Keith Horn

Friday, January 28th, 2011 @ 1:22 am

This week I talk to Keith Horn – an original and amazing composer and recording artist. Imagine the best of Frank Zappa crossed with Steely Dan and System of a Down. That’s Keith Horn. Enjoy


Ben Sommer: Keith Horn is a composer and a songwriter out of LA and the story is, I’ve been running this podcast and a blog at BandsLikeRush.com for almost a year, and I had been meaning for ever since the get go to start up its sister site at Bands Like Zappa, essentially these are one of the two favorite musical vices. The goal is to feature like-minded artist. So I found Keith on this website called Jango, which is, and I don’t know how to describe it, it’s basically kind of like a Pandora but for fans of undiscovered music to go and plug in their favorite artist and then every dozen or so tunes that come through a brand new and really unknown person comes out. Basically these artists sign up in a database.

 

I forget what I was looking for, but probably Steely Dan or Rush or Frank Zappa – and you came up. This was months and months ago really. I heard this song “Chicken Little”, and I was blown away. I said, “Wow! This is striking stuff.” It’s very well produced and original sound. And Keith, I have to chastise you. I’d tried very hard initially. I had probably spent a half an hour at one point trying to find you, locate you, contacting you months ago and I gave up.

Keith Horn: Oh, I’m so sorry. The only thing that was out there was a few of the songs. I didn’t have a website up yet. It barely hit MySpace and MySpace was kind on its way out at that time, so I was ignoring it. Just last week, I finally put up my Facebook fan page, so I was hard to find.

Ben: You were. I remember I looked at the MySpace. It seemed all I could find was the Keith Horn, that and the LinkedIn profile. But anyways, so I took another shot…

Keith: My apologies for my invisibility.

Ben: That’s all right.

Keith: I’ve remedied it now.

Ben: So you are still on Jango, and it looks like you have or you’re going to release your first album. Was Jango just a test run of the same material you are releasing now or is it new you are working on?

Keith: Yeah, it’s the same stuff. With Jango, I had put up I think four or five out of eight songs that are on this first album called “Rock Scissors” and I’m just finishing it now. Actually, just ten minutes ago, I was just listening to the final mixes that my engineers sent me today to send off to CD Baby and to upload to Tune Core, so I can get it up on iTunes and Rhapsody and whatnot.

Ben: The way I usually run the podcast, I usually insert two tracks of my liking, so the listeners will be hearing this before probably you speak. But why don’t you just kind of give us a synopsis of where you think your music is at, your inspiration, a little bit background about your life. It seems like you have an interesting background on music from what I read.

Keith: Well, my background is kind of a trial and error in a lot of different types of instruments over the years. When I was a kid, about nine or ten, I started plinking out on the piano, and then I saw ‘Back to The Future the Final Scene’ and it made me want to play guitar when I was nine years old.

Ben: The Chuck Berry scene?

Keith: The Chuck Berry scene, which is to this day with just this classic scene, and I just love of it at 9, and I said, “Man, I’ve got to do that. That’s great.” So I started playing the guitar at home and I started learning saxophone in school, so I was learning at school how to read music and I was just messing around and learning by ear at home on just the family keyboard and my guitar. I kept pursuing guitar. I kept practicing. I got really good at it and I found out that I couldn’t make a living playing guitar when I was about 18. So I went in to college at Western Michigan University and I studied percussion.

Ben: But wait, back up. How come you concluded you couldn’t make a living on the guitar?

Keith: Well, I thought about going into jazz guitar.

Ben: Well, that’s your problem.

Keith: And when I got there, I realized how difficult it really was. They put Giant Steps in front of me and I said, “That’s it for me.” So I understood jazz, but I didn’t want to spend all of my time studying jazz, which is what I probably would have had to do if I wanted to master it. So I decided to study percussion and eventually that became composition because I figured out I couldn’t make it as a living as a marimba soloist.

Ben: While you picked the two dumbest, well, jazz guitar isn’t dumb. That’s where my background is, but it’s a nightmare of skill you’ve got to hone and then at the end of the tunnel is a non-career path, maybe as one a session musician?

Keith: Yeah.

Ben: I mean it is better going on American Idol and shooting for the stars there.

Keith: I mean it could lead to amazing musicality. But just for me, I didn’t see a future and sustenance coming from it. So I was constantly trying to find something that would actually pay the bills, so it led to composition. So I became a composer in college and I got a composition degree at Western. I took a year off. I went down to North Carolina and studied film scoring down there. With North Carolina School of the Arts, I studied with the guy, a film composer named Dave McCue, a great composer from the 80’s and early 90’s. He did a lot of things. He studied film scoring down there and so I had two degrees and not a job in 2002, so I moved to Chicago to start scoring commercials and I did that for a few years…

Ben: You started jazz guitar and then classical percussion. You could take those skills and turn them if you want to go in a commercial angle. There are plenty of avenues where you could make a good living doing interesting work and then you go into composition, how can you went straight in to commercial music? Do you see where I’m going at?

Keith: Yeah.

Ben: Because composition could be just as dead end and technically intensive but poor in the job prospect side as jazz guitar or classical percussion.

