Artist on the Edge

Kelly Yaksich takes his music off the map

Published in 2006 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2006

Mixed reactions are nothing new to attorney Kelly Yaksich. A consultant for the Poorman-Douglas Corporation by day, Yaksich is an ultra-creative electronic ambient music composer by night, recording under the name Kelly David.

“My little sister thinks my music is scary,” says Yaksich. “At Halloween, she decorates her porch with corpses and plays it in the background to frighten the neighborhood kids. I don’t think it’s scary. I think it’s about tension and release, about taking people on a journey for 65 or 70 minutes.”

Denver’s Westword newspaper doesn’t find it frightening, either, and named his first CD, an ambient-electrotribal adventure called Broken Voyage, one of the best local albums of 2002. All Music Guide called Broken Voyage “one of the best debut albums — regardless of genre — ever.”

Yaksich’s musical perspective has never been what you’d call mainstream. He dreamed of writing the great American symphony in junior high school and had a Zappa-inspired band called the Tasty Rats in high school that admittedly “wasn’t gig quality.” Even after he enrolled at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati to study composition, he stayed true to his own style. Perhaps that’s why his stint there was short-lived.

“I knew I had hit the peak of my music career at the Conservatory when my sophomore recital, a musique concrete [music produced from editing together fragments of natural and industrial sounds] piece with tape loops, was received with a large round of boos,” he says. “On the one hand, I realized I had arrived; on the other hand, there was that social needing to belong, and I was definitely going to be an outsider.”

Yaksich recalls passing his freshman composition teacher in the hall after the recital. “He was a kind, elderly gentleman who looked at me like I had just taken a crap in the hallway. I knew I was finished there.”

So Yaksich dropped out of school and jumped on the radio trail, beginning a 17-year DJ spree that began in Cincinnati and eventually took him to Louisville, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Dallas, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Honolulu and Philadelphia. Along the way, he settled long enough to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and a law degree at Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia.

The broadcast background helped him land his first gig out of school at a Washington, D.C., law firm that specialized in communications law. Two and a half years later, he took a job as a staff attorney at the Federal Communications Commission, where he specialized in resolving administrative law disputes. Still, something was missing.

That something was no mystery to Yaksich. He began acquiring electronic equipment and writing once again. “It just kind of came back,” he says. But he had to unlearn all his academic training, to “throw off the shackles and write things in an intuitive way.” He realized “that all the bars in music were really prison bars for me in many ways in how I approached music. I really was in jail creatively and it was a jail of my own making.”

Through the process, he found himself drawn to a style of electronic ambient music that fit a more minimalist approach to classical music. “It was slower,” he says, “and it totally flamed when I moved out west here to Denver. The light and the space of the West really fueled my perception on what I was writing and helped guide me.”

In 2002, Yaksich released Broken Voyage, a collection of songs inspired by a cache of memoirs he found at the Denver Public Library. The memoirs were written between 1890 and 1938 by men who would go on wild sea voyages in the South Pacific visiting desolate little islands in search of evidence of cannibalism.

“The memoirs were interesting,” Yaksich says, “because these voyages were always bad. These guys ended up sick as hell on boring islands, with a boat that was screwed up. That’s what the album is really about — these broken voyages.”

Yaksich plans to release his second CD, Angkor, this year. Like the first, he says, it sort of “laps at the edge of consciousness and tries to explore what happens when you’re halfway between awake and asleep.” Though he’s thrilled and amazed when people buy his CDs, Yaksich isn’t in it for the money. “For me,” he says, “the most important thing is to leave a body of work. The easiest form at the moment is releasing CDs.”

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