Kelly Keeling speaks about his first solo album
Interview by Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Jenny at Border Music for help with the interview
Promo pictures provided by Mascot Records
I was fortunate to have an interview with Kelly Keeling who recently released his solo album GIVING SIGHT TO THE EYE. I took the chance to ask him about his solo album, but I also added questions about his long career in the music industry and about his co-operation with other famous artists.
Hello Mr. Keeling, would like to tell us a bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to so far?
Hello Mr. Sandvall. A bit about myself.. hmm well I like flying, I like sleeping when I can, dreaming, there is a lot about me. Swimming in the ocean. Beach, wheatgrass juice for regeneration of the body mind an soul, juicing vegetables, running, what have I been up to? So Far. Too much. A lot of no good, and a lot of good too. I enjoy good friends, good company. I am trying to get more involved with PETA. They are an organization for the ethical treatment of animals. Trying to see that people are treated better as well. The ghettos are not well. And we are off in other countries bringing foreigners money. Ask me more…so I can tell u more specifically what I’ve been up to.. so far
You’re not only a singer, songwriter and producer, you’re also a multi-instrumentalist, how many instruments can you play and which instrument do you handle best?
Everything in a rock band and a bit more. I really like fretless bass. I’ve been playing the drums a lot lately. Drums are By far the hardest of all rock, jazz, blues, modern music instruments. It is so physical to be a good drummer. I can play quite a few instruments. Violin I am weak at. Cello I’m better. Bass I am strongest at. Trumpet, flute, need work,. My Piano playing is ok. I was a keyboardist in a few bands before I was a singer. I’m a guitarist first. Because It’s really what I studied a lot as a kid and still. I worked at length how to play many odd tunings I came up with out of necessity of needing to write songs that sounded new and fresh to me. All those songs appeared on the 3 Guitar Zeus albums and some of my newer recordings. There is a book distributed by Virgin with all my tunings and unique chords to teach the GZ albums. The Japanese were puzzled so we made them a book. Now I need to learn it. All were new tunings. The chords I came up with direct me to change in a way that normal chords don?t. Others who used this method for writing are Chris Cornel, Jimmy Page, David Crosby, Pete Townshend. And I try to sing a bit…
How does it work for you when you write songs, how do you do it? What comes first the music or the lyric? Where do you find inspiration?
Depends if I am inspired. Some times they come from being totally uninspired. I write words usually first and they have a melody attached sometimes. It is a labor of love. 99 cents perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. To see and harness a glimpse of inspiration is difficult. To actually bring it into musical form. Sometimes a song will be re written till complete for years sometimes it comes in 5 minutes. I have written songs while hiking, walking, flying, flying in an airplane, while in the sauna. Melodies or guitar riffs will just come to me and If I am lucky I have paper to write stuff down or a hand held cassette deck to hum a melody or lyric down. So As a tourist has a camera always, it?s a good thing for me if I have a tape recorder in my pocket. When I don?t though is when the songs come. From knowing how to read band music from school I am able to write down the phrase of notes and jot down a lyric. Because If I don?t they go off into the wind like yesterdays dream. Many more processes to writing. The song Rising Of The Snake, the first song on my album came to me in a dream. Lyric first. The riff I knew had to be there. But it?s notes were not clear until I ran it around my head while driving for a few days. Then the snake charmer bit came during one of those rides. Also a test can be If I remember the idea without any devices
Where do you live at the moment?
Between Hawaii, San Diego, San Francisco and Louisiana depending on the climate and the waves.
According to the bio you lived in Sweden for a few years when you worked with John Norum, what do you think of Sweden?
It was a few months. During the cold season. I didn’t like the cold or getting lost on the subway in the snow, Blizzards for days. I’m willing to try it in the summer though. Swedish Rock Festival should be very nice.
Do you have any fun memories of Sweden that you can share with us?
Just being on the road with Norum, John Levin, Nicclaus, Hempo Hilden, and band. I remember lots of champagne. The clubs there were fun. We had lots of time off so I would go to some of the clubs, rock clubs, discos etc. Beautiful Women in Sweden for sure. That’s enough some stories I can’t go into. I ran into some pretty wild crowds and company. Got pretty scary towards the end.