Keith: Right. I kept seeing the job deadends at the end of everything I was doing, that I was loving doing. But if I didn’t see any job with it, I didn’t want to do it anymore because I want it to do it for a living, and eventually I decided to do the film scoring thing because there’s work there so I ended up going to Chicago and doing commercials. There’s really not a lot of film work or TV work in Chicago as a composer. If you want to make your bread and butter in Chicago, commercials are pretty much where it’s at and that eventually just lead to a job here in LA writing for a Reality TV composer and I do a lot of work. That’s kind of my bread and butter. I do a lot of library work.

I mean it’s two or three minutes a day for the last five years and that really has honed my chops, my production chops, so all of these things are taken into account. In the meantime, I fell in love with Frank Zappa in the 90’s and in the meantime I have been listening and studying Zappa and playing a lot of it in college and I just always loved it so much and it became inescapable when I really started writing music. His work became just kind of inescapable, and having said that, when you write commercials and reality TV music, nobody wants to hear anything like Frank Zappa.

Ben: So how did you scratch the itch, if you will?

Keith: I write an album’s worth of stuff, and this it.

Ben: So that’s an interesting story. So you’re still playing guitar, right? That’s you I hear all over the tracks, I presume.

Keith: Yes.

Ben: So it’s some pretty decent chops. You haven’t given up your training. I haven’t looked at the details. What else are you playing, anything?

Keith: It’s all me. Everything is samples, except for obviously the vocals, the guitars, the bass and the track Film at Eleven. I don’t know if you have heard that yet. It’s the third track on the CD. A friend of mine is a friend of Chad Wackerman, the great Zappa drummer. I tracked Chad at his place on film at Eleven and it’s all metric modulations and there is a challenging eleven sixteen section on the back, and I thought, “Man, it was just serendipitous that as I was finishing that tune a friend of mine said, “Hey, you know what, I know Wackerman. I should introduce you to him.” And it was just a dream of the session. It just worked out so well.

Ben: Wow! Well, of course, I fell in love with Wackerman. He’s the guy who plays with Allan Holdsworth, right?

Keith: Yeah.

Ben: So he’s just a sick old lanky guy.

Keith: Yeah, he is a monster and I mean, he was with Frank for seven or eight years, I think. He is his last drummer, his last full-time drummer from 81 to the last 88 tours. He was there the whole time and he was just a kid when he got in, so he is just phenomenal.

Ben: There are two composing geeks geeking out here.

Keith: I love it.

Ben: So you dropped the phrase that is close to my heart, the metric modulation.

Keith: Oh yeah.

Ben: And you wouldn’t believe about four or five podcasts back on BandsLikeRush.com, how I interviewed this dude who was not as edumacated as you and I, I suppose, but he described this love he has of mixing up, not rhythms, but tempos, and he is describing these scenarios and I’m like, “Do you know what that is, dude? That’s metric modulation. You want to check it out Elliot Carter, the ars subilior, etc.” So we were totally geeking out. So describe what makes you interested in the rhythmic aspect in the song.

Keith: Well, as a percussionist in college, you sit around. To me, they’re the geekiest of the geeks. We would just sit around in the hallways and just challenge each other and just throw out numbers and we got really geeky with it and it was a lot of fun and when you’re in that intense environment of a music school or conservatory, you get deep, deep into things and it just kind of got ingrained into me. Yeah, Film at Eleven, for example, if you take dotted rhythms, for example, I don’t want to go too deeply into the technique of it, but Film at Eleven uses dotted rhythms where it’s in ¾ and say you have a four over the bar of three and you’re basically jumping back and forth from the four and the three. The four becomes the new tempo, the three becomes your back to your original tempo, and then there’s a third level where it’s basically a double time four and then it goes back and it all is based on one guitar riff. It never changes speed.

Just three note groupings, four three-note groupings over three beats. You can feel two different ways and it was always really intriguing to me. You can take groupings and never change the speed of something, but it changes the accents and how they are sub-divided and you can completely change the feel of the song without ever changing the speed of what you’re playing.

Ben: Yeah, I think we’ve already lost about 99 to hundred percent of our audience.

Keith: And they turned off.

Ben: Do you know what? This is such a weird concept. It’s hard to understand. It’s really an analog to harmonic modulation. I think most people would know a key change when they heard one, and just like in harmonic modulation, there is a chord that’s in common between the key you’re leaving and going to. In metric modulation there’s a pulse that’s in common between a tempo you’re leaving and the tempo you are going to.

Keith: Yeah, to the listener of metric modulation, it just sounds like a sudden unrelated tempo change, but to those who are performing, there’s pretty simple mathematical formula for it.

Ben: Yeah, and the challenge is doing it so that’s it’s natural and it feels. I mean, the one popular music recent song I can ever recall is, and I love this because it does a trick that I loved which is metric modulation that doesn’t complete in a natural bar or music, so you’re going in to duple rhythm and of course you switch to your triple rhythm or the triplet, quadruplet or quintuplet or whatever. And you break off so your measure is like three quarter note triplets over four. I see it has been with Rush with this Sound Garden song. Anyway blah, blah, this is getting ridiculous.

Keith: What Zappa uses, I don’t know I could think of specific metric modulations, but I know he has them. I’m just trying to think of them in my head. What is this? It’s something from Joe’s Garage where it’s, “Take a little slobber from the side of your mouth.” Do you know that line?

