“A pony will work, nonstop, until it physically cannot work anymore. I’m like that.”
If you’ve never heard of Doug Keith but think you’ve seen him somewhere, it’s probably because you have. Although he’s an accomplished solo artist—his first full-length album, Here’s To Outliving Me, was an NPR and Sirius XM favorite—he’s spent much of his musical career on the sidelines supporting other musicians. His first touring gig, playing bass for San Francisco-based punk band The Gods Hate Kansas, started his lifelong love of playing live and touring. After the band broke up Keith moved to New York City, lending his guitar and bass skills to various bands all the while pursuing his own music, described by NPR as “…richly textured, backed by sweet harmonies and beautifully layered instrumentation.” Although happily married and busy touring solo, he wanted to tour and collaborate with others again. Enter singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten.
“It was 2009, right before her record epic came out. She needed a bass and guitar player. I honestly thought I’d only play with her for a tour or two. But we clicked, and I’ve been playing with her ever since.”
Van Etten’s star rose quickly, and Keith’s touring wish was answered tenfold: they’ve traveled consistently and all over the globe, playing shows with everyone from The National to The War on Drugs. It was always busy so to keep working on his own music, Keith had to get crafty with his time. He’d write on the road, then flesh out ideas during their few days off. After he’d gathered enough songs to record, he hunkered down for 6 days at Echo Mountain Studios in the mountains of Asheville, NC with engineer Jon Ashley. He enlisted fellow Sharon Van Etten bandmate Zeke Hutchins to play drums, and brothers Brad and Phil Cook from the North Carolina band Megafaun to play bass and keyboards. Says Keith, “Things just clicked immediately. It was one of the funnest weeks I’ve ever known.”
After tracking, a few things still needed to be added, so Keith enlisted his other SVE bandmate, the heavenly-voiced Heather Woods Broderick, to sing backing vocals. Wanting a J.Mascis-like solo for the song “Pure Gold in the ‘70s”, Van Etten herself dared Keith to go ahead and ask Mascis, who they recently met on tour. To Keith’s surprise, Mascis agreed to do it. Says Keith, “I know, right? Mindblowing. Mind blown. He played the most amazing solo that captures exactly what that song is about.”
Part storyteller, part rock and roller, Keith’s wide range of influences runs deep on each track, creating a unique patchwork of guitar-driven songs to get lost in. On “Pure Gold in the ‘70s” you’ll hear a bit of Neil Young and The National (and, of course, Dinosaur Jr.). On “Harvest Home” there’s traces of Dylan & The Band with slight nods to Keith’s love of Husker Du and Fugazi. His love of Elizabeth Cotten is evident at the top of the anthemic “I Will Burn For You”. On “The Apostles”, Keith’s yearning vocals are reminiscent of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s Kevin Kinney.
Touchpoints aside, it’s a Doug Keith record through and through. His lead vocals are stacked and laid-back, adding signature sheen to his warm growl. Layers of driving keyboards give even more vibe and depth to Hutchins’s rollicking beats. You can hear the closeness of the band on every track. It’s an energy that was captured during those 6 perfect (and long) days in the mountains. “It’s a pretty personal, intense record, without being just me and an acoustic guitar. I wanted it to have feeling, a backbone.”
And, like the animal it’s named after, the album has just that—and continues to show strength with each listen.