When did you decide to work on and release a solo album like GIVING SIGHT TO THE EYE?
It was about the year 2001.
How does it feel to be the focus as a solo artist and not as a member of a band/project?
I liked it at first but now I miss being with a band. The sort of band I was involved with in the early days where I sang, played guitar & keys and had a great drummer (David Sarver and bassist (Greg Sonnier).Trilogy I am putting one together now that I hope can last. I think Jeff Martin is going to join me on this tour and hopefully on my next album. His new album is amazing. We toured with Lynch together. Amazing voice, Drummer, personality, very stable person on the road which is so necessary.
I have heard lots of new music that I really like and want to be a part of. Like this band MUSE. DAMMM,..inspires me to do three piece band again. I miss the band input. It would be great if Tony Franklin would come out but he and his wife just had a baby so I doubt that would be possible.
Were there many labels that wanted to release your solo album?
Yes in America. The mellow one. I’ve gotten so sidetracked with this one.
Why did you chose Mascot Records and do you think that they have done a good job with promoting the album so far?
They are doing a fantastic job. I was offered a worldwide deal which was appealing. I am waiting for the American release still. So is radio and American tour agents which would allow me to tour in the summer which is so necessary, two months away. They are doing a fantastic job of promoting.
Why did you title the album GIVING SIGHT TO THE EYE? Any special reason behind that? Who has done the cover artwork and what’s the thought behind that?
I did the cover art work. And I saw the picture as an Eye. It looks like Gods eye to me. Knowing it is not an eye but a constellation taken from the Hubble telescope. The Idea just came to me. Giving Sight to The Eye. Because In actual fact it is not an eye. So I thought it was interesting to call it an eye even though it is not. Maybe a person would not think of it as an eye had it not been suggested. It is a Bible verse as well. I think the verse speaks of Giving ?Light? To The Eye.
Who has written the music and lyrics? What are the lyrics about, have you written about anything in particular?
Mostly my songs I usually write about real life experiences. All there is basically my diary or how I see the world. Or warnings from having lived it and been there, or songs I really relate to.
How would you describe what kind of music the album contains?
Hard rock, blues, classical, metal at times.
You are also listed as producer of the album. How does it work to produce yourself and what’s the difference when using a hired producer?
I did things the way I wanted on this album. Not to make a hit album or please critics with an album that sounded the same on every song. I had a goal to do all of what I am a fan of and play all the instruments and vocals. It has been a goal of mine since Paul McCartneys solo albums where he played everything, Lenny Kravitz does it well too, as does Stevie Wonder on all those great albums he did. I have been exposed as a Singer only, for hire here and there, and I am much more than that, So this album is an effort to shed some light into what I am a fan of and my abilities.
Now that this has been done, I think I’d like to go the traditional way and maybe do my demos like this album, like the guitar Zeus demos. And have a band and producer direct and feed off of one another. Mill over ideas. I have another 2 albums written but not recorded at this time, so I look forward to getting it really right this next time around. Not that this album is wrong. I think a constant band will allow for a constant style of an album and over all aura. Identity.
You have recorded the album in a lot of different studios, why?
Because who I wanted to participate would be for example in Los Angeles. So we would do basic tracks there. Or San Jose. I traveled a lot. Used different studios. Whenever there was a song to record I would go there where Example Carmine Appice was, rent studio, record, mix, leave.
Have you read any reviews on the album yet? What does media think of it?
The reviews have been surprisingly good. They notice what I set out to do. I am happy about them. I know the truth of it all so It’s ok when someone has a critique that I also have. Critiques I agree with.
I’ve read in the bio that you have worked with material to this album since ’98, why has it taken you so long to finish the album?
The album as a whole happened from 2001. What I was doing in 1998 ended up on MSG’s Unforgiven album and a CD of music that does not appear on this album.
How long did it take to record the album, actual studio time I mean? And how long did it take to mix?