Ben: That well, it’s always a stupid line…

Keith: Right. It’s a silly line and he’ll always take a silly line and always he has a way of interjecting almost in the cartoonist way with the band and this situation after that line they do exactly what I was talking about. They take the dotted 8 rhythm and make that the new tempo, so it sounds like it speeds up quickly and goes back down. I know he does that quite a bit.

Ben: Totally nutty. So this is interesting. You’re a commercial composer.

Keith: Yeah.

Ben: And so what’s your ambition? So I took a different route. I got a graduate degree. I trained composer, blah, blah, blah. Maybe I could’ve done what you did and maybe it would’ve be better off, but I wanted to do a different career. I am in technology. And I’m struggling like you do to start something up. What’s your end goal here?

Keith: Basically, we artist are always dealing with paying the bills and being creatively fulfilled. The end goal is to pay the bills and be completely creatively fulfilled. Right now I’m creatively fulfilled with this music. The other gig pays the bills and the idea is to kind of…

Ben: Gradually reverse them or transitions?

Keith: Not substitute one for the other or transition from one to the other, but always have both and this music especially I think can find an audience and it’s a long tale sort of. If you read the Long Tale by Chris Anderson where everything is a niche market now where if I could find 5,000 to 10,000 loyal fans that love this stuff which I think is doable, and then that’s fantastic. Then everything I do I have my loyal fan base that I perform for, that I write for, and yeah, I’m not really interesting in writing hit songs. I just want to write whatever I want and hopefully the audience will find it because that’s basically what Jango is. That’s what the internet has allowed and in the last decade, we built up to this age now where any artist can do whatever they want, put it out there, and if it’s good and even if it’s not good people will find it and enjoy it.

Ben: Yeah.

Keith: For me, it’s just connecting this music with people who really love it.

Ben: So do you perform or will you?

Keith: We will. It’s going to be a little while because the music is difficult, and I need a pretty heavy duty marimba player. I learned in college that there were guys in college that were heavy marimba players. That’s all they did and they owned the marimba. It’s like buying a car when you get a marimba, you have to buy a new car because you need more space to move it around. So I need a marimba player. I need keyboard player. We have drums and bass now, but we’ve been rehearsing for a couple months and it sounds great. We just need more players.

Ben: If you ever make it back to here in LA, there’s this band I interviewed Fluttr Effect, they are guitar, drums, marimba and cello.

Keith: That’s sounds great.

Ben: Yeah, they are kind of weird interesting mix, but don’t give up hope. So how does this work? The band is playing all your stuff. I’m faced with this myself. I have a ringer guy. Actually he’s a great marimba player, but he usually is playing kit for me. I wanted two committed guys, but they’re not going to work for free and they got day jobs. And are they hired hands for you or they just committed to just your vision and they’re in it for the love of it or what?

Keith: Right now, they’re not hired hands. They are committed people. It all started with a friend of mine that I met in a yoga class and he’s my drummer and he knew a bass player who happened to have rehearsal space and he’s an amazing bass player and another friend is a percussionist and she’s studying here at Cal Arts studying percussion. I’m just finding friends that are musicians all within this Santa Clarita area, north of Los Angeles where I live.

Yeah, I’d rather not do the hired hand thing if I can avoid it. I really want to have people who are committed and love playing the music because that’s going to come out in the performance. People that really enjoy it and love playing it, those are the people that I want. Even if it takes me an extra few months to put off playing live to find the right people, I’ll wait that time to get those people. And we can talk more about Frank for sure, he’s back.

Ben: What do you mean he’s back? Is he his son, his offspring?

Keith: Yeah, the Weasels? Have you seen the Weasels band?

Ben: No, I’ve heard crazy things about the band, the live sound, the show, everything. I haven’t seen it yet.

Keith: It’s like watching Frank. I mean I never saw him. I wish I was old enough to have seen him, but man, I’ve seen him a few times now a couple times here and three times but not here in LA, and it’s really incredible to see how the band is evolving and changing and the live sound is amazing and it’s really something and he’s reaching out to a whole new generations of fans that are discovering this music, which to me is timeless stuff. All of Frank’s stuff has nothing to do with the time it was written. He wasn’t trying to get happening with whatever trends were happening in music and that makes it timeless, and so now it’s kind of a renaissance of Zappa. You never want it anywhere, but now people are hearing his musical alive again which is a really, really great thing.

Ben: Well, yeah, doesn’t he have his old standby singer, the guy, I forgot his name but he always did do [inaudible 00:19:42].

Keith: Napoleon Murphy Brock was on the first tour.

Ben: So he’s not around anymore?

Keith: And there are no alumni in the band right now. George Duke sat in for a couple of gigs here in LA, which is great. But yeah, regularly there are no alumni in the band.

Ben: So I’m still annoyed that Gail Zappa, or the Zappa Trust, has not released any of Frank’s albums on iTunes or I don’t think they are, are they?

Keith: No, there is nothing on iTunes.

Ben: Yeah, it’s just so annoying.

Keith: Yeah, I haven’t look into exactly why they’re doing that, but it will explode, if and when they ever do that, which I really hope they do release them on iTunes.

