20th January 2017 must have been another special day to remember in the life history and music career of the young and hugely talented Oxfordshire-born guitarist and singer/songwriter Aaron Keylock. That day saw the 19-years-old British guitar prodigy releasing his debut album called Cut Against The Grain, an album that is the cherry on the cake of a career that goes back a long way, despite Keylock's young age.
For somebody that picked up a guitar at the age of 8, it's quite remarkable what the young guitarist has achieved so far in his life as a musician. He was already rocking heavily the Oxford music scene through his thunderous guitar sound when he was 11 and, by the time he was 12, he did even have arguments with club doormen who would argue and struggled to believe that Keylock was supposed to be booked to play at the venues!
While Keylock was on the road playing as Support Act of artists of the caliber of the US rockers Blackberry Smoke or musical living legends like Wilko Johnson, among others, his songbook was progressively started to expand and, through the years, the British young prodigy had already on his belt a few of the songs that ended up on his debut album just released.
When Bluebird Reviews meets Aaron Keylock, the first most noticeable aspect of our conversation is how someone like the British guitarist, able to produce an amazing blues/rock powerful combustion on any stage in the world, is at the same time, in real life, very quietly spoken and a very reflective and articulate artist.
The recording of Keylock's debut album saw him flying all the way to the United States but, judging by the British artist's own words, he had pretty much everything ready before the recording process even started. "I wrote the record over few years. I wasn't prepared to make a record, you know, being a young kid, I was just happy to be an artist and be where I was at that time playing live the material I had back then. I had something like, 40 songs ready for the record, maybe 50 and the whole process in recording Cut Against The Grain took about a couple of weeks. All in all, I would say that the recording process in L.A. was quick but I had to wait a little while until the record label decided to release it but it's finally out now and I am very happy about it."
The guitarist and singer/songwriter has included, in his debut album, songs that he had written few years before, like Medicine Man and Just One Question, songs that might have reflected, perhaps, a different musical vision and approach from Keylock's perspective at a younger stage of his life back then. Given the fact that, through times, one may change his mind as we all do on something that has been written few years before, Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether Keylock might have thought to change any aspects of something he had written few years back. "I did not change the style of the songs, they are pretty much, stylistically, as I conceived them at the time. I guess that because I am a slightly different person now in comparison to who I was few years ago when I wrote the songs, when the time came to record them, I reckon I have just expressed in that one take it took to record them the mood and the vibes of that moment in time. I feel that perhaps there are little mistakes here and there, in the global execution of all the songs on the album but I don't mind that, because that reflects exactly the feeling, the mood and the energy I had when I recorded them and overall, that reflects also my personality in its entirety. Basically, what I wanted and I feel I achieved on the album, was to sound as honest and direct as possible, without sounding robotic. I am not a great fan of digital technology, when it comes to make music. I rather prefer to show the real myself and let my personality transpire through my songs and the way I sing them. To take aspects like the immediacy or an artist's personality out of the music context would mean to destroy the vibes present on the record and I rather wanted to keep everything kept within the records, little mistakes included, because I just wanted the fans to hear the real me, on Cut Against The Grain and nothing else. I tried to keep the album as organic as I possibly could, because that it's exactly the kind of music I play."
Cut Against The Grain gives certainly full justice to Keylock's robust and powerful blues/rock formula and to his enormous talent as a guitarist. Something that also emerges from the artist's debut album is also his constantly improving singing style, something that Keylock is progressively refining as the years go by. "It's funny, actually, because I don't feel I have ever been the typical stereotype of singer you may expect or anything like, say, that whole Vince Neil kind of thing. I have always loved artists with a certain style, people like Bowie or Dylan, the way they get the emotions of a song across their voices, the way they present the feeling of a song, the lyrics and everything else related to a song. It's that unique way in which those artists are able to make a real difference that really intrigues me and that concept applies also to my idea of guitar playing. Take somebody like Keith Richards. He is my favorite guitarist bar none and the way he displays his style is something that nobody else would be able to do the same way he does. When it comes to artistry and inspirations, what makes an impact on me is the way an artist expresses him/herself in full through a performance, the ability to display all about them, like the quality of their songwriting or the power of their music. That it's a sign of real talent."
When Keylock flew to Los Angeles to record Cut Against The Grain, he worked with super-skilled producer and renowned bass player Fabrizio Grossi on the tracks that ended up on Keylock's record. Given Grossi's larger-than-life personality and great experience, our website is keen to find out whether the producer allowed a full artistic freedom to Keylock, while recording the album and how their working relationship developed in the studio. "I think there has been a very open and honest working relationship with Fabrizio since Day One. I went there and Fabrizio told me straight away that this was my album, my name was going to be on the record therefore I should have made the record exactly in the way I wanted. There has always been a mutual trust and respect with Fabrizio. He understood what I wanted immediately and how I wanted the record to reflect my personality and he certainly helped to capture those aspects. It was, overall, a very straight forward process, no discussions at all, we really got on well with one another. He certainly pushed me vocally, something I am really grateful he did and for me, working with him, was a great experience and a great learning curve too."
