James has given a few interviews recently, and we’ve had permission to reproduce two of them here:
MAGAZINE GAP - John Cascio couldn’t wait to find out more about this brilliant hot new band, so we got frontman James Keen to answer all his questions
What brought you guys together? With such varying styles it seems a bit odd that the four of you (formerly 5) would mesh in the way you did.
Yes, and no. The truth is that the walls between genres have been knocked down for many years, and today more than ever people’s tastes are extremely broad and, honestly, cosmopolitan. The advance of the internet has of course made the world smaller and further allowed access to all sorts of music to be enjoyed by people from right around the world. That richness is something to be embraced, and where that can be harnessed in some way and to some degree, then it is greatly rewarding and satisfying. With regards our band, we all come from different natural musical inclinations, but share a love of musical exploration. That openness to experimentation and finding common ground between musical instincts has been the cornerstone of the band’s ethos. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of healthy creative tension as we try to find that common ground, but out of a potential cacophony comes something all the more exquisite!We first explored this on my debut album, “No Coincidence”, which Cookie produced and played on (drums), as well as featuring Tim (bass guitar) and my brother Jason (lead guitar). That album laid the foundations of what became Magazine Gap, allowing us to continue to develop as artists. Cookie had shared a stage with Alex (keys) on one occasion for a session performance and saw something in his playing and responsiveness that he wanted to try with the band, so he was invited to join us for some live shows. The collective sound that subsequently developed was clearly much more that of a band than a singer/songwriter plus a backing group, and we consolidated our efforts into “Magazine Gap”.
I noticed that the album “Light & Shade” was recorded at various studios across the UK and US, how did that work? Was it difficult?
It was a natural extension of the album being a journey, with each song having its own direction or leaning, that we should also record in different places. We wanted to take the songs “on the road” and it made sense to record whilst out on tour. We did a lot of pre-production beforehand, but still left a lot open to be determined whilst in the studio. It was tiring for sure, but wasn’t especially difficult, despite limiting ourselves to a matter of hours in each place; it helps having an incredible producer in Cookie who knows exactly what he’s after. The way we work is to record drums & bass together, with a guide vocal and often a guide keyboard to support the performance. We then pick the best take (out of between 4-7 usually), then add vocals, guitars and piano on top. We bring all the parts back to London and edit together (with additional tracking by brass, strings, percussion), but the performance and vibe on the track was very much influenced by being in those places, working with those great engineers in such varied recording studios. We can’t now imagine “The Promised Land” being recorded other than in New Orleans, or “Silver Lining” in New York, or “Inside The Bubble” in Los Angeles or “What’s Next?” in Chicago, and so on. The engineers seemed genuinely surprised at how quickly and effectively we worked, but it seemed straightforward to us.It was stressful, of course, but also wonderfully focused. We recorded the title track in Houston on a Monday evening, flew to LA the next day and recorded “Swansong” in Hollywood that afternoon, went to Padadena to record “Inside The Bubble” & “Something To Be Said” on the Wednesday before heading to The Mint for a showcase performance later that night, then flew to New Orleans for a solo show on Thursday, then the full band’s show on the Saturday in the French Quarter and finished up by recording “The Promised Land” in the 9th Ward (Bywater) on the Sunday. That was a busy week!
I’m from the States, I’ve been all over and to many different studios and venues, how did you find touring the US to be?
We absolutely loved touring across America on both occasions we’ve been across to date, and the response of the audiences has been extremely gratifying, especially in different places. We were eager to traverse the whole country and play in different areas to see whether the receptivity was greatest in certain places. We therefore set about taking in the four biggest US cities, which are also the largest in the four US geographic regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, West). We figured that how people might respond on the East Coast (New York, Cape May), might be different to the Gulf Coast (Houston & New Orleans) or the West Coast (Los Angeles). What we have found, however, is that there has been no difference! That in turn reflects the broader palette of music lovers generally. Plus, even more importantly, has been people tell us that we have something fresh even to bring to the US, as opposed to them saying “Yeah but there are so many bands like you around”… That hugely positive reaction has been interesting, and of course really encouraging.
What was the goal for the album? I read on your website that it represented a journey, do you feel like that is what you achieved?
The album is a representation of our carefully developed sound and style. In this day-and-age you cannot wait for the music industry to ‘get it’ and finance recordings, and in any case you might lose much of your artistic integrity, so we set about creating a product that showed the vision of what we’re about. It was a journey for sure. We covered almost 25,000 miles to record the album! During the recording process and post-completion, we have wanted to promote our songs as much as possible, both on the road and online, to test the water. With regards social networks, our YouTube channel in particular has been really interesting. We’ve received many thousands of comments, and we always make a point of writing a note of thanks back to them. In doing so, we find out more about them – age, location, musical tastes etc – and what’s been incredibly revealing is that we’ve got fans that range from 12 years old through to retirees, and in countries right around the globe; in particular, USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Poland, Russia, The Philippines, Japan, and Australia. And some have inclinations that you wouldn’t expect, such as metal and hip-hop! So we cannot be too specific about our typical demographic, other than those who like what’s meant by the original meaning of “popular music”!! But I would also say that we are still on the journey.
