Singer-songwriter Jim Keaveny could be a character out of a Mark Twain novel, born on the Missouri River before traveling through the country with a railroader's restlessness. Ostensibly, he's settled in the hard yet beautiful Texas desert where he lives off-the-grid in a house he built with his bare hands, surviving on rainwater he can't waste, but his picaresque lifestyle still takes him around the world. Keaveny's off-the-beaten-path lifestyle is featured in Chase Peeler's new book On The Porch: Life and Music in Terlingua, Texas.
Keaveny's traveling ways helped him develop a distinct Tex-Americana musical style that integrates influences from cosmic country to mariachi. Throughout the years, he has garnered praise from Austin to the Netherlands and was chosen to play the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival. His regular comparisons to Bob Dylan and John Prine make sense with his rich, down-to-Earth vocals and smart lyrics.
Years after the release of his acclaimed LP, Put it Together, Keaveny reveals the benefits of patience in his songwriting with “Sunrise” and “Golden Carmen,” a digital 7-inch highlighting his more romantic side.
“Sunrise” began decades ago during his childhood piano lessons, but his instructor didn't care about his attempts at songwriting.
“She's was a nice woman but very strict. She just wanted me to learn the classics,” Keaveny says. “So, I did. I won trophies and things like that, but when I showed her something I wrote, she'd kind of push it aside. She wasn't interested. I composed a song on piano that became 'Sunrise' back in those days. The whole melody, the changes, everything except the lyrics. I've had it with me for many years, that particular song, and then I turned it into a completely different thing.”
Over the years, Keaveny built "Sunrise" from a childhood piano melody, to a straightforward folk tune, to a full-band love song that embodies the spirit of the Southwest. Keaveny was reeling from his divorce. It was one of the darkest times in his life. He was fighting off a heavy depression, when he met a woman who became a shining beacon of hope—to pull him from the darkness and into the light.
"She helped me heal from my divorce," says Keaveny. "It's like the sun set and it was gone for a year and a half. Sitting there wondering what I did wrong. Am I a bad person? She gave me the attention and love I needed. It ended up not working out, but she had a big impact on me at that moment. Just to have someone say, 'Hey, you're fucking awesome.' I had this moment of I'm back. I'm back on the scene. I'm alive again! This song was a euphoric experience."
"Sunrise" starts off mellow and dreamy, before bringing listeners along for the ride of coming out of a depression as horns kick in during the final bridge in an exaltation of joy. This song feels like you're on a beach, with palm trees blowing in the wind, and realizing that you've fallen in love with the person you're dating and you can't wait to tell them.
“Golden Carmen” began when Keaveny had a psychedelic encounter with a woman named Carmen. They only exchanged a few words, but in that moment, he experienced love at first sight. It's a song that thrives on desert sensibility while introducing more lysergic musical elements to amplify Keaveny's psychotropic experience.
"The idea of this golden woman on a beautiful summer day stuck with me," Keaveny says. "Years later I met this woman in Colombia with something golden about her and suddenly this song came out of me. That’s the way I write songs. Sometimes it takes a long time.”
It makes sense that Keaveny’s songwriting would focus on these specific moments of his unique life. He's a lover and a troubadour. He's a searcher and a drifter. He lives to experience life away from the social norms the rest of us are slaves to. He can see Mexico from his Terlingua, Texas, solar-powered homestead and regularly travels to Colombia, but – while those areas might influence his work – it's hard to predict what Keaveny might produce next.
He began this recording project with his longtime collaborator Bill Palmer (bass, guiro) as they bounced from Howlin Dog Studio (Alamosa, Colorado) to Studio Torreón (Santa Fe, New Mexico) to Kevin Zoernig's studio (Las Vegas, New Mexico), and mastered by Christian Wright (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, The National) at Abbey Road Studios in London. When recording, Keaveny always gets by with a little help from his friends and brought in Justin Lindsey (electric guitar), Jim Palmer (drums), Kevin Zoernig (harpsichord, piano, hammond 3C, wurlitzer), Eric Ortiz (trumpet), Stephanie Hatfield (backup vocals), and Bella Palmer & Abbey Wolf for the handclaps in "Sunrise."
“I just evolve the way I evolve,” he says. “I just go with whatever comes in my head. It's just inspiration, and I'm changing just like everybody else on the planet. Every day is something new. We evolve. Music has always been with me. My whole life, even as a child, music has been in my head. It comes to me. I don't overthink it. I just feel it. The music comes to me and I am very compelled to record it.”
As "Sunrise" & "Golden Carmen" are heart-on-his-sleeve love songs, Keaveny remains drawn to the craft he began pursuing long ago as he continues his artistic travels, finding inspiration in the people he meets along the way. "I think about Carl Jung and the intersection of music and the collective unconscious," Keaveny says. “I believe that we're all connected by music very much.”