Keaton Henson is a twenty-three year-old songwriter, artist and poet from the suburbs of London. Hespends his days alone – at first by chance, and now by choice – writing and recording from his bedroom. His music was never really intended to be heard by anyone, for reasons that will become clear later. Yet despite this, and without management, press or radio play, Henson has sold nearly 4,000 copies of his first self-released record, and received more than 55,000 views of a single video (15,000 of these coming in its first two days online). Those who know of him tend to be either obsessive - setting up Facebook and Tumblr sites in a bid to find out more about him - or concerned: with Keaton's raw, emotional lyrics leading to many inquiring as to his well-being.
Largely oblivious to it all is Keaton himself, of whom relatively little is still known. He first came to light as an illustrator and visual artist, through which he has exhibited art worldwide and will publish a book of illustrations, called Gloaming, on the same day the album is released. Keaton wrote the songs of Dear… following – his lyrics would suggest - a particularly traumatic relationship breakdown. Today, he professes to have only written music as a gift to his best friend, who then pressured him into putting tracks online (even his family had no idea what he was doing in his bedroom for two years). This might explain the quietly devastating emotional honesty of Keaton’s songs, which were never designed to reach an audience. "You Don't Know How Lucky You Are," for instance, addresses a former love directly (“Does he know not to talk about your dad? / Does he know when you're sad, you don't like to be touched?"). The extraordinary "Charon," whose oddly amusing video features a puppet committing suicide, is also informed by anxiety, and isolation: “it seems as though I’m on my own, and time transcends / and it seems I speak like waters leak, and I’m losing friends.”
Keaton will partner with ATC and Motive Sounds to release his debut album next year: a limited, hand-sewn and personally-illustrated run sold out in just two hours some months ago. And whilst he is slowly growing in confidence to talk about himself and his music, Keaton is still far from a conventional artist.
For one thing, any fans expecting to see him play a gig might have to wait a while. Intent on ridding himself of the anxiety that has plagued him since he was a child – “I have an over-active fear gland”, as he wryly puts it – Keaton agreed to play his first ever gig last year. This just happened to be in front of 2,000 people at Sadler’s Wells, in conjunction with the acclaimed dance troupe BalletBoyz, who wished to perform live to his music. “Everyone was saying the adrenaline would kick in,” he recalls, “but it just didn’t. The audience were so supportive and even quite emotional, but I couldn’t understand why theywere staring at me. I sang again the following night and then told the company I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Keaton Henson’s music constructs an intense, honest and emotional space: even the open-ended title, Dear..., suggests a degree of intimacy. This is clearly at odds with the demands of the live circuit, so Keaton is currently making plans for live music experiences that will suit both his disposition and his music. Ideas currently range from performances via video stream to installations within a gallery space: details will be confirmed nearer the release of the album itself.