New York-based singer-songwriter and folk artist Steven Keene is adept at handcrafting consistently powerful and timely songs with the ability to resonate across generations, with deeply meditative lyrics and lessons that deliver progressive, universal messages of hope to the collective consciousness.
The newest emanation of Keene’s signature ethos arrives in the form of his latest single “Soon” (to be released July 8, 2022, via Reviver Records), a track that seamlessly melds a James Agee-styled social critique with the ardent defiance of the best in American protest music. Once again leveling the sights of Keene’s masterful compositional craft dead-center on the faltering heart of the matter, “Soon” holds an unflattering yet hopeful creative mirror up to the great lumbering leviathan of a numb world sleepwalking into yet another World War.
Whether motivated by ignorance or outright disregard for the most costly lessons of human history, or by an equally untenable lack of collective self-awareness — it has now become frighteningly clear that the world is falling in, single-file, behind political pied-pipers bent on night-walking us straight into chaos. An eloquent creative effort to reclaim some sense of collective reason and spiritual autonomy, “Soon” represents a kind of exorcizing incantation against unwanted hate, propagated by powerful corporate and governmental interests who run the world and have too much to gain by sowing discord around difference.
“There’s so much hate going on right now,” says Keene. “There’s so much discrimination and so much discord. It’s just insane the way the world has become. This song confronts that hate. It talks about getting back to Earth and protecting the planet. It talks about bringing up children to be fair, equal, and inclusive. It talks about initiating that ripple of change that will lead to the inevitability of a better world …someday soon.”
The track’s atypical chord changes, moving from a major progression into the unexpected somber of A flat, set an unanswered anthem adrift the winds blowing across a dreamscape of uneasy beauty, while Keene’s meditative Cohen-esque vocals and evocative lyrics are punctuated with almost prophetic proclamations of hope.
Those combined elements provide the sonic formula to lull the mind deeper into the liminal psychic spaces where one begins to see things a little more clearly, where “the doors of perception are cleansed” and the sleepwalking mind startles momentarily but just long enough that it begins to question the false illusions that have been built around it.
It is from this liminal space that Keene often channels his songs’ multi-layered lyrics …and it was in that very dreamscape, where the psychic bodhi tree grows, under which the artist sat pondering the strangeness of our current times when a mantra started repeating itself to him through the veil :
With provocative lyrics that, somehow without enumerating the many methods by which corporate and political forces have divided and conquered us through the psychological warfare of fear — Keene still manages to relay how we are so bound by a technocratic media matrix’s masterfully spun illusion that we are blind to our own suicidal somnambulism.
All the while, Keene’s words don’t call out the world’s power corrupt structures with the stinging indictment they perhaps deserve. Instead, the mantra of “Soon…” rings more like wisdom’s gentle observation, without judgment, as if relayed from the measured perspective of the inverted eye of sentient Earth, looking inward upon itself in curious awe …as yet too hopeful to be terrified. “Soon” insists that we are on a precipice and that we have the power to choose our own destiny, that people living during this scary yet pivotal time can be the ones to save humanity if we but resist that illusory polarization:
In this way, “Soon” really carries a quietly subversive message: to free our minds and question establishment narratives via that almost deceptively non-confrontational mantra culminating in a promise:
Soon, I will return to you
That day is close,
That day is soon
That repetitive meter drives into the psyche an imperative to look to ourselves for ultimate truth, to re-access our inherent divinity, our connection to the earth, and to each other through a kind of revolutionary archaic revival. As such, “Soon” manifests as nothing short of an invocation. Initiating a kind of psychic deprogramming from the cult of cultural anesthesia, Keens’s words manage, at once, to lull and shock his fellow sleepwalkers back into our own sovereign minds — yet, now empowered to proclaim our own voices through the maelstrom.
Says Keene, “ Everybody can interpret the song in their own way. But I think it’s a pretty easy read because it’s really just about hope. I believe strongly that it’s going to happen; it’s just not happening right now. It may not be tomorrow, but it’s gonna happen, so look what we have to look forward to on this planet. Everybody’s gonna align one day and feel the same way about helping, about not discriminating against race, religion, or sexual preference. One day we’re gonna get there.”
