Interview: Keith Kenniff

First of all. How are you?

I’m quite well, thank you.  Yourself?

Fine thanks. I’ve been listening repeatedly to your new song, “Inherit The Wind”. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Was the song inspired by the accompanying video, or vice versa?

Thank you! I had done the video a little while ago, but updated it somewhat and then wrote the music to the images.

Is it indicative of how future Helios album material will sound?

I think the next album won’t sound as ambient, but there may be one or two tracks on the album that follow a similar thread.

Do you have a particular environment or time of day that works best when writing or recording your music?

My studio is pretty cut off from the outside world, there are two small windows and even during the sunniest days it’s fairly dark down here, so it feels a bit like a cave.  I like that though, it helps to focus me as time feels like it stands still.  I always work best at night or very early in the morning; as much as I’ve tried to change my schedule I think my internal clock is pretty stubborn.

How quick is the compositional process for you?

Sometimes it is quick, but other times quite long and laborious.  I tend to spend a lot of time on Helios tracks, and not so long writing Goldmund tracks.  It’s just an entirely different process.  Helios material tends to always be a jigsaw puzzle of bits and pieces that I quickly record but take great care in arranging and mixing. Both Goldmund and Helios are pretty intuitive, but focus on different things.  Mint Julep usually is quite laborious, and is a bit more intentional because there are lyrics involved and is more about telling a literal story.

How easy do you find collaborating with other people?

I don’t really get the chance to do that as often as I would like.  The Helios material is a pretty solitary inward kind of process, so the most collaboration I do is usually when it comes down to working with an artist for the cover art or something like that.  Right now my main collaborator is my wife; we’re doing a project called Mint Julep, and she’s singing and writing lyrics while I do the music.  The music is pretty different than my other projects, but it’s a lot of fun, and I’m liking having someone to bounce ideas off of.

Do you enjoy playing live? How easy is it to translate your music (particularly as Helios) for the live setting?

I do enjoy playing live.  I’ve been doing it ever since I was 13 and I played my first gig in a small pavilion out in the middle of some rural park in Pennsylvania at a hardcore show with about 10 people.  I find it an experience that is hard to liken to anything else I’ve done in my life.  The Helios material is very hard to try and figure out how to do live, I’ve been through a lot of trial and error.  I really hate the idea of only twisting knobs behind a computer, so I basically try and play every single thing I can with a free extremity.  I have done the Helios set solo, where I play guitar, keyboards, and live drums, I’ve played as two people with my wife on keyboards, or my brother playing guitar and drums, and I’ve done a couple of shows with a 3-person setup.  Each one is different, rewarding and challenging.

Goldmund is a different approach.  It’s mainly just solo piano and I’ve had a lot of fun doing those shows.  I usually don’t plan anything ahead of time and improvise whatever my fingers remember from songs.  I like the feeling of not knowing where things can go, and it also makes me feel a lot more comfortable than having a rigid set of instructions to perform.

Do you have a particular song you are most proud of?

I think there are parts to songs that I can look back on and say that I like, different sections or mixes or sounds that I think were the best I could make them be, and am still surprised by how I pull that off, and plenty of others that I wish I could go back and completely re-do.  I like the chord progressions in Come With Nothings from the last Helios album I did, “Caesura”.  I think the song “Halving The Compass” from Eingya is one that seemed pretty effortless, so I think in terms of approaching future songs, I think I’m always trying to recreate that environment where I feel pretty centered and go with my gut.

What artists are you currently listening to a lot?

I’ve been listening to this songwriter John Shannon a lot.  He put out an album called American Mystic in 2008, and it’s a really beautiful collection of songs.  I like David Bazan’s last album “Curse Your Branches”, his lyrics feel like he’s always searching, and I like his honesty. I also really like Tsotsitaal by Ten and Tracer, it’s one of the most solid ambient releases in recent history, I can’t recommend it enough.

What are you working on at the moment?

It’s pretty busy, I am just finishing up the new Goldmund record, a new Mint Julep full length, new Helios and I’m producing and mixing this duo called Mombi from Denver who write really pretty songs.  I’ve been working on a record of Civil War folk songs for a little while, hopefully that will be done by the middle of this year as well.  A few months back I finished scoring a touching documentary called The Last Survivor, which follows survivors from Rwanda, Darfur and the holocaust.

Anything coming up for you in the next few months?

Obviously I have my work cut out with all those musical projects, but there are some other film projects in the coming months as well.  It will be pretty quiet as far as touring goes for a bit, perhaps some one off shows somewhere soon.

Are you coming over to England any time soon?

My wife and I were over there to play the Big Chill and Union Chapel in London last August, and we really enjoyed it.  Fortunately we had some time to spend in the peak district as well just driving around and hiking, which is one of my favorite places in the world, especially a little town called Edale. There aren’t any plans to back as of yet, but I seem to make it over there every now and then.

Purchase Keith’s music here:

Unseen Music

You can listen to Keith’s music at the following links:

Goldmund myspace
Helios myspace
Mint Julep myspace