FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 20, 2015
TOMMY KEENE’S LAUGH IN THE DARK BLENDS
DARK INTROSPECTION AND BLAZING GUITARS
Due Sept. 4 via Second Motion on CD, 180-gram vinyl and digital,
the follow-up to acclaimed 2013 covers set
finds the veteran artist recharged and rocking.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Eleven full-lengths, four EPs, three compilations and one live album into the game, Tommy Keene is in the midst of a creative roll that, in the space of just six years, has yielded four studio albums — five, if you count 2010 career overview Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009. The rock savant’s new offering, Laugh in the Dark, is the latest in a fruitful partnership with North Carolina’s Second Motion Records label, due out September 4, 2015, and comprises ten fresh Keene nuggets meticulously assembled over the course of six months, a period in which his “unobvious covers” record Excitement at Your Feet saw release to unanimous critical acclaim.
Laugh in the Dark, while characterized as always by Keene’s distinctive flair for melodic guitar-driven rock and brawny power pop, marks a subtle shift in the artist’s songwriting modus operandi in that unlike previously, the material is all of recent vintage. As he explains, “There were always songs left over from the last project or ideas that hadn’t been fleshed out. What I've done in the past before starting to write for a new record would be to demo a cover or resurrect an old song of mine that I liked but never made the final cut for an album. But all the songs on Laugh in the Dark were started and finished last year from April through October. I started with a completely fresh slate on this one.”
Indeed, Keene cites the experience of doing an entire album’s worth of others’ material as being key to that “fresh slate” — and possibly even opening up some creative avenues to explore. “That’s really true,” says Keene. “Somehow, making the covers album freed me up to not be so overly hypersensitive as to my influences. In fact, I didn’t even worry at all about songs, melodies, etc., that might borrow too obviously from my main muses. Hence you have a direct concoction of the Beatles meet the Who by way of Big Star, with a little Stones for good measure.”
To that end, Laugh in the Dark sounds utterly unrestricted while still remaining true to Keene’s lifelong inspirations. Opening track “Out of My Mind,” with its brash power chords and anthemic vibe, subtly conjures vintage Who, while “Last of the Twilight Girls” has a Radio City-worthy opening riff and a succinct-yet-meaty solo to remind listeners of Keene’s prowess as a lead guitarist. Likewise, the title tune’s jangly invocations and wistful choruses speak to his instincts as a pop classicist. “Go Back Home,” with its bluesy acoustic framework spiked by sleek slide guitar, suggests a marriage between Led Zeppelin III and Let It Bleed. And album closer “All Gone Away” is overtly Beatlesque, from its “Dear Prudence”-inspired melody to the psychedelic guitar/keyboard flourishes to a generally epic feel. (Watch for this one at Keene concerts as a show closer as well.)
It’s still a uniquely Keene project from start to finish, however, awash in buoyant melodies as well as introspective — and at times, dark — lyrical ruminations. “I have had some major upheavals in my life the last few years,” confesses Keene, and it’s not hard to detect echoes of those issues if one listens closely. “When I’m writing an album I look for a beginning, a middle and an end,” he continues, “not necessarily in a thematic sense, but I do try to get songs that represent where I am at the present time and hope they feel consistent.”
Keene, previously of D.C.-area combo the Razz, hit the national scene in 1982 with Strange Alliance. Then in 1984 a six-song platter of pop perfection titled Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) landed him high on the CMJ charts and atop the Village Voice Pazz & Jop EP of the Year poll. Blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet but absolutely invigorating, it still stands as a powerful statement.
He made enough noise in the early ’80s to get the majors involved, leading to 1986’s Songs From the Film (Geffen) Produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the album spawned two MTV videos and spent 12 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200. The accompanying Run Now EP led to the singer as well as its title track appearing in the Anthony Michael Hall movie Out of Bounds.
For 1989’s Based on Happy Times (Geffen) Keene headed down to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record with producers John Hampton and Joe Hardy. The ironically titled disc is the darkest album in the Keene catalog, with heavier guitars, fewer jangles, and a more brooding, fatalistic outlook. Following that he took a break from recording, eventually signing with Matador for 1996’s Ten Years After and 1998’s Isolation Party. (During this period he also briefly spent time in Paul Westerberg’s touring band.) Between 2000 and 2004 he released a live disc called Showtunes (Parasol), The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (SpinArt) and rarities/demos/unreleased-tracks collection Drowning: A Tommy Keene Miscellany (Not Lame).
