Here's a great interview with the versatile Canadian producer/DJ Paul Keeley, who is currently making waves with his recent singing with Anjunabeats...
PAUL KEELEY - MUSIC FROM THE HEART
Paul Keeley hails from from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Canada has been a pleasant discovery in 2008 for dance fans around the globe. Paul has been releasing music online on two well-known netlabels for the past 3 years: Thinner, and Epsilonlab. While the earlier material released on Thinner retains a mellower and smoother aesthetic, his more recent work on Epsilonlab personifies a funkier, more aggressive dancefloor-oriented style. Between the two labels, both sides of his interpretations of house and techno have had a chance to grow and flourish. In early 2005, a three-track vinyl EP was released under Pulsewith, a Barcelona-based label (now a thriving netlabel) to critical acclaim. While the tracks found on the release were mostly older material, written even before Paul's first Thinner release, they nonetheless garnered great attention. The album is currently available worldwide through various online distributors. In January of 2007, he released his first full-length EP on Epsilonlab entitled ‘Blunt Etiquette’. It is comprised of his new musical work created during the previous year and embodies his signature style of deep funkiness, with undertones of minimal and electro. The entire album can be downloaded via Beatport, and a continuous album mix by the artist can be found on the Epsilonlab release page. He also writes music under the moniker Gyges. This alias supports the more experimental, and oftentimes ambient side of his musical personality. He released the popular composite massive album on the Canadian netlabel Panospria in 2002, consisting of four very long, very drone-oriented pieces which are sure to bring about mild bouts of vertigo and euphoria upon listening. Another notable release as Gyges was in 2005 on the Montreal-based Archipel label/netlabel, entitled ‘Thinly Veiled As Music’ and consisting of smooth minimal techno, a couple of dark and wet ambient/atmospheric pieces, and a 1-hour hard/textural/techno live set recorded in August of 2005. In 2008, he celebrated his breakthrough as two tracks were released on one of trance’s finest labels - Anjunabeats. ‘Paper Jet’ and ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’ have amazed trancers worldwide in the last few months. i:Vibes had a chat with the lad from Canada...
i:Vibes: Hi Paul, thanks for taking some time to talk to i:Vibes. Discovering your music has been a real pleasure for me. Would it be correct to say that 2008 was your breakthrough as Anjunabeats released ‘Paper Jet’ and ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’? Anjunabeats have also been releasing some non-trance music over the last few years, but were you a bit surprised that they liked your tracks so much?
Paul Keeley: Yes, very pleasantly surprised actually. I had been a fan of many of the label’s artists for a while – Smith & Pledger, Jaytech, Jay Lumen, etc. Lots of great melodic music. I was actually toying with the idea of sending them some of my material, but wasn’t absolutely sure it would really fit their sound. When they contacted me earlier this year, it was a pretty big rush. I’ve always enjoyed melodic music, but have always tended to lean towards the deeper style, or at least with my productions in the past – not exactly peak-time trance music, which has definitely been Anjuna’s claim to fame.
i:Vibes: Deadmau5 was the discovery in 2007 and I feel you are one of the big newcomers from 2008. Does it bother you that you have not received the same hype as Deadmau5 or are you more a person that likes to stay out of limelight?
Paul Keeley: The Deadmaus phenomenon has been really interesting to me during the past year. Being that he’s a fellow Canadian producer, I found it really inspiring that he has earned so much recognition and attained such a high level of respect and fame. What’s really cool is that it seems as though he sort of came out of nowhere, even though he’d been producing for many years – sort of under the radar. I can definitely identify with that, having been in the electronic scene in various capacities for as long as I can remember. In terms of myself attaining a similar level, I think it’s definitely something all artists dream of – having the world’s attention, and having your music heard and appreciated by many people. I’ve always been a sort of behind-the-scenes kind of person, but at the same time I get a rush out of playing live and DJing. It sounds like a cliché, but music really is all about interaction. I love sitting in the studio for hours working out new ideas and techniques, but it can become uninspiring pretty quickly without being able to interact with people directly though the music. Playing out allows me to emerge from my cocoon and sort of cleanse myself of all the accumulated studio gunk buildup. Besides, being an artist and creating music is nothing without the people to appreciate it.
i:Vibes: You are from Montreal, Canada. How was your childhood?
Paul Keeley: Actually, I moved to Montreal in early 2002. I’m originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is basically in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Canada. It’s a really beautiful place, located in the prairies where the sky goes on forever. You get the sunny and hot summertime and long, cold, sterile winters, which forces everyone indoors for half of the year. It’s actually very helpful for creativity!
