Bigger Than The Bedroom: An Interview with Keel Her

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keel her

Rose Keeler-Schäffeler, who performs and records exceptional bedroom pop under playful moniker Keel Her, has long been on my radar. With a that has over twenty releases, each brilliant in its own way, Keeler-Schäffeler was first the master of prolificacy, followed shortly by the master of gauzy and rewarding lo-fi pop songs. Her records and self-releases always felt like a moment in time to me, each song an ephemeral gift that encapsulated what Keeler-Schäffeler was thinking or feeling, but only right then, at that very, ever-changing second. The best of her tracks, “Riot Grrrl” being one of them, take on a diary-like form, but with an awareness of the outside world, as if Keeler-Schäffeler were tipping her hat to the listeners secretly crowded outside her bedroom door. The same goes for “Roswell”, which appears on her label debut, a poignant portrayal of what it's like to feel alone while knowing full well that others will sing along in agreement.

The news that Keel Her would be releasing her debut full-length LP was exciting but also brought questions. Would Keeler-Schäffeler and Andrew Barnes, her boyfriend and longtime collaborator, feel comfortable outside of the bedroom and with a wider scope? Would the record be a proper, studio relesae or would it maintain Keel Her's perfectly nuanced, slightly sharp handcrafted sound? Keeler-Schäffeler and I spoke on the phone from London before her self-titled album's release, which is out now on Critical Heights.

How did you decide what was going to go on the record and if there were going to be any new songs?

Basically, I've been populating my favorite ones that I've written in a folder so I just kinda went through everything that I've done and picked my favorites, or ones that I think I can work on better or finish properly. I mean loads of them are just demos so they weren't actually ready. I wrote a couple of new ones. I think “Go” is new and “In My Head” off the album is new.

Did you ask anybody for their advice on if they thought those were the best songs? Or did you just go with your own gut?

Ah, yeah, I kind of did because I posted a tweet and asked “What should I put on my album?” and some people replied “(I Hate It) When You Look At Me” and “Riot Grrrl”. I would've just put the original “Riot Grrrl” on but I preferred the old version, so I redid that. I didn't want to put “Enid Coleslaw” on it or anything; I mean they're a lot of my older songs and I wanted to keep it vaguely new, so closer to what I sound like at the moment. But I worked on a lot of stuff as well and kind of picked myself. Andrew, who plays in my band, he also helped choose the songs and gave his point of view.

What is that process like, putting together an official record as opposed to self-releasing? Does it feel different?

It didn't really feel that different. I mean it kind of did because I knew it would be a lot longer so I got to spend more time on it but the way we did it wasn't really how other bands did it. Basically, last year I was just ill for the whole year so I did most of it in bed or just sitting around at home.

The label that's often put on your music is that it's very “lo-fi.” Would you agree with that label?

Yeah, I kind of do 'cause it's obviously not “hi-fi” or anything, so it's the opposite of well-recorded. But people put lo-fi with other genres and say that that's a new genre, and everything is called lo-fi pop, which I don't think is right. But I don't really care about genres to be honest. Everyone is always going to have their own opinion of what things sound like but I don't necessarily set out to make the songs sound like a genre.

Bring me through the process of what it's like to write and record one of your songs.

Well there's loads of ways. Usually I start playing guitar and then I like what it sounds like so I record it and then maybe do something with it or reverse it or plug the guitar into it a sampler and then sample that. When I hung out with R. Stevie Moore, he would show me other ways to approach songwriting. I do quite a lot of writing down lyrics in my head, