Doug Keith

An interview with singer/guitarist Doug Keith
by Tina Hall
August 2010

native Madisonian, New York transplant Doug Keith - photo by Bryan Bruchman

native Madisonian, New York transplant Doug Keith
photo by Bryan Bruchman

Doug Keith is a singer/songwriter whose work has been related to traditional folk and Americana styles. The New Yorker has released his second album, The Lucky Ones, an eleven song offering that can be found on is co-owned independent label, The Village Label. With a voice that is surprising to hear, it is one of the best of it’s kind available at the moment.

Maximum Ink: Since there is much out there about you would you care to fill us in on your background?
Doug Keith: I’m a midwestern born kid (born in Madison actually) who moved with his family at the age of 12 to a town just outside of Syracuse, NY. I figured out the language fast (‘soda’ = ‘pop’, ‘wicked’ = ‘very’, ‘sneaker’ = ‘shoe’ and so on) but never let my roots sink too far into the ground there. I graduated early from high school, tried college but left after a semester, I’m not even sure I ever got my grades or if I did, I never saw them. I moved to San Francisco when I was 19 and played in punk bands. I stayed there until I was about 24 and then moved back east to NYC where I’ve been ever since. I bounced around in bands in NY and worked before eventually deciding to go solo and tour nonstop. I always had a drive to do it, but never felt it was the time. Once I started working in earnest on my first record I knew it was the right direction to head in.

MI: I read that you can’t remember a time when you weren’t obsessed with the guitar. Why do you think that is?
DK: My dad always says I gravitated towards non-organized ways to have fun like skateboarding. I was never very good at trying to fit in or follow set rules so things like school and such weren’t a good fit. Once I got my hands on a guitar, I just didn’t want to stop. I would play while watching tv, play while reading a magazine, play while listening to the radio, just non-stop. I think it was a good escape. I’m also kind of a fidgety person and I think it helped keep my hands from sitting idle.

MI: Who are some of your influences?
DK: I love songs and I really pay attention to lyrics but I also like things kind of raw so people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young are very high on my list of influences. I listen to a lot of blues, mostly from 1950 and earlier, Muddy Waters, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and so forth. From a guitar playing standpoint, Elizabeth Cotten is high on that list as well. From the punk days, I love Husker Du, The Replacements and the whole Minneapolis sound, Descendents and Fugazi are eternal favorites. My tastes are a bit schizophrenic and I keep a lot of music on hand because I am never sure what I am going to be in the mood for.

MI: When did you first know you wanted to be a professional musician?
DK: I’ve always loved playing music and playing live and I think it’s natural to want to make a living doing what you love, but the first time I remember thinking this was what I wanted to do was when my old punk band opened for Fugazi. They worked harder than any band I have seen since, both from a show perspective and from an all around perspective. They were in there loading in, setting up, helping set up the PA, setting up the dressing room, just all around, those guys worked hard and then played hard and really cared to create something amazing. I was so oblivious to the whole process big shows going in and Fugazi definitely set the bar high in regards to how to do it right. I keep that experience in mind as I do what I’m doing now.

MI: Your music has been called traditional folk/americana. What genre would you say it is? How would you describe the sound?
DK: I get asked this a lot and honestly am never sure how to answer it. I’d think it’s rock n roll but rock n roll has been divided and sub divided and then cut in half into so many genres that it seems too broad a description. I definitely see where the tags folk and americana get put on my music, but that’s more about these first two records. I’d expect that to change with future records…

MI: What was it like to perform a show with Darius Rucker?
DK: You know,  it was incredible. Our meeting was brief, but he is an extremely nice and funny guy. I had never been to a country music concert before and I loved it. His band is packed solid with amazing musicians and the whole spectacle of his show is really well done and fun to watch. He really cares about his fans and wants people to have a great time watching him perform and you can see that come through during his live show.

MI: Most of the vocals on this album where first takes? Why did you decide to do the album that way?
DK: I tried to keep things as live as possible and wanted to capture that spirit throughout the record. I’d played all the songs on the record hundreds of times with my band and on my own before recording this record and I thought most of them came out with the right feel the first time. If I didn’t I’d go back and redo them, but for the most part they were one take. I also don’t use auto-tune because I can hear it even when used subtly and I focus in on it too much.

MI:You said you hadn’t recorded anything but punk style stuff in a long time. What did it feel like get away from that and work mostly acoustic?
DK: It was great. It’s what I was playing at home and listening to more than punk at the time. On the first record I did under my own name (Here’s to Outliving Me) I felt like I needed to keep anything that could be used   in my louder band (Up The Empire) out of my solo stuff and save it for the louder band. The record didn’t suffer from that because I set out to create a specific feeling on that record, I just remember thinking about that a lot while recording. By the time I recorded the second record (The Lucky Ones), Up The Empire was no more and I felt really free to do whatever I wanted to. Even now as I’m writing new songs for the next record, I am aware that I feel even more free to explore any direction I want to, including a lot more electric guitar, which is probably why it’s a little tough for me to put a genre on all of it.

MI: What perks come with making an album under a label you co-own?
DK: I think some of the above that I was talking about how I feel like I can put out any style of record at any time is a big part of that. I don’t feel pressure to focus in on a specific genre if it doesn’t serve the overall purpose of my records or show. That’s really liberating. The other thing is I know what’s happening and what’s not happening with my records and promotion and such at all times. That’s a blessing and a curse. If something’s not happening it’s my fault but at the same time I know what is happening and can keep learning what works and what doesn’t.

MI: What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
DK: Do the work, there are no shortcuts.

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CD: The Lucky Ones Record Label: The Village Label
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