Interview: Keaton Simons

Whoever determined that someone talented at all trades should be named “Jack” never met Keaton Simons.

The Los Angeles—based singer, songwriter, sideman, collaborator, and producer began singing as soon as he determined he could make sounds, and by the ripe old age of 14, he knew music was his life’s path. And, while it’s said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, Simons has enjoyed his long, circuitous journey, and has had the chance to stop and smell roses of all kinds. This maker of heartfelt country-tinged Americana music got his start in, wait for it…hip-hop.

“I’ve done a ton of hip-hop stuff,” he reveals. “Mostly when I was younger, but I first started off professionally playing with a guy named Slim Kid Tre from a legendary hip-hop group called The Pharcyde. Tre and I put his solo projects together and he entrusted me with the position of musical director for him for many years,” he recalls of his start at age 17.  “We put the band together, created the record, and toured. It was amazing.”

Then, as high school graduates are wont to do, Simons went to college—however, unlike most young co-eds, he was touring with Slim Kid Tre during his school breaks. “We’d play the House of Blues with the Black Eyed Peas and stuff like that, then I’d go back to school. It was so much fun,” he says. “When I graduated from college, I played with Snoop Dogg and a lot of other hip-hop artists and did some funk stuff. I wanted to play in as many bands as I possibly could with as many people as I could,” he adds. “Music was my lens.”

At 19, Simons began writing and creating his own music, which he kept a secret. “When I started it was really a great relief to me because I was like, ‘Oh good! I can do this!’” he laughs. “I wanted to develop and really gain experience and knowledge in the business before I launched my own project. It’s funny because when I did, a lot of the people that I was playing with didn’t know–like when I first got signed, I got signed to Maverick Records, Madonna’s label and when I told them I’d gotten a record deal and they were like, ‘To do what?’ They didn’t know what to picture,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘Oh, I also write songs! In fact, check these out!’ And then it became a whole lovely big family. We all would play together and I played my music in their sets. It was really cool.”

In March, Simons released a new EP, 123 Go, housing songs that span a long period of time. “I made the record with an amazing producer named Marshall Altman and he went through every damn song that I have ever recorded,” he laughs. “He listened to everything and made detailed notes about everything. We’ve known each other for a long time and we both have like the utmost respect for each other, but we’d never made a record together and this was a long time coming. He went so far above and beyond,” continues Simons. “He made choices of songs that were his favorites; when I went to Nashville to do pre-production with him, I busted out some tunes that I hadn’t recorded yet, and he was like ‘Oh, yeah, obviously we’ve got to do these!’” he laughs.

Simons recorded 123 Go in Nashville, which he lovingly refers to as “the place.” I’ve always loved Nashville,” he reveals. “I think the first time I went there was in 2004 and I was blown away. I was with some killer musicians in my band at the time, and now they are playing with huge artists. I was in the most incredible place the first night I was there, I participated in a holler n’ swaller–we went to Broadway, we did the honky-tonks–first you holler, and then you swaller,” he laughs. “I’ve always loved Nashville–half of my friends live there now. It just only made sense. Every time I go there is magical and I’d been wanting to make a record outside of Los Angeles since the very beginning; I’m going to make a whole record then why not go all the way with it?” he asks. “The whole vibe needs to be cohesive for the record to be cohesive.”

Nashville is all through this record,” he continues. “We had the best players in town on it and Marshall’s been there now for so long he’s so deep in that sound and is such a deep part of that sound. I just let it flow and let it come out exactly as it did. I also gave myself a lot to Marshall and I trusted myself to him as a producer. One of the things I really wanted to do with this record was to step away from that role,” he reveals. “You’ll see that. It was done brilliantly by a brilliant producer. He’s just this awesome dude who’s no BS but very sensitive and emotional and he understands it from every angle. He’s been an artist signed to major labels and toured. He’s been a writer for himself and for other artists. He’s been a label guy. He’s done everything,” he adds. “We’ve known each other for so long; I remember when we first met at the very beginning of my career, I’d basically never co-written with anybody before and he made me feel so relaxed and at ease and was so encouraging and enthusiastic. and I loved him from day one,” Simons continues. “I’m so stoked that we got to make this record together.”

 

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Susan Hubbard

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