No Keegan DeWitts were harmed in the making of this video
This Sunday, September 13th @ Public Assembly (front room) you should go see Keegan DeWitt with Wakey Wakey & Parachute Musical. DeWitt goes on @ 8PM and it’s $8.
FREE Williamsburg was lucky enough to interview him the other day – peep on for more reasons to check him out Sunday (other than us being there, duh). DeWitt talks about working with Aaron Katz, playing with Sigur Ros and Nashville vs. Brooklyn. Here is an MP3 of “Telephone” for your listening pleasure & my fave is his soundtrack to Quiet City which you can download on his website for FREE.
Where are you from and how do you think that has shaped you musically?
I was born in a small mountain town in Oregon called Bend. It’s grown massively since I left, but when I was a kid, it was this amazing small/special place in the middle of the mountains. It was the high desert, so it’d be beautiful and sunny in the summer and snowing and incredible all winter. I moved to Portland when I was about 10 years old and spent the rest of my childhood there until I graduated early for film conservatory at 17.
Portland is the most essential piece of who I am, Portland and my family, and they seem much like the same thing. I can’t entirely explain it except to say that it was the perfect mix of culture, care, nature and family.
Mainly, amazing and supportive mentors surrounded me. I had a screen/stage-writing mentor in Barry Hunt, another writing mentor and advisor in Kasey Church and on top of all that, my family. In New York, or anywhere for that matter, it’s tough to find people who put a vested interest in you, and Portland (and the people in it) really played an integral part in me becoming a hungry/educated/ambitious artist.
When did you first pick up a guitar?
I learned piano first, when I was maybe 9 or 10. A couple years later I convinced my dad to get me a guitar. I had a couple lessons on each but am mostly self-taught, which is both a pain and a huge advantage. For me, the majority of the creative process is exploration. As much as it would be amazing to be able to explain music theory to a string section, it would also ruin a large amount of the mystery for me. A lot of times, if I’ve written a lot of songs recently on the guitar, it’ll seem like there is nothing unknown about it for me… so I’ll have to move to the piano, or open up logic and start sequencing something out. The idea of having to really discover something is the center of my process, I never sit down and go… lets write something sad in a c minor and have it crescendo up into a blah blah blah.”
How does scoring a film differ from making an album?
Scoring a film allows me to do something totally separate from my music in that I can be as simple as possible. I create 75% of my score work based purely on improvisational recording/composition. I’ll sit at the piano, drums, etc and either have the film in my mind, or actually be watching it. From there, I just record everything and start working. Then I can layer and layer, or subtract until something is absolutely simple.
Overall, my work (Islands and the scores) is cinematic in that it’s primarily about “moments”. It isn’t necessarily topical in that way. All of my material will focus on the intangible smaller items of specific moments. Scoring films lets me do that in an even more concentrated way because there is a literal image hitting people’s brains. And in that way, I get to ONLY say the intangible stuff. If two people are standing next to one another on the street, not speak, I can have one… and I mean one… simple/sad piano note, and it’s like the ground just shook beneath their feet. That’s amazing to me. It’s also why I’ve never enjoyed John Williams or any massive film scores. There was no specificity, and no real definitive addition to the emotional life of the film in those (huge sweeping strings, big Timpanis). It was, in my mind, redundancy. I like to, in as simple a way as possible, say something truthful and intangible about what’s happening on the screen.
How does Islands differ from your last album?
All of the other recordings demos or sketches. This is the first legit LP, where we sat down, crafted something from the top to the bottom, and really broke our backs to make it. This is the first definitive piece I’ve created, the other recordings that preceded it were random collections of songs I had amassed over my 6 years in New York.
What can you tell us about Cold Weather (upcoming Aaron Katz film)?
