted out. But probably the strongest support I received was the faith I found during that time. Although it doesn’t sound very modern in an age when yoga and Zen meditation are all the rage, the Bible answered many existential questions that plagued my mind: Who am I? where should i go? What’s the point of all this? That started the process that later led me to the monastery.
How did you become a monk?
Kelly: It started with several stays in the monastery, which lasted from a few days to a few weeks. I searched for the truth of my life and I realized: there is something in these places that you cannot order online or buy in a supermarket. I say “God” to that. It was a source of true peace and deep fulfillment. It worked like a magnet for me. Then I entered the monastery in 2004.
How much of a culture shock was it in the beginning?
Kelly: It was radical because there I had to undergo a completely new way of life. Take off your hair, get used to it, no women, no money, almost no music. But sometimes you have to let go of everything you’re holding on to to get to the heart of the matter. At first, silence and prayer were absolutely terrifying because, as a musician, I was constantly distracted by song inspirations. But after a while I found that removing all material things and worldly noise was worth its weight in gold.
What did you take with you from your monastery days?
Kelly: In the monastery, I did not become a completely different person, but a more organized, grounded and happy person. Also more resilient. Once you’ve taken the step to relinquish all claims to yourself, nothing will get you out of your head so quickly. Prayer is still a part of my everyday life and from that time I brought with me an awareness of gratitude. A grateful person is happier. If you continue to give thanks for the good things that happen, then the problems are put into perspective. The focus remains on the positive, you are more capable of acting. In the monastery, I also learned mindfulness exercises that I like to do in the morning. It helps keep me sane in these crazy times.
The songs on your new album are based on true stories. Your reaction to the current tough times?
Kelly: Songs can definitely counterbalance the bad news we are bombarded with every day. There’s also a lot of good news that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. That’s why I wanted to release an album with real stories that have a positive ending. The name of the album B•O•A•T•S stands for Based On A True Story. These are true, beautiful stories that have inspired me as a songwriter and that can give people courage and – I hope – hope.
How much are you looking forward to your tour in September?
Kelly: I feel like a racehorse squirming in the starting box (laughs). I can’t wait for it to finally start. During the pandemic, we realized how much we miss celebrating. If we can’t sing, dance, celebrate and even cry when he touches us, then we will collapse. I see it as an artist’s job to give people an outlet for their emotions. Pharmacists and doctors ensure our health, police and fire brigade our safety. We musicians are responsible for feelings. That’s why I’m looking forward to the concerts and I’ll do everything so that people have joy, comfort, hope and a lot of fun.
Thanks for the interview!
The questions were asked by Rüdiger Freund.
Read here why Michael Patrick Kelly needs espresso and schnapps.