Making music in lockdown: a chat with The Kecks
If there’s a band that’s representative of a brilliant idea of a world with open border, where contamination of thoughts and styles is the norm and helps give an additional edge to a music that is an expression of sharp and innovative ideas, that’s The Kecks. A veritable melting-pot of a band, with members hailing from Germany, the UK, Austria, and Australia, they have honed their cutting rock to incorporate sounds reminiscent of the likes of the Strokes and Tame Impala and add a new layer of meaning to a rather innovative idea of garage rock.
Now, as the music scene struggles to deal with an apparently endless series of lockdowns, they’re back with a new single and an unchanged determination to make their voice heard. We had a chat with guitarist Samuel Telford about making art through lockdown, projects past and present, the way different backgrounds contributed to their unique style, and – obviously – the future of rock itself.
Chiara Strazzulla: First of all, how have things been for you as a band over the lockdown? What was most challenging, and did you take part in any initiatives?
Samuel Telford: The hardest part was definitely having to postpone shows. We had tours and festival slots planned which have been pushed until things are safe again. We took on every live stream we could – doing acoustic shows from my rooftop and working together with Molotow (our favourite club in Hamburg) to put on a live stream and eventually an open air socially distanced gig. We also used the lockdown to film the video for our new single All For Me.
CS: What are your feelings about the current situation and its impact on live music? Do you think there should be something being done that perhaps isn’t?
ST: We’re based in Hamburg and the government here has been fairly understanding and supportive of the artistic communicty. They certainly recognise (more than some other governments) that being a musician or artist is a profession and have made efforts to offer financial support. We’d like to see that understanding also extended to venues and venue staff around the world. Having well run venues of every size is not only essential for the music scene – there’s also a huge amout of people who make a living from this who are really suffering now.
CS: Your new single came out in late October, can you tell us something about that?
ST: All For Me is a pretty dramatic ballad which started out as a simple little acoustic song and kind of took on a life of its own. We’ve had some feedback that it’s a bit of a departure from our first two singles, and I guess musically it is, but lyrically and conceptually it’s still very much our style. We don’t tend to write happy songs and All For Me is a brutally self-aware love song. We shot the video for this song in a single day with some friends and we all went a little crazy inventing costumes and characters and then just figured out how to fit it all in a scene and started rolling. We love weird shows like The Mighty Boosh, Tim and Eric, and some trippy cartoons so for us, filming a video is really just trying to capture that DIY weirdness.
CS: You have a beautifully multicultural line-up that in many ways reflects the world we live in. How did you all come together? What do your different backgrounds bring to your music?
ST: We actually formed the final line-up on a FlixBus to go and see The Growlers play in Berlin. We’d all moved to Hamburg to start or join a band and luckily we ended up finding each other. Musically, there are many bands and artsits that we love but we all come at it from different angles due to our musical education. I won’t say who, but there’s some properly educated musicians in this band – and then there’s Joel and me.
CS: What has your experience playing in different countries around Europe been like? Is there somewhere in particular you’re keen to go back to, or somewhere you haven’t played yet that you’d
ST: It’s been a blast! It’s always good to hit the road and check out the music scenes in other cities. We had a great time in France and as soon as lockdown is over we want to go back to Paris. The UK is also close to our heart not only because Joel is from there and I lived there for a few years – also because many of our favourite bands are British. We’re really not picky because we just love to play, in fact one of our first gigs was on a bridge in the rain and got shut down by the cops. So once shows start up again we’ll just hit the road and play anywhere and everywhere.
CS: Your sound has been compared to the likes of The Strokes; what would you say your main influences are at the moment? Is there something in particular you’re going for, a kind of sound you would like to achieve?
ST: We don’t really have a set goal of how we want to sound. That feels like it might put a limit on what we can write and what kind of arrangements or sounds we can use. Every song is a new idea and we play it together and try anything we think will work until we’re all happy with how it sounds. We’re all the type of person that can easily become obsessed with a single song or album and listen to it on repeat – so as we get new obsessions we tend to approach our own songs with new ideas and it keeps it exciting for us.
It is a little strange playing to an empty room as the energy from the crowd is one of the biggest parts of what makes live music so much fun.
CS: What has the experience of playing online and physically distanced gigs been like? Would you say it has any good sides?
ST: Playing live streams has definitely been great for our fans around the world who don’t have the chance to come see us in Hamburg or on tour. It is a little strange playing to an empty room as the energy from the crowd is one of the biggest parts of what makes live music so much fun. The socially distanced gigs have also been cool – we’ve gotten to play in some unconventional locations like a hotel lobby in Groningen and on the 5th of November we’ll be doing a live stream from Huxley’s in Berlin which should be a blast.
CS: You have been vocal in support of the fight for the future of the music industry. What does it look like from your point of view? Do you think the number of new bands coming up point to a renaissance of independent music, and what future do you imagine for rock music?
ST: It seems like there’s definitely a growing awareness that the big business model of managing and promoting bands is a scam. Record companies have been forcing artists into terrible contracts for decades and with more and more information and truth circulating about this through the internet, it gives the chance for music fans and people who otherwise might not be directly engaged in such conversations to take part and speak up for artsists.
The rise of smaller labels and bands being able to connect directly with their fans through modern mediums will hopefully push out this antiquated system and inequality. The future of rock music will be whatever people support or don’t actively oppose. If we just allow soulless companies to make huge profits through (what should be) illegal contracts which screw the artists, then we’re going to end up with more of the same commercial and unimaginative crap but if we continue to support creative and adventerous bands then there will be another renaissance.
CS: If you could pick anything to do for your first gig after the end of the Covid emergency, what would it be?
ST: A festival show. There’s nothing better than the energy of a festival crowd. We used to walk around before shows with a bag full of toys and have a sort of lucky dip with the audience – people ended up trading toys and playing with them throughout the show. We’d love to do things like that again!
CS: What are your plans for the future? Is there something you’re particularly looking forward to?
ST: We’ve used the lockdown to start pre-production on our first EP and we’ll head to Buffalo Studios in London again as soon as it’s safe. We love working with JB and his studio is amazing. He has some old gear laying about and somehow people just leave stuff with him so we love digging through that to find something weird that we can incorporate in to the recording. We’re also doing a limited 7” of an unreleased single through Butterfly Effect and we’ll paint and decorate the sleeves ourselves which will be a lot of fun. Aside from that, we’re writing a lot of new songs and just working up a new set for when we can gig again.
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Chiara was born in Sicily and lives in Cardiff. She’s a novelist and freelance journalist with a lifelong love of music, from glam to punk by way of blues and country.