by: Thomas D. Mooney
Earlier this week, we caught up with Brian Keane earlier to talk about his new record Coming Home (Jan. 21), playing around Texas, and his thoughts on songwriting. Keane and company will be playing The Blue Light tonight (Saturday, Jan. 18). Like Brian Keane on Facebook here and follow him on Twitter.
Read our interview below.
New Slang: You’ve got a new record coming out at the end of the month. How long was the process onComing Home?
Brian Keane: Well we did it over a year, but that was more about getting the money together than it was recording time wise[laughs]. So we would do a good week’s worth of work every four or five months and then put it all together at the end. It ended up being a really cool way of doing it.
NS: With the record, did your wife Rachel [Loy] produce it?
BK: She sure did.
NS: How was working with her in that other role, as the producer?
BK: [Laughs]. It was awesome. I was pretty sure I did never want to do it because it just sounds like the kind of situation that’s just asking for fights. You know, every record I’ve made before has been pretty stressful, even with great producers. But then, I’d never seen her work as a producer before and I played keys on that Will Clark Green record (Rose Queen) and just watching her work during that, I’d never seen anybody that good. So we both decided we’d do it and if we get in fights, we get in fights. And we actually never did. It was an easy, easy process.
NS: Yeah. Will’s record, it just sounds amazing. Obviously he’s becoming a better and better songwriter so the songs are all great, but it also sounds amazing, which obviously Rachel deserves a good chunk of credit for that.
BK: Yeah. She’s got this really cool way of–instead of being a dictator, she’s got a really cool way of being in the middle. She creates an environment where the coolest stuff just happens. And to keep things moving along, she’ll say what eventually goes, but she takes everyone’s opinion into account. She never railroads anything.
NS: With the record song wise, this record is called Coming Home. What aspects of home are you really talking about on this record? You’re from South Carolina originally, right?
NS: Does it involve that sense of coming home in that way or more finding a home and growing your family as well?
BK: Yeah. I think it involves all of those. I never thought about it that way, but there’s a song called “Can’t Go Home” and about the town I grew up in. It was a really small town, around 3500 when I was growing up there. Now, there’s probably 15,000 people there. So I wrote a song about going back there and it being just a different place now. I think most of the record though is about the last couple of years being on the road all the time. I had never really experienced that until the last few years. I had never really appreciated coming home as much as I do now. I guess it’s a lot about that too.
NS: How many shows have you played the last couple years? Just ballpark.
BK: I think we did 160 last year and 170 the year before that.
NS: Any plans of slowing down a bit or anything?
BK: Oh no. Especially now since I’ve got this band that I’m really happy with. I just can’t wait to play gigs. There’s nowhere else to do it like Texas. It has this energy and audiences. I just can’t wait to go to work every time.
NS: I’m assuming with that many shows, you’ve picked up all these different character traits on the different areas of Texas when it comes to audiences. What’s your favorite characteristic about these different crowd?
BK: Oh yeah [laughs]. I had started playing West Texas with Randy [Rogers] and they sort of gave me the inside on the West Texas audience. I think we played Wild West up there and Randy had told me “West Texas audiences are awesome. They just don’t clap. Don’t take it personal. They are totally into it, but they just show it differently.” And sure enough, everyone’s into it, but there’s just not a whole lot of clapping going on [laughs]. I found that really interesting. Which, like in Southern Texas, they clap a lot more. It’s just a different vibe. East Texas they dance a whole lot. It’s all a blast. As long as you’re able to tell they’re really into it, I don’t know, there’s nothing really like the Texas scene. When we did the west and east coasts, it’s just not nearly as fun.
NS: Yeah. The West Texas audience, I find them really funny to be honest. The clapping thing is funny, but I think my favorite part is when a band is playing and there will be a semicircle in front of the stage where people aren’t standing directly in front. It’s like it’s lava or something. They just won’t stand there–unless someone else happens to be standing there. Then they want to stand there [laughs].
BK: [Laughs]. That is funny. Like when we open a gig, everyone will be into it, but they’ll be standing in a semicircle and we’ll play our last note and they’ll come rushing to the stage to hold their place.
NS: Exactly [laughs].
BK: I’ll always say, “Whoa everyone. Don’t rush the stage. No autographs yet.”
NS: [Laughs]. Going back to the record, which song was the most difficult for you to write?
BK: Hmm. Most difficult to write. Wow. I’m looking over the titles and realizing that this is by far the easiest record I’ve written. All of these songs took under probably three weeks to write. That’s real fast for me. “Old With You” I wrote with Cory Morrow and it just pretty much came out. “Do Something Wrong” I wrote with my wife and Jared Crump and that was a real easy write. I think “Finally Free” was the most difficult. That’s because I wanted a song with that feeling, but I hadn’t felt that in years. So it was kind of hard to tap back into what that felt like.
NS: You’ve done a good chunk of co-writes with different songwriters over the years. What about co-writing a song do you enjoy compared to writing alone?
BK: I actually like writing alone a whole lot more. And I say that having had written with co-writers who I feel are better songwriters than me. When doing a co-write, you’ve got to really let go of any expectations you have. You just have to let the song be what it’s going to be. When I’m helping someone write for their record, that’s really easy because I don’t feel like I need to guide it the whole way. But when I’m writing for my record, I sort of know where I’m wanting to end up at and if you’re in a co-writing situation, you can end up with something not very good because you end up being too into yourself during the writing I guess. That’s a real convoluted way of saying it I guess. I like writing alone, but I really do enjoy the co-writes I’ve been involved with. I love “She Likes the Beatles,” “She Left Me For Jesus,” and “Glass Houses.”
NS: Whose songwriting process were you most surprised by? Like how they worked on a song.
BK: I would say Hayes Carll. He was one of my first co-writes. I had come in with the chorus for “She Left Me For Jesus” long time before and we’re going over things and we started working on that one. We had started throwing out ideas. Little jokes. We had done that for about an hour and a half and at the end of that hour and a half, I said “Well I guess we better make them into verses and make them rhyme.” I looked over his shoulder and he had naturally made it all rhyme while we were throwing out ideas. He’s got just a natural brain for that.
NS: That’s pretty funny [laughs]. How was writing with Will on “She Likes the Beatles?” That song obviously blew up and become something really big. It’s a really great song. I guess for me, there’s a fine line between being clever and being cheesy? You know what I mean? I think you guys ended up on the clever side of things with it.
BK: I do know what you mean [laughs].
NS: You know you hear songs from time to time where there are lines where you just cringe and eye roll. They’re trying to be real cool or canny, but it just doesn’t work and they’re just cheesy. Was that ever in the back of your mind? Wanting to keep on the fun and tasteful side and not on the cheesy side?
BK: You know, I’m sort of the belief that if you want to write something great, you can’t be afraid of writing something really awful. Some days it happens and some days it doesn’t. Usually I’ll write it and then decide after if it’s clever or cheesy or bad or whatever.
NS: Yeah. I can see that.
BK: I’ve definitely written some really bad songs before. I don’t think I’ve put any of them out–or at least hope not [laughs]. I guess giving myself the freedom to write that really awful stuff, I’m not get in my own way when something great is really flowing out.
NS: Yeah. That’s a pretty good philosophy on songwriting. Like you said though, the key isn’t in writing a bad song, it’s just making sure you don’t put that out on a record.
BK: Right. Absolutely. They can end up being good practice so when you do get a good idea, it comes easier. It’s all so much fun. I still feel like a beginner every time I sit down.