The vocals are sublime. I’m sure you read my review, did I hit the nail on the head as far as my idea of influences goes? If not which artist(s) really inspired you?
Thank you very much! You mentioned Rob Thomas, who I admire as a singer and songwriter, and think Maroon 5 are great, but wouldn’t say they were major influences. Tracy Chapman definitely is. Ever since I was about 18, my vocals have been compared to hers more than anyone else’s. I used to find that annoying because it’s not an affectation, but I’ve long been a huge fan of her folk-rock style as well as her voice; when I first saw her in concert in London I thought if I sound anything like her I’m really okay with that! The artist that has most inspired me is Paul Simon. His “Graceland” album had a profound effect on me – he managed to combine an overlying pop/folk vocal and lyrical content with a fusion of sounds that was distinct, powerful and unique. He’s long been a musical adventurer of course, even back in S&G days. The other two artists that really shaped my own writing are Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Again, they have also sustained a career by moving through genres. They are among the greatest pioneers in music, and most of the other artists I admire were in turn following in their footsteps. More recently, the artist that has most captured my attention is Dave Matthews, and of course the band – their very successful fusion spurs us on!
I must say that the sound stands out in a crowd, are there any areas of your music you may change or will you stay solely with this style?
Again, thank you, we appreciate that. I would say that developing ‘the sound of Magazine Gap’ has been the main objective to date, even if that consists of various styles within it. It is always important to have a thread that is distinctive but there are so many areas we’ve yet to explore, and our journey will continue and I hope our audience will enjoy the on-going development. Above that, our live shows always take our recorded, more radio-friendly studio versions, to another level again. I think seeing us live is the best way to really understand what we’re about.
What can we expect next from Magazine Gap?
Interview with Songsalive! member James Keen about his band, Magazine Gap
Recently, we caught up with one of our favorite European Songsalive! members, James Keen, as he got us up to date on his band Magazine Gap and their worldwide touring and new album:
1. Where are you from, originally and what brought you to your current city London?
You wouldn’t know it from my accent, but I was actually born in Australia to an Aussie mum and an English father. I initially grew up in Hong Kong, but went to school and university in London, and have been here ever since.
2. What style of music would you say you do?
We call it “eclectic pop/rock”, because it combines a range of styles including: pop, rock, folk, funk, blues, jazz, R&B, soul, country, Latin, African…
3. What do you enjoy best - songwriting or performing and why?
Performing. Songwriting is hard work, a fulfilling but time-consuming process to develop an idea into a fully fledged song. Excitement comes from the moments of inspiration when you hit on something, usually out of nowhere, but is sporadic in the labour of love that is the creation process. It’s also something I do on my own. Performing, on the other hand, involves playing with your friends, sharing the spotlight with great musicians, and drawing on the crowd’s reaction to shape the show; it’s unpredictable and of course requires a lot of concentration but is extremely fun and immediately rewarding.
4. Who are your musical influences?
Mainly Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Sting.
5. Describe your favorite song you have written and why is it so special to you
"The Promised Land". It was my first attempt at telling a story, of creating characters and a different world. I’d never been to New Orleans, where it is set, until the very week we actually went there to perform, and it was an unexpected thrill to record the song there. Made a special song to me all the more special. It’s the first song on the new album.
6. What are your goals for the next 5 years musically speaking?
To continue to develop as a recording artist, to try new sounds, and record in studios around the world. Would like the music to connect to more people as well, of course!
7. Tell us about your recordings and what’s in store next.
Because our music is something of a journey, it made sense for us to record in different places at different times. Some of the songs on the “Light & Shade” album were recorded, mixed and mastered before others were even written. It took 18 months in total from start to finish. Most of us worked together on my debut album, “No Coincidence”, which was recorded and mixed in the same studio in London. With that experience, we were confident about new working environments. We ended up using 12 different studios for the “Light & Shade” album –
The Dairy Studios
Soho Recording Studios
Beethoven Street Studios
Alpha Centauri Recording
Avatar Studios, New York
CRC Recording, Chicago
Piety Street Recording, New Orleans
Sunrise Sound, Houston
Capitol Studios, Hollywood
Firehouse Recording Studios, Pasadena
8. Where can we buy your music?
At the moment, the “Light & Shade” album is only available as a special edition CD (with unique packaging) through our website. "No Coincidence" is available more widely, including iTunes and CDbaby.
9. What are your views about where the music industry is heading in your community, or on a global level?
It remains extremely risk-averse, even when the fundamentals are obvious. By that I mean it’s not rocket-science to know that a good voice, a good song, good musicianship, good sound, good vibe etc is something people will be drawn to. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be enough for some, and too much for others! Therefore artists are forced to be independent, which is not a bad thing as you will define yourself better as an artist, but the capital constraints means the playing field is limited until there’s a serious backer.
10. Anything pertinent you’d like to say about Songsalive!
Gilli Moon been extremely kind in supporting the band, and in fact has been a catalyst in many of our endeavours - we did our very first show as MAGAZINE GAP at The Mint in Los Angeles, where we headlined a Songsalive! event (the launch of The Art of Men CD which included two songs from the “No Coincidence” album). That evening gave us all the encouragement we needed to press on. The support that Songsalive! gives to independent artists is great.