Bastien Keb: On the importance of flow, and escaping into a fantasy world.
“Lockdown was weird for me cuz it was so normal… I had been having trouble leaving the house anyway, so I was one of the small number of people that was hyped on lockdown.”Bastien Keb
Bastien Keb is a man of many talents – multi-instrumentalist, musician, producer, songwriter, lecturer to name a few. Keb emerged onto the music scene with his debut album “Dinking into the Shadows of Zizou” in 2015 – an assortment of musical delights, full of variety, stories and theatrical themes. The album picked up support from influencers within the industry including BBC’s Giles Peterson, though it’d be two years until his follow-up singles “Pick Up” and “Cashmere” would find their way onto music services in January and February of 2017 respectively.
Despite the month gap between releases, “Pick Up” and “Cashmere” dovetail into each other seamlessly like a continuation of an interrupted dream, as if they were intended to be bonded together as longer piece. Both tracks appear on Bastien Keb’s second album, “22.05.85”, released in March 2017, in order of their respective release dates. Structure, themes and narrative and play an important role for Keb, who favours a storytelling approach by way of a well curated album, despite living in an increasingly post-album world… so it’s worth turning off ‘shuffle mode’ and starting from the intro to truly appreciate his work.
Bastien Keb takes inspiration from a broad range of genres; from soul, funk, and jazz to more cinematic influences and film soundtracks. His most recent release, “Organ Recital”, has been described “as a fantasy world to escape self-doubt and loneliness”, but perhaps not in the way one might expect. Rather than being a world full of love and positivity, where nothing goes wrong and there’s no worries, Bastien gravitates towards a more melancholic route, escaping to a much bleaker reality where loneliness and self-doubt run riot. In fact, for Keb the fantasy is more of a reality than one might realise.
During the bleak Covid lockdown days, where many of us dreaded being isolated, Bastien couldn’t have felt more at home, and it was actually coming out of lockdown that he found the most challenging. That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy company, as evidenced in a number of collaborative releases he’s alluded to on the horizon. Keb is certainly a fascinating, conceptual artist full of ideas and stories and we were lucky enough to be able to speak to him about his career so far. Let’s get into it…
“Often I write a specific intro and outro track, then the rest of the album is about flow, you wanna start people off with a good couple of tracks (after the intro) which get them into the record…”Bastien Keb
Hi Bastien, thank you so much for talking with IAMUR! Could we start with a little introduction? Perhaps a bit on your background and how you found yourself gravitating towards a life in music?
As a kid I tried a bunch of stuff, mainly sports, and then I started playing guitar at about thirteen, and it just kinda stuck. I kept playing, joined bands, started recording etc etc. Obviously with music, there’s so much variety and so maybe different ways to make sounds, so for a kid once you get in you’re sorta hooked.
You recently released your new album, ‘Organ Recital’, which has a definite cinematic quality running throughout, occasionally stopping off at ‘50s Film Noir (The World Creaks Pt 2), then taking a detour into ‘70s funk (You Alright, Mike) and ‘90s, almost Radiohead-esque vibes (Glass). There’s such variety in this album – How did you determine the running order, and what are the common denominators that hold it together?
For me album track-listings are so important, nowadays a lot of people have been getting away from that because of Spotify playlists and all that. I think that’s so sad and loses so much of what the artist or band is trying to do. Often I write a specific intro and outro track, then the rest of the album is about flow, you wanna start people off with a good couple of tracks (after the intro) which get them into the record and then I like to drop it down, but obviously you gotta do it a little subtle. I dunno, you just kinda move tracks around until the album ebbs and flows good.
Interestingly, the album opens with ‘The World Creaks Pt 2’. Was there a Part 1?
Ahh this is a little bit sad for me. One of the tracks I’m most proud of is ‘The World Creeks’ Pt 1, and it doesn’t get that much love! It’s the last track of my 3rd album “The Killing of Eugene Peeps“. For me, that whole record is the closest I’ve come to the music I wanna make.
Aah… totally missed that track, let’s include it here for good measure!! In terms of the latest release, can you talk a little about your main inspiration and influences whilst writing this body of work?
I think I’ve had the same influences for a while now, definitely old film soundtracks. And emotionally melancholic. With a little confusion and the feeling of being in a dream.
