Poised for Takeoff

Wild Blue Yonder, clockwise from top: Liam Kelly, Benito Contouris, Joe Hodges, Eli Alfieri, Dan Sawyer and Betsy Schmeler.

Liam Kelly, Lavina Avenue, a Mt. Lebanon High School senior, is the bass player for Wild Blue Yonder, which was chosen for WYEP’s Reimagination Project 7. The project helps young musicians grow by putting them together with experienced mentors and producing one of their songs.

After the group passed the audition for the program, WYEP paired the ensemble with producer Sean McDonald and recording engineer Dana Cannone, who guided them this spring in recording a song at the Church Studio in Mt. Oliver.
“We did a sort of psychedelic pop song called Storms on Jupiter, and Dana and Sean brought some new ideas to the table,” Kelly recalls. “They showed us how to work through ideas and to make it more commercial.”

Liam Kelly has been using his musical talent since fourth grade, when he played saxophone in the Lincoln School concert band. At Jefferson Middle School, fine arts teacher Krista Wagner encouraged his efforts in the jazz band. He has played baritone sax in the high school’s concert band under Jason Cheskawich and will join the wind ensemble this year. He’s also taken music theory with Ethan LaPlaca.

But he’s always been drawn to the bass guitar. “There’s just something about it; it’s the tonal center of the band,” he said.

He met one of Wild Blue Yonder’s guitarists in a jazz workshop at Duquesne University last summer and learned that the band was looking for a bass player. Although the other members lived in other parts of the city, they began to rehearse together and played at various venues nearly every weekend, including outdoor fairs, house parties and Mr. Small’s in Millvale.

The Reimagination Project page on the WYEP website describes the band as having a “collaborative focus and drive they share to create songs. They love the feeling of playing music and using it as a language to have conversations with one another.”

Kelly describes Wild Blue Yonder’s creative process as musical brainstorming, where someone brings in the beginnings of a song and “there are no bad ideas.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has upended the group’s plans to record a full album of original music and postponed performance opportunities that came with the WYEP award.

Once the lockdown eases, Kelly expects that Wild Blue Yonder will continue to play in and around Pittsburgh. As for himself, he hopes to pursue different types of music as well: jam bands, psychedelic, jazz, indie rock and others. He sees his bass playing as just another step in what he expects will be a lifetime exploration of music.

“Music is an impossibly deep subject,” he said. “I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.”