Chatting with Keaton Simons at the Paisley Violin
By Sally A. Schwartz

On the 19th of September I headed to the downtown Phoenix area, where an Arizona twilight came to life in a very warm, sticky and a mosquito-embraced ambiance of color. It was on the patio of the Paisley Violin where I was to meet up with Keaton Simons and I thought the perhaps the bartender would arrive with a new drink called “The Mosquito”-- red in color, a little sweet with a bit of a bite and served with a twist of iron. Yet somehow through it all, Simons was gracious enough to offer so much of his hard work in yet another mindless interview on a cross country tour.

It was a privilege to sit down with Simons after his jaunt to Arizona from Las Vegas. His tour had started in Boston, taking him to the Midwest, then on to the West Coast  and back home to LA. I could only imagine how tired he was, yet there he was ready and waiting to greet me with a welcoming smile in the comfort of a red t-shirt, black jeans, and a head full of curls that any woman would want to run their fingers through. After introductions, we began a very open and enjoyable interview. I hope that he felt the same.

DB: In your bio, it stated that at 14 years old you decided on a music career. What was the motivation or influence for that decision?

KS: I just loved it so much and just knew that it was something I really wanted to do. I knew that I would end up in something creative or scientific or both. Music is sort of both. It is very much an even mixture of that and it offers the best of both.

DB:  Music has always been the one constant in your life and I know that you fought your own demons in order to get to where you are today. How did it help you maintain your sight and vision on what you wanted to achieve?

KS: Hmmm… just knowing what I wanted to do. Life is an interesting thing in that people assign their own amount of purpose to their own life. And having something that I am both passionate about and love so much that ties me into the whole fabric of the universe. It gives me a damn good reason to live. I have had many intense experiences, done my share of destructive things throughout my life, but I have always been extremely good at recognizing when I was on a destructive path and nipping it in the butt. I went through all that drug and alcohol thing at a younger age and, since the age of 23, I have been clean and sober. I had plenty of time to figure it all out. I don’t drink, smoke cigarettes, I don’t hardly drink coffee. It’s like nothing really.

Being International Pirate’s Day and I mentioned that “I guess they’d be no R-r-r-rum for ye.” We had a great laugh about how he should do the show in pirate, as he loves pirates and couldn’t believe he missed out on the day. He made the comment that he didn’t have a puffy shirt so I offered him the one I was wearing, but he politely declined the offer. Getting back to business I went on.

DB: You have a degree in ethnomusicology, the study of world music, why did you choose this course of study and what place's music is your favorite?”

KS: It kind of happened upon me. I wanted to just study music when I went to college. One of the first courses available at Evergreen College in Washington State for full-time first year students was Asian Performing Arts and Cultures. I studied South East Asian music primarily but then got heavy into African music, music from Tibet and Tuba. Really, just all over the place, Turkey and all that stuff.

I continued my studies from there because that whole thing broke my whole concept of music in any conventional way. Any reservation I had was now opened. It had opened my mind to many new things and exploring new sounds to the world of music. It gave me the basic understanding that music was here long before us. Scientifically, it is webbed into the fabric of every being that exists. It finds its way into all people that live or have lived on earth. There is one sect of people that live in the Tahitian Islands that have a choir. The only instrument they use is their voice and they use it in such a way that I believe is the only possible form of the human voice to sound like ocean waves crashing.

DB: How has this influenced your music and style? Do you have a favorite?

KS:  I don’t try to think about style when I’m playing. So for me to say I have a favorite is hard. My goal is to leave myself open and receptive all the time. So that way I am influenced more so by everything. How I use it is by filling myself with all that information. I don’t let everything wash over me. I get deep into it, fill myself up with whatever it is, then just letting it come out as it does. If I am asked to do something specific, then I draw from it and use it for what they want me to create. But when it comes to creating my own stuff… I just let it come out. I don‘t like things to sound to force. I just rather let it come out and flow naturally.

DB: So where do you find your inspiration for your music?

