"I can’t ever complete a song without a guitar in hand" We chat with Annie Keating
Hey Annie, how the devil are you doing?
Very well! It’s a sunny day in Brooklyn.
Where are you right now?
I’m in our Park Slope brownstone, just had dinner with the family.
What have you been up to today?
Today I rehearsed for the upcoming tour, did a big food shop for a BBQ party we’re having in our backyard tomorrow night and played basketball with my son. I listened to the new John Prine album and it made me happy.
Introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Annie Keating and I’m a Brooklyn-based songwriter. I just released a new EP with a wonderful group of musicians that I’ve been playing with for years. I learned to play guitar when I was 12 but didn’t have the courage to do music as a “career” until in my 30’s. In earlier years, I directed programs for NGO’s (non profits) doing rewarding work (environmental justice, reproductive health, civil liberties protection, etc) but when my daughter was born, I realized all I’ve ever wanted to do was spend time raising my kids and make records. Since then it’s been a busy and exciting ride, with 8 albums over the last 14 years and some wonderful international tours with great musicians. I’m lucky to do what I love though sometimes I dream of living on a farm and building guitars, away from the city chaos. But I honestly almost failed out of shop class because I’m no good with measuring and tools it seems, so I suppose I should stick to raising kids and songwriting.
What can you tell us about your new record, Ghost of the Untraveled Road, in two sentences?
These songs were born in motion; in the back of a hot tour rig last July, traversing 4 countries and some 7000 miles (a month of 30 shows), I ended up with a box full of half poems, melodies, refrains and phrases on napkins, set lists and my tour notebook that quickly - surprisingly - became 5 distinct tracks. I think that this album imparts that feeling of traveling through new lands, unexpected surprises, a journey of longing and also letting go.
How do you go about writing and choosing which songs to record?
I write best when I’m on the road or in motion. Sometimes I write on the subway, getting ideas as the train moves above and below ground. But ultimately, the ideas need to connect with a strong melody; I can’t ever complete a song without a guitar in hand. The lyrics and music have to come to fruition and take shape together or it simply won’t work for me.
If you could only get people to listen to one song from the record, which would it be? And why?
Depends which person we’re talking about … Romantics (and country music lovers) should listen to 'Forever Loved', dreamers will like 'Kindness of Strangers', but those who love a good sad song (I’m a sucker for songs about longing and a touch of melancholy) should listen to 'Forget My Name'. I’m probably most compelled by the title track because it’s lyrically most interesting and I love the feel of the music. So maybe go with that one?
What was the thinking behind an acoustic record?
The most important thing is to try to honestly and truly serve the songs. These songs called out for an acoustic sound, pure and simple. Percussion wasn’t needed.
You’re from Boston originally, what the best thing about the city?
It’s a beautiful town and I love New England. The fall foliage gets me every time.
And the worst?
It can feel homogenous though it’s not … the different races, classes and cultures there don’t interact nearly as much or in the same way as in New York City. It feels more segregated. You can feel stuck in one kind of experience.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
When I had to use a clean bathroom in midtown with my daughter.
Neil Young is an influence for you, what is it about his music that has such an impact on people?
He’s raw, honest and doesn’t give a crap about what he “should” sound like. He’s an original who has always stayed true to the sounds and visions inside of himself. His songs can be haunting, vulnerable and somehow pure. I think that compels people.
What does the rest of 2018 hold for you?
A summer tour (June) in Germany, Denmark and Italy and then the Greek Islands with friends and family. Pretty fantastic! Hopefully I’ll write more on the road and we’ll see about the next release - I don’t like to plan these things - the songs seem to come when they are ready. I hope to tour the UK (perhaps with a wonderful band called Porchlight Smoker) and Holland in 2019 and will be working on setting those shows up this fall.
Where can we see you playing live this summer?
Come to Italy, Denmark or Germany! Or New York City!
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
One song of mine? 'For the Taking'. One song by someone else? This week I’d say 'Souvenirs' by John Prine or 'No Hard Feelings' by the Avett Brothers.
Can you tell us an artist we might not know but should keep an ear out for?
I kind of just find music I love and much of it is not “current” but let's see … I recently watched the Netflix film about the Avett Brothers (called Let it Last) and was really moved by their music. I’d recommend watching that film and listening to their music. I’ve been really enjoying Sarah Jarosz’s Undercurrent album and her new collaborative project/band I’m with Her but you likely already know those works. You may not know Mipso … that’s a lovely band.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
You’ve been pretty thorough! I guess you could have asked me what kind of guitar I play because it would give me an excuse to talk about my beloved 1930’s Gibson acoustic. God, she’s beautiful. That guitar makes me happy on a daily basis. They don’t make them like they used to!
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Hot with a touch of milk.
To find out more about Annie including where she's touring this summer, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Her new EP, Ghosts Of The Untraveled Road, is available to buy or stream. Tidal stream is below.