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Interview with KEELEY
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Hearing songs on the radio and on TV as a child introduced me to music and the next crucial step was my asking for a Walkman for Christmas which allowed me to properly immerse myself in music in a more solitary way. But specifically falling in love with The Smiths as a teenager is what actually spurred me to devote my life to music. As for the second part of your question, if I hadn't gotten into music I wouldn't be doing anything today because I'd be dead. There is no way I could have survived my teens and 20s without the sonic solace and spiritual salvation of music. I consider life meaningless without music.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
When I'm not playing music, I like to listen to music while I'm grappling with the endless procession of tasks I have to tackle. But it doesn't influence my creativity as such, that's a separate thing. Songs fall out of the sky and all you have to do to catch them is to be ready to heed their call and catch their fall, it's as simple as that.
How long has your band been around?
Since 2020. But because of the pandemic which brought our native land Ireland to a virtual standstill for two whole years from March 9th 2020, we didn't play our first gig in our current line-up in front of a crowd until October 2021 and even then that was with quite severe restrictions. As a result our first full set in front of a standing audience wasn't until April 2022. So we've had somewhat of a stuttering gestation as a live act. The real beginning was the release of the debut single Last Words in October 2020.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm based out of Dublin. It hasn't influenced my music in any way.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
It's my forename. The name Keeley translates as “Brave Warrior” which is very fitting because that's what I am and what I need to be in order to survive being what I am and doing what I do. However, it wasn't my idea to name the band after me. I suggested we be called something else entirely which my bandmates weren't too keen on (laughs). And they were right. Marty (keyboards) and M (bass) proposed the band be named after me which I could see made sense given that I'm the focal point, I'm the songwriter, I'm the singer and I'm the guitarist and I came up with the specific concept behind the band and the project overall. And I'm generally the only one of us in the studio. The band being named after me also facilitates my playing solo if necessary. But fortunately that's rarely necessary.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Our very first gig, I went into a trance. That's the meaning behind my maxim “Bliss-out!” The reason I play music is to try escape into the sound and the story, it's the only way I can properly lose myself. Especially given the stresses of life and the complications and distractions of the music business, which have very little to do with music, generally-speaking. And then there was our first headline gig, which we played amid heavy pandemic restrictions at the main room Whelans in Dublin in October 2021. The afternoon of the gig, I literally couldn't walk. I had had major surgery just a few weeks before and I'd severely underestimated the length and complexity of my recovery. To even attempt to play a gig in the state I was in was ridiculously foolhardy. But I have a policy of never cancelling gigs, of giving everything for the music. So I somehow dragged myself out of bed that day and crawled into the city with a load of gear, and got up on that stage and did the gig. Health-wise, it wasn't my wisest move. But I have a do-or-die mentality when it comes to music.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favourite venue to play at used to be my least-favourite! The Thomas House in Dublin. It's very small, it's literally underground, it's fairly out-of-the-way and there's a bloody big pillar right in the middle of the stage. All of those things initially caused me to dislike the place. But we played there for the first time a few weeks ago and it was the best show we've played. To quote Joy Division, it's “got the spirit and the feeling”. It's a magic little room and the sort of place out of where, like The Cavern in Liverpool, something special can grow. I hope that that something special will be us but there are a lot of challenges we face, not least trying to keep the band together on a budget of nothing and amid some difficulties in terms of scheduling.
As for the second part of your question, “Do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?” My answer to that is: anywhere and everywhere. And we have fans in all sorts of places, particularly the UK and the US, who ask us to play their town. But being able to afford to do that is another matter entirely, putting a band on the road for any degree of time is incredibly expensive, especially in the “modern world” with hotel costs going through the roof. And travelling overseas for a gig without any roadies is truly exhausting, humping gear on planes and tubes all across London. And the way my bandmates have their lives structured does not make touring a viable prospect. But then they can't afford to give up their day jobs, and if they lived the way I do, their marriages wouldn't last five minutes. But that's the thing about musicians, they get into things like relationships and families and the desire to spend much of the year living in specific countries abroad, and none of those things are compatible with giving a band the laser-eyed focus it needs. If I was married, and if I was offered a tour of America say, and if because of my spouse I couldn't go on the tour, they would find themselves buried under the patio very fucking fast. So it's just as well I'm not married... For both our sakes (laughs).