Ben: I think there are a few bands like that. The Beatles were hold up, but the bands that are there will make a point of stomping their feet and protesting that too and the few others.

Keith: AC/DC doesn’t do iTunes.

Ben: All right, they don’t like the idea.

Keith: Right, but what are you going to do?

Ben: I don’t know. Do you cover songs? That’s something I’ve been looking into doing. I actually did one for the Christmas season of an Alison Chains song, not that I’m a huge Alison Chains fan. I dig them enough, but I did a Christmas parody and released it as a marketing goof but also I thought it was fun to do.

Keith: Nice.

Ben: Do you ever cover Frank or any other musicians that you like?

Keith: We played a couple of shows in college of all Franks’ music, but since then I haven’t played his and I won’t do it with this band but there is one cover that we are going to do that I’ve recorded is Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’, but faster and heavier and more sarcastic.

Ben: Excellent.

Keith: It’s really funny. I’ve always love bands that can do humor and aggression at the same time.

Ben: Yeah.

Keith: There are not a lot of them. I mean, what’s the Mike Patton…

Ben: Bungle. Mister Bungle?

Keith: Yeah, Mister Bungle. Primus is like that. Even Zappa was like that, not so much aggression. But for me growing up listening to Zappa is we’re I sort of I’ve got my musical sense of humor and I’ve played a lot of metal because it was what, 1988-1989, and I was playing a lot of Metallica and Megadeth.

Ben: Well, awesome.

Keith: I also have this aggressive music that I love so much. I love muscle flexing music along with wink, tongue and cheek humor. I think it’s some of my favorite music because it doesn’t take itself too seriously…

Ben: Yeah.

Keith: But it sounds like it is.

Ben: Well, I get that feeling. I get that reaction when I hear exactly those bands you mentioned. System of a Down is one. They are a little a bit more serious, but they are so aggressive and so whacked out and goofy. You have that laugh, that spontaneous laugh, at great aggressive music that says, “Oh my God, this so hilarious, but it’s also so brilliant. I’m laughing with the brilliance and the hilarity of it.”

Keith: Yeah, Eminem is like that at times. When he first came out, he was just being the smart ass, but he’s got that lyric was playing in the beginning and it would all change and then he got all serious but he still got that a little bit of humor and a lot of aggression and it makes it to me more accessible as a listener. It makes it more entertaining.

Ben: Absolutely.

Keith: And Frank, every note of Frank’s music is just that. It’s so entertaining.

Ben: It is.

Keith: For my music that’s what I’m trying to do as well. I don’t like music where I get bored and there’s a lot of it. There’s a lot of very well produced music that bores me very quickly, and I don’t think it’s just me. When I write I try to always be, not necessarily changing the channel for changing the channel’s sake, but always switching and adding in new colors and always making it interesting, so it grabs the listener’s ear at every turn and so you are just getting engaged and it demands your attention. That’s what Frank’s music is like. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do as well.

Ben: No one likes to get bored, and you know that.

Keith: Yeah.

Ben: Most people want a different experience from music though, and to those people, your music and maybe be the music of Zappa sounds too much to frequent changing, blah, blah, blah. They want something to, as my friend Geoff calls it, they want something to be the soundtrack of their lives that they kind of absorb and diddle around and hum when they need to come and go. Do you know what I mean?

Keith: Yeah, it’s definitely not for everyone. My stuff, with what I’ve heard of your stuff is similar to mine and Zappa. It’s not for everyone, but like I said earlier, now we are at this age where all this niche market stuff is coming out at the wood work and audiences are finding whatever it is that they may look, no matter how fringe or whacky it maybe. Large groups of people are coming around and saying, “Hey, I love this. I love this, even though it’s weird. I feel this music.” And it doesn’t have to be for everybody.

Ben: Yeah, long tale baby.

Keith: And that’s okay, I love the long tale dichotomy that we live in.

Ben: Cool. Now, this is excellent. So tell the audience the release date where they can find your music again. Give yourself some plugs.

Keith: I don’t have a drop date yet because I don’t know how long it’s going to take CD Baby to press things. I think it will be a week or two. And actually, I’ll be sending it out in the morning to them, and by the end of the month it should be in iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody. You can hear the songs at keithhorn.com

Hopefully, if you’re in the LA area, you can come out and see us probably by this summer. I’m hoping we’ll be up and playing some local venues by this summer. I’m getting really excited that this is going to be a really entertaining show.

Ben: Cool, looking forward, we’ll check in later this year and best luck to you, man.

Keith: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

Ben Sommer:  Hi, this Ben Sommer.   I’m with BandsLikeZappa.com on a maiden voyage here with Keith Horn.

Keith Horn:  Hello.

Ben:  Hi.  So Keith is a composer and a songwriter out of LA and the story is, I’ve been running this podcast and a blog at BandsLikeRush.com for almost a year, a little over a year, and I had been meaning for ever since the get go to start up its sister site at Bands Like Zappa, especially one of the two favorite kind of a musical vices and the future kind of like-minded artist.  So I found Keith on this website called Jango, which is, and I don’t know how to describe it, it’s basically kind of like a Pandora but for fans of undiscovered music to go and plug in their favorite artist and then every dozen or so tunes that come through a brand new and really unknown person comes out.  Basically these artists sign up in a database.