It’s been a significantly different process than “Quiet City”. The “Quiet City” score was created pretty quickly, and was entirely improvised (a lot like Dance Party USA). For Cold Weather, we finally had a budget, a production office, etc. Aaron and I started demoing cues very early. I was on the road playing guitar with Roman Candle in February and I was writing cues in the back of the van, sequencing it out in Logic as we bumped down the freeway. Once I got back to Nashville, I went up into the middle of nowhere in Indiana where my parents live and spent another week experimenting. At the time, we were trying to use organic found-sounds (foot steps, claps, water, rain, etc) and turn that into some sort of canvas. As we progressed along, we started to release that this was going to pull from the diegetic world of the film, so it started to shift into a “live/percussive” feel. We let it feel like there were pots and pans clanking inside of an orchestra. We took this idea into our scoring sessions, which lasted about 3 weeks, or so up in Brooklyn. We’d hold ourselves up in the production office, Aaron would be cutting and I’d be scoring and we’d stop each other and say, “Hey, check this out, let me know what you think”. Although it felt a bit weird at first (to be scoring sitting right next to the director), our friendship and the improvisational foundation for everything made it a really fun experience.
What we ended up with is something really interesting. It’s notably less emotional than “Quiet City” in some ways, but considerably more crafted… and not to a default. There are builds and swells and much more interaction between the score and the image throughout.
You live in Nashville and Brooklyn ‚Äì 3 words to describe each place please!
Nashville: Beautiful Bike Rides
Brooklyn: Home. Youth. Love.
What it’s like hanging out with Madi Diaz?
Madi and I became quick friends when she was visiting from Boston, trying to figure out whether Nashville was a good fit. We’ve definitely bonded, mainly being Northeasterners relocated to the south for the first time. We’re also really similar in terms of our crazy work ethic. We are both so frantic and tireless about stuff, but when we spend time together, we kinda relax for a second and can appreciate that. We seem to both have that thing where you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends and you’re thinking “I’ve gotta get out of here, I have so much STUFF to be doing, I should be doing STUFF!” haha.
Madi is massively talented, that’s really apparent from first meeting here. But the thing that I think is truly special about her is that I think she could be phenomenal at whatever she chose to do, she has all of the right intentions and focuses on the work. She can sing the hell out of almost anything, she can kill anyone at guitar, she could write a song that’d make you wanna quit in her sleep… but it kinda seems secondary to her, in a great way. She’s focused on something outside of that stuff, which makes all those details seem effortless, which is fantastic and I appreciate and connect to.
How do you know Aaron Katz? What’s it like working with him?
Aaron and I have been friends since freshman year of high school. We both attended a fine arts private high school in downtown Portland, Oregon that was run by a bunch of amazing lesbians and didn’t have anything resembling a serious sports team. We would spend half of our days together in these long writing and acting classes with our mentor Barry Hunt. The funny thing is, it wasn’t until the very end of our time at school together that we started to spend time together OUTSIDE of that. I left a year before him and went to NY for film conservatory, and I came back after one year, disillusioned and confused. We’d get in my car and drive around Portland all night, we’d find abandoned parking lots and sit and talk. This is where I feel like a lot of the grounds for “Dance Party USA” and “Quiet City” came from. We would talk about Antonioni and Terrence Malick and these other filmmakers that were really expanding our brains. We’d talk about the difference in the kind of relationships we were searching for versus the ones we kept seeing presented to us. That’s the basis for “Quiet City”, this idea of those special friendships/relationships built on small moments. That all stems from us driving around as 17 year olds.
In terms of working with Aaron, it’s really simple. There are the normal pitfalls obviously, but those are consistent with ANYONE. You both battle to keep each other’s interest. There will be a piece that I write that I love, and he’ll have to listen to it one million times while editing and suddenly, he’ll want something new. Or the reverse is possible too, he’ll not care for something and have it in as a temp track, and then suddenly… he’ll love it haha. Sometimes, I’ll mail him 10 tracks, and he’ll somehow pick the ONE that I really felt unsure about. That’s all part of it. It’s a great game of trust.
Where are you most excited to play live?
For me, New York is home, and it’s always special to play there. Everyone in NY is so busy and so focused on what their hustling towards that it’s such a privilege to get one evening of their time and get to share music with them. I ALWAYS appreciate that. For Europe, I can’t wait for Paris. Paris is easily my favorite place on earth. The idea of spending some time there to write this upcoming record and tour is amazing. It’s exactly what I would hope for. It will be a unique experience for sure.
Dream people to play with?
My dream night would be Damon Albarn performing with Mali Music, a solo piano set by Michael Nyman, a set by me (feeling silly in the company of ALL of these guys) and a closing slot by Sigur Ros. Come on…. it’s possible?