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Up Close With Worcester Singer-Songwriter James Keyes

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


James Keyes performing at Beatnik's. Photo courtesy of Ted Theodore.

Worcester's James Keyes was born at sea. Yes, literally.

"Both my parents were sailors back in the day and it just worked out that way," he explains.

Being at Sea

But this is also symbolic, reflecting the natural state of artists everywhere, especially musicians. They feel stuck at sea, confused in a world that may not appreciate their art, but once their particular passion is recognized, they are able to reach their personal shore. James Keyes is one of these artists, finding his place at the shore through performing and writing his music.

"Music is the only things that feels right. For me it defines the space and the negative space all at once. There's no perspective without music for good or bad," says Keyes.

"On a physical level, music is all vibrations and vibrations are the energy that make up the universe, so without music, everything would literally fall apart."

What he gets out of playing his music in any singular performance on an individual level, he states, is a "conjuration and an exorcism all at once."

Something spiritual rises inside him, he performs, and the spirit is released.

Keyes' Unique Outlook and Style

Like many musicians, Keyes does not like to define himself in terms of genre but everyone has a certain identifiable sound their music usually centers around.

"Musicians are only conduit. The real inspiration comes from somewhere else and your job is to catch it and hold on," he says.

"Instruments and ability play are a distant secondary role to being able to know when you're being given a gift. That's the hard part, realizing that something was just handed to you and having to transform that little revelation into something everyone can hear, not just you."

His sound can be described as some sort of combination of a Bluesy Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Johnny Cash, but it is unique of course, not a carbon copy of any of the artists above or any other. It is blues with an alternative rock and classic country twist.

He has a deep, thoughtful voice and can handle a guitar with the best of them. There is something both for fans of more popular music and fans of a more underground style.

The Middle

His third album, The Middle, will be coming out in November. He describes what you should expect, different from his other work but his unique eccentricities will still be present of course.

"It started out kind of quiet, but managed to really grow in the recording process. It's ended up becoming this massive thing with drums, bass, a horn section, layers of percussion and organ," states the musician.

"It was a big jump from something that was supposed to have been an acoustic guitar kind of sound. But it happened so organically, and the songs determined their own fate so I went with it. "

You can hear much of his previous work on his website and at Reverbnation, plus samples from the new album.

The Uncertain Future

Despite his early success though, he knows the future always remains uncertain. Such is the nature of the musical life. One must struggle to avoid drifting back out to sea.

"Playing music for a living is about as suicidal a career choice as you can possibly make, there's nothing but challenges to tackle," he remarks bluntly.

"You exist in your own imagination most of the time, trading in the straight world is the biggest challenge because it's so unreal."

If anyone can truly make it in the business, however, he has the ideal qualities to do so.

For more information on James Keyes please find him on Facebook or visit his website.


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