I forget what I was drawing for, but probably Steely Dan or Rod or Frank Zappa and you came up.  This was months and months ago really.  I heard this song “Shake It Little”, and I was blown away.  I said, “Wow!  This is striking stuff.”   It’s very well produced and original sound.  And Keith, I have much to chastise you.  I’d tried very hard initially.  I had probably spent a half an hour at one trying to find you, locate you, contacting you months ago and I gave up.

Keith Horn:  Oh, I’m so sorry.  The only thing that was out there was a few of the songs.  I didn’t have a website up yet.  It barely hit MySpace and MySpace was kind on its way out at that time, so I was ignoring it.  Just last week, I finally put up my Facebook fan page, so I was hard to find.

Ben:  You were.  I remember I looked at the MySpace.  It seemed all I could find was the Keith Horn, that and the LinkedIn profile.  But anyways, so I took another shot…

Keith:  My apologies for my invisibility.

Ben:  That’s all right.

Keith:  I’ve remedied it now.

Ben:  Yeah, cool.

Keith:  Yeah, yeah.

Ben:  So you are still on Jango, and it looks like you have or you’re going to release your first album.  Was Jango just a test run of the same material you are releasing now or is it new you are working on?

Keith:  Yeah, it’s the same stuff.  With Jango, I had put up I think four or five out of eight songs that are on this first album called “Rock Scissors” and I’m just finishing it now.  Actually, just ten minutes ago, I was just listening to the final mixes that my engineers sent me today to send off to CD Baby and to upload to Tune Core, so I can get it up on iTunes and Rhapsody and whatnot.

Ben:  Cool, cool.

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  The way I usually run the podcast, I usually insert two tracks of my liking, so the listeners will be hearing this before probably you speak.  But why don’t you just kind of give us a synopsis of where you think your music is at, your inspiration, a little bit background about your life.  It seems like you have an interesting background on music from what I read.

Keith:  Well, my background is kind of a trial and error in a lot of different types of instruments over the years.  When I was a kid, about nine or ten, I started plinking out on the piano, and then I saw ‘Back to The Future the Final Scene’ and it made me want to play guitar when I was nine years old.

Ben:  The Chuck Berry scene?

Keith:  The Chuck Berry scene, which is to this day with just this classic scene, and I just love of it at 9, and I said, “Man, I’ve got to do that.  That’s great.”  So I started playing the guitar at home and I started learning saxophone in school, so I was learning at school how to read music and I was just messing around and learning by ear at home on just the family keyboard and my guitar.  I kept pursuing guitar.  I kept practicing.  I got really good at it and I found out that I couldn’t make a living playing guitar when I was about 18.  So I went in to college at Western Michigan University and I studied percussion.

Ben:  But wait, back up.  How come you concluded you couldn’t make a living on the X?

Keith:  Well, I thought about going into jazz guitar.

Ben:  Well, that’s your problem.

Keith:  And when I got there, I realized how difficult really it really was.  They put giant steps in front of me and I said, “That’s it for me.”  So I understood jazz, but I didn’t want to spend all of my time studying jazz, which is what I probably would have had to do if I wanted to master it.  So I decided to study percussion and eventually that became a composition because I figured out I couldn’t make it as a living as a marimba soloist.

Ben:  While you picked the two dumbest, well, jazz guitar isn’t dumb.  That’s where my background is, but it’s a nightmare of skill you’ve got to hone and then at the end of the tunnel is a non-career path as one a session musician.

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  I mean it is better going on American Idol and shooting stars there.

Keith:  I mean it could lead to amazing musicality.  But just for me, I didn’t see a future and sustenance coming from it.  So I was constantly trying to find something that would actually pay the bills, so it led to composition.  So I became a composer in college and I got a composition degree at Western.  I took a year off.  I went down to North Carolina and started film scoring down there.  With North Carolina School of the Arts, I studied with the guy, a film composer named Dave McCue, a great composer from the 80’s and early 90’s.  He did a lot of things.  He studied film scoring down there and so I had two degrees and not a job in 2002, so I moved to Chicago to start scoring commercials and I did that for a few years…

Ben:  You started jazz guitar and then classical percussion.  You could take those skills and turn them if you want to go in a commercial angle.  There are plenty of avenues where you could make a good living doing interesting work and then you go into composition, how can you went straight in to commercial music?  Do you see where I’m going at?

Keith:   Yeah.

Ben:  Because composition could be just as dead end and technically intensive but poor in the job prospect side as jazz guitar or classical percussion.

Keith:  Right.  I kept seeing the job deadends at the end of everything I was doing, that I was loving doing.  But if I didn’t see any job with it, I didn’t want to do it anymore because I want it to do it for a living, and eventually I decided to do the film scoring thing because there’s work there so I ended up going to Chicago and doing commercials.  There’s really not a lot of film work or TV work in Chicago as a composer.  If you want to make your bread and butter in Chicago, commercials are pretty much where it’s at and that eventually just lead to a job here in LA writing for a Reality TV composer and I do a lot of work.  That’s kind of my bread and butter.  I do a lot of library work.

