Features / keeno

Talking Passions: Keeno

By adam chisman, Friday Nov 18, 2016

Here’s this weeks interview with the one and only Will Keen aka Keeno! With a background in classical music Will brings a softer and more meaningful sound to the genre, and after signing to Med School a couple of years ago he’s thrilled fans with two incredible studio albums and all by the age of 22! Adam caught up with him recently for a coffee and a chat about his passion for music…

Adam Chisman (TP). “As a young boy what did you want to be when you grew up and how did you get to where you are now?”

Will Keen (K). “I think I wanted to be an engineer for a while because my uncle was an engineer an I really liked building stuff, but I quickly realized I was never gonna be good at maths so I spent my time doing other things in the classroom, and then at the age of eight became a choirboy which basically meant I had a full time job as a musician. Music became my existence from the age of eight to eighteen. I couldn’t really escape that fact because it was one of those things that I couldn’t get enough of, I just loved it at that age and I was really caught up in performing all the time. It was really exhilarating. But at the same I never really felt that it was the right thing for me to do for the rest of my life. There were teachers at school that thought I could probably be an opera singer or something like that, or be a professional clarinetist and play in an orchestra somewhere. I thought that sounded fun but I would never really end up creating something new or something meaningful so naturally my hobby of writing music which I never took very seriously became more serious as I got to GCSE’s and then A Levels. I started entering competitions for classical composition and then started winning them, and eventually I got hold of a computer and everything changed. I guess it’s one of those things that came about naturally, it wasn’t as if someone pushed me in this direction or that direction. I think there were a few people who wanted me to go in one particular direction but I thought I’d rather do my own thing. I think where I am right now is the product of me wanting to do something meaningful with my life rather than just trying to fit like a cog in a machine.”

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TP. “Well I love your music, and as an artist most commonly known for drum & bass who are some of the musicians and producers who have influenced your sound?”

K. “Well the first drum & bass artist I listened to was High Contrast, so I would say his music above all would be my primary influence because I listened to his remix of Hometown Glory by Adele. I think it was one of the first drum & bass tunes that I heard and from that moment on YouTube led me on a wild goose chase of High Contrast tunes. I immediately fell in love with the sound. Another big influence of me taking up production was Logistics. His music appealed to me so much. It’s a random analogy but I’d describe him as the Mozart of drum & bass because he knows how to get the most out of a really short idea.. maybe a Beethoven. I don’t know, but he has a really short simple idea and he can turn it into a whole tune. I just really really liked the way he put his tunes together, they really appealed to me in a symmetrical neat way. Then in terms of non-drum & bass influences I guess film music is one of my main ones, It makes up most of what I have in a play list. Nils Frahm as well, he’s one of my all time favourite piano writers. He has this unique piano sound that he has on every one of his tracks and it’s addictive. I just really like the way he puts together his music. I don’t really draw influence from one particular channel though obviously, and it’s difficult to tell where it comes from sometimes, it just happens in one moment doesn’t it.”

TP. “Yeah, that makes sense. I understand that you’re a classically trained instrumentalist, and I absolutely love your production style and the way that your music transcends from classical into dance-floor anthems. How do you go about turning the vision you have in your head for a track into reality?”

K. “I always start at the piano. Every morning before I do anything else I sit down and play for half an hour and see if anything comes into my head. If anything starts to flow into a sixteen bar phrase and I keep repeating it and I like it, I’ll hit record on my phone and then save it for later. Usually I won’t do anything with that idea on that day unless it’s particularly grabbed me and I think, oh that would sound sick with this kind of drum beat. Most of the time I leave the ideas on my phone for a couple of days and don’t listen back for a while. I think that once I have an idea on the piano it’s then arranging that idea in Cubase and thinking, OK do I want it on a piano, or played b y another type of instrument of a synth? Once I’ve established what medium the main part of the song is gonna be then I’ll put beats on and start stringing it out into a tune. It takes me quite a long time to decide on that first initial idea, but once it’s drawn out to maybe thirty two bars and I have a flow and a general direction of the tune it comes together quite quickly from that point onwards.”

TP. “Amazing. So you were signed to Med School Music, Hospital Records sister label in 2014. Can you tell me what it felt like to join their family?”

K. “It was kind of an odd one getting signed to Med School because initially I was offered a thing called a development contract which is essentially a method of signing an artist officially, but mentoring them and nurturing them rather than signing them to release an album or EP. It’s more like we know we like your music, we’re just waiting for you to produce the right thing. At that stage I was like wow that would be perfect. It’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, to get signed to Hospital Records. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that actually it was going to be detrimental for me to sign exclusively to one label so early on in my career so I actually held off on putting pen to paper because there were a few other loose ends I needed to tie up first. I had a couple of remixes coming out on other labels, I had some original tunes coming out on Liquicity for example, and I just felt like I needed some space from who I was pre-Med School. I generated most of my fan-base from free music. I didn’t ask people to pay for much of what I did because it was a hobby, and as soon as I signed to Med School I thought, OK maybe this won’t be a hobby, maybe this will be something more. I was kind of nervous upon signing because I didn’t know how it was gonna turn out really. I didn’t know how my first album was gonna go down or anything. So it was really reassuring to know that there were so many people behind Med School, so many people behind Hospital who’d had so much experience of putting an album together, who’d them selves written six or seven albums. Dan Nu:tone’s release sort of a thousand tunes in his career, He’s one of those guys that you can draw knowledge from infinitely. Smiles. To have those guys on board was mind blowing at the first stage. I listened to everything they said and critically took apart my music and it never really got anywhere as the result of that. I realized soon after that I needed to take the criticisms as a general sort of paintbrush across the song, and go OK, though you’ve picked out that specific instance it still needs to remain in context with the rest of the song. I learned to take feedback less personally and more like they just want this song to be better than it is. There were two sides to the signing coin. First of all I didn’t have anyone to tell me how my music was gonna sound, and If I thought it was finished it was finished. Now I’ve got someone else telling me this isn’t finished, this needs work. That was a shock at first, but then as I got used to that process it benefited my music because it gave me a structured feedback system that appeals to me and sets me deadlines essentially. If I was left to my own devices my deadlines would get further and further away. So yeah, getting signed to Med School was one of those things that made me take this stuff seriously and put a record out.”

TP. “Well Life Cycle was very well received.”

K. “Yeah, it was actually surprising and it was where I met my girlfriend too actually, at the launch party.”

TP. “Aww, that’s lovely. Was a good party then?”

K. “Yeah it was, but she had no idea who I was and we kind of bumped into each other. I’d had two sets that day, 8-9 in room 2 at the main event and then 4-5 at the after party. It was a long day but it was really fun.”

TP. “Amazing, and you released your second studio album on Med School this year, the incredible Futurist. I feel that drew even more from your classical roots. Can you tell me a bit about Futurist and the concept behind the album?”

K. “I think that when I finished Life Cycle there was still loads of music left over that I kind of turned into the next EP which was Preludes. I was still writing music straight after I finished Life Cycle and those tunes stayed fresh until my next EP. Then Futurist was kind of a break off point where I thought I’m gonna write another album, I’m not gonna use any old music, I’m gonna write everything from scratch. I basically wanted the album to be cohesive in a way that Life Cycle wasn’t. From my perspective anyway, Life Cycle seems a bit fragmented and doesn’t really make sense if you listen to the tracks individually. The tracks aren’t stand-out enough on their own but as an album it makes a good varied bunch of tunes. With Futurist I wanted to have a whole cohesive sound for the whole album and make sure every track had it’s merits and everything was balanced in that way as well. I had a lot of work to do from the onset to make sure that it lived up to expectations. The classical influence was something I wanted to inject more-so because I got better at achieving realism in the music side of things, I got better at production, and I enjoyed the process of making sure that the violin melody sounded great. I got live strings recorded for the album. It was one of those projects that really satisfied me during the creative process. It was really nice to write Futurist, and then when it was released I realized it wasn’t mixable in any form for any DJ. Laughs. I thought oh crap, maybe I should have written a few DJ tunes as well. Really the concept of Futurist was to try and show people that the drum & bass scene isn’t dead in the water with loads of heavy stuff, there’s so much variety and depth, you just need to go and look for it. It’s just that the heavy loud F minor stuff is shoved in your face and you have no option but to see it on your Facebook because people love it. I wanted to do something completely different to that and show people that the emotional side to drum & bass is still there and that I’m quite good at it.”

TP. “It’s got a lot of depth as an album and is quite refreshing to hear something different.”

K. “Yeah, but I think people also didn’t really get it when it was first released. I think people thought it was wicked because it was new Keeno but I think a lot of drum & bass heads saw that album and thought it’s not really drum & bass, it’s cinema soundtrack-y stuff. Obviously there were some drum & bass tunes on there but the majority of the album, if you actually analyze it bar by bar, section by section, there’s more non-drum parts than drum parts. In totality it wouldn’t be a drum & bass album because a drum & bass album is lots of drums.”

TP. “But that’s why Hospital are good because as you said, they nurture you as an artist and allow you to create music that is real music that happens to fall within the genre of drum & bass.”

