Interview with…Harry Keyworth

Harry Keyworth

Harry Keyworth is a hands on kind of musician. Literally. He uses raw energy to tap out a drum beat using nothing but his guitar, whilst singing with a voice that would melt a heart of stone. All this thrown in with a beautiful debut E.P makes Mr. Keyworth a viable talent to watch out for in 2013. In this interview, Harry tells me about his musical techniques, his love of the great guitar virtuosos and his aspiration to play on Jools Holland…

Tell us a bit about your musical styles and influences.                                                         The first person I ever saw playing music was my Dad. He would play nursery rhymes and old country songs.

[When I was] around aged 7, we went on a family holiday to Ireland where we met Denny Cordell (producer of Joe cocker and The Cranberries). I was playing the guitar in front of him and he suggested to my mother that she should buy me some early blues tapes to listen to. He sadly died a year later, so I never got the chance to thank him for the heads up. My mother then bought me some early blues tapes of John Lee Hooker, Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters so I guess that was the first time I actually started listening properly to music.

As a teenager, I started off listening to a lot of electric guitar virtuosos such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Stevie Ray Vaughn but as I got older, I started playing more acoustic and was introduced to Jeff Buckley, Adem, John Martyn and various others thanks to a maths teacher at my boarding school. After leaving school, I went traveling around the world. A friend played me Jose Gonzales’ first album, which was the most flawless album I had heard. It was a style I couldn’t pigeon hole; it was a full sound using just very stripped back and simple components. This, I guess, was the most enduring influence.

All of my songs are in different tunings and are often groove based with a clear repetitive structure. I play with a rhythm based percussive feel and my vocal style is mostly soft, often singing in falsetto. Production wise, I try and follow a rich warm sound with few components; investing in the sound of the instruments rather than adding more layers.

What inspired you to explore the ‘virtuoso slap-guitar technique’ as described by BBC 6 Music’s Tom Robinson?                                                                                                            I was inspired after seeing the virtuoso acoustic guitar player, Andy McKee playing in my home town Narberth. This was the first time I had seen the guitar played in an original way [and it was after] seeing this that I started experimenting with what sort of sounds I could create. I already played in many different tunings which complimented using the guitar as a drum. This technique, tied in with the fast finger work from the electric guitar days, is the reason for the ‘virtuoso slap guitar technique’ description used in some of the publications; to be honest I don’t think I deserve to be described as virtuoso!

Your single ‘Knew That Day’ from the EP ‘Flux’ has a very magical and mysterious air to it. What was it like to make the  video?                                                                         ‘Knew That Day’  was the only song I had ready to use at the time of being approached by some video makers in Wales. The production team consisted of 10 people who came up with a story-board based on their interpretation of the song, they presented it to me and I basically went along with what they thought.  I really enjoyed making the video. The style of it is not usually something I would do, yet it was more of a case of gaining the experience of working with different people and enjoying people being interested in your music. I’ve also posted another video of the song, ‘Avenue’, on YouTube to basically do something more live and raw; an antithesis to the ‘Knew That Day’ video.

What is your songwriting process? Are there any aspects of it you find particularly challenging?                                                                                                                                                I usually start with the guitar; bringing two or three riffs together to develop a structure of sorts. From here, I pick out melodies and start mouthing sounds and various words from which certain lyrics will present themselves. This then gets moulded into some sort of content, from which a meaning hopefully appears. I find settling on a melody the hardest aspect as I am more of an improvisational musician. [Too] many ideas come at once and I can’t choose which melody to go for. Writing lyrics can be difficult as there are so many cliches to avoid!
                                                                                                                                                                            Is there anywhere you’ve always wanted to perform live?
I would like to perform on Jools Holland Live and maybe a Ted Talk thing. Venue wise? So far I have loved them all for different reasons…no gig is the same!
                                                                                                                                                                         What artists/genres of music are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve listened to a bit of Lianne La Havas whose voice is delicious. Santigold because it’s pretty pumping, and a wee bit of Major Lazer ‘Get Free’

How do you feel about your place in the current music industry?                   
The industry seems very daunting! It takes a huge amount of work to get to the stage of supporting yourself playing music. It’s massively competitive and although there is some amazing stuff out there, very little endures the industry for very long. (Everything is a flash in the pan!) The roles of labels, managers, artists and agents are constantly redefining themselves every day and often overlapping. The currency of music has been somewhat weakened but it doesn’t seem to put people off doing it, which is ultimately good thing.
                                                                                                                                                                           What can we look forward to from you in 2013?                                                                        In January, I will be recording another E.P and from then on I wish to get on a support tour so I can play every day.  I also hope to get some tour dates around the U.S and just keep travelling, playing and meeting lovely people.
                                                                                                                                                                               Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?                                                                               Make a half decent living out of what I do best.
by Alexandra Sewell