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Good question! Okay, let me see... Pink Floyd are definitely on the bill, ideally as they were circa late 1967 with Syd and the wild, squalling wah-tinged guitar tone he had at that time. Joy Division, for sure. The Smiths undoubtedly (as they were from 1983-1987, not as they would be if they reformed today). XTC as the amazing live powerhouse they were in 1981-1982. The Pretenders circa 1981-1982, with that original line-up featuring James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon. The Stone Roses circa 1990 with that incredible psychedelic wah wah-tinged overdriven guitar sound John Squire was rocking at the few live dates they played that Summer. Manic Street Preachers circa 1994, their Reading Festival '94 set is possibly the greatest festival set ever. Suede circa early 1994, with Bernard Butler vying for onstage supremacy with Brett and the amazing tension that gave rise to such an incendiary energy until it boiled over in the studio and blew them apart. Siouxsie and the Banshees circa 1981-1982 with John McGeoch on board. The House of Love with Terry Bickers and Pete Evans back on board in their rightful places. And Echo and the Bunnymen who are currently better than ever live...but Pete de Frietas is unrivalled as a drummer so it would have to be the Bunnymen circa 1980-1987. And The Charlatans who are on current form still the best live band in the world. And us! What a preposterous bill, a dozen bands. More like a festival. But fuck it, it's my dream bill, I can have anyone I want on there can't I?! In that case I'll add Temples as well, who are insanely-good live. And let's have The Verve as well in full-on astral traveller mode back in the days of 1992-1998 before Ashcroft foolishly started thinking his bandmates were as replaceable as the spare parts of a lawnmower. Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, Pete Salisbury and Simon Tong are master musicians and together as a four-piece and later as a five-piece they created something otherworldly and extraordinary that Ashcroft can't recreate on his own or with session heads.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
You're fond of these two-part questions aren't you?! But they're good questions so I'll roll with it. Some advice that I would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band... There are many things I could say. But more than anything I would advise them to be mindful of being derailed by anything or anyone outside the band and anything or anyone outside of music itself. Creativity is the essence of existence, and there's more meaning to be gleaned from that than from anything else or anyone else.
Some advice that I would give to my younger self would be to leave school as soon as possible, leave home as soon as possible and do nothing but focus on music 24/7. That's where happiness, fulfilment and purpose is (it's also where poverty is, but you can't have it all I suppose). I left home at 18 but I should have done it two years earlier. And I should never have bothered going to school at all. The Irish school system is a soulless, mindless battery farm that exists solely to provide labour fodder for the IT sector, a con-job conveyor belt of mindlessness and meaninglessness. If I could re-live my life, I would have left school aged 13 instead of spending another 5 years going through an absolute living hell every day. I can honestly say I never learned one thing from all the years I spent in the school system. I learned far more by reading just one book at home – Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance by Johnny Rogan.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
They all mean as much to me as they all concern the same theme, or different aspects of the same theme. But there's something extra special and spiritual about “Shadow on the Hills” so I'll pick that one.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
There are three songs that are my favourites to play live:
“Last Words” because it has such an anthemic thrust to the chorus that feels so invigorating to play and the riff is so explosive I can rock out and unleash all my pent-up frustration and angst through that. Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!
“Boarded Up in Belfast” because I love the intricacy of the guitar parts and it also ROCKS in the choruses so I can attack the guitar parts with venom. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!
A song called “Days in a Daze” because it's so floaty, ethereal and dreamy that I totally “bliss-out” and get lost in sound while playing it. Also, it's almost entirely instrumental so I can mainly focus on playing without having to bother with that singing malarkey.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I write the songs, Alan (Maguire, producer) produces them, and he and I track them in the studio. Then I bring them to the band and we spend weeks on specific arrangements to play them as a live band, and over a period of months we hone these live arrangements. In particular I tend to tweak my guitar parts and even the vocal melodies over a period of months before I settle on a definitive version.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I don't really write like other songwriters, I'm a concept artist and all my songs are based on one person and one subject but cover so many different aspects of that subject, namely the unsolved murder of Inga Maria Hauser. I write and perform to try give Inga a voice and to try celebrate her life and chronicle the many facets of the case, which I have written about very extensively in my blog The Keeley Chronicles. As someone said to me recently, it's more than a blog. I think it's fair to say that's true.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
We've never had a disagreement as such, we're fortunately all very reasonable people. So far!
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
My plan is to release one album every year for as long as physically possible. Ideally, I'd love to gig rampantly as my main objective is to be in the tightest band in the world and the best way to achieve that is by gigging relentlessly, but our band as it currently exists sadly doesn't get many opportunities to play live and I don't know how long I'll be able to keep this line-up together. But whatever happens, Alan and I are a perfect partnership in the studio and I can see he and I continuing to make records together for a long time to come.