I mean it’s two or three minutes a day for the last five years and that really has honed my chops, my production chops, so all of these things are taken into account.  In the meantime, I fell in love with Frank Zappa in the 90’s and in the meantime I have been listening and studying Zappa and playing a lot of it in college and I just always loved it so much and it became inescapable when I really started writing music.  His work became just kind of inescapable, and having said that, when you write commercials and reality TV music, nobody wants to hear anything like Frank Zappa.

Ben:  So how did you scratch the itch, if you will?

Keith:  I write an album’s worth of stuff, and this it.

Ben:  Cool.

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  So that’s an interesting story.  So you’re still playing guitar, right?

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  That’s you I hear all over the tracks, I presume.

Keith:  Yes.

Ben:  So it’s some pretty decent chops.  You haven’t given up your training.  I haven’t looked at the details. Well, pardon me.  I have some falling objects in my house.  What else are you playing, anything?

Keith:  Instrumentally?

Ben:  Yeah, on the album.

Keith:  It’s all me.  Everything is samples, except for obviously the vocals, the guitars, the bass and the track film at Eleven.  I don’t know if you have heard that yet.  It’s the third track on the CD.  A friend of mine is a friend of Chad Wackerman, the great Zappa drummer.  I tracked Chad at his place on film at Eleven and it’s all metric modulations and there is a challenging eleven sixteen section on the back, and I thought, “Man, it was just serendipitous that as I was finishing that tune a friend of mine said, “Hey, you know what, I know Wackerman.  I should introduce you to him.”  And it was just a dream of the session.  It just worked out so well.

Ben:  Wow!  Well, of course, I fell in love with Wackerman.  He’s the guy who plays with Allan Holdsworth, right?

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  So he’s just a sick old lanky guy.

Keith:  Yeah, he is a monster and I mean, he was with Frank for seven or eight years, I think.  He is his last drummer, his last full-time drummer from 81 to the last 88 tours.  He was there the whole time and he was just a kid when he got in, so he is just phenomenal.

Ben:  There are two composing geeks geeking out here.

Keith:  I love it.

Ben:  So you dropped the phrase that is close to my heart, the metric modulation.

Keith:  Oh yeah.

Ben:  And you wouldn’t believe about four or five podcasts back on BandsLikeRush.com, how I interviewed this dude who was not as edumacated as you and I, I suppose, but he described this love he has of mixing up, not rhythms, probably being rhythmically complex but complex with a tempo and he is describing these scenarios and I’m like, “Do you know what that is, dude?  That’s metric modulation.  You want to check it out Elliot Carter, the artist [inaudible 00:10:06].”  So we were totally geeking out.  So describe what makes you interested in the rhythmic aspect in the song.  I’ll definitely get a sample.  But is metric modulation the thing of yours because I don’t hear that very often?

Keith:  Well, as a percussionist in college, you sit around.  To me, they’re the geekiest of the geeks.  We would just sit around in the hallways and just challenge each other and just throw out numbers and we got really geeky with it and it was a lot of fun and when you’re in that intense environment of a music school or conservatory, you get deep, deep into things and it just kind of got ingrained into me.  Yeah, Film at Eleven, for example, if you take dotted rhythms, for example, I don’t want to go too deeply into the technique of it, but Film at Eleven uses dotted rhythms where it’s in ¾ and say you have a four over the bar of three and you’re basically jumping back and forth from the four and the three.  The four becomes the new tempo, the three becomes your back to your original tempo, and then there’s a third level where it’s basically a double time four and then it goes back and it all is based on one guitar riff.  It never changes speed.

Just three note groupings, four three-note groupings over three beats.  You can feel two different ways and it was always really intriguing to me.  You can take groupings and never change the speed of something, but it changes the accents and how they are sub-divided and you can completely change the feel of the song without ever changing the speed of what you’re playing.

Ben:  Yeah, I think we’ve already lost a ninety to hundred percent of our audience.

Keith:  And they turned off.

Ben:  Do you know what?  This is such a weird concept.  It’s hard to understand without either visual, without even hearing it, or I mean they close.  It’s really an analog to harmonic modulation.  I think most people would know a key change when they heard one, and just like in harmonic modulation, there is a chord that’s in common between the key you’re leaving and going to.  There’s a note that’s in common between a tempo you’re leaving and the tempo you are going to.

Keith:  Yeah, to the listener of metric modulation, it just sounds like a sudden unrelated tempo change, but to those who are performing, there’s pretty simple mathematical formula for it.

Ben:  Yeah, and the challenge is doing it so that’s it’s natural and it feels.  I mean, the one popular music recent song I can ever recall is, and I love this because it does a trick that I loved which is metric modulation that doesn’t complete in a natural bar or music, so you’re going in to duple rhythm and of course you switch to your triple rhythm or the triplet, quadruplet or quintuplet or whatever.  And you break off so your measure is like three quarter note triplets over four.  I see it has been with Rush with this Sound Garden song.  Anyway blah, blah, this is getting ridiculous.

Keith:  What Zappa uses, I don’t know I could think of specific metric modulations, but I know he has them.  I’m just trying to think of them in my head.  What is this?  It’s something from Josh’s garage where it’s, “Take a little slobber from the side of your mouth.”  Do you know that line?

