November 14, 2011
Since we first heard the music of the talented Nashville-based artist, Keegan DeWitt, we’ve written a number of jerky-Blog quips regarding DeWitt’s talent and the degree to which he makes us feel entirely inept in the realm of creativity. But, as you may have guessed, this acting out has merely been an effect of the intense fondness we hold for his driven, totally enticing brand of pop. Fa rizzle. The shizzle’s drizzle. …that last word doesn’t work does it?
Anyway, despite our constant denigration of this poor, gifted man, he’s agreed to ‘sit down’ for an ‘interview’ with us, wherein we speak of such tumultuous topics as regrettable tattoos, mummblecore, and how cats eat your face when you die. I did not bring that last one up.
Kindness of Ravens: Alright, first off, you should keep in mind that our past foul-mouthed forays have all been rooted in a deep-set jealousy of your creative capacity. Film composition? Pop song mastery? Acting? Hotelier + restaurateur? Dude, you’re too talented. Can you give us some dirt on yourself just so we feel a little better about our lives?
Keegan DeWitt:One day, I will lose my hair and probably be sorta fat.
KoR: I’m afraid that don’t cut it. Seriously though, where do you find the time for a personal life with all of that going on?
KD: When you are a married to a neuroscientist, you spend a lot of time working just to make up for the fact that you do “music” for a living. There is a lot of guilt and shame there that needs to get burnt off every single day. I wake up have to look at somebody fighting to cure Parkinson’s and I just sorta go “Welp…I’ll be in there doing a dance remix…no bigs.”
KoR: Oh, sure, THAT makes us feel better about our collective worth in the world. I’m going to get on disease-curing post-interview, post-haste! I know you do film composition work in addition to your pop-songery. Is it similar at all to what you’ve done professionally in that world?
KD: Before, not so much; now, more so. Everything is so transitional for us now in terms of sound that there are really no rules in either direction. The biggest difference is the privilege of “space” that film scores give you. I can play three notes and accomplish more than an entire 3:30 pop song. That is unique to a score.
KoR: I just put Quiet City at the top of our Netflix queue (above Friday Night Lights, no less). Though Netflix seems to think I’ll be rather ‘meh’ about the film.
KD: If there is one thing that is universally true, it’s that the things known as “internet” comments, whether it’s on Amazon, Netflix or your mom’s blog, are the single most useless achievement of humanity. I remember the day I opened cnn.com and they had iReport featured on the front page. I just thought, “If I wanted to listen to a bunch of dummies share their impulsive opinions, I don’t need to visit CNN for that.”
Have you ever read a comment on the internet and thought—”Wow, that was so insightful, intelligent, and well though-out. That just blew my mind”? No, you haven’t.
KD: Oh, and Quiet City…it’s not my place to judge its quality really except to say that it was an important step in both Aaron’s career and my own, and it seems to have inspired plenty of young filmmakers…so in its essence, it has a real value I think. I also think that out of the entire “mumblecore” movement there were maybe 3 or 4 films that really set out with a thoughtful agenda, and QC was one of those. “Mumblecore” in a way became this umbrella for just any old movie about 20 year olds, shot on a crap camera and with little or no effort to create a narrative. That’s a shame because films like Mutual Appreciation and Quiet City, in my opinion, really aimed to explore a flat narrative and a subtlety of communication. It was an intentional artistic endeavor vs. just a crappy film about your friends.
A lot of the films considered “mumblecore” were just amateur attempts at narrative film that didn’t work. I know Aaron, and all of us, really loved Antonioni, Malick, etc. and wanted to try and find some sort appropriation of that for ourselves. We started with the neighborhood we lived in and two friends we knew, that’s Quiet City.
KoR: Okay, first off, my mom’s blog is great. She was totally listed on CNN’s 2011 Game-Changing Blog Moms. Though I totally agree with you on the dearth of courtesy or even simple human consideration that’s resulted from the anonymity of the Web. Back to scoring though, how did you get started working in that world in the first place?
