still run around and act like an asshole," he said while driving
his touring van across Michigan's upper peninsula, headed to a mostly
male college in Houghton for a show he called "the biggest sausage-fest
in the world."
started, people didn't know what was going on or why I was opening
for my friends' metal bands," he said. "Now I play with
bands whose fans are actually going to like me."
Bands like electronic
duo Yip-Yip, whose experimental music and costumed live shows are
as freaky as Keen's own. It took a few years, but Keen says he's
finally found his place in the music world -- right alongside his
started out, I thought I should be on (indie record labels) Polyvinyl
and Saddle Creek. That's all I knew. Now after getting out there,
I've met people and discovered record labels that sign weird bands
like me that don't give a fuck. I've gone from thinking there was
no place for what I'm doing, to discovering communities for dudes
and bands that don't quite fit the mold. I know I'm not going to
get a support slot on a Franz Ferdinand tour, but I can go out and
tour and have fun in this little community."
But one listen
to The Show Is the Rainbow's latest offering, Gymnasia, soon
to be released on the anything-but-safe SAF Records, and you wonder
if touring with Franz Ferdinand isn't such a stretch.
origins go back a few years to a 10-song demo recorded in Keen's
home studio. Unlike previous TSITR recordings that leaned more on
humor than hooks, the demo tracks featured intricate programming,
tuneful bass and guitar, and clever, dynamic vocals that mixed rap
and falsetto crooning.
"Do the Skinny," "I Am the Decline" and "Safe
Art" declare Keen as the natural descendent to "Valley
Girl"-era Frank Zappa, and would sound as comfortable on FM
radio as "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted" did back in 1980.
Meanwhile, audio freakouts like CD opener "Gothic Cajun,"
bass-groove fueled "Swatting Flies" and the space-waltz
title track owe a debt to Beck's more experimental work, though
the Zappa influence never quite fades from view.
who heard the demo collection was Joel Petersen (of Saddle Creek
Records' bands The Faint, Broken Spindles and Beep Beep), who took
the project under his wing. "Joel heard the recording and said,
'This is sweet, but I could make it better,'" Keen said. "He
didn't rerecord anything. He remixed it at his house on his huge
kick-ass set-up. He added a lot of cool ideas and little production
things that made it better."
About half the
demos made it onto Gymnasia, along with a handful of new
songs and even a trio of instrumentals that border on experimental
ambient pop. Petersen's production wizardry gave the tracks much
needed depth and redefined the music's underlying pop tendencies.
"Joel seems to really believe in what I'm doing musically and
esthetically," Keen said.
He said he wants
to work with Petersen on his next record as well, but that's still
a ways off. Although Saturday's show at Sokol is Gymnasia's
CD release party, the disc won't be in stores until April 3 (The
vinyl version will be co-released by SAF and Keen's own It Are Good
Records). Keen will be spending most of the year on the road, with
tours booked through August and beyond, including a pair of South
by Southwest dates and a highly anticipated gig in New Zealand with
Wellington band So So Modern.
Unlike his early
years of touring, Keen says his time on stage as The Show Is the
Rainbow is no longer a journey into the lion's den, but more like
an all-inclusive party. "I haven't really found my self or
my voice, I found my place in the music community."
Published in The Omaha Reader Feb. 21, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
gone from thinking there was no place for what I'm doing,
to discovering communities for dudes and bands that don't
quite fit the mold."