Ben:  That well, it’s always with the stupid…

Keith:  Right.  It’s a silly line and he’ll always take a silly line and always he has a way of interjecting almost in the cartoonist way with the band and this situation after that line they do exactly what I was talking about.  They take the dotted 8 rhythm and make that the new tempo, so it sounds like it speeds up quickly and goes back down.  I know he does that quite a bit.

Ben:  Totally nutty.  So this is interesting.  You’re a commercial composer.

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  And so what’s your ambition?  So I took a different route.  I got a graduate degree.  I trained composer, blah, blah, blah.  Maybe I could’ve have done what you did and maybe it would’ve be better off, but I wanted to do a different career.  I am in technology.  And I’m struggling like you do to start something up.  What’s your end goal here?

Keith:  Basically, we artist are always dealing with paying the bills and being creatively fulfilled.  The end goal is to pay the bills and be completely creatively fulfilled.  Right now I’m creatively fulfilled with this music.  The other gig pays the bills and the idea is to kind of…

Ben:  Gradually reverse them or transitions?

Keith:  Not substitute one for the other or transition from one to the other, but always have both and this music especially I think can find an audience and it’s a long tale sort of.  If you read the Long Tale by Chris Anderson where everything is a niche market now where if I could find 5,000 to 10,000 loyal fans that love this stuff which I think is doable, and then that’s fantastic.  Then everything I do I have my loyal fan base that I perform for, that I write for, and yeah, I’m not really interesting in writing hit songs.  I just want to write whatever I want and hopefully the audience will find it because that’s basically what Jango is.  That’s what the internet has allowed and in the last decade, we built up to this age now where any artist can do whatever they want, put it out there, and if it’s good and even if it’s not good people will find it and enjoy it.

Ben:  Yeah.

Keith:  For me, it’s just connecting this music with people who really love it.

Ben:  So do you perform or will you?
555
Keith:  We will.  It’s going to be a little while because the music is difficult, and I need a pretty heavy duty marimba player.  I learned in college that there were guys in college that were heavy marimba players.  That’s all they did and they owned the marimba.  It’s like buying a car when you…

Ben:  Yeah, with something?

Keith:  Yeah, and when you get a marimba, you have to buy a new car because you need more space to move it around.  So I need a marimba player.  I need keyboard player.  We have drums and bass now, but we’ve been rehearsing for a couple months and it sounds great.  We just need more players.

Ben:  If you ever make it back to here in LA, there’s this band I interviewed Fluttr Effect, they are guitar, drums, marimba and cello.

Keith:  That’s sounds great.

Ben:  Yeah, they are kind of weird interesting mix, but don’t give up hope.  So how does this work?  The band is playing all your stuff.  I’m faced with this myself.  I have a ringer guy.  Actually he’s a great marimba player, but he usually is playing kit for me.  I wanted two committed guys, but they’re not going to work for free and they got day jobs.  And are they hired hands for you or they just committed to just your vision and they’re in it for the love of it or what?

Keith:  Right now, they’re not hired hands.  They are committed people.  It all started with a friend of mine that I met in a yoga class and he’s my drummer and he knew a bass player who happened to have rehearsal space and he’s an amazing bass player and another friend is a percussionist and she’s studying here at Cal Arts studying percussion.  I’m just finding friends that are musicians all within this Santa Clarita area, north of Los Angeles where I live.

Yeah, I’d rather not do the hired hand thing if I can avoid it.  I really want to have people who are committed and love playing the music because that’s going to come out in the performance.  People that really enjoy it and love playing it, those are the people that I want.  Even if it takes me an extra few months to put off playing live to find the right people, I’ll wait that time to get those people.  And we can talk more about Frank for sure, he’s back.

Ben:  What do you mean he’s back?  Is he his son, his offspring?

Keith:  Yeah, the Weasels?  Have you seen the Weasels band?

Ben:  No, I’ve heard crazy things about the band, the live sound, the show, everything.  I haven’t seen it yet.

Keith:  It’s like watching Frank.  I mean I never saw him.  I wish I was old enough to have seen him, but man, I’ve seen him a few times now a couple times here and three times but not here in LA, and it’s really incredible to see how the band is evolving and changing and the live sound is amazing and it’s really something and he’s reaching out to a whole new generations of fans that are discovering this music, which to me is timeless stuff.  All of Frank’s stuff has nothing to do with the time it was written.  He wasn’t trying to get happening with whatever trends were happening in music and that makes it timeless, and so now it’s kind of a renaissance of Zappa.  You never want it anywhere, but now people are hearing his musical alive again which is a really, really great thing.

Ben:  Well, yeah, doesn’t he have his old standby singer, the guy, I forgot his name but he always did do [inaudible 00:19:42].

Keith:  Napoleon Murphy Brock was on the first tour.

Ben:  So he’s not around anymore?

Keith:  And there are no alumni in the band right now.  George Duke sat in for a couple of gigs here in LA, which is great.  But yeah, regularly there are no alumni in the band.

Ben:  So I’m still annoyed that Gail Zappa, not the Trust, has not released any of Frank’s albums on iTunes or I don’t think they are, are they?

Keith:  No, there is nothing on iTunes.

Ben:  Yeah, it’s just so annoying.

Keith:  Yeah, I haven’t look into exactly why they’re doing that, but it will explode, if and when they ever do that, which I really hope they do release them on iTunes.