Back on the road in 2004, a trek opening for Guided By Voices led to his joining Robert Pollard in ’06 as a touring member of his post-GBV band the Ascended Masters and, two years later, Boston Spaceships. Meanwhile, 2006 also saw the release of Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty), recorded primarily by Keene himself at home, along with Blues and Boogie Shoes, a collaboration with Pollard under the Keene Brothers moniker. An initial effort for Second Motion, 2009’s In the Late Bright, was soon joined by Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009, a two-CD collection holding over 40 of his best tunes. Then in 2011 he delivered the masterful Behind the Parade, boasting emphatic hooks, irresistible refrains and vibrant, jangly melodies with a distinctly ’60s sensibility.
That in turn led to 2013’s aforementioned Excitement at Your Feet. Those who had followed Keene’s career already knew his definitive versions of Alex Chilton’s “Hey Little Child” and Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons.” Here he tackled influences ranging from the Stones, Donovan, Bee Gees and the Who to Big Star, Echo & the Bunnymen, Television and Roxy Music, but rather than choosing obvious material he opted for deep cuts and lesser-known gems.
With the arrival of Laugh in the Dark Tommy Keene offers yet more evidence that he is like an athlete rediscovering his prime. Only in this artist’s case, he never left it. Incidentally, the album title comes from a ride at an amusement park on the outskirts of his old stomping ground of Washington D.C. — the same park where the cover photo for 1984’s Places That Are Gone was shot. “See, I amconsistent!” he concludes, smiling at the memory.
Keene will tour the U.S. this fall behind Laugh in the Dark. Full itinerary at http://www.tommykeene.com/tourdates.htm
# # #LISTEN NOW to a track from Tommy Keene's Laughing in the Dark courtesy of Blurt magazine:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 10, 2013
TOMMY KEENE TURNS TO UNOBVIOUS COVERS FOR HIS TENTH ALBUM, EXCITEMENT AT YOUR FEET
On his new release, out September 17 on Second Motion Records,
Keene curates a selection of covers that you and your friends know,
but your neighbors probably don’t.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Tommy Keene delved deep into his record collection in planning Excitement at Your Feet (Second Motion Records), his 10th studio effort and first LP of cover songs, due for release Sept. 17. Those who have followed Tommy’s career know his definitive versions of Alex Chilton’s “Hey Little Child” and Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons.” But what to expect from an entire Keene covers album? The order of the day is deep album tracks rather than top hits. He takes on some heavy hitters — the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Bee Gees — but apart from Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” none of Excitement’s 11 tracks ever troubled the U.S. singles chart.
So Excitement is largely about the artist’s personal musical inspiration. Tommy pays tribute to his aforementioned British Invasion heroes, but also his East Coast punk/new wave roots with covers of Television and Mink Deville. On a more contemporary note, he also tips his hat to Keene Brothers partner Robert Pollard with a cover of Guided By Voices’ “Choking Tara.” Get ready to dig into this idiosyncratic survey of great rock and roll from the past half century.
(Excitement is not Tommy’s only covers record to be released this year. His version of Slim Dunlap’s “Nowheres Near” was released as the flip side of Lucinda Williams’ take on Dunlap’s “Partners in Crime.” The very limited 7-inch singles were auctioned to raise money for the ailing former Replacements guitarist. Other “Songs for Slim” participants are the Replacements (in the ’90s, Tommy was part of ex-Replacement Paul Westerberg’s touring band), Jakob Dylan, Steve Earle and others. And in yet other release news, Tommy’s extremely rare first LP, Strange Alliance, has been reissued on vinyl by the Austin-based label 12XU, which also reissued Tommy’s first 7-inch single, “Back to Zero” b/w “Mr. Roland.”)
Although a covers LP is something of a departure for Tommy, it continues his string of formidable albums starting with 2006’s Crashing the Ether. But for the rest of the story, you have to go back to 1984, when a six-song platter of pop perfection titled Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) put Tommy Keene onto the CMJ charts and atop the Village Voice Pazz & Jop EP of the Year poll. Blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet but absolutely invigorating, it still stands as a powerful statement, not only establishing him as a unique singer-songwriter, but also as a guitarist with a sound as distinctive as Pete Townshend or Johnny Marr.
