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Keir on music, songwriting and process: “Break the rules – if there were any”

Written by infostoryofsong

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Keir beams through the screen like a sun wearing a green crotchet hat and a pink jumper. Their room (and essentially studio) is bright red, covered with images from magazines, everywhere and anywhere that can have an image to stuck to it – it’s on there. Keir’s latest release “Paranoid”, a chorus-led bright song that sees Keir be vulnerably honest about the fear but also excitement of falling in love. Since releasing music in 2016, Keir has signed to Vertigo Records at Universal Germany, and has appeared on BBC’s Tastemakers as well as having an ever-growing base of listeners every single day.

I had the opportunity to speak to the Bristol based artist about song writing, self-loathing being the downfall yet also the element that elevates the song writing process, and writing short stories onto coats titled “Kiki Sunrise”. Keir is a talented and authentic and brave artist, ready to show the world the power of music and also the importance of creating authentically.

Tala: Hi Keir, thank you so much for sitting down with me virtually. I would love to hear a little bit about yourself, what you do…

Keir: Hello, thanks for having me. I don’t know – I always struggle with the questions about stylistic stuff. Because its like… not something I concern myself with? It’s very… music for me, essentially is very intuitive. Especially these days than ever before – genres… perhaps aren’t so important and perhaps are the least important thing. And probably the least important they’ve ever been with regards to music, and I suppose that’s just how things have developed through time. For people making music these days its -especially the youth I think – it’s not really something to concern yourself with. Just go with what you like. Break the rules if there were any.

Tala: Whose music do you enjoy or are there artists you look up to?

Keir: I love David Bowie and Aretha Franklin… Amy Winehouse, Prince. I love these people… but really I just love people who did what they wanted to do, or do what they want to do. I didn’t really worry about any of the bullshit. I don’t know… The people I just listed are unique because they didn’t concern themselves with anything other than “what do I want to do, what do I love?’, and that just comes out in expression.

Tala: What can you tell us about your music, your song writing process, your journey into music?

Keir: With song writing its similar. I was talking to someone yesterday about this. Very childlike. And I, luckily, quite into that. It’s very intuitive, does that make sense? Very childlike process. In that I could pick this up (holds up a keyboard) and make it sound like a mellotron, and then distort it, and then put it backwards and play it with my elbow – because it seems fun. And maybe I’ll find a way to make it sound good – or maybe I won’t. But the exploration of that is really fun, and intuitive, primitive… childlike. I enjoy that. For me, songs a lot of the time are that kind meditation… strange… I mean. It sounds very cliché but its very very true. The transcendent or the dream-like. You know, I don’t meditate. So for me, its’ the closest meditative experience I’ve ever had…  Because other than sleeping, it’s the only time where I can disappear completely. And I think from quite a young age I think the seed was planted that I wanted to write music. The songs were awful, obviously. I have old videos of me in this tiny town I grew up in – where I am now. And… there’s one where I’m really, really, young, like 15 or 14. Even then – I mean its awful – I was in this talent show and I didn’t play a cover. Which, when I watched it back was really cringy. But also I was like “that’s so cool!”. At even really early on I was like “I could cover The Script, you know “The Man That Can’t Be Moved” – but really early on I was like “no all my friends are doing covers”, and I think I just wanted to see what it was like to just try and make something. Yeah, so. I’ve always been really intrigued by making songs.

Tala: It must been nice for you to look at yourself from when you were younger. Props to you for getting up at 15 and singing that, I couldn’t have done that.

Keir: I was lucky enough to have parents that were supportive in that as well. I don’t know if it’s a UK-centric mentality or a world mentality, but often the creative arts from a young age aren’t encouraged in people. You’re kind of laughed out the door if you’re not looking to study law or you know… it’s a strange thing. I was lucky to have supportive parents. They were like “you wanna do music? For example, my brother Kyle plays drums in the band – we were always interested in it from an early age. My parents weren’t straight in it with the tutor. They asked if I wanted one, and I said “no! It sounds boring.”

Tala: *laughs*

Keir: I don’t know scales, or chords. But that’s why songs are interesting to me because I’m a barely playable instrumentalist. But I still buy violins and stuff *shows a pile of instruments on couch*. I still do wanna do it, just without knowing the science behind it – for me. Well, music is the opposite of science, it’s like anti-science to me. That’s a good name for an album – anti-science.

Tala: When you release music, is there a meaning you want listeners to discover from it, or a message?

