At only 20 years old, Will Keen, AKA Keeno is ticking boxes off his bucket list like it’s nobody’s business. Having just released his sublime debut album on Med School, Life Cycle, he’s also juggling studying classical music at university, all the while travelling the world playing to sold-out crowds. Kids these days… They’re actually doing it right!
Having carved a distinct sound for himself, Keeno has become a name synonymous with breathtaking production skills well beyond his years. His ability to fuse cinematic and orchestral elements into his unique style of drum & bass suggests that he is taking a lot from his studies. We caught up with the young producer to chat about the album, being a fanboy, and all things inbetween…
Yes Keeno! Cheers for taking the time to chat to us!
No worries, hello everyone!
What made you fall in love with d&b and how were you first introduced to it?
I think drum and bass came at a point in my life where I was getting bored of all the other genres of music I was listening to far too quickly – it was refreshing and very different. It also had this innate musicality about it, which obviously appealed to me. The first d&b tune I ever heard was High Contrast’s remix of Adele’s Hometown Glory – even when I hear it now it takes me back.
What inspired you to get into production?
Getting into production seemed like the next logical step at the time. I was always writing music beforehand – but it was classical or poppy guitar stuff. Producing dance music was something no one at my school had really considered before so it was also kind of cool to try something new. My friends were always really supportive in the early stages so that helped me to persevere.
Best piece of advice you could give other budding producers?
I think the best piece of advice that I got was to try and not be a perfectionist all the time. Sometimes an idea can only be taken so far. If you think you can make it better, but are struggling to work out how, it’s probably the right idea in the wrong situation. Whenever I’m struggling for inspiration or want to experiment, I tend to work on remixes – they give you a framework to navigate and allow you to let the creative side flourish.
I bet! When you’re not producing and travelling you study classical music at university. How difficult is it to balance your studies with your schedule as an artist, and do the two complement each other?
During first year I managed to keep both plates spinning as fast as my brain could manage. Next year will be a bit more difficult as University intensifies. The two end up complimenting each other in some ways, but probably not directly. My degree allows me to do something different from producing and vice versa, it lets my brain take a break and do something else for a while.
And can you enlighten our readers about your traditional music abilities? What instruments do you play and what highlight have you had in your life as a classical music performer?
I play the piano, the clarinet, the guitar and I also sing (and have sung all my life). I think one of the funniest things I’ve ever done was sing on Songs of Praise when I was eight years old – a prize goes to whoever can find the clip on YouTube!
Now you’ve asked for it…Let the hunt begin! Following in the steps of artists like Calibre, Calyx and Etherwood your own vocals appear on Frozen, (and – if I’m not mistaken – Out of Nowhere?)- is this the first time you’ve used your own vocals in your tunes, and can we expect more in the future?
Actually, when I first started producing back in 2009-10, I sang on all my tunes – it only seemed natural. I then focussed on the production side for a while and got vocalists in who could do a much better job than I ever could. But, now I feel I’m comfortable enough to bring my classically trained voice into the mix to see if I can create an interesting sound out of it. In general, I’m pleased with how it turns out but the next investment is definitely a decent new microphone and preamp!
Talk us through how the album came together, was it a long process?
The album came together much more easily than I thought it would. The writing process took me barely any time at all. The time consuming part was choosing the final tracklisting and making sure each track sounded as tight as the last to achieve a high level of consistency across the LP. I’d like to thank the Med School and Hospital team here for helping me shape the LP into something I’m really proud of – my original conceptions of what an album should be like were way off the mark. Without them, we probably wouldn’t be having this chat!
Break The Silence… What a tune! Bit of a throwback to old school jungle there…
Yeah, I wanted to write a tune that deliberately subverts the standard “Keeno” sound but still has an over-arching theme of musicality to it. It’s always fun to experiment, fortunately, this one came off! It’s always really fun to play out at gigs because people don’t expect it. Rewinds are common, so they can understand it second time around.
Is there a tune on the album that’s particularly personal to you?
Moonrise is a very personal tune to me. I won’t bore you with the details but the tune never seemed to be an effort to write, it just sort of happened as if that was the only way the tune could ever exist.
Story behind the artwork?
Credit to Ricky Trickartt here – what an absolutely AMAZING design. I cannot believe how it turned out. Holding the picture disc vinyl in my hands for the first time last week was a very proud moment for myself. Ricky, thank you very much.
Whiney and Louisa Bass feature on the album, and you’ve done many collabs together before. How did you 3 meet?
I met Louisa back in 2009 (wow was it really that long ago!?) through a friend of a friend. I hit her up on SoundCloud and she said she’d be willing to come and record with me. We got on really well and kept on working together. Now, we have an awesome friendship, not just a working relationship, so writing with her is never an effort but a pleasure.
Whiney I met again on SoundCloud but we are now at University together (he’s studying Geography). We see each other every week and work together as much as our schedules allow us to. We’re best mates so writing and DJing with him is effortless as well.
Recently Goldie took it to the next level with Timeless being performed by the Heritage Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall. Coming from such a strong classical background is that something you’d like to achieve yourself?
100%. I’m already drawing up ideas in my head to get the ball rolling – I don’t care how long it takes or how much it costs, I really want to stand in front of an orchestra and hear my music performed by real people in a concert hall, I think it’d be really interesting to see and to hear.
Agreed! We can’t wait to see that! You had your album launch at the recent MedSchool night at Corsica studios, which was at capacity, sweat literally dripping from the ceilings, and again at the Hospitality mid-summer BBQ a couple of weeks ago. You’ve always got such great energy in your sets, can you describe the character of your DJ sets?
I love DJing – I always used to get nervous about it but now I’m starting to really enjoy it and experiment with it. I tend to just go for it during my sets and play everything and anything from jungle to liquid, and from dancefloor to straight up orchestral. It’s really fun to keep people guessing and I hope I only get better at tune selection as I get older.
I caught you raving to S.P.Y’s set in the crowd at the midsummer BBQ last weekend- do you still go to events as a fan, and if so, which artists are you most excited about recently?
It’s really important to go and listen to other artists perform, particularly the ones who inspired me to get into the genre in the first place. S.P.Y’s sets make me very jealous – he seems to effortlessly choose the perfect song at the perfect time. I think the best artists I’ve seen play recently have got to be Camo & Krooked, Calyx & Teebee and also Etherwood – Woody manages to capture all that’s good in drum and bass and smash it out in only an hour. I’ve no idea how he does that, you go glen coco.
What’s next on the cards for Keeno?
SLEEP! I’ve had zero downtime recently and I’m looking forward to getting home, resting up and sitting back down at my laptop and writing some fresh music. It seems like an age since I wrote anything new although it’s only been a couple of weeks. I’ve got loads of new ideas and I really want to get them down before I forget them. Apart from that, lots of exciting gigs coming up all around Europe – including Russia in September! It’s going to be an exciting second half of the year.
Any final shouts?
Yes, I’d like to thank everyone who came to my album launch at the Hospitality Midsummer BBQ and those who made it to the afterparty too. It was an absolutely amazing day to spend with my family (including Mummy Keeno!) and my nearest and dearest. I couldn’t have asked for a more special way to launch my album and I really appreciate all the support I got throughout the day.