Wellington songwriter Michael James Keane has recently released his 8 track solo album 'The Cascade'.
The Performance Arcade sat down with Micheal to talk about music and his upcoming performance at The Performance Arcade 2019.
Arcade: Hi Michael! So you’ve just released ‘The Cascade’, can you tell us about the concept and process behind this record?
Sure thing. So, there were four spaces, really, that the record was made in. The first one was the start of 2016, at Wellington Hospital. I was there for about a month, and that was when I did the first parts of the writing and the demo-ing there. I left hospital and connected with a friend of mine, Graeme, and he came on board to get the songs done. There’s obviously a lot of strings on the record, so the next part was putting those together. Then in my house on Oriental Parade, we went through and did the string arrangements. By hand at first, and then digitised them.
We went out to a studio in Lindale, which is like a funny little strip mall kind of thing, outside of Paekakariki. It’s got a candy shop and it used to have a petting zoo, but it’s a very surreal place now because the petting zoo is now just roosters, and then all these empty shops. That’s also where they record Coast FM, the local radio station. So in the carpark, there are these big speakers, and they blast Coast FM. But at night, Coast FM doesn’t broadcast, so they just play BBC World Service. So it’s very post-apocalyptic at night—you’ve just got BBC World Service blasting out into this dark car park.
But out there, within this strange strip mall, there’s a small studio which is where we did all the demo-ing. We had late nights, and constructed the songs with percussion, and other instrumentation, and those kind of things. And then came into town, and did all the tracking at James Goldsmith’s Blue Barn, in Newtown. It was a good process, it was about a week.
So what were some of the ideas behind the concept of the record?
The concept was around ‘the cascade’, which was a musical motif, which is on the album a few times. Also, I suppose a state of mind I was in, in the time of writing, with mental health, trying to get into mindfulness, trying to quieten things in my head. The “cascade” was just this roaring, or constant thing that was happening. So that was the concept with the motif, and working it into the songs was trying to take it out of my head, and put it somewhere else. Get to examine it.
What can we expect from your performance at The Arcade?
My performance at The Arcade is gonna be more of an intimate performance. It’ll just be me and Lucy Bealer, who’ll be doing some piano. I’ll be doing some new songs, as well as some pre-this album songs, and trying to create a bit of an arc out of my material.
The theme of The Performance Arcade this year is the Pink Line. What are the routines and habits you have to keep yourselves ‘in line’ creatively?
I suppose, because I work in a music venue—in San Fran—so I always feel like I am around live music. I’m lucky to get to see as much as I do. So I guess being part of the scene, try and get around and see music. But that’s the main thing for me, is feeling connected in the city, to people. Especially when you are doing something on your own as a solo thing, you can kind of just get in your own little bubble, but I don’t find it as rewarding. I have to remind myself that there are people around me who like to create and like to spend time together in that environment.
And do you have any habits of rebellion to push back against keeping too much on the straight and narrow through your work?
A few years ago someone told me that you are supposed to make music that your parents don’t like. For some reason that’s always stuck in my head! I’m very close to my parents, they are very supportive of my music. Particularly my father, we are both very into country, traditional music. It’s a lot of what we listened to or play together, and I think he probably sees this as a bit of a drift away. I remember sending him this album and his feedback being probably the least enthusiastic I’ve ever heard, so while I felt disappointed, I thought, you know—gotta keep making things! If your parents don’t like it it means your being too safe!
Lines can acts as points of connection between distant places, but also can be used to separate and divide. Can you identify any examples of separation and connection included in your music?
I suppose, the main thing would be that, as I was saying earlier, with The Cascade and with mental health and expression, and connecting with people around you which maybe you don't feel like doing when you are not feeling confident in yourself. I suppose those are the main lines I try to do, I try to separate the bits that I have something to express, but I don’t want it to just be all over me or I won’t feel comfortable enough to then connect with other people to make it a pleasurable creative experience. I suppose those are my main lines.
Can you draw a line between some of your musical influences and your own work?
Yeah, a big influence for me, for this album, was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. And when me and Graeme early on were doing the demoing in Lindale, we were doing all that on a four track cassette recorder, so we had the same model cassette recorder as he used, and we were having lots of fun playing with that trying to capture vibes that he had on that. Sufjan Stevens Carrie and Lowell was another record that I was listening to a lot that I thought “this has got some really special moments in it” that really inspired me. A gentleness to it.
Can you pinpoint the act of performance in other areas of your life or practice, outside of your music?
I suppose I try to make, my main performance effort is trying to dress as I feel, or want to feel. I think that’s my main tool of personal performance—and that doesn’t necessarily mean dressing flashy, but I always feel better when I put an effort into what I wear or have a story behind what I’m wearing. I like to feel that performance element in life even if I’m not that loud as a person.
What is the most unique or memorable place you have played?
Lots of kitchens… The flat I’ve just moved into, about 8 years ago or something when we were 18 or 19 some friends lived there and we had a house party there where we played in the kitchen and I’ve just moved into that house. When we first went to check it out and look around I thought how did we ever party in here? And how did people play in this kitchen? I can’t remember the young reckless ambition that was like “oh this’ll be fine! We’ll just set some speakers up here somehow!”
Amazing! That’s great. Thank you so much Michael.
Micheal James Keane will be playing at The Performance Arcade on Saturday 2 MAR , 7.00pm
Thank you to Hiria Hallbutcher for putting this interview together.
Check out Micheal's music at michaeljameskeane.bandcamp.com/releases