KD: Aaron and I grew up together; we both attended separate Film Conservatories out of high school and re-convened on Dance Party USA, which was my first scoring project.
KoR: Which brings us to dance music—what’s the deal with all those mixtapes
on your site?
KD: Long before we were aiming in a dance-y direction within our actual music, I was really compelled by it. I spent a lot of time really digging and digging through the Internet, finding inspiring music. Whenever I see some interview with a musician talking about the Web having destroyed music, it makes me think of the world of dance music. Right now, there are hundreds of insanely talented producers and musicians creating remixes, original tracks, and mixtapes for absolutely no money at all. They are potentially getting booking fees for appearances, but for the most part, it’s this massive community of people who have a super nuanced understanding of pop and dance music and production and are churning out large amounts of material for ABSOLUTELY NO PROMISED RETURN. That’s pretty incredible.
As I discovered this stuff, the mixtapes started.
In terms of the classical mixtapes, the very first one was Reluctance. That was my way of sharing with some close friends a sneak peek at this treasure box of instrumental music I had assembled. Especially before Spotify, it wasn’t so easy to know about Michael Nyman,Ryuichi Sakamoto, or Gavin Bryars, let alone find their material. I had, and still do, collect instrumental or classical tracks. They are a large part of my writing process and making those classical mixes was a way for me to pass them onto friends.
KoR: That’s really nice. It’s impossible to deny how the Internet’s facilitated in the sharing of music worldwide, I just feel like we need to find some way of re-injecting the process with that precious/intimate factor that was intrinsic in the making of insanely detailed cover art for insanely though-out actual real-life mixtapes in the 80s and 90s.
So, I’ve found that a lot of your newer work follows this particular driving, emotive, high-paced-rhythm peppered with some really nice call-and-response melodic guitar work, but, other than that, and a touch of New Order on one specific song (“Colours”), I have a bit of a hard time pinning down your influences. Can you speak to some of them? And do you feel like the sound’s changed a lot since Islands?
KD: I recorded Islandsbefore I ever really thought of making music full-time. I was super, super young and just beginning to explore what it meant to make music. That entire record is steeped in literature, strings, acoustic and folky sounds. It’s something I feel proud of now, but not something that I feel entirely compelled to explore anymore. I think that’s mainly because I’ve now established two separate worlds for myself that fulfill my desires nicely. I have the composer side where I can deal with strings and orchestration as much as I want, and I have the pop stuff which, in my opinion, is most compelling when it’s appealing to a more primal/dance-y and driven place.
KoR: Well, I TOTALLY agree with the dance-y driven bit. And your sister’s in the NC band,Roman Candle too, right? A friend of ours knows and highly recommends them.
KD: Yeah, my sister, Timshel, is in Roman Candle along with her husband and his brother. They were the primary players on Islands.
KoR: Ah, it’s all coming together now. So, you currently live in Nashville, correct? What brought you there?
KD: In a lot of ways, I grew up in New York and Oregon. I spent my young years in Oregon, and then was in New York from age 17 and up. So New York was a massive part of shaping me. It’s where I experienced such a wide and amazing variety of things. But at some point, I needed to focus. I hit a point where I just realized that if I was gonna succeed at anything, I was gonna need to choose one and hope that someday, that opened avenues to pursue the other things. I left behind the work that I had done in acting and film conservatory and decided that it would be music, the thing I had done most instinctively since childhood. Moving to Nashville not only let me be closer to my family (Roman Candle is now in Nashville), but it allowed me to make music my full time job. Cost of living and cost of stress is just so much less in Nashville, and it allowed me to have a studio, an office, a home, more sanity, more focus, etc…all while still being connected to the industry.
KoR: Don’t you miss Brooklyn though? Or is it just…freeing to be out of New York, you think? Or maybe you were just getting sick of all those food trucks.