It took forever because I was waiting on certain people I wanted to be involved for one, and When I got basic tracks recorded I couldn?t settle on vocal parts or choir blends, guitar solos etc. for a while. When Its one person with all this information it can get overwhelming. I was a bit of a perfectionist and went through quite a few engineers. It took too long to mix. By the time I finished the album I was completely burnt. My ears were not right after not using wise monitor volume for too long of periods of time. So I attempted to mix, and actually Some of my mixes were used. I just ran out of time and had to go on the road with George Lynch and write the Hell To Pay album with Dokken. I spent a long time on it. I lost track. I sent tracks to Germany to have mixed which worked for some. I would still be working on it had My label not said Enough. There is a second verse in Ground Zero that is the scratch verse wrong lyric that I accidentally sent along with the keeper vocal,?.. which was used. I was on tour, and the chosen mix was not to be touched or approved. There was no more time. Luckily I was in pitch and there is a lyric sheet. Lol And maybe it sounds like an accent.
Are there any current plan on going out on the road now that the album is released? If so which musicians are you going to take with you?
Yes talking about it all day. America and Overseas, Russia, Sweden, Germany, England, Holland. Jeff Martin I hope as I said before will join me and play some of his songs from his new album. Possibly George Lynch, I don?t wanna say It?s too early. I should know in days who the lineup will be. I may want to do a three piece. We’ll see.
Is there any left over material from GIVING SIGHT TO THE EYE?
Yes there are. Some very good ones.
Why did you chose to do a cover of the old Kansas song GROUND ZERO? Are Kansas a favorite band?
Ground Zero was not a Kansas Song. That band was a very big inspiration and source of learning when I was a kid. Obvious that a big part of their sound was from Kerry.
What was it like to work with Kerry Livgren on that track?
A dream come true. An honor!
Do you feel content with the album or do you feel that you should have done anything in a different way now that you look back on it?
Yes I am content with it. Looking back there will always be something learned to improve upon. This is what the next piece of art or recording collection is for. An artist hopefully keeps improving.
Do you have any favorite track on the album, in that case which one and why?
I Believe. I like the musicality of it, what it stands for, the lyrics, melodies, I think Carmine plays amazing on this song. I suggested that he play it like BARGAIN by The WHO, Overplaying like Keith Moon did, lite on the snare, lots of rolls, and he Got it. I played all the instruments , all Vocals except for a few lines in the chorus which Don Dokken sang. We traded off rolls in the Chorus. Don wanted this song for Dokken I?m glad I kept it. I like the solo and solo section of this song too. 3 piece loud bass & drums. I used my 1960 Classic Les Paul through an old 50 watt Marshall with a Dime Bag Darryl Wah half cocked and herco pic. 1972 Aria pro II 12 string, custom ESP fretless bass.
You have been in the business for several years now, why did you decide to do a solo album now?
I was tired of my previous band. Tired of the guitarist not being able to play very simple parts, very bad and obvious live and I was not able to write as I wished depending on what the guitarist could or couldn’t play. Constricted, restricted. I just wanted control for a change and less boundaries. It got to be such a struggle and hassle to practice, write and record an album. I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. I got really depressed and thought about quitting music altogether if I couldn’t find a vehicle or avenue for my creativity. Why was it so easy in my beginning bands, And It was Fun, So I did this experimental album. Trying to push my boundaries and abilities. As I did when I was a kid with a three piece in New Orleans
And do you have any plans on releasing more solo albums?
I have plans to do as many albums as I am able to do. YES
You have worked with both Carmine and Vinnie Appice on the album, why have you worked with both of them? How do you know them?
I met Carmine during my time with John Sykes band Blue Murder. We got to talking about working together, I quit the band after 2 or so years and joined with Carmine and Tony Franklin, Who had just left Blue Murder as well. We had all been stifled creatively for a while so I brought out some song demos 4 track tapes and we made a song list. Rehearsed these songs and brought many well known guitarists to join us. Vinnie is of course Carmine’s brother and they spend quite a bit of time around one another. They had just done this funny video called Drum Wars, anyway I was in Carmine’s band for years and Vinnie was around, I always loved his drumming. I thought it would be a good idea to get them Both on ONE song, which I tried. And due to some lost files were not able to properly mix the song for this album. But I still have the tapes and files somewhere. Vinnies toms and Carmine’s drums. A song called Head straight that will appear somewhere. Vinnie plays on a song called Hell Is On The Way. Why not use two of the best drummers in rock? I also did a tour with Vinnie, Erik Norlander & Lana Lane. Vinnie is a monster live. Amazing & very powerful.
