Name: Bastien Keb
Occupation: musician /lecturer
Current Release: Organ Recital on Gearbox Records
Recommendations: Both these things made me cry. The Truffle Hunters made by Gregory Kershaw, Michael Dweck /A poem called Two Headed Calf by Laura Gilpin
If you enjoyed this interview with Bastien Keb you can find him online at Bandcamp, Twitter and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music in my late teens in various bands. I suppose I got more serious in my 20s, and wanted to make music which incorporated all the music I love, but for it not to be a corny folk / hip hop crossover or something. So my main focus is on making coherent albums, which have genre changes, as well as sitting together as an album, and for it to be something new.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think that's pretty standard, learning off the music you like, then developing your own voice. For me it just took a really long time and a lot of making music no one would ever hear, a lot of bad experimenting. And then it sort of becomes natural. I had a clear idea in my mind of what I wanted my music to be, but it had to be decoded, which took ages.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’ve had a lot of mental health problems since I was in my teens, so I think that paranoia, depression and dissociation from reality comes through in the music, that’s certainly what I wanted it to sound like, basically a dream. I never spoke about my problems when I was younger so music was a way of talking about it.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Just finding the sound that was in my head. Getting all my influences coming through. It was just lots of experimenting, and persistence. Now I feel I've made enough albums to have a bit of a ‘sound’ so I'm more free now. Also I’ve learnt what works and what doesn't, so the process of making a record is less hit or miss with the writing now.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I use the same setup I always have. I’ve always had bedroom studios in rented houses, which is still the same. Same instruments from the first record, pretty much everything’s the same.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I’ve always been pretty adamant that I want only real instruments on my records. So I had to learn a bunch of stuff, like trumpet, cello, but now you can get incredible patches and sounds that no one can tell the difference between real instruments and patches, that bums me out a lot. I spent a lot of time learning how to play instruments and create real sounds and now some dude with the new version of Logic can make sounds as legit as me but with just a keyboard. That’s so wack to me. The artistry is sort of going from the music industry because of technology. It's just kinda sad. Learning how to play instruments is a positive thing for people and getting good takes years of commitment. It's sad man.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
You definitely find people that fit with you from a collaboration perspective. I’m pretty stand-offish and quiet, so you put me in a room for a collaboration with a few people and I'll likely shy away. I’ve been lucky to find a bunch of people - Chelou, Claudia, Cappo - who give you room in a collaboration, and pretty quickly you establish the role each of you play and the strength each person brings. That's when things really begin to work.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I’ve been working as a music lecturer, but now in the summer, until the uni opens again, I'm working full time in a warehouse, so I generally make music on days off. I don't have a huge amount of time for music at the moment and have been working on woodworking projects in my free time mainly. So it's kinda a bit weird. I’ve always just made music when I had the time.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think my third record (The Killing of Eugene Peeps) was the record I felt I'd made something close to what I wanted. At that time I was working a 50 hr week in a warehouse and the record drove me mad. I actually got signed off from work after nine months because of depression. Was it worth it? No, no it wasn't. I made something I was proud of but everything went to shit. It's probably easier to say the second record was the breakthrough album, that experience was all good!
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I like sad music a lot, so I try to make sad music. Sometimes it might have a groove or elements of positivity, but generally I suppose I like to make music when I'm feeling down and lost, which is often. I’m sounding like a barrel of laughs here (honestly in person I'm pretty upbeat).
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I definitely understand when people say music heals, unfortunately for me I got obsessed with making it and it became something that almost destroyed me, but that's on me. Going too deep into anything will fuck you up.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think honesty is so important. I don't wanna see artists acting like they're from somewhere they’re not. Be respectful. Listen to people who are telling you their life experiences and cultures. Understand you don’t know everything and everyone’s an individual.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think music in film and generally with images can be the pinnacle of a music experience. I always wanted to be a film composer so for me that's where image and sound is at its best.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don’t think anyone’s purpose is art. For a while I believed that making music was the most important thing but I lost my mind, and lost a lot more too. It's a lonely life as an artist. The most enjoyment you’ll have in life is people. Don't take art too seriously. I did, and I was wrong.
What can music express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
It's instant, it can be going on without you realising. All other art you almost have to pay attention to, with music and sound it can be going on whilst you're distracted and it still influences you.