There are many interesting aspects in Keylock's debut album. In songs like That’s Not Me or Sun’s Gonna Shine, the British artist often refers to the need to emerge out of things, to get his independence or to make a breakthrough, either as an artist or in his personal life, something that makes one wonder whether those songs were written in a particular time of the young guitarist's life. "I was coming at the end of school, when I wrote those songs. I must have been 15 or 16, something like that. I was that one kid coming from a tiny village in Oxfordshire listening to bands like Grateful Dead, while everybody else was off doing what other kids might have done at that age. Those songs expressed who I was at the time, which, in many respects, it is still who I am now, somebody that keeps believing in himself, that trust his instinct and believe in his dreams, that kind of stuff. There are a lot of different moods, on those songs and I really wanted those tunes to be part of the album because, all in all, they represent who I was at the point of my life and in many levels, who I am still today."
Keylock's thunderous guitar sound is sustained beautifully in Cut Against The Grain by a very solid rhythm section, whose work on the album certainly enriched even further the great sonic impact created by Keylock's guitar. "There were a lot of awesome L.A. based musicians playing on the album, when we recorded it. Fabrizio, together with being my producer, he did an incredible job on bass guitar too and to me, it made absolute sense that he would play on the album as well. Among all the studio musicians involved in the recording process, I got on pretty well with one of Fabrizio's fellow musicians and personal friends, Mike Hansen, who did a tremendous job on drums. I still remember the day Mike showed up in the studio. He was wearing a Bob Dylan's t-shirt while I was wearing a Grateful Dead's one. We looked at each other and started laughing immediately. We all had great fun in the studio recording Cut Against The Grain."
Among the eclectic offer available on an excellent album like Cut Against The Grain, the song Down is undoubtedly what many would call a "standout tune". The tune is ballsy, inspired and out of any pre-conception on how to write a song, with its 3 different time signatures and a fascinating multi-layered structure. Bluebird Reviews is very keen to know from where did the idea of building the tune in that way come from. Keylock smiles. "I am not sure, truth to be told. I wrote two different songs initially, to be honest and I had the verses on an acoustic Resonator and the choruses separately. When it was time to finish the whole, I said to myself: "Why don't I throw everything together and find out what the outcome sounds like?". I didn't know whether that idea was going to work but once I heard the finished song, I realized that it certainly worked for me. We played it afterward few times live on stage and very much enjoyed it, to the point that I knew that I strongly wanted it to be on the album. Funnily enough, that song is also the first one I recorded for Cut Against The Grain."
Listening to the album in its entirety, the full extent of Keylock's talent as a blues/rock guitarist can be even further appreciated when the British artist get deeper into the blues, with his sublime use of the slide guitar in songs like Falling Again and the album closing No Matter What The Cost. Many music lovers around the world are fully aware of Keylock's huge skills as a rock guitarist but the unveil of his passion for blues displayed on his debut album is something that adds an extra element of fascination to the dynamic of the whole album and Keylock's own music background. "It's interesting that you are asking me that, because blues was all that I was listening to when I was 9, right to when I reached the age of 11-12. I then discovered new genres, new styles, while I was growing up and as a consequence, my playing style moved on and changed too. I wouldn't say that the Delta or Mississippi blues sound is necessarily on the back of my mind every time that I am on stage but it is certainly something that stays within me, as part of my formation as a musician. I guess also that, perhaps, given the fact that bands I hugely admired like Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones carried the blues vibes at the core of their sound throughout their carriers, I found my own voice too in the same way and my musical expression too through blues and rock, in a blend of my own."
Aaron Keylock has kept touring incessantly, before and after the release of Cut Against The Grain and still going. Keylock will be back to one of the music event of the year in the United Kingdom, the music festival called Ramblin' Man Fair where he also played back in 2015. "Ramblin' Man has been a festival I've been looking forward to for most of the year. It's a great festival with a really cool vibe and some of my favorite bands on the bill! I was lucky enough to play the first year with one of my heroes, Greg Allman and so I'm deeply honored to be asked to go back there and play again with so many friends!"
The British guitarist is living one of the most rewarding moments of his career so far and the release of Cut Against The Grain is the utterly deserved payoff for someone like Keylock that worked very hard to fulfill his dreams. Before we part company with this very gentle young man and highly talented musician, we ask Keylock, using some of the lyrics included on one of his songs, whether now that he has reached global popularity, there will be ever “anybody telling him what he has to be now”?. "No, I don't think so (smiles). I believe very strongly in who I am and where I want to be in my life, as an artist and the way I want to do things in my career. I believe I have achieved so far my expectations as a musician, starting playing at the age of 9, playing live every night at the age of 12, that sort of things. I guess that if you believe in something strongly enough and you believe that you can fulfill your dreams, then you are going to do that, sooner or later. This is who I am and (I am pretty positive on this) who I shall always be. I obviously don't know yet where my career will take me to but, sure enough, that will not certainly stop my belief in what I can achieve, as long as I keep working hard enough."