Keene made enough noise in the early ’80s to get the majors involved, and in 1986 he released Songs From the Film on Geffen. Produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the album featured two MTV videos, “Listen to Me” and a re-recording of Places That Are Gone’s title track, and spent 12 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200. The 1998 CD reissue of Songs also includes one of the all-time great Keene rockers, “Run Now,” with inspired rhythm section work from drummer Doug Tull and bassist Ted Niceley, plus a terrific extended guitar solo. The singer as well as the song appeared in the Anthony Michael Hall movie Out of Bounds.
After releasing the Run Now EP in 1986, the original Tommy Keene group, which also included guitarist Billy Connelly, disbanded. Tommy headed down to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record with producers John Hampton and Joe Hardy. The result was Based on Happy Times (Geffen, 1989). The ironically titled disc is the darkest album in the Keene catalog. Although his best material has always been infused with melancholia, Happy Times tracks like “The Biggest Conflict” and “A Way Out” reveal a more fatalistic outlook. The guitars are heavier, there is less jangle, and there aren’t as many hooky vocal harmonies. It is a beautifully crafted, sometimes brooding, arty rock record.
In 1996, Tommy released Ten Years After (Matador), his first full-length album of all new material in seven years. Produced by Keene and recorded by pop music wunderkind Adam Schmitt, it contains classic pop hooks and the loudest guitars to date. For his next effort, Isolation Party (Matador), Keene recruited an all-star cast, getting some fine instrumental and vocal performances from former Gin Blossom Jesse Valenzuela and Wilco’s Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy. A live disc called Showtunes (Parasol), released in 2000, was followed up in 2001 with The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down for the SpinArt label. Tommy used his next effort, Drowning: A Tommy Keene Miscellany (Not Lame), to clean out his closets of 20 years’ worth of rarities, demos and unreleased sessions. One of the best hodgepodge records you’ll ever hear, more than one critic felt it bested many greatest-hits packages.
Back on the road in 2004, Tommy and his band joined Guided By Voices on the East and West Coast legs of their farewell tour. Apart from some choice gigs, the shows also led to Tommy joining Pollard as a member of his post GBV band, The Ascended Masters, for their 2006 U.S. tour and a limited-edition live LP, Moon (Merge). The year also saw the release of Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty), which was performed and recorded primarily by Tommy himself at home with drums by John Richardson and contributions from regular Keene band members and friends. Sonically, the album is dazzling, with big drums and open, ringing guitars, and lyrically it was arguably a great leap forward.
The follow-up to Crashing the Ether was Blues and Boogie Shoes, an LP with Robert Pollard under the Keene Brothers moniker. Although side projects can sometimes be less than wholehearted efforts, songs such as “The Naked Wall” or “Death of the Party” — as good as any Keene or Pollard have written together or separately — show that neither artist held anything back.
2009’s In the Late Bright (Second Motion) displayed the full range of Tommy’s song craft over 11 tracks. The album kicked into high gear with “Late Bright,” a minor-key rocker that gets its tense and dramatic work done in two minutes flat. From there on out, the album delivered a fan-friendly collection of melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, inventive chord progressions and great guitar playing.
The artist summed up his solo output through 2009 with Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009 (Second Motion), a two-CD collection holding over 40 of his best tunes (including an unreleased acoustic take of Crashing the Ether’s “Black and White New York”). Even then, fans debated what he included vs. what he left off — further proof of the man’s enduring songwriting prowess.
In 2011, Keene showed that his retrospective wasn’t a career capper, by releasing arguably his best record, Behind the Parade. Like its predecessors, the disc affirmed his pop proficiency, mastery of his craft and his ability to ensure instant accessibility given the benefit of emphatic hooks, irresistible refrains and the kind of vibrant, jangly melodies that bring to mind a distinctly ’60s sensibility. Tommy may once have worshiped at the altar of the Beatles, Byrds and Beach Boys, but with Parade, his synthesis of sounds transcended these retro references to become something wholly fresh and exhilarating. Tommy’s recent output suggests that he is like an athlete rediscovering his prime, only in this artist’s case, he never left it.
Tommy will tour the U.S. this fall behind Excitement at Your Feet.