Brian Keane has been building his career over the past few years as a songwriter and sideman. A couple years ago, he stepped to the forefront and began releasing solo material. He recently released his second full-length album, Coming Home, and his racking up the tour dates in support of it. Brian takes time out of his busy schedule to jump into another round of our Twenty Questions. He tackles such topics as why playing with Randy Rogers Band was such a good gig, why tractors aren’t sexy and relates anecdotes about west Texas being a speed trap. Enjoy!
1. What’s new and exciting in the world of Brian Keane?
A whole lot’s been going on over here! We just had our first kid on July 11th! Also my new record, Coming Home, came out January 21st. My wife produced both.
2. Your wife, Rachel Loy, has become one of the most sought after and innovative producers in Texas music. So, what’s it like being the second most talented musician in your house?
I’m not sure, I’ll ask her. (laughs)
3. Name association:
–Wade Bowen — Bud Light
-Adam Hood — Jim Beam
–Jason Eady — Old Milwaukee’s Best
–Josh Grider — Whatever goes best with his awesome cooking!
–Micky Braun — Margaritas
-Randy Rogers — Jagerbombs
–Bart Crow — Miller Lite
–Hayes Carll — Jameson
–Cody Canada — Bottle o’ Wine
-William Clark Green — Forty Creek Whiskey
–Josh Abbott — Shots
4. Your involvement in and creation of the Band of Heathens is well documented. Talk a bit about that time and what your favorite memories of that time are.
Man, I still love those guys. It really just happened — we didn’t mean to form a band. We weren’t planning on it going any further than Wednesday nights at Momo’s in Austin. When I think back on that time I really just remember the great feeling of getting caught up in something bigger than the sum of its parts with a bunch of good friends.
5. What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing a song? Finding the inspiration or conveying what you hear in your head on the page? Or possibly something else?
The hardest part for me is figuring out something worth saying. I don’t like to write a song that doesn’t have a reason for existing or something important to say. I can’t just sit down and write.
6. Why aren’t tractors sexy?
(laughs) They are… we were just tired of country singers pretending they owned one. Brady Black told me once: “You’re not allowed to say Tractors are Sexy unless you can tell me what an auger looks like.” I think that sums it up pretty well.
7. Pick one and explain your choice: pick up trucks, Dairy Queen, or Springsteen?
Well… all of them are sort of the things you’d describe if you were a Nashville writer from New York City wanting to describe a small town you’d never been to. Sure we have pickup trucks, Dairy Queens, and Springsteen, but when you really grow up in a small town those things just exist, and there’s better things to talk about.
8. You’re originally from South Carolina…how and why did you end up in Texas?
I fell in love with Texas music through Lyle Lovett and Bob Schneider about 12 years ago. I thought the best songs I’d ever heard were coming out of Texas — writers I could swap with and really, honestly get my ass kicked… which is the only thing that makes you better. So I quit everything, packed up a truck and moved straight to Austin.
9. Favorite touring memory of the following towns:
-Lubbock – The Blue Light is really a very special place for us. They gave us a gig before anyone in the scene and they pushed us hard until we were able to headline. Every time we go there we have a blast.
–Houston – My favorite Houston memory is my guitar player passed out drunk laying on the stage laughing and yelling cuss words into my microphone at the end of our show. All four audience members thought it was hilarious.
–Ft Worth — Late nights at Woody’s Tavern. That’s where I met Jason Eady.
–Corpus Christi – Our first gig in Corpus was at this really cool dive bar called “Outta Bounds.” I think the sign said “Tonight: Beer Pong and Brian Keane”
–Little Rock — Rev Room & Stickyz! Really special people at those clubs. Last time I was there the sound guy got me really drunk… I mean really really drunk. At some point I was hanging out with one of the owners and all of a sudden it was like she was speaking Chinese. I don’t think I was even able to say goodnight — pretty sure I just stood up while she was talking and walked out to the van and passed out in the back seat. Ever since then I’ve been really nervous about going back.
–Baton Rouge — The Beer Olympics! The staff at the Varsity puts together a relay race through the bar — climbing ladders and chugging beers and ringing bells and stuff… Really fun that night… not so much the next morning.
–New Braunfels — My first real gigs were at Gruene Hall on the Saturday afternoons. I’d been trying to get a gig there for months and finally I heard back. We had 45 minutes worth of material but I said “yeah we can cover 4 hours.” I told a lot of jokes.
-Stephenville — We broke down and I had to tear the van apart in the City Limits parking lot to replace an ignition coil. I had car parts strewn out all over the pavement… Got it back together just before dark.
–Amarillo — We went to this awesome diner called the Pancake Station and the waiters were wearing these horrible shirts — Bright red with sequins spelling out “Pancake Station.” I bought one and the next time we came to Amarillo I wore it for the entire show at the Golden Light… but looking out over the crowd I realized everyone just looked confused… no one laughed or recognized it. I guess the Pancake Station is more famous to us bar bands than to the locals. So I decided to just wear it like it was my favorite shirt… never said anything about it to the audience. At the end of the show Casey Berry walked up to me and all he said was , “What the f*ck are you wearing?”
