KEG: Measuring Chaos

The 7 members of Brighton-based outfit KEG have shown what they’re all about on debut single ‘Heyshaw’. Released on the Alcopop! label, it’s a track that leaves you feeling positively punched, and with some intriguing insight into life in the family of lead singer Albert. Combining raucous instrumentals with rousing yelps, it’s introduced the band with a bang. KEG consists of classically trained and self-taught musicians, who’s friendship since university drew them together under what they call ‘a frenzied passion for the song’. This appreciation for a good hook leads the band to balance a natural inclination offtoward harmonic resolution against the dissonant characteristic of the current post-punk scene.

Enabling this balance, the myriad of influences and instruments at KEG’s disposal mean their music is embellished with quirky brass and electronics that inject joyous melodies into the grooves. The result is refreshingly light-hearted, frolicky sounds that are about as fun to listen to as it seems it was to record them. It’s also not too often themes of family and geography crop up in the often-foreboding lyrical content of bands KEG share the scene with – an injection of personality that is above all else, nice to hear.

KEG has risen organically though the ranks, resulting most recently in playing the Shacklelwell Arms, and they look set to go from strength to strength with their debut EP ‘Assembly,’ due this Autumn. Produced by the band themselves and mixed by Sean Oakley (Show Me The Body, Scalping, Kae Tempest, Sorry), it’ll somehow pack the punch of 7 musicians into a few tracks. The band’s second single ‘Presidential Walk’ is out on September 8th, and will build upon the funky foundations that have gained interest so far…

Wax spoke to Will and Frank from the band to gain some insight into big band dynamics; balancing the brash with the beautiful; and KEG’s lofty aspirations for the future.

How did the 7 of you begin writing music together?

Will: There were a couple of different bands people were in before KEG started – a few of us were in a band called Spang Sisters. I’ve been a childhood friend of Joel and Albert growing up in East Yorkshire. KEG came about quite organically. I guess after you leave university, if you’re not one of those Brit School guys, you start to know what kind of music you want to make and you’re around the right kind of people by then. At uni I found there were too many ideas and things I wanted to do in music; nothing really materialised that I was passionate about. But then quite naturally with us all being friends the 7 of us got together and began making music without a particular direction.

Frank: Originally I moved back to Birmingham for a year and was making some hip-hop and electronic stuff. And then some guitar loops which I would send to Albert because we were always planning to make a band when we were in Spang (Sisters). All the ones Albert liked we ran with first, and then everyone else made them KEG. We added Johnny, and Charlie, and then thought we have to stop now!

Will: Usually the question people ask is ‘how do you actually make music?’, ‘how does it come about?’. The reality is we get together and have a pretty fun time. It’s all jam based, and we all have our own nuggets and ideas – it’s a very democratic process.

Will: There’s no real egos in the band, or in the music at least

Frank: There’s loads of egos in the band! (laughs)

Will: There are totally, but when it comes to making the tunes nobody’s really fronting it. We’re all pretty good at deciding when we’ve had a bad idea. You have to be able to say, ‘that was a shit idea’, because if you’re hammering home this idea to get it across, it’s not gonna take off as well.

Frank: There is a sound now that coming out that makes sense. If it sounds good and it feels right with KEG then we roll with it – theres no ‘rules’.

Will: We also have a massively wide scope as well because recently we’ve been  edging towards this 90s Rage Against the Machine, not quite Beastie Boys territory, but that kind of strange thing that happened when heavy metal bridges over to hip-hop. We’re interested in exploring new avenues because we don’t want to perpetuate this current scene of post-punk, motoric stuff – its been done to death a bit now. We’re trying to offer an alternate to that.

Coming from a variety of classically trained and self-taught musical backgrounds, was this a conscious choice or did it happen naturally?

Frank: Personally, I just like playing with people, I don’t really think about if someone’s self-taught or not.

Will: If it works it works, doesn’t it?

Frank: I think what happens when you have someone who is trained like Charlie (jazz graduate), he just does the right things to make a melody better. But we’re in the process of understanding space at the moment – knowing when not to play!

Will: Nobody ever wants to make a point about doing something specific, its more about catching a vibe and running with it. Nobody’s trying to rationally come to musical decisions. We’re not taking it too seriously; it’s a very easy group of people to hang around with really.

I’m not a very good keyboard player, I’ve just been making weird enough electronic music for a long enough time, and being a guitarist in bands. It’s easy to fit with a bunch of people who fit but kind of don’t. Errors accumulate and develop into a nice thing sometimes, you know? Happy accidents.

Frank: I’ve basically regressed into feeling like I’m self-taught, its been so long since I’ve had formal lessons. I only learnt how to properly restring my guitar again like a couple of months ago.

Will: And he still doesn’t do it very well.

Frank: It’s really fun making music, that’s the main thing. It’s a good way to spend your time.

Now that you’ve put out that first single, how does it feel to have it out here and how have you found the reception?

Frank: Its mad, we’ve had that song for so long but we’ve been sorting out all the background stuff like the label and the ‘plan’. I got really anxious, because it didn’t feel ‘real’ – it was just on computers the whole time. I got a bit obsessed listening to it because I kind of didn’t think it was gonna happen. But when it came out I realised how silly I’d been being anxious about it, and I felt all this nervousness lift. It’s nice to have a contribution to the art world as well, and the reception has been really nice so far.