As a listener, you definitely get that surreal, dream-like quality, and this collection of work has also been described as “a fantasy world to escape self-doubt and loneliness” – are you able to expand on this statement, and what that means to you?
It’s kinda tricky, I suppose people think of a fantasy world of being positive or exciting, I think the world I escape to is bleaker than that, and heavily influenced by tripped out shit in film. The self doubt and loneliness is pretty straight up, I’m lonely and I have self doubt about my purpose in life.
The pandemic seems like a distant memory now, though many people will relate to that feeling of loneliness over the past couple of years, for sure! What impact did lockdown have on your writing, and how things have progressed since those dark times?
Lockdown was weird for me cuz it was so normal. For part of it I continued to work in a warehouse, cuz of the essential worker thing. I had been having trouble leaving the house anyway, so I was one of the small number of people that was hyped on lockdown. I didn’t have to socialise, didn’t have to leave the house, it was perfect. Since then things got a lot tougher having to deal with leaving the house, but I’m doing pretty well at the moment.
Well, it’s great to hear you’re doing well right now, and obviously the music kept you occupied… We’ve read that you play multiple instruments, including guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, trumpet, flute and others… that’s quite a collection you must have! Which instrument gives you the most joy to play, and what was the driving factor behind learning so many different things?
I think it comes from the same place as when you’re a kid and you first start playing music. Basically making sounds on actual instruments is exciting, it’s fascinating. Physically playing an instrument is very different from triggering MIDI sounds or sampling, it’s a real thing, a completely unique sound, not a patch on a computer. I would say musical saw and cello, just cuz they got that spookiness.
What music did you listen to growing up, how has your taste in music changed over the years and which artist/ band would you say has had the biggest influence on you and the way you compose music?
Initially as a kid I was hyped on rock but that didn’t last too long. Once I started listening to ska and reggae, then joined a jazz / funk band at about 17, and the musicians in that band were knowledgeable on jazz and funk so that was a big influence. I suppose Tom Waits, Miles Davis, Bon Iver and Bernard Herrmann were the biggest influences, but there’s so many that were so good. Otis, Curtis, Aretha never put a foot wrong. The Bee Gees got some absolute fire too.
“Enjoy learning the instrument, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t forget to live your life, if the music career happens that’s cool, but don’t forget to enjoy shit!”Bastien Keb
What is it about those genres that you love so much, and… are there any guilty pleasures in your music collection that might surprise your friends?
I dunno if it’s a guilty pleasure but “No letting go“ by Wayne Wonder always hits my heart. The jazz thing can go so deep when you think about the arrangements, beautiful chord progressions spread out across multiple instruments, different voicings, great sounding instruments on their own (double bass), it’s got some much depth and beauty of sound to me. Then you can chat about the free jazz side. I don’t know another genre of music that can come through with a ballad, a big horn arrangement, and also just some wild ass improvisation. And it works so well for old movies.
We read that DJ Gilles Peterson was a fan of your debut album, “Dinking In The Shadows Of Zizou” back in 2015. Quite an exciting achievement for your first outing in the music world – what was your reaction to that, and what would you say has been your proudest moment/ greatest achievement so far?
Honestly it was so long ago, I can’t remember. I know he ain’t played anything of mine since about 2017 though, haha so maybe he ain’t a fan anymore. Biggest achievement is probably my 3rd record “The Killing of Eugene Peeps”.
Whilst you’re clearly self-sufficient as a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter and producer… If you could collaborate with anyone at all, who would you most like to work with, and why?
So what’s next for you, Bastien, what are you currently working on?
I’ve got a record with Claudia Kane coming out under the name Grandamme. A collab EP with Chelou and another full length record being finished at the moment. I’d still love to score a full length film. But I’m gonna push my lecturing a little I think too.
Final question; what would your advice be to anyone thinking about learning to play an instrument or those taking their first steps in their musical careers?
Enjoy learning the instrument, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t forget to live your life, if the music career happens that’s cool, but don’t forget to enjoy shit! Be good to people, life can be hard for people, don’t judge!
Listen to Bastien Keb’s latest release, “Organ Recital” on Spotify:
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