K. “Yeah, I’m not interested in writing music that’s just applicable to one moment in one club for one particular purpose. I’m interested in creating a piece of art, and art is, depending on the perspective of that person, anything. I’m not sure that a random F minor tune that you haven’t heard before, when it’s dropped in a club is gonna mean anything but that to anyone.”

TP. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Well I know that you’ve had a roller-coaster of a year performing at festival and events all over the UK and much further afield. Can you tell me about some of your highlights?”

K. “So my favourite DJ set this year was probably Outlook Festival. I played at the Garden Stage on the Sunday night, the last night of the festival, and everyone was kind of ruined from the weekend at that point, and had had so much heavy music. There wasn’t really much liquid at the festival. Sunday was dominated by Med School. We had the Med School boat party and we had the stage later on. There just seemed to be loads of people there who wanted to see Med School artists and see what we were up to. I was playing 1-2 or 2-3 and it was pretty busy at the start of my set, maybe six or seven hundred people, but then people kept arriving, and arriving, and arriving. Then it started tipping it down with rain but people kept coming. At the end of the set I reckon there was probably over 1000 people there. I was like holy crap, and I had to play some new tunes. It was one of those sets where it was just really wicked. From a traveling perspective going to Outlook and then going to Sun & Bass from there was a really cool experience as well. Going to Let It Roll was a highlight for me as well, because the whole Med School family was there, and all the Hospital artists were there as well. The whole drum & bass scene was basically there in this random airfield in the middle of Prague and I was like, I can see anyone I want to right now, this is wicked!  I think it was kind of a sixteen year old Will thinking oh my God, I’m actually on a lineup with all these crazy people.”

TP. “Amazing! Finally, what do you have in store for us over the next few months?”

K. “Well right now I’m trying to fix my computer! (Will had mentioned earlier He was having some technical issues.) But I’ve already got fourteen tunes in the pot for an EP which is a ridiculous amount of music for an EP. The music’s kind of taken a different turn for this one as I didn’t wanna release just another bunch of Futurist tunes, and I didn’t wanna release a bunch of laid back liquid because it’ll just get lost, especially at the moment. There’s a lot of liquid about in the scene which is great, I love the fact that there’s so much, with Dawn Wall and everything, but it’s suffering the same fate as all the F minor stuff and all the drums are starting to sound similar and it’s just becoming formulaic I guess. I wanna do something that really makes an impact, so I’m writing stuff with as minimal tools as possible, so basically just a string quartet, drums and bass. I really wanna put across the fact that you can come up with something that’s really dramatic and passionate without having it massively loud and in your face. I like the subtlety that I’m gaining over time so I’m gonna make the most of that in the next EP. I think that’s gonna be coming out March or April time depending on when it’s actually tied up and finished. We still need to make the final selection of the tunes and stuff. After that there’s gonna be another album at some point, but again I haven’t really started writing that yet. There’s a few tunes in the EP pot that I think would suit an album much better. So yeah, there’s the start of an album there but I think I’m gonna take my time over that one and make sure it ticks both boxes as well, so DJ’s can play it, but not sacrifice any musicality to make it playable for DJ’s. I’m just gonna try and weave that structure that they expect into the music and hope that it retains the emotional rawness that I’ve become known for.”

TP. “Nice. How about gigs?”

K. “There’s quite a lot coming up actually. Next weekend we’ve got Hospitality at Motion Bristol which is gonna be amazing, and then I’m going the next day to Liquicity in London. Then after a bit of time off I’m going to Moscow in December which is pretty cool. I think that once I’ve got the EP wrapped up I can be like right, where am I gonna play to make sure this gets out to as many people as I can. Until I’ve actually finished the music there’s not much I can decide because the music has to come first. I’m just taking my time and making sure the music’s perfect, or as perfect as I can get it and then see what happens.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Will about his music you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud.

Here’s a feature on Bristol24/7 called Talking Passions. It’s a Bristol-based interview series that hopes to inspire your creative side by interviewing passionate individuals in Bristol’s arts and music scenes. The driving force behind the series is a belief that within each of us is a creative soul with untold capabilities. It’s not always easy to follow your dreams and try to make it work, and it should be celebrated!

 Started by local journalist Adam Chisman, and with links to various Collectives in the city including Liquifyah, The Coconut Collective, as well as Irish online magazine Ceol Caint, Talking Passions comes in two weekly parts, with brand new written interviews on talkingpassions.com and Bristol24/7 and audio interviews on BCFM’s The Bristol Music Show and Soundcloud.


Words: Adam Chisman (Talking Passions)

Pictures: Keeno & Chelone Wolf Photography

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