You have been a part of three guitar legends’ bands: John Sykes, John Norum and Michael Schenker. What was it like to work with them and which one was the nicest and which one was the worst?
John Norum is simply a very nice guy. Very gentle , very pleasant to be around. Fierce guitar player. We had a lot of fun. Michael is a genius. Another very pleasant person to be around. Sykes??????.thinking, He’s very nice too. We were very good friends. I miss him a lot. That has to be the hardest memory of how we had to part ways. He’s a great talent, an amazing singer, guitarist, songwriter. He can be a hell raiser. How bout a hot toddy Kel, or some tea? We did vocals on the same 10 tracks for 2 years. Not my idea of a picnic. I must say he is a wonderful sincere person, and I do miss him. Our friendship was special. They are all great in their own ways none was worst. All unique.
You sing on two Norum albums, what do you think of them today? And how was it to work with this legendary Swedish guitar player?
I like the music. I don’t care much for my voice on those albums. I was asked to be someone I am not. Jeff Scott Soto has these similar words. As I said earlier, It was very fun and pleasant to work with the Swedish legendary meister master Noooorrrum. Hope we can do it again some time. Our time together with Dokken was restricted but still productive with the short time we were allowed to breathe.
What do you think of the Europe reunion?
They are the best as this lineup. Not enough Tempest songs, But I love the reunion.
How big as an artist do you think you are today? Do you get a lot of fan mail?
I get too much mail. Depends where I go or where my songs are played, what stations etc.
Can you walk the streets without being recognized?
Depends where I am. Japan they know me. L.A., Germany, I?ve been so many places its hard to remember, Russia. Midwest in America, the South, New Orleans, Louisiana cause I’m from there, It’s fun to be in an airport, or restaurant, pumping gas or shopping and have girls or whoever ask for autographs and comment on the album they dug. It’s like almost 30 albums now. Ridiculous. Lotta traveling I tell ya. San Diego is very laid back though, no one cares. I like it like that
You have also done film music, can you tell us a bit about that like what did you do (singing or playing the music or both)? and also tell us to which movies you written the music to?
Look on my Website under discography. It’s all there. I did some scores and piano underscores, songs. Performances
Chasing Destiny is one, Totally Irresponsible, Rich Girl which Jeff Scott Soto sang some of my songs. That was like in the 90s. I was so excited that He was singing. I was/am a fan. Great guy, great voice.
What are the plans for Kelly Keeling during the rest of 05?
TOUR, TOUR, WRITE, RECORD, TOUR. SWIM, OCEAN, BEACH, Veggie Juice, TOUR, PARTY, SPRING break is here?hmmm.. Beach Tomorrow for SURE?.then rehearse,, get ready for my tour. Gonna kick ass this summer. Oh and build a better custom ESP bass for my next album. My Les Paul is not happy either. I may get ESP to overhaul it. AMPS?!! George Lynch has the sickest amps. I need one for this tour.. Or Him.
I may do a band sideproject if I can?t record another solo album till 2006. That is a big maybe I doubt it. I?ll probably be getting ready for my next album, logging and filing, preparing, listening and absorbing the great music climate. Music I am a fan of. I think it?s so great how It keeps borrowing from itself and improving. I think there is a lot of great music happening right now.
Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of metal-rules?
Have a blast this summer, come out to see me and all the great artists on the road this year. Request my album on your local rock radio or classic radio. Kelly Keeling “Giving Sight To The Eye”. Support save the music programs in the local schools,. check out my album when your mind is open for a musical ride, when you can listen. Be safe. Keep Rocking.. and believing in yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
More info about Kelly: www.kellykeeling.com