Keir: I don’t think about it in that way. Like I said, it’s not a science so it can’t have just one meaning. Perhaps, there is something that I could dig up if I read into my own words… I could do that. But that, first of all, makes it boring for me – it’s like pulling the magic from it. For me, personally. I get some people… actually a lot of Amy Winehouse songs are very literal. Or maybe some early Arctic Monkeys stuff… But I can’t really work like that. So. A lot of the songs… maybe I know what they mean. Maybe I know what “Paranoid” means. But maybe I don’t really want to know too much. Because its more interesting to me, if I just treat it as something that doesn’t have to have a single meaning.

The way I work – I write lots of music and a lot of it is really, really, really bad. And I like to work every day and make something. So, what ends up happening because of that process, is rather than – it’s quantity over quality. You know, I’ve probably got hundreds and hundreds of songs on my hard drive. And a lot of them are really bad, but I like to work like that because I feel less pressure then. When it comes to, perhaps the time of the release, I can cherry pick from all those hundreds [of songs]. That’s the only way I can feel free with it. I can just choose the song that feels… the right thing to put out. That’s basically how it works.

Tala: It sounds very organic.

Keir: And when releasing, its very easy… especially in – I sound like a grandfather – in our day and age of numbers and Spotify streams, its very easy to take over the world from a song. And to get a bit… your dark side and your greed and want for more and more and more from the music. But what’s really important to remember, and I often remind myself of this – that that’s not healthy, and that’s not what music should be about. And for instance, it’s a silly thing but. I use Apple Music because it doesn’t have stream counts. I found that I was getting really sick of discovering new artists and immediately judging which song I would like on which one was most popular. I would then be like “Oh, I like the one that’s not popular?”. I don’t know. It just really mangled my brain. So, after that I was like “no! I just want to discover the songs! I don’t want to be told which ones are most popular and that to feel like an important thing to know. When I put out “Paranoid”, I was very apprehensive, very nervous. It’s the same thing for every song. Very apprehensive, very nervous, feeling sick that it’s all gunna go wrong – or that its “too this” or “too that”. Or the kickdrum isn’t quite right – I drive myself to the brink of despair. And then it’s out, and then the despair dissipates, and I tell myself “Okay, it’s fine I can move on now.”

Tala: What would you say is your advice to young musicians or creatives who feel worried about putting their work out in case it doesn’t reach the level of streams, or likes of whatever they expected…?

Keir: Well, you have to show people what you want to do. Otherwise, they don’t know what you have on your computer. They don’t know what your voice is. You’re sharing something with them, so you have to start somewhere. And, the humble beginnings… there’s something beautiful about them as well. Don’t worry about taking over the world – worry about it being the best it can possibly be for your ears and eyes. And then the rest will follow after. It’s not a competition – with anyone. Music is not a competition. It’s not some horse race. It’s not like that. You’re on your own track and just put out! Work hard and make the music the best it can be. But when you when have something that you really think is amazing – in your eyes, in your head, no one else – put it out!

Tala: One thing that’s really stuck out in the time we’ve been talking is that you’re passionate, you’re authentic and unfiltered and raw with your music. You’re so talented, you should know. Your music is very special.

Keir: Thank you so much. Genuinely it does mean a lot. I think one thing – not to deep dive too much – but one thing I’ve learnt about myself through intense lockdown… oh my God, my level of self-loathing is so high. And its so tricky because I love making music. I have this self-loathing voice in my head when I write that’s so critical. So it’s really nice to hear compliments and its hard to take… but it’s nice, maybe it can put out that fire of self-loathing. The other thing with self-criticism… is that your attention to detail is wonderful. You go further with someone that doesn’t have it. You know, I could never pat myself on the back and be like “that’s a good song, mate”. I will never do it! I drive myself insane telling myself everything is awful. Because I do that it drives me to make a new song.

Tala: Tell me, how’s lockdown been for you, and your creative process?

Keir: Let me flip my camera to show you the least professional work station you’ve ever seen. (Keir shows a small sofa with a laptop, guitar and other various instruments). It’s on a sofa that no one can sit on, because I’ve set up my things. Because I’m odd, I sit cross-legged, not even on the floor, but on a chair. Facing the sofa. My mum always asks “do you want a chair?” and I always say no. Because the moment it feels like a “work station”, and I’m going to “make songs”, I feel sick. I don’t want to feel like I’m working, ever. I want to feel like I’m doing nothing or hanging out. The moment I feel like something is happening, it’s like I don’t like the idea of working. I just like the idea of doing whatever. And that’s why my work station is on a bloody sofa.

Tala: How has lockdown affected you, in terms of how you work – positive or negative? How was it affected you creatively?