— — — —
Soon” is Keene’s first single to drop so far this year following the release of his recent comeback album Them And Us in November of 2020 and a steady stream of original singles dropping every month or so since last Fall of 2019. The consistent flow and range of the new material being churned out foreshadow the broad stylistic eclecticism and bold subject matter that can be expected on his upcoming album, slated to be released later this year. It is also indicative of a deeply personal renaissance Keene has been undergoing as an artist.
A true songwriter’s songwriter, Keene, has focussed himself for most of his career on honing the craft of songwriting and collaboration with other musicians, more so than chasing record deals and fame. But after working for years in the industry as a well-respected musician and songwriter – collaborating with an impressive roster of musicians and achieving more than a few notable successes in the 90s and early 2000s – life and love-lost took Keene down a road of heavy heartache that put his songwriting on an extended hiatus.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” reflects Keene. “I went through a lot of tragedy in my life. It took a while, seven years, for me to get over it. And then one day, like a switch, I just was …and I started a new life for myself and put that ache in the past.”
True to his belief that the story is best left open to the listener’s interpretation, Keene doesn’t go into too much detail in the telling of it. But the clues and characters are littered throughout the flood of songs that followed the sudden breaking of a years-long writer’s block. No stranger to music’s strange ability to nullify the ache of loss, Keene harnessed the pain of love-lost to fuel a creative rebirth.
The songs on Keene’s upcoming album run the gamut from the political to the starkly anti-political, From rock, and blues to folk and country, Keene gives nods to his primary influences, which range in genre and style from folk song-crafting icons like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits to the blues mavericks like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James, and further afield to include the likes of composer/pianist Henry Mancini, country iconoclast Hank Williams.
“I’m very lucky, at this stage in my life, that I’m writing and producing more songs than I ever have …at a faster rate. The bad news is the songs keep me up at night, and they haunt my dreams. And I’m constantly reaching for paper.”
Keene’s newly rising star is a sign that there are listeners out there who hunger for his straightforward style of empathy and connection. Rediscovered by industry veteran Jason Jordan just prior to ONErpm poaching the exec from a position as SVP of Republic Records, Keene has been in no hurry to sign to a major label or conform his sound. When Jordan left Republic, sensing a seismic shift in the industry, one of his first moves as Senior A&R at Symphonic was to sign Keene and release a series of singles and two albums. Now Keene has moved on to sign with Reviver Records for the upcoming release and has taken on new management with Jason Spiewack of Noble Steed Music.
All of the upcoming album’s tracks will be produced by Keene himself, and recorded and mixed by Joseph DeMaio (who also plays mandolin on” Somewhere In Between” )just blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in Long Branch, New Jersey’s Shorefire Recording Studios, using the last analog Helios console ever built. Having found a classic analog sound and collaborative dynamic that works for him, Keene is keeping on the same roster of musicians for the new album, including Rich Scannella on drums, Joseph Chiarolanza on bass, Matt O’Ree on guitar, Joseph Napolitano on pedal steel, Arne Wendt and Jeff Levine on keys, and Michele Weir or Layonne Holmes doing background vocals.