KD: Oh believe me, there are plenty of food trucks everywhere, for better or worse. I always worried that after I left Brooklyn, I’d come back and it would eat me up from missing it. But once I really got settled in Nashville, it never did. I spent 7 years in New York, I did everything—or almost everything—you could possibly do there. I opened hotels, I opened restaurants, I went to film school, I went to acting school, I worked amazing jobs with crazy maniac celebrities, I worked horrible jobs with a bunch of strung out weirdos…I have a pretty comprehensive understanding of New York. I love it. I also think that New York is home for me, in a weird way. As much as I live in Nashville, I’ve never felt like a Nashvillian. I sorta feel like I’m an embedded reporter in a foreign land some times.
KoR: Well-put! So, are you hitting up NYC again any time soon for a show? Or did that sound guy at the Canal Room sour you on our fine city’s venues?
KD: We will be back soon, for sure. We were there six times this year and have been on the road non-stop since SXSW last year (March). We are right in the midst of writing and recording the new record for this spring so it won’t be until March-ish.
KoR: Oooh, think you might be able to give us a preview to feature on a Music Mondy in 2012?
KD: Sadly, you will have to wait with the rest of us, including me. It’s all very much in a big stew that is still rising to a boil.
KoR: Ah, culinary-musical analogies. My least favorite. Though we’re obviously psyched for the record. Also, it seems like you’re on the soundtrack to every other prime time show lately. And you did that Facebook soundtrack thing. You’ve gotta have a pretty great PR/manager type person.
KD: If there is anyone to give credit for the progress we’ve made this year, it’s my amazing publicist Amanda Pitts, my amazing sync people over at Zync Music, and my lawyer Jeff Colvin. I’m unique in that I don’t have a record label or a manager, so it’s a testament to all of those committed people that we’ve accomplished what we have. We are serious hustlers. What is the name of that Hillary Clinton book? It Takes A Village? Yeah, that’s us.
KoR: Alright, lightening round, Mr. DeWitt. Off-the-radar band you’re liking lately?
KoR: That last one might be a little more on the radar than the rest, but alright. Best thing about Nashville?
KD: My wife, my home, the weather, and the lack of those horrible NY winters.
KoR: Gotta rub it in, don’t ya? Favorite restaurant there?
KoR: Hm. Nashville sounds not so vegan-friendly. Dog or cat person?
KD: I have two dogs and go to the pound with my wife to hold the puppies when we need cheering up. When you die, dogs cuddle your body and cry. Cats just eat your face. I didn’t make that up.
KoR: Fair enough, but my cat doesn’t make me follow him down the street so I can pick up his poop. I’ll take some end-of-life face-eating for that grace. Donut-eating contest or taco-eating contest?
KD: Tacos with lots of hot sauce.
KoR: Correct! Best theoretical tattoo?
KD: I’d love to theoretically have all of mine removed, except for maybe the last one.
KoR: Well, now we have to ask….
KD: Most importantly, the first two… don’t get tattoos for your 18th and 19th birthdays… maybe not your smartest years. Although, I take that back because my wife got hers on her 18th and it’s incredible. Photo 51. Science nerd stuff.
KoR: Oh, that IS nerdy! Though I have a life-size Yoda from bottom of neck all the way down to…well…. Nickname growing up?
KoR: Yeah, that makes sense. Best movie ever?
KoR: Saw a double-bill of those two once. Weird stuff. Name something that Brooklyn’s got that Nashville don’t? And, yes, I’m very geographically insecure.
KoR: We win! And I hear they’ve got a veggie meatball sandwich. Finally, if you weren’t a film composer/indie singer-songwriter/actor/professional mixtape maker/high-falutin’ NYC developer, you’d be a…?
KD: Venture Capitalist, Male Nurse, Portland Trail Blazer owner.
KoR: Damn you! Even your fake professions are better than ours!
We’d obviously like to thank Keegan for putting up with us there. And, for the record, after the interview, we did check out Quiet City
—totally solid slow (in a great way) indie film. Highly recommended.