INTERVIEW: Keelan X –
Hi Keelan, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Thank you!! My pleasure! I’m doing well. Today feels good. Maybe it because I just got back in from a hot yoga class on this May bank holiday Monday. I’m still sweating! Is that too much information!? : ) Also, I finally got to spend some time writing some new material over the weekend so I’m really pleased about that as with all the activity around the single and general life stuff I hadn’t been finding the bandwidth to write.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “These Days”?
These Days is a song I wrote in August 2021 and then finished off the final production, mixing and mastering in March 2022. I worked with engineer/producers Julian Chown, London and later with Dave Skelton in Galway to bring the song to fruition. They are awesome guys, deeply passionate about doing what’s right for the song and artist. So, the song itself has been on a bit of a journey! It started off as a lick on an acoustic guitar and an accompanying bass line but it has grown arms and legs since then as we layered in synths etc. Musically the sound is bit of a nod to 1980s production. It’s got some Juno-60 and Prophet-6 snyth sounds, chorus-rich guitars, a Linn drum machine etc. But these are very much part of the modern sonic landscape anyway so it’s both contemporary and a bit of an 80s throwback. In a way it’s my little homage to that era.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
I’m not sure if this event inspired the song but I certainly wrote and recorded the song after a surf accident in the West of Ireland that left me with a scar under my eye. Six stitches, concussion and some whiplash later I recorded the initial version with Julian Chown at his home studio on Kings Road about two weeks after the accident. I was feeling kinda contemplative I suppose as I had to rest up for a week or so. I would have read a lot of magazines, newspaper articles around the time and watched some tv so a few themes were milling around my mind. Naturally, when you pick up the guitar some of these ideas are going to spill out.
What was the concept of the video for the track?
I had a whole treatment for the video written which was thrown out the window on the day of shooting! I had just flown in from Mexico City the night before so prep time was non-existent…we were really winging it as the pre-production time was negligible given the shoe-string budget. The Director of Photography, Brian O’ Carroll is an auld pal of mine and has a lot of experience. He also lives in NY so knew locations we could use. On the morning of the shoot, we jumped in the production van and shot down around FDR Drive & The Bowery with the Statue of Liberty in the background. It was a sunny (though chilly!) day; the light was good so what we were getting on camera with natural light was working. Hence, we chucked a whole indoor apartment scene we had in mind. It felt right to just shoot impromptu on the street and capture a vibe so we went with that flow. We shot the video in one day around various locations in lower Manhattan. The resultant video is light-touch, playful and alludes to the themes in the song.
The single comes off your new album – how’s that coming along? Any title in mind?
It’s coming along great. I have at least 14-15 tracks recorded by now…I’m not sure which ones will make it onto the final album as I’m still writing and evolving my sound. Also, everyone’s telling me just to keep releasing singles to build an audience… many people consume music this way nowadays, right. I’m aiming to build a bit of a fan base so the idea is to release 3 or 4 singles between now and when the album drops.
As regards the title… Jeez, I have about a half-dozen in mind but I probably won’t decide on the final title until the day before it’s going to print. I’m a bit last-minute when it comes to things like that. I’ve commitment issues in that way! I do like to keep my options open ‘till the walls of a deadline are closing in on me. I’m a big advocate of Parkinson’s Law time management principle as you can see!
How was the recording and writing process?
I started back recording music in early 2021 for the first time in over 10 years so I’ve had to relearn the trade. I did what I knew at first, which was writing on a guitar. I’m now writing on a snyth mostly or back and forth between a guitar, synth and bass. I feel like I’ve arrived at my sound after several months of experimentation and recording in different studios and working with different engineers and producers.
Thankfully the engineers I have worked with are skilled musicians also so I don’t play everything but I do play a lot of the parts. The writing process is a little slower I find as a solo artist than being in a band. You have to work out a lot of the parts yourself and you lose that bit of spontaneity you get when you’re in a band. It’s one of the reasons I like to write on the spot in the studio as the engineer is at hand and can capture the parts without me having to think it all through beforehand. It simulates that spontaneity you get when you’re playing in a band.
How has Tears for Fears and Giorgio Moroder influenced your writing?
I think a lot of the modern bands and artists (e.g. The Weeknd) owe a lot to the acts and production in the 80s. I’m a big fab of bands like Tears for Fears, Prefab Sprout, Frankie Goes to Hollywood etc for both the songwriting and the production. I’m very much into detail of the song craft, the multi tracking of each instrument and the high-end production. All these bands worked with great producers to achieve their sound. Giorgio Moroder I admire as both a producer and a songwriter… He’s produced some seminal work…. the Midnight Express soundtrack, Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, Phil Oakey’s ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ etc. I read that Duran Duran got to work with him on their latest album…lucky sods!
What is it about the 80s that you find so fascinating?
It’s a combination of things that interest me… the post-punk energy and ethos; the aesthetic and sound of new wave. All this set against a background of new synth sounds along with fantastic production and musicianship levels. I like that it didn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a playfulness and richness about the visuals and sound that I find appealing. I think the DIY ethos of making and releasing independent music nowadays has a lot in common with the post-punk era so I resonate with that.
What role does Ireland play in your music?
I think music is central to life in Ireland. Music is in our DNA. We’re drawn to the charms of music, to the land, to poetry, storytelling and every other sort of beguiling beauty and artform. I’m pretty sure musical notes waft through the air in Ireland so if you breathe enough of the air in you’ll eventually end up writing a few songs! 😊
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I consume a lot of culture… I read a lot of magazines, I go the movies, I talk to people, I observe, I read, I hang out with my friends. Ideas for songs seep in through osmosis. Lyrically, the songs are a mishmash of themes…connection/disconnection, relationships, the impact of technology, lost innocence, transcendence, desire, redemption etc
I’m not coming at this as a youngster writing about finding my place in the world but as an adult having been through a few scrapes in life and taking a good look at myself and life as I see it. I don’t have a particular axe to grind. I think I’m coming out the other side of a journey, relatively unscathed but who knows (When you’re inside the bottle it’s hard to read the label!). Every day is a school day. When I write it’s a bit of a download on whatever is in my orbit at that time. I see it like a short-hand version of when your English teacher gave you an essay to write over the weekend with the title “What’s life like at the moment…discuss!”
Music wise, I listen to a lot of music all day. I’ve a playlist in Spotify “Keelan X – Official Playlist” if anyone’s interested in what I’m enjoying listening to right now. I’m always updating it. I watch a lot of videos on YouTube about other bands and producers. I’m interested in how they put the song together in as much as what the song is about. I tend to watch YouTube late at night…not a good habit…total vortex!
What else is happening next in Keelan X’s world?
I plan to breathe in a lot of Irish air….and release another 2 – 3 singles in 2022, possibly an EP with a view to releasing an album in 2023.