by Benji Michaels
What They’re Saying about Steven Keene
- The Blues and Roots Music Blog, Album review, 01/27/2021, singer-songwriter Steven Keene album release “Them And Us”..an uncanny finger on the pulse of our troubled times
- eFolk Music (Russia), Album review, 01/27/2021, Steven Keene – Them And Us (2020)
- Paradigms, Interview, 01/26/2021, Steven Keene – New Album “Them & Us”
- IndieMusicLove’s Soft Pop Hits 2021 Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 01/26/2021, Playlist add, ‘Cause I Can’t Have You
- IndieMusicLove’s Indie Rock Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 01/26/2021, ‘Cause I Can’t Have You playlist add
- Roadie Music, Track review, 01/25/2021, Steven Keene e sua voz apaixonante emocionam com a música “Them & Us”
- HQ Indie’s Americana Sessions Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 01/25/2021, Playlist Add for Them and Us
- Record Store Radio, Interview, 01/21/2021, Celebrating Nashville This week on Record Store Radio Episode 16
- Daydream’s Indie & Alternative Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 01/21/2021, Them and Us, Playlist add
- Indie Criollo, Track pick, 01/21/2021, DESCUBRIMIENTOS MUSICALES DEL UNDER MUNDIAL #18
- Build Me Up Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 01/21/2021, Them and Us, Playlist Add
- Rock the Pigeon on Twitter, Social media mention, 12/29/2020, Shoutout for We’ll Find a Way
- Blues.GR, Interview, 12/23/2020, Steven Keene: New York Troubadour
- FUFM Beauty Inside Spotiify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/18/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Rainy Day Blues by Don’s Tunes Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/15/2020, Them & Us add
- Raighes Factory Singer-Songwriters Indie Folk Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/15/2020, Them & Us add
- AUTUMN INDIE FOLK SONGS | FALL HITS 2020 Spotify playlist, Playlist add, 12/15/2020, “Them & Us” add
- Theocide Records COUNTRY/BLUES 🤠 AMERICANA style Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Roadie Music, Article, 12/10/2020, Após quase 20 anos de silencio, o compositor Steven Keene retoma carreira e lança dois belíssimos discos
- From the Strait’s On Your Radar Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- AMERICAN FOLK 2020 🇺🇸 Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Alive & Kicking (Inspiring tunes) Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Indie Mood Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Modern Folk & Country Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Husky & Sultry Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Acoustic Fantastic! Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Sit Back and Relax Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Slow Dancing and RomancingSpotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Raw & Edgy Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Ruggedly Handsome Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Music Lover’s Fresh Discovery Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 12/10/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Ongoing History of Protest Music, Interview, 12/01/2020, Ongoing History of Protest Music Episode 28: Them and Us (with Steven Keene)
- York Calling, Track review, 11/25/2020, Discovery: Steven Keene
- Consequence of Sound, Mention, 11/11/2020, Upcoming Releases
- No More Work Horse, Mention, 11/13/2020, Albums of the week
- The Avacado, Mention, 11/13/2020, Friday New Music
- On Your Radar Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/17/2020, “Save Yourself” add
- Indie Roadtrip Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Acoustic View Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Chilled Afternoon Delights Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Sad Cafe Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Countryside Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Husky & Sultry Spotify PLaylist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Acoustic Fantastic! Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Raw & Edgy Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, “We’ll Find a Way” add
- Ruggedly Handsome Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 11/16/2020, We’ll Find a Way add
- Modern Folk & Country Spotify playlist, Playlist add, 11/14/2020, We’ll Find a Way add
- Last Day Deaf, Track pick, 11/16/2020, Young Folks – 10 folk / acoustic / indie folk / alt-country / singer-songwriter jams
- Theocide Record’s The best COUNTRY/BLUES Spotify playlist, Playlist add, 11/02/2020, Theocide Record’s The best COUNTRY/BLUES Spotify playlist, Them & Us add
- Rock Era Magazine, Track pick, 10/31/2020, Rock Era Weekly Playlist – Oct 31
- From the Strait’s On Your Radar Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/30/2020, From the Strait’s On Your Radar Spotify Playlist
- New Western Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/30/2020, New Western Spotify Playlist, Them & Us add
- Schwindy’s Haiku Reviews, Track review, 10/30/2020, Them and Us by @music_keene
- Blusete Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/29/2020, Them & Us, Playlist add
- The Two River Times, Mention, 10/26/2020, Rock Review: Changing Course
- Music and Fashion Blog, Instagramp Post, Social media mention, 10/26/2020, Music and Fashion Blog, Instagramp Post
- Michael Doherty’s Music Log, Social media mention, 10/17/2020, Steven Keene, Them & Us
- Country & Americana Love vol.3 Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/15/2020, https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6yFazxU94HCBgONkkIMPVj
- Dream Machine Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/16/2020, Them and Us
- Theocide Studios Spotify Playlist, Playlist add, 10/05/2020, The Best Country/Blues Playlist
- CNBNews, Article, 10/04/2020, Performer and Songwriter Steve Keene to Release New Album “THEM & US”