Will: The receptions been incredible really. We we’re together for about 6 months before the first lockdown. But throughout lockdown we lost all faith in anything being released because we couldn’t find the right label for it; it didn’t feel organic. We we’re just going on an email basis and a lot of people hadn’t even seen us play.

Jack from Alcopop! only saw us play after we’d signed to do an EP with them, so he had massive faith in us and the recorded material. Considering we recorded that in our own bedrooms, and how well it has done digitally: it’s a really good sign for the rest of the EP.

So, was the whole EP recorded at home?

Frank: Yeah, it made sense really. We probably couldn’t have funded the time for five tracks in a studio – half of us hadn’t worked for the last year. Luckily, Will is very skilled in recording and mixing so it was quite easy really.

I broke my shoulder just after we did most of the takes which was lucky, that would have set us back so much. So even though lockdown happened, it was good to have it done so we could start sending it out and gauging some interest.

Will: And just over the last few weeks, going to Latitude and to gigs, I was thinking about how I felt at the time when we just thought this thing was never gonna get released, and thinking ‘when are we gonna play again?’. And with the single being released, we’ve been thinking how you just need that human connection with people to be able to see in to the future, and move forward.

Frank: Having spoken to the others since the single came out, the focus is sharp now.

It must feel like the release of ‘Heyshaw’ marks the start of a post-Covid future for the band?

Will: It’s the best thing.

Frank: You can tell everyone in the industry is just chuffed and happy to be back doing the things they love again.

Will: It’s weird as well, because before lockdown we’d been very fortunate in that we’d never really had a bad gig. And playing the Shacklewell a couple of weeks ago (31st July) was a big jump for us. It’s like ‘these are really serious gigs now’, it’s a new field for us – and everyone’s just loving it.

The lyrical content of Heyshaw is something I’d be keen to hear more about. From the Yorkshire Dales to various RAF camps around the world?

Will: That’s Jackie’s (Albert’s Mum) story about growing up on RAF camps because her father was an RAF pilot. At a very young age she was being taken around to all those places that are in the song. He’s said he loves a sing-a-long and it felt natural for that to be the first release.

Frank: The thing I love about Albert’s lyrics is he writes about family all the time. It’s just nice. You know why the Simpsons is so good? It’s about family!

You don’t hear themes of family cropping up too much in post-punk at the moment!

Frank: Nah it’s all Brutalist, ‘everything’s shit’. Everything’s anxious and sad.

Will: Its very political isn’t it. And you can find some of that stuff in Albert’s lyrics, but on the surface he’s writing about his brother and his grandma. ‘Heyshaw’ and ‘Kilham’ (another track from the EP) are both farms that his Mum lived on.

Frank: It seems like a really tight knit family, and I like hearing that dynamic in the lyrics.

From hearing the EP preview, it seems as if the ditty and brash moments in ‘Heyshaw’ are balanced with more measured, winding parts towards the end of the EP?

Will: I think that’s exactly the difference between the early stuff that was already written before KEG got together, and what we’re doing now. We’ve got a second EP recorded all in the same way. ‘Heyshaw’ was written before the we became a 7 piece; ‘Kilham’ was just this little loop which we turned into this much less linear machine. You couldn’t really play ‘Heyshaw’ any other way than its first incarnation. ‘Kilham’ also has some much more emotional content. 

Frank: I think with ‘Heyshaw’ we were just getting into the sound of the scene and thinking ‘yeah we want to play post punk music’. So I think ‘Kilham’ is nice at the end of the EP, otherwise it might have been too ‘linear’.

So would you say as more minds and ideas go into creating KEG tracks, the songs become more sprawling and less linear?

Frank: Yeah. The demo for ‘Kilham’ is way more motoric, and our drummer Johnny took the song in the direction it goes, just by the way he plays drums on it.

Would you say there is any one thing that unites you all as a band?

(after a brief think)

Will: Playing to the crowd I think – or being excited by how the crowd will feel about the music. We try to play music for each other in the band. We’re happy to be on the outside of what the scene is doing. We’ve always had the plan to ‘create our own destiny’. I think everyone shares that kind of philosophy. But ultimately, we are united in just having a good time.

You have described the inspiration behind KEG as coming from a ‘frenzied passion for the ‘song’. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

Wiil: Yeah, that one is pretty straightforward actually – we like big choruses and those harmonic resolutions. We’re not massive teasers – we’re not gonna put avant-garde structures in there. I think we aspire to be a big festival band!

When you come up with an idea: is it something that makes you laugh or smile? Or is it something that maybe another band does, that’s trying to be so different that it loses all sense of those ‘hooks?’.

Frank: I feel like every time we’ve tried to write a ‘jammy’ song it just never works, and then the next song we write is really snappy and hooky. But we are quite good at that! Even if a melody or hook we come up with is quite silly and obvious, it’s often the best thing.

Words: Dan Webster // Photos: Katie Allen

‘Presidential Walk’ is out now. You can stream and purchase their discography via Bandcamp.

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