My upbringing wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Saskatoon is basically one large suburb, so I led a pretty sheltered life. I come from a musical family, although the only formal training I had were a few piano lessons from my mother, and playing French Horn in the school band. My parents have always been very supportive of my creativity, which is really amazing. They came out to all of my shows when I was playing in a progressive rock band with my friends, and have always encouraged me to pursue my musical dreams.
i:Vibes: What was the deciding moment, where you knew that you wanted to make music?
Paul Keeley: That’s a tough one. I can’t really pinpoint an exact moment, but it definitely started with my first experience listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ when I was three. My parents actually have a picture of me sitting next to the turntable in a diaper with the headphones on. As I grew older, I was exposed to music like E.L.O., Genesis, and even Rush (as much as it pains me to admit it) through my father. I remember being blown away by the elaborate studio production techniques, and always loved dissecting the music and trying to figure out how it was pieced together. It wasn’t until I was 12 or so when I started to really get into electronic music – which for me at that time was Technotronic, C&C Music Factory, and Adamski. It’s about the same time that I also started to pick up the guitar and teach myself how to play. When I felt that first buzz from figuring out how to play Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on acoustic guitar, I was completely hooked.
i:Vibes: What fascinates you the most about music?
Paul Keeley: For me, it’s always been about the production techniques and instrumentation. I’ve always loved really rich-sounding music, with lots of variety in tone and flow. I’ve never really been a fan of blues or straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, simply due to the fact that it’s just a guitar or two, a bass, and drums – there are only so many permutations of chords that you can play through a crunchy guitar amp before you’ve exhausted all of your possibilities. This is of course over-generalization, I know, but it’s the reason why I’m writing electronic music – the possibilities are endless, really. When I was playing guitar with my prog rock band many years ago, I was always trying to make it sound less like a guitar and more like a synth – loads of delay, chorus, phase, any kind of modulation I could find. Even now with electronic music, it’s easy to just bang out simple saw tooth-through-filter subtractive synth parts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are so many other kinds of synthesis available, and new methods and tools being invented every day. It’s now gotten to the point where electronics are actually able to realistically emulate physical instruments, which is where things get really interesting – physical modelling, morphing, even sophisticated sampling. So essentially now you can create any sound that comes into your brain, and for me that’s where the fun is.
i:Vibes: What was your first record that you bought?
Paul Keeley: It was a tape – Adamski – Live and Direct. I bought it during my first trip to Toronto when I was about 12 years old. I think I still have it somewhere too. Pretty horrendous if you listen to it now, but at the time, it had me enthralled. Really makes you think about what truly makes music “classic” and not severely dated ten years later.
i:Vibes: Who were your early musical inspirations and why?
Paul Keeley: I already mentioned them before, but bands like E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra), Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Alan Parsons Project, Emerson Lake and Palmer – all of those great progressive rock bands during the 70’s. The sounds were so fresh, and the music itself told a story. It wasn’t just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, done. It took you on a journey. I’ve never really been one to focus on the vocal aspect of music – for me it’s always been about everything else. With those bands and countless others I’m surely forgetting, the music was at the forefront. That being said, I also have a strange love for the music of Kim Mitchell, which is essentially really bad-yet-good 80’s cabaret blues rock.
i:Vibes: How did you get your foot into the music business? I guess with internet and Myspace, it has gotten a lot easier for musicians?
It’s been a slow-yet-steady pace for me until very recently. When I first started writing music, it was old “MOD” music – tracker modules, using programs like ScreamTracker and FastTracker. There was a whole underground scene of this stuff, with people who wrote really great yet cheesy italo-disco-ish spacey synth music – like hair metal for synth geeks. This was before the dawn of the internet as we know it, so it was mostly distributed via BBS and newsgroups and such, but I was part of a group called Night55. Anyway, since then, the internet came along, and internet labels started popping up. I was introduced to the head of a new up-and-coming netlabel called Thinner by a friend of mine, and started doing a number of releases there. Through Thinner, I did a small mini-tour of eastern Canada/US and met with the Montreal-based Epsilonlab crew and began doing releases with them as well. I’d say that most of my initial exposure was through those two labels, releasing music for free.
Paul Keeley: Myspace has sort of become a cesspool these days with such a huge influx of music, good and bad. It is to be expected, as is the case with any popular avenue of release and promotion. I still find it useful though for promotion of my upcoming releases and to post weird little rants as I feel inspired to do so, and I think it is still a good place for up-and-coming producers to showcase their stuff. There are also other great sites that are popping up that take the Myspace music concept to the next level – Soundcloud is one that I’ve been using recently to bounce ideas off of my musical peers, since you can control who can or can’t hear your music. Also, there are quite a bit of pro-level artists using the service as well, so it’s a good place to start for budding musicians who want to have their music heard by some of the heavyweights in the business.
i:Vibes: How is the musical scene in Montreal? How do you get along with the EDM scene there?
