A quirky and idiosyncratic artist to emerge from the New Zealand music scene, Andrew Keoghan will release his second album Every Orchid Offering on July 29. Repeatedly compared to David Bowie and Grizzly Bear, his electro-chamber-pop music resists labels and borrows from many genres and eras to create a multifaceted soundscape.
He bypassed the conventional pop construction to build a complex and layered orchestration – with obsessive bass lines, grooving drums, sonic patterns, and bursts of harmonies. All of this coupled with Keoghan’s crooning vocals and intriguing lyrics makes for a most spacious sound that draws you into intimate, reflective grounds, while the beat carries you on a wave.
Andrew Keoghan recently released his second single “Queues at Dani Keys,” following “Stuck in Melodies” which came out in 2015. Both music videos add another layer of oddity to his music, pulling us from a melancholic and alienating journey to the satirical representation of a club scene in which Keoghan stars both as a man and a woman.
For “Stuck in Melodies,” Brooklyn director Will Joines created “a pastel hell dreamscape, inspired by the song’s themes of interrelationship detachment and nostalgic comfort” showing “two people, face to face, unaffectionate, in the painfully awkward final throes of a relationship, with little to talk about except the songs they like,” says Keoghan.
On a different note, New Zealand director Puck Murphy represented “the perils of big city ambition, through the omnipresent cellphone-toting ‘Greg’” for “Queues at Dani Keys,” which playfully explores the notions of narcissism and alter ego.
Inside the record’s sleeve, the following quote stands out: “every night on a fairy’s wing, every orchid offering,” which evokes Gatsby’s reveries in the novel by S. Fitzgerald. This statement makes us wonder whether we evolve in the realm of a dream or the one of reality.
Through his musical, literary and visual universe, Andrew Keoghan shows a broad spectrum of reference points, as well as a particular ability for reinvention through the prism of his own experiences and viewpoint.
Hear the artist in his own words:
Can you describe your journey between the first and the second record?
The second album became a means to chronicle my relocation from New Zealand to New York. It encompasses a fairly nomadic feeling three-year period, juggling the thrilling highs and humbling challenges of New York, with an ever-present homesickness. In that sense the album is about our obligations, our desires and perceived gender roles and the longing to be connected in some way to a place that feels like home, or someone we love.
The general vibe is very different from your first album, but the music also seems a lot more complex. Where did you draw inspiration for this new record, and which experiences, artists, and peers informed your practice?
Around the time I wrote Every Orchid Offering I was listening to New York minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich, drawn to the evolving, patterned nature of their respective work. Their music is urbane and there’s a strong sense of momentum. I was also listening to the cyclical grooves on ‘new wave’ songs like Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’. Starting with an incessant beat became my new imperative. Stevie Wonder’s album ‘Innervisions’ and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ were two other influences. ‘Heroes’ combines pop, instrumental and soundscape elements in equal measure. I attempted something of that nature.
A common thread to both albums is this idea of storytelling. The narratives strike me as very intricate. Unlikely situations develop; the stories told are very cinematic, contributing to the creation of a strange atmosphere. Do you have a specific process for writing your lyrics?
I tend to hone in on little details and I’m curious about people’s backstories. The songs are personal interactions and observations, sometimes with a hearty dose of embellishment. The song ‘Everything’ is about my first night living in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I couldn’t sleep because there were two couples upstairs making love, set against a backdrop of police sirens and dogs barking. I found myself fixated with the avant-garde jazz nature of the passion sounds that filtered through the floorboards. At one point I thought the ceiling may collapse in on me. The noise on the streets outside reminded me bigger problems than my own existed.
‘They Don’t Want a Boyfriend’ is about two teenage girls I saw getting onto the school bus holding hands. One of their mothers is distraught her daughter doesn’t like boys. The other girls’ father is preoccupied with finding a new lover at his weekly salsa dance class.
Your orchestration is very complex. How did your opera background influence your singing and composition?
I was at college when I sung in a New Zealand season of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot’. I had a relatively minor role, as an Emperor’s servant and sung with the main group chorus, which required a lot of study in Italian. I’m not sure how those choir and opera experiences inform my music but they may do subconsciously. For the song ‘They Don’t Want a Boyfriend’, I was attempting to create a kind of musical theater piece, with a narrator telling the story of two teenage girls in love, to the consternation of their parents. I made a call and response section, between solo voice and choir, something that can sound quite special in operas.
You’re from Christchurch, but lived in Auckland most of your adult life. Three years ago, you moved to New York, while returning frequently to New Zealand to work on your record back home with long-time friends and peers. How did that time in New York affect you?
The main draw with New York was to hear new music methods and broaden my own approach. It’s easy to find creative stimulation there, but it can be hard get work done with so much on offer, which was why I would return to the relative calm of New Zealand for extended periods. Certainly in New York I met friends who knew more about making electronic music than me and could help with the final textures on the album.
Every Orchid Offering comes out on July 29, which you will support with a few dates on the West Coast and in New York. Are you looking forward to being back on the road?
I’m looking forward to playing in New York again and there are some cities we’re playing for the first time – San Diego, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle. There’s some unchartered territory for me and that’s exciting.
Andrew Keoghan recently relocated to Los Angeles. Make sure not to miss him in his new hometown or on his upcoming U.S. tour:
– July 30: Rough Trade, Brooklyn
– August 1: Soda, San Diego
– August 3: Hemlock, San Francisco
– August 4: Star Theater, Portland
– August 5: Vera Project, Seattle
– August 12: El Cid, Los Angeles
To know what is coming up, follow him on Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud, and Youtube. You can also purchase both his albums on iTunes; and if you are a fetishist of textural objects, you can acquire a vinyl or a CD here. Enjoy the trip.
Photo, text, and interview by Deborah Farnault