KS: You know, just everywhere. I get a lot by just seeing the world and the country. There is something majestic in seeing the nature of the country. It is inspiring in a non-specific way and a feeling that I am really starting to recognize as that. I have been feeling it my whole life, but I am just now recognizing what that feeling is. So it can come from anything. That little injection of inspiration.

DB: Tell me what strengths are projected in the purity and the dynamics of your music. I know that we covered a lot of this already but if you would care to elaborate?

KS: I really try to use dynamics in my music because I get bored really so easily. So I really love extremes and am really an extremist. I feel like that plays out in my music a lot of the time. One of my favorite things to do is - and I’m always nailing audiences on this one - is to build up, get real big then just go to total silence and see who is talking with their friends and who is clinking their glasses. You know what I mean. It’s always funny, but every now and then, which is getting to be more and more, the audience is really quiet. That is the most coolest thing ever.

Without the use of those dynamics, you would never ever know that. I do think that many people neglect those things a lot of time. In production, many people will add more layers of sound rather than in the dynamics in the sound that already exists. For me, my favorite records and recordings are those that are the simplest. Dynamics doesn’t have to be just sound, but in emotion that is projected in a song and voice.

DB: Tell us about your album “ Can you hear me”?

KS: What would you like to know?

DB: How did you come to choose this track for the title of the album?

KS: Well, I have been around for a long time and I have done a lot of stuff. It’s interesting, amazing and mind boggling to me on how much a person can do and how much exposure a person can have and still the pieces don’t come together. If you're not consistent and focused, it just doesn’t matter. So for me, it is more important to be more streamlined and more focused. Now that I’m doing it right and have figured it out more, you know the now can you hear me kind of thing.

It’s an interesting age that we are in right now. With trying to manage all the information and technology and I am no exception to that. I found it to be ironic and a paradox now that the more available communication is the more that people are not actually paying attention to each other. With all of the communication that is going on and the multi-tasking that is going on, you're actually selling them short. There is nothing like giving someone or something your undivided attention. So, yeah, nobody can really hear anybody anymore. So that is the basis for the song and the album title.

DB: What is your favorite track from the CD?

KS:  It’s always changing, always changing. Right now I think it’s “Burch Mog.” Many people want to know what that means. It means something specific to me in that it is a nickname I have for my sister from a long time ago. To me, that is one of the most dynamic songs on the record and one of the most exciting. It is literally a trio. It is a bass, drums and an acoustic guitar and one vocal. That’s it. It has so much personality that it doesn’t need anything else added to it.

DB: Who did you record this album with-- musicians and how did you choose them?

KS: I chose the producer David Bianco. First, his credits are amazing and he has done some brilliant work in itself. Plus, he has a great studio of his own and that is a huge bonus because we didn’t have to worry about the studio time or paying for the studio nor having restrictions because we could go in anytime. We had an instant rapport and saw eye-to-eye on what and where we wanted to go to bring out the artist aspect. It felt right and it ended up being a wonderful experience. He is a wonderful and insanely talented man and I highly recommend him in any capacity.

The musicians, friends of mine. I’ve known them for many years and they are the cream-of-the-crop that I had worked with throughout my career. Growing up in L.A., I had the opportunity connect with so many of them. Deantoni Parks, the drummer, is a friend of mine. Gave him a call, so he played on the album. Tony Lucca, whom is here with me tonight. So yeah..

The interview was coming to an end quickly, as showtime was getting close. I asked about the album's cover art, which Simons feels is just as important as the content -- more so, as it may be what draws someone to stop at the bin in which the CD is in and actually pick it up to take a look-see. He also doesn’t mind touring, as he finds that it brings people into his world and him into theirs. People who may never have heard his music have now have the opportunity to do so.

With this all said, I would like to thank Simons for the wonderful insight into his world, his music and a night where I went to do an interview, watch a show and left with so much more!!!  Keaton, thank you.

If you would like to know more about Keaton Simons' CD and tours check out his Web sites www.keatonsimons.com or www.myspace.com/keatonsimons

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