Joe Keeley started out by building his name as a solo artist, but more recently he has teamed up with some fellow Suffolk musicians to form The Joe Keeley Band; with Alex Raymond (drums), Jason Rampling (bass) and Jack Lawson (lead guitar) they have managed to create a sound that celebrates country and rock music.
Joe kindly took the time to answer a few of our burning questions to fill us in about the past year, celebrate a year of the band’s album Blackwood and look at what lies ahead.
Firstly, let’s have an introduction! Tell us a bit about yourself and your music…
My name is Joe Keeley, and I am a 24 year old singer/songwriter from Suffolk. I have been playing music my whole life but have been lucky enough to do it as a job since I turned 21 a few years ago. I started out playing guitar and banjo in my fathers band before working on my own solo material and starting a band of my own, The Joe Keeley Band. We released our debut album Blackwood last year and were lucky enough to reach number one in the UK Country Album iTunes Charts and was nominated for Album of the Year by UKCountryRadio.com Awards.
Has music always been part of your life, and what inspired you to get into music?
Ever since I can remember my father has been a country singer. My earliest memories were of him working from the early hours of the morning on a cattle farm and then shooting off with him and my mum to play a gig with his band somewhere. When we then moved to Suffolk when I was 6, he started doing it as a full time career and hasn’t looked back. Without his influence I never would have had this passion for music like I do, never mind being lucky enough to call it my job.
I can almost pin-point his influence to a certain moment, when he first gave me the 1988 album Copperhead Road by Steve Earle. The feeling of hearing a type of music that I had never experienced before was crazy, even at such a young age I can still feel how it made me feel. Country music is usually stigmatised as being a certain way and that way alone (especially in the UK) so to hear something that almost sounds like rock n roll but with the honesty of country songwriting was something that has influenced my music to this day. I even have the Copperhead Road album cover tattooed on my arm!
It’s been an incredibly tough year for musicians, but what have you done to keep busy?
I’ve tried to keep myself as busy as possible. I fell into a habit of doing nothing all day after the first couple of months of lockdown thinking that this would all blow over soon and I should take advantage of the time off while I could, however this wasn’t healthy for me and I soon realised that I should use this time to be more creative and get more things done.
I started doing weekly live streams, by myself and with my Dad which seemed to become popular as we’re getting requests to continue the live streams even after lockdown has ended so people who don’t get a chance to see us live as much get to see a “show”. I had to get a couple of temporary part time jobs which were pretty cool, just to keep up with the bills as well as the kind donations or “tips” we’d get from the facebook streams.
Me and the band have been working on an EP which should hopefully be picking up speed to be finished in the next few months. It’s obviously a whole different experience recording music with a band when none of you are in the same room. It’s a technical side of music that I’ve never really enjoyed or been good at it, but it’s given my the chance to develop my skills and learn new things and so far I’d say its going pretty well.
You released your album Blackwood a year ago – what was that experience like, and how does it feel a year on?
To be a completely independent band and get the reaction we did off the album is fantastic. It really shows how people came together to support musicians during this time, as we released it during the first lockdown. We did have considerations about delaying the album release as we had a launch party, a small tour in the later months all planned to go with it but obviously all these were cancelled so we were unsure about how this would effect us.
Luckily people seemed to like it as we managed to top the download charts and to get the nomination for Album of the Year from UK Country Radio is just awesome. We were up against artists like Ags Connelly, Nathan Carter and The Shires who I’d seen play at the O2 the year before for the C2C festival so that was pretty surreal. Can’t thank everyone who voted enough as it really made the first year of lockdown bearable as it felt like we’d managed to achieve something!
What do you love or miss most about live gigs, and have you had a chance to play any live shows when allowed?
Since the album has been released (over a year ago now) we’ve played 3 live shows and all these were with restrictions in place so obviously they weren’t the massive rock and roll spectacles that we’d like to think we would have provided otherwise! In reality, just being able to play these songs to people and actually get a reaction back from a real crowd has been fantastic and I can’t wait to be able to play to more and more as soon as we’re given the all clear. The energy and enthusiasm that seems to be coming from people in the music scene, whether it be venue owners, musicians or fans, I think the end of this year could be a good one (touch wood).
You mentioned earlier you’d done some live streamed shows, so how have you found the move to digital – do you think it has been good or bad for the industry?
I think the live shows that artists have been putting on have been great. For me as a music fan, watching artists that I am a fan of in a more intimate and vulnerable setting playing music for people is really cool. You get to really see how good some these guys are up close and personal, without the aura of a live show to hide behind.
On a personal level, I’ve loved playing these live stream shows. I’ve interacted with so many people I wouldn’t ever get the chance to meet and I would say for definitely I’ve made friends doing it, just through their regular viewing and interactions. I have my livestream audience to thank in terms of Blackwoods success, that’s for sure.
What is your hope for the future of the music industry going forward?
Even though the live streams have been fun and really beneficial, I’d have loved to have never had to do them in the first place. Something about setting up for a show in my kitchen has been a bit strange and is nothing to the excitement and nerves I have when setting up for a real gig. I’m only in this job for the emotions and feelings you get to share with a live audience, and a lot of that is lost when you can’t actually see or hear any of them in front of you! I may revisit the livestreams now and again, but as soon as we’re out of this and allowed back out on the road I want to try my best not to look back.
While we await the fully-fledged return of gigs, what would you advise music fans can do to keep supporting the music industry and independent artists like yourselves in these times?
I can’t stress enough how important social media is to musicians now. Follow your favourite bands pages, get your friends to follow them and interact with their posts! The big social media companies seem to want to do everything in their power to make it as difficult as possible for smaller artists to build their fanbases so we really need all the help we can get.
This is genuinely the only place that musicians have been able to show that we still exist for the past year and a half or whatever its been so stuff like that really helps out.
Do you have any other shows, projects or news that you wish to share?
The Joe Keeley Band are working on a new EP and we have a number of shows around Suffolk and the surrounding counties coming up this year. We want to start scheduling a tour for next summer, but we want to know exactly where we stand with the Government and lockdowns before that happens as we don’t want to go through the cancelling process again. Follow our social medias for any updates on tickets and releases etc and we’d love to see you at a show down the line!
As a fun one to end on: if you could duet with anyone who would it be and why?
I’m going to be cheeky and give you two. One of my all time heroes is Willie Nelson and I absolutely love him and his music. I think that one is more of a “just want to hang out with Willie Nelson” rather than actually duet with him!
If we were sitting down in a studio to write or record a song together tomorrow, I would pick Chris Stapleton. I think he’s truly one of the best artists we’ve ever seen, nevermind just in country music. Every single song he’s put out since his days playing in the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers has been a 10 out of 10 for me, there hasn’t been a single note played or lyric written I haven’t thought was really, really good and there’s not a lot of artists I’d say that about. Ed Sheeran, who went to the same school as me, and was lucky enough to work with him on a song for his album. I guess that’s just one more thing of Ed’s that I get to be jealous about!