Welcome to the Conversation: John Keane

Photo by Mark Rockwell

When not in the studio, John can be found onstage with Deja Vu, Strawberry Flats, Widespread Panic, Nathan Sheppard, or his talented daughters Paige and Rachel. He’s literally written the book on Pro-Tools, taught classes on pro-tools at UGA, and even won a dance competition. Now the man who’s worked with everyone from R.E.M. to the Indigo Girls is a full-fledged Grammy Nominee for his work on Panic’s latest album Dirty Side Down. AthensMusicJunkie’s Jordan Stepp caught up with the Grammy Nominee as he was about to start work with Momma’s Love. Now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. John Keane.

AthensMusicJunkie: Alrighty. First question. So how did you find out about your Grammy nomination?

John Keane: I got an email from Michele Caplinger who is the executive director of NARAS, the Atlanta chapter, congratulating me. Right before that, I found out from my next door neighbor who had read it in the New York Times.

AMJ: Wow.

JK: It was a big surprise for me.

AMJ: What did you do when you found out?

JK: Well, I was getting ready for a session when I found out so I wasn’t able to do anything until I got through with that but then I emailed a bunch of people and told them what was going on. My wife, Jo, had already found out about it from our next door neighbor. Good news travels fast, I guess. We started thinking about it, trying to decide if we were going to go and how we were going to get there and where we were going to stay and what we were going to wear and all that kind of stuff.

AMJ: Very cool. So how’s it feel to be a Grammy nominee?

JK: It’s very exciting. It’s a great honor to be nominated for a Grammy because it’s voted on by a group of your peers in the music industry. So the people who voted for the record are actually engineers and producers and A&R people. It’s really like being nominated by a group of your peers instead of just a popularity contest.

AMJ: Have you heard your competition? The other records in your category?

JK: No, I haven’t had the chance to listen to the other records that were nominated. One of them is John Mayer and another is Ray LaMontagne.

AMJ: What do you think caught the attention of the others who elected you for this Grammy nomination?

JK: I guess they just really must have liked the sound of it. The Grammy is for engineering so there must have been something about the way that it sounded that got their attention. I don’t really know how these things go but I guess they put on the album and listen to the first song or two because they have 450 albums to go through so they can’t listen to them all all the way through, I believe. The first song on the album is “Saint Ex” must have really gotten their attention. It is an unusual sounding song, kind of an older style Panic song that goes through a lot of different movements, almost like a suite. It’s more like a suite than your normal pop song.

AMJ: How exactly do you capture the essence of a band like Panic? They do these amazing versions of their songs live, is there anything you do in particular to capture that same live feeling?

JK: Well, I think it’s important to have them all in the studio there together, all in the same room playing instead of separating them into different cubicles where it’s harder to communicate. One thing that we did on this record is that when we started on a song, we worked on it until it was finished. I think that kind of helped preserve the vibe of the song. It takes a bit longer that way but in the end, it worked in the way the songs came together.

AMJ: You also recorded a song by Vic Chesnutt, “This Cruel Thing.” What was it like to visit that song with the band?

JK: The band said that they wanted to do something to acknowledge Vic and I had a few songs over hear by Vic that hadn’t made it onto any of his albums. So I pulled that one out and played it for them and asked “How about this one?”. As far as I know, it had never made it onto any of Vic’s albums but an actor named Guy Pierce had recorded it on his record. They listened to it and liked it a lot. I’m sure it was kind of a wrenching experience because it was still sort of fresh in our minds, Vic’s passing but they did a great job on it.

AMJ: What do you think about the band being 25 years old now?

JK: I think it’s great that they’ve been able to stick around so long and remain a viable music entity for this long. It’s really rare in this business. Most bands don’t make it that far. There’s just a few you can point to, R.E.M. is another one, but I think it’s great that they can still keep writing and making records and selling out venues even after twenty-five years. Their audience has sort of grown up with them but they’re still very popular in the college market for a bunch of guys that are all close to 50 years old.

AMJ: One last question. If you win, how will you celebrate and where will you put the Grammy?

JK: If I win I’m definitely going to have to have some kind of a party to celebrate it. In my studio I have a mantle place in the back of the room that has a lot of pictures and memorabilia and a lava lamp and stuff like that on it. If I win the Grammy, I’d probably put it in the middle of it, in a prominent place. But if I win, definitely going to have to have some sort of soiree. We’ve got our fingers crossed.

Best of luck, John, from all of us at AthensMusicJunkie!

For more on Widespread Panic, go here
For more on John Keane Studios, go here
John’s Wife Jo has a Grammy Blog here
Full Grammy listing here (John is in section 91)

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