Keir: If you’re a person with any type of creativity… this is a pretty cool time, for you. I realise that a lot of people… it’s been so hard. But really, I’ve felt like I haven’t stopped creatively, and it’s been a really prolific time. Because suddenly, I couldn’t rely on producers or whatever. I started doing a lot of things on my own. And the songs started sounding – the unreleased songs – really quite different. Sometimes in a bad way, and sometimes in a really interesting and good way. Because a producer wouldn’t have made that mistake where I distorted the mellotron so far that it sounded wrong, but it worked really well. You know what I’m trying to say?

Tala: Definitely.

Keir: I’ve never produced before. I’m a massive technophobe. I don’t like using phones… I’m awful with technology. I was forced to get an iPhone by my manager – I had a Nokia. He was like “you can’t be waiting in an internet café to reply to emails.” And I was like, I can! *laughs* I have friends that I could send demos to, but when you’re not in the room with them… it’s just kind of… I don’t know. I just started experimenting on my own. Pretty rough mixes, but I never did that before. Early on last year when it all started I came back here and the succession of not very good things happened to me… And because of the isolation, and I couldn’t go out and get drunk with my friends, I couldn’t freely work out who I was, following these not very nice things happening. After the initial shock of trying to digest those things that have happened, it was the most exciting musical time for me. I was like, there is no one I can talk to, properly. I can’t go and see my friends. So, I won’t talk to anyone. I’d sit in my room and write all these songs… For me… after working out some circumstantial stuff, I just thought: “Fuck am I going to sit and wallow any longer”. Like, after giving yourself a bit of wallowing time, you have to weep a bit. But after a bit of  that, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Make some art. Make something from it. I think its Nick Cave that said… never waste that! Never the waste the angst, or the trauma. Don’t waste it, create art out of this stuff because God… it doesn’t happen often that you have something so… electric that you can write about or draw from. So yeah, out of bad things come good things. I think if I didn’t make things in this lockdown, I would have gone insane. Look at this coat! *Keir picks up phone and shows a long a coat*. I love reading, and I’ve written little short stories.  I wrote a tiny story on this coat. It’s called “Kiki sunrise will have his revenge”. (Coat is cream with large buttons and Keir’s handwriting down the left chest part of the trench-like coat).

Tala: Very cool!

Keir: The thing is, I haven’t made any copies of it. The story only exists on that jacket. Which I kinda like… but if it rains and I’m wearing that and I lose the story, I would be a bit upset.

Tala: That would be quite upsetting. You’ll have to have some record of it. I like that it exists just on that item.

Keir: It makes it less sacred (when it’s on multiple things, items). And also, because it isvery stream of consciousness when I was doing this, the story is just kind of… almost treating it like rubbish. I’m basically just thinking “I’m going to decorate this, the story doesn’t really matter.” And then I read it back and I was like “this is kinda cool!” I’ll just read you the first line.

Tala: Please!

Keir: “Kiki Sunrise will have his revenge. With the words loosely carved into the back of the old woman’s mind. She went and waddled a little towards the sunset that fateful evening.” It goes on… it’s quite long.

Tala: That’s brilliant, I’m hooked after one sentence. *laughs* So, talk to me about “Paranoid” – I loved the video!

Keir: The ironic thing about that was I hate fireworks. I always have. I’ve always been really frightened of them from a young age. I don’t understand why they have to be so loud? Just have them silent, or a bit quieter! So when I was making the video, someone said “you should just fire some fireworks!” And I just… didn’t object? I never said “I don’t want to”. So somehow, the video ended up looking like I was fine with it. But I was not! I hate fireworks.

Tala: You did a very good job of hididng that, for sure.

Keir:  *laughs* The things I do!

Tala: Were you in charge of the creative direction for that?

 Keir: I’m always in charge of creative direction. I love collaborating as well though. Especially with videos I love to collaborate because its more fun! I don’t make videos, so I don’t know what’s possible on a small budget, etc. The video process is much like making songs or anything – it transforms. It starts off as one idea. I think what I said to the video guy was: “Paranoid” is purple, and it’s in the dark, and there’s lots of light coming out of the dark”. Something absurdly not helpful like that. And then we ended up with it. But “Paranoid” is by the far the most straight-forward than any other thing I’ve ever been involved in. Which for me, personally, is a little embarrassing. Because it’s not very mysterious at all. The song is essentially… I was falling in love. That’s it. There isn’t really much more to the song. It’s a really simple song in that sense. Which I find a bit embarrassing because I obviously want things to be a bit more… I don’t know…. A little bit more impenetrable than that. A little more interesting. It just came out like that – I was falling in love. “Paranoid” is kind of uplifting in a way, because falling in love is pretty special.  

Find Keir’s music on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music.

Written by Tala, Editor & Content Manager

Written by infostoryofsong

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