Paul Keeley: When I first moved to Montreal, the minimal techno scene was really booming. The Mutek festival was really gaining momentum and it was a really inspiring and exciting time. Since then, things seem to have cooled off a bit in that area, with the focus going more towards emerging rock bands, which this city has no shortage of. The club scene is still going strong though, with lots of after-hours venues in the downtown area offering all sorts of styles of music.I don’t really get out so much these days though, as I spend most of my time being a greasy studio rat. My interaction with the EDM scene here consists mostly of waxing philosophic with my musical peers, and collectively lusting over new gear.
i:Vibes: You have been releasing music for quite a while now. You released a lot on net labels. Why do you think it took so long for you to get known?
Paul Keeley: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t really start releasing DJ-friendly music until about four years ago, maybe less. I’ve always struggled with the fine line between writing living-room music and really dancefloor-oriented stuff. I guess being a musician first, and a DJ second has had a significant effect on that. Also, I think because the netlabel scene where I really started releasing music was so underground, it took a while for things to get really rolling. That being said, Epsilonlab was a really great netlabel that really turned a lot of peoples’ ears, and I think had the biggest part in easing the transition into the commercial music world.
i:Vibes: You released the composite massive album on the Canadian netlabel Panospria in 2002, consisting of four very long, very drone-oriented pieces. This reminds a bit of the German trance God Cosmic Baby, who also has released albums with long pieces. How much of the music in this album reflects what was going on in your life then?
Paul Keeley: Yeah that album was recorded/sequenced live over a weekend while I locked myself in my bedroom with my old laptop running Modplug Tracker. I guess it was a sort of cleansing of my old IDM-ish style and an effort to sort of push on towards something new and fresh. I had also been exposed to a lot of really interesting ambient and experimental music by my then roommate Con Katsiris (label head of Panospria, where the album was released), so I decided to use this software I had been using for a long time in a completely different way, unlike it had likely been intended to be used. If I recall correctly, it was also winter, which I’m certain had an influence on the warm droney and prolonged nature of the music.
i:Vibes: How has your music involved in the last six years? What have you been trying to achieve music wise in this time?
Paul Keeley: Six years ago I was writing IDM. I was, and still am a big fan of Aphex Twin, Speedy J, Plaid, etc, and I’ve always been interested in meshing different styles together and creating music with lots of odd intricacies. After seeing Luomo play live at Mutek back in 2003, my eyes were opened again to the house music scene and how good it could really be. This was the era in-between his ‘Vocalicity’ and ‘Present Lover’ albums, and the music had this great soul to it that I hadn’t heard before in dance music. I guess ever since then, I’ve been trying to get to that same feeling I felt then – striving to infuse that human soulful aspect into electronic music.
i:Vibes: In 2005, you released the critically acclaimed three track vinyl ‘Pulsewith’. What was your inspiration behind this piece of music?
Paul Keeley: For me, that album kind of revolved around the philosophy of the track ‘Lubyu’. I was falling in love with 80s music again, and was heavily inspired by the techy-glitchy-cutup sounds of Akufen. So it was kind of a marriage of my favorite 80s music and techno… and Phil Collins. Lots of Phil Collins.
i:Vibes: How would you describe the Paul Keeley sound in 2008?
Paul Keeley: Hmm, all over the place I guess. Perhaps the best word to sum it all up would be “emotional”, or better yet, “emo-prog”.
i:Vibes: I love ‘Paper Jet’, is my favourite track on CD1 of ‘Anjunabeats Volume 6’. This track totally brings me on a journey with a beautiful atmosphere and melody. What was your inspiration behind the track and what was the most difficult thing that you had to do in the studio to get this track perfect?
Paul Keeley: ‘Paper Jet’ is one of my favourites as well. It was one that took me a long while to really get it where I wanted it. I found myself getting tired of just using synthesizers, so I decided to pick up my guitar and jam along with what I had written thus far. What ended up happening is a bunch of guitar noodling that resulted in the breakdown of the track. I then essentially cut all of the guitar, except for one 8-bar loop and ended up rewriting the track around that. It was one of those songs that went from A to B to Z to X to A and back to Z again during the composition/arrangement process. I think that’s what makes it so great too, since it really has gone through a journey itself in being brought into existence.
i:Vibes: What were you doing when you found out that your music was going to be released on Anjunabeats? Did you do a back flip in excitement or was it just another release in your mind?