10. You paid some early dues in a cover band. What type of cover band was it? What was your least favorite song on the set list?
(laughs) It was a wedding band that also played clubs. We played everything… Rick James, the Beatles, Radiohead, Bohemian Rhapsody, the Electric Slide. It was so corny but I really didn’t hate any of the songs because they were so perfect for the occasion. Even if you hate all those songs you get to a wedding and you’re dancing and singing them at the top of your lungs. I’d do it again once a year just for kicks. Okay… maybe not. (laughs)
11. You’ve spent time as a sideman for Randy Rogers Band and others. What are the pros and cons of being a sideman as opposed to doing your own thing?
Randy’s gig is the best that a sideman can get. It’s the best songs on the scene, the best band I’ve ever played with…next to my new power trio, of course (laughs), and the absolute best hang you can ask for. I really had the time of my life, and if I could have convinced myself to be a sideman for life there would be no other gig for me, but ultimately I’m a songwriter and frontman before anything else. It’s what I do best and what I enjoy the most. I feel way more comfortable leading a band and playing bass than I do being behind a keyboard.
Also, now I don’t have to look around Geoff Hill’s ass to see the audience.
12. Stories behind the following songs:
–90 Miles an Hour – I wrote this while I was driving home overnight from Woody’s in Ft. Worth. By the time I got to my girlfriend’s apartment I had the verses and chorus done.
–No One Left To Bother Me – This is a song about the stupidest thing I’ve ever done — moved away from Texas.
–She Left Me For Jesus – No comment. (laughs)
–Easy to Say Goodbye – Sometimes you come across things that you want to write about that don’t really fit into a “song” format, so in order to get that same feeling you have to make up a fictional situation and turn it into a love song or a hate song or whatever. This is one of those — it’s not a true story but it helped me get certain emotion down on paper.
–I’ll Sing About Mine – Adam and I got tired of hearing writers in Nashville competing with each other over how “country” they were. The ironic thing is that they’re great writers and we’d love to hear what they really have to say.
–Spinning Wheels – I started this after my band and I got kicked out of a bar in Houston for playing “She Left Me for Jesus.” Later I got together with Adam Hood and we finished it.
–Do Something Wrong – My wife, Jared Crump, and I got together to write and this song just sort of popped out of us.
–You Can’t Go Home – My dad grew up in Hollywood, Florida before Universal Studios or Disney World and he always hated going back to visit because it was so completely different. I never really understood that feeling until recently when I went home to Seneca, SC and it’s got a whole lot more sprawl everywhere… so much that it doesn’t really feel like the town I grew up in anymore.
–Bar Lights – I had a falling out with a good friend at some point, and years later we ran into each other at a bar and had a good ole time. The next morning I started this one.
13. You’re very first record was recorded in your tiny apartment in Austin at the time. Did you know what you were doing? What’s more stressful? That experience or a full studio full of the latest technology?
(laughs) I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t think I had the money to get into a studio and do it all at once. My roommate was sort of a producer/engineer and he kind of knew his way around, but we went slowly (it took us a year) and it ended up costing more than my next record, which I did in Austin with Mark Addison at Aerie Studios in about two weeks. If I had it to do over again, I’d never do it at home. Finding a brilliant producer/engineer is just too important.
14. You’ve spent time as a mechanic, which can be a tough and labor intensive profession. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Ice cream shop! I stayed sticky for 2 years after I quit.
15. Related to the mechanic question, can you describe your first car?
1993 Honda Accord! Drove it to 215k and sold it to a friend.
16. Have you ever been mistaken for the the famous Oscar/Emmy award winning composer that shares your name?
17. Have you ever been pulled over for going 90MPH? And if so, did you just tell the cop you were doing research?
(laughs) We get pulled over in West Texas all the time and I always try to bribe them with the cd. The first time I didn’t make the connection, and the officer looked at the title and said, “You’re not serious are you?”
18. Rapid fire:
-Favorite spot to eat at on the road? Pancake Station, Amarillo
-What’s your biggest vice? Rachel Loy
-Favorite hobby outside music? Probably working on cars now that I don’t do it for money anymore.
–Favorite new band? Cody Johnson Band — they’re still new, right?
–Vinyl or mp3? cassette! Tape hiss just brings me right back to my youth.
19. What’s your favorite George Strait song and why?
“Overnight Male” — I’ve loved that song since before I knew what the words meant.
20. What do you feel makes the Texas/Red Dirt/Americana scene different, or better, than the mainstream scene?
The radio support, fans that actually want to hear new music, and venues that support new acts instead of exploiting them. Because of those 3 things with a little bit of money and a great song I can compete with anyone on the scene. It’s really all about the music here.