Ben:  I think there are a few bands like that.  The Beatles were hold up, but the bands that are there will make a point of stomping their feet and protesting that too and the few others.

Keith:  AC/DC doesn’t do iTunes.

Ben:  All right, they don’t like the idea.

Keith:  Right, but what are you going to do?

Ben:  I don’t know.  Do you cover songs?  That’s something I’ve been looking into doing.  I actually did one for the Christmas season of an Alison Chains song, not that I’m a huge Alison Chains fan.  I dig them enough, but I did a Christmas parody and released it as a marketing goof but also I thought it was fun to do.

Keith:  Nice.

Ben:  Do you ever cover Frank or any other musicians that you like?

Keith:  We played a couple of shows in college of all Franks’ music, but since then I haven’t played his and I won’t do it with this band but there is one cover that we are going to do that I’ve recorded is Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’, but faster and heavier and more sarcastic.

Ben:  Excellent.

Keith:  It’s really funny.  I’ve always love bands that can do humor and aggression at the same time.

Ben:  Yeah.

Keith:  There are not a lot of them.  I mean, what’s the Mike Patton…

Ben:  Bungle.  Mister Bungle?

Keith:  Yeah, Mister Bungle.  Primus is like that.  Even Zappa was like that, not so much aggression.  But for me growing up listening to Zappa is we’re I sort of I’ve got my musical sense of humor and I’ve played a lot of metal because it was what, 1988-1989, and I was  playing a lot of Metallica and Megadeth.

Ben:  Well, awesome.

Keith:  I also have this aggressive music that I love so much.  I love muscle flexing music along with wink, tongue and cheek humor.  I think it’s some of my favorite music because it doesn’t take itself too seriously…

Ben:  Yeah.

Keith:  But it sounds like it is.  That’s far that’s rule.

Ben:  Well, I get that feeling.  I get that reaction when I hear exactly those bands you mentioned.  System of a Down is one.  They are a little a bit more serious, but they are so aggressive and so wagged out and goofy.  You have that laugh, that spontaneous laugh, at great aggressive music that says, “Oh my God, this so hilarious, but it’s also so brilliant.  I’m laughing with the brilliance and the hilarity of it.”

Keith:  Yeah, Eminem is like that at times.

Ben:  Yeah.

Keith:  When he first came out, he was just being the smart ass, but he’s got that lyric was playing in the beginning and it would all change and then he got all serious but he still got that a little bit of humor and a lot of aggression and it makes it to me more accessible as a listener.  It makes it more entertaining.

Ben:  Absolutely.

Keith:  And Frank, every note of Frank’s music is just that.  It’s so entertaining.

Ben:  It is.

Keith:  For my music that’s what I’m trying to do as well.  I don’t like music where I get bored and there’s a lot of it.  There’s a lot of very well produced music that bores me very quickly, and I don’t think it’s just me.  When I write I try to always be, not necessarily changing the channel for changing the channel’s sake, but always switching and adding in new colors and always making it interesting, so it grabs the listener’s ear at every turn and so you are just getting engaged and it demands your attention.  That’s what Frank’s music is like.  That’s kind of what I’m trying to do as well.

Ben:  No one likes to get bored, and you know that.

Keith:  Yeah.

Ben:  Most people want a different experience from music though, and to those people, your music and maybe be the mind music of Zappa sounds too much to frequent changing, blah, blah, blah.  They want something to, as my friend Jeff calls it, they want something to be the soundtrack of their lives that they kind of absorb and diddle around and hum when they need to come and go.  Do you know what I mean?

Keith:  Yeah, it’s definitely not for everyone.  My stuff, with what I’ve heard of your stuff is similar to mine and Zappa.  It’s not for everyone, but like I said earlier, now we are at this age where all this niche market stuff is coming out at the wood work and audiences are finding whatever it is that they may look, no matter how fringe or whacky it maybe.  Large groups of people are coming around and saying, “Hey, I love this.  I love this, even though it’s weird.  I feel this music.”  And it doesn’t have to be for everybody.

Ben:  Yeah, long tale baby.

Keith:  And that’s okay, I love the long tale dichotomy that we live in.

Ben:  Cool.  Now, this is excellent.  So tell the audience the release date where they can find your music again.  Give yourself some plugs.

Keith:  I don’t have a drop date yet because I don’t know how long it’s going to take CD Baby to press things.  I think it will be a week or two.  And actually, I’ll be sending it out in the morning to them, and by the end of the month it should be in iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody.  You can hear the songs at keithhorn.com.

Hopefully, if you’re in the LA area, you can come out and see us probably by this summer.  I’m hoping we’ll be up and playing some local venues by this summer.  I’m getting really excited that this is going to be a really entertaining show.

Ben:  Cool, looking forward, we’ll check in later this year and best luck to you, man.

Keith:  Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

Posted in Interviews | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Keith Horn”

  1. Great interview with Keith! Great album, fun music. Thanks for profiling him. I liked learning about the creation of his album and the fact he got Wackerman on it! Cool.

    I think the Zappa/iTunes issue is due to legal entanglements with Warner Bros., not Gail or the Zappa Family Trust saying no.

  2. JJ Klein says:

    Keith, you rock! Can’t wait to hear you live….thanks for the great interview, Ben. Good stuff, guys.

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