Paul Keeley: When Anjuna expressed interest, it was really huge for me. I had been a big fan of the artists on the label – Jay Lumen, Jaytech, etc, and I had been considering sending them demos of my work. So, it was a really great surprise for me. Definitely not something I was expecting.
i:Vibes: ‘King Scrubby’ is also an incredible track. Does ‘King Scrubby’ have a special meaning to you or why did you call it that?
Paul Keeley: No, none whatsoever. It probably came from a huge mash of whatever I had been listening to or experiencing emotionally at the time, but in all honesty it’s pretty much a blur. I still quite like how it turned out though. I guess I was kind of in an odd mood and didn’t give much thought to naming the track properly – ‘King Scrubby’ was just a random name I had given to the track when I first started working on it and I simply neglected to name it otherwise. Since then I’ve been quite careful about how I name my tracks, almost always changing it from the original working title.
i:Vibes: ‘Slow 74’ is really a beautiful piece of music. What message is hiding behind this track?
Paul Keeley: That’s for the listener to figure out. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with fish.
i:Vibes: ‘Brittle Sky’ also is really really incredible. I love the atmosphere in this track. How difficult is it finding the right atmosphere sound wise in the studio?
Paul Keeley: That’s one of my all-time favourites. It’s actually quite old – I think I wrote it in 2005 or 2006. It was one of those tracks that sort of just came together really effortlessly. I’ve always loved washy warm pads and flowy melodies and rhythms, so I guess it’s really just a reflection of who I am at my musical core. Oddly enough I think I’ve been striving to recreate that feel in every track I’ve done since, with varying success.
i:Vibes: When you’re in the studio, do you have a certain way how you go about producing a track or does it always differ?
Paul Keeley: It depends. I’ll find myself using a personal formula for writing and arranging, and then I’ll get tired of it or fall into a rut and then try something completely different, sometimes even using different sequencers. I use Logic for 99% of my productions, so whenever I catch myself slipping into a routine, I load up Ableton Live and mash something out there just to clear my musical headspace. I think I have a really specific way of doing some things, and others are simply tried and true studio methods. It’s all been trial-and-error for me, so I’m always interested in experimenting with new techniques to keep the process and the music interesting.
i:Vibes: What is your most prized possession of studio equipment that you can’t live without?
Paul Keeley: My Mac. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to sequence my music at all. Aside from that, the piece of gear I always find myself going back to is my Access Virus TI. Even with its annoying quirks, it’s such a versatile instrument that I can’t put it down for long.
i:Vibes: I was in Montreal last August and I loved the city. What place is the most beautiful spot for you where you like to get away and just reflect on life and find new musical inspirations?
Paul Keeley: It’s kind of cliché, but I love the “mountain” (read: hill) in the middle of the city. The park is quite large and beautiful, and there’s a really incredible cemetery on the west side of the hill. Very nice for long walks in the summer, and on warmer winter days.
i:Vibes: What are your goals in 2009?
Paul Keeley: It’s funny, I really don’t have any specific goals, aside from continuing to write music. I guess if I had to pick something, I’d say to continue to evolve musically and keep challenging myself with each new production. It seems to have worked for the past year, so why change a good thing?
i:Vibes: With what musician would you like to be locked away in the studio with for 24 hours?
Paul Keeley: It’s a toss-up between John Frusciante and Peter Gabriel. The former because of his amazing guitar skills and really raw yet beautiful solo work, and the latter because of his incredible studio albums. Really, just to get both of those artists in the same studio space for 24 hours would probably cause the universe to implode. Or explode. Or maybe just me.
i:Vibes: What German artists do you respect and why?
Paul Keeley: Well, the first and most obvious would be Kraftwerk due to their immense influence on the electronic music world, and for bringing it into the mainstream. Otherwise, I’d say Stephan Bodzin for his really pure analog heavily-compressed sound, and Marsen Juhls (I believe he’s German) for his haunting yet soothing looped orchestral sound.
i:Vibes: What are your five all time favourite tracks?
Paul Keeley: In no particular order or relevance, they are:
Radiohead - In Limbo
Off The Sky - Nonlinear Surface Tensions
Electric Light Orchestra - Twilight
Pink Floyd - Welcome to the Machine
Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight
Honorable mention: Kim Mitchell - All We Are
i:Vibes: What are your hobbies?
Paul Keeley: Who has time for hobbies? Balancing my day job, my night job (music), and my personal life pretty much eats up all of my free time. But really, I like vegetating in front of the TV or playing XBox like anyone else, on the rare occasion that there’s time for it. Shutting the brain off can be a good thing, in moderation.
i:Vibes: Thanks Paul for the chat and we’ll be looking forward to your next releases!!!!