A Q&A with Jimmy O’Keefe

jimmy o'keefe interview folk

Tearful indie-folk from Baltimore…

What’s the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
The title of my latest release is ‘Racing Against My Fate’. What does it mean to me? It’s about struggling against fate to get somewhere you’re not even sure you’re supposed to go. You know that movie Inside Out? You know how, in that movie, the main character is Joy? Well, in my version of Inside Out the main character would be Fear, and all the other characters would be trying to kill it. Nobody likes fFear. Everyone just wants Fear to die. So, maybe this song is about my Fear running away from all of my other emotions that are trying to kill it. Which is ironic because the more Fear tries to run, the more afraid it is. And the more afraid it is, the more power it has.

What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
The hardest part about this release is the need for a constant stream of self-promotion. Everything seems to be pay-to-play. I may be wrong, but that’s my experience. If you like my music, or any other musician’s music, the best things you can do are: 1.) subscribe to their Spotify 2.) pay for their album on bandcamp 3.) share their music at parties or other real life social gatherings 4.) put their music on your playlists 5.) subscribe to other personally curated playlists 6.) read blogs to get curated recommendations about music. I’m going to make a generalization that others are allowed to disagree with, but I’ll say it anyway: listeners these days are incentivized to be passive. Streaming services like Spotify provide you with recommendations so that you never have to actively curate your own listening experience. I mean, you can choose your own songs if you want to, but why bother? The only way to fix this is to be an active listener on streaming services.

What do you enjoy most about producing your own material?
The greatest part of producing your own material is that no one will tell you what you are about to do is a stupid idea. The worst part of producing your own material is that no one will tell you what you are about to do is a stupid idea. Truthfully, I miss working with other people. To me, my band mates have always played a role as the producers. I was in a band called Hollywood Blanks for about 10 years, and I really appreciated the perspective of our guitarist Trevor Shipley and our bassist Rich Kolm. I’m primarily a lyricist and vocalist, so having the perspective of other musicians is really helpful because they will bring in their perspectives. I know some songwriters are very rigid, but I’m kinda the opposite. I love to let other people’s ideas influence the outcome of a song.

What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
Some musicians want to make people dance. I want people to cry. Like, the closer they are to a blubbering, sopping mess of tears, the better. I take it as the greatest compliment any time someone says, “Your song made me cry.” I believe it was in the LCD Soundsystem song ‘Tonite’ that he admits that all they want you to do is cry when you listen to their music. For me, I want you to cry so that maybe I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I should be crying about the stuff I sing about in my songs. Like I said before, I’m really bad at crying. That’s why I write the type of music that I write. Each song takes the place of a good cry for me (I promise I’m not a sociopath – just a millennial snatched up by the eternal effects of misogynistic stoicism).

How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
I usually start with a phrase or an idea that seems meaningful. I try to build everything up around that. It’s been a while since I used a different method, but I also like to start with a melody and go from there. Sometimes, starting with a melody can be hard for me because when I think of the words to go along with it, they don’t always make as much sense. Like, for my most recent release, the title popped into my head when I was feeling particularly anxious about something. I built everything around that. The best songs happen when you can find a good balance between melody and lyrics.

What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
I was inspired to start this project by bands that record with less than ideal materials, but still somehow manage to make something that people enjoy listening to. I only know the bands I’m familiar with that have done this: Cat Power, Neutral Milk Hotel, Mount Eerie, Daniel Johnston. I don’t think my music sounds like theirs, but that was my inspiration. I don’t have endless access to a professional studio, so I’ve had to experiment with recording myself. I consider anyone else that’s had to go this route to be an influence in my music, regardless of their musical genre.

jimmy o'keefe interview

What countries would you like to tour? Are there any standout venues you’d like to play in?
I’d love to tour any country. In terms of venues, I really don’t have a specific venue that I want to play. I think every venue has its own beauty.

If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
I think listeners should hear ‘The Devil Speaks to Mary’. It’s not the greatest in terms of its recording quality, but the lyrics are some of the first that I really took seriously and seemed to translate into something relatable to other people. I like to use a lot of religious imagery and symbolism, good vs. evil, that type of stuff. This song has all those elements.

What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
I think I’m constantly editing my ambitions. I try to get more realistic as I learn more about self-promotion and building an audience. I’ll usually set a goal. More often than not, I do not achieve the goal in a way that I expected, if at all. But I learn something from every experience. To me, ambition is more of a mindset and you have to be open to many different possibilities.

Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
I really just appreciate you all giving artists like myself the opportunity to share their thoughts. Thank you for listening.

For more info visit: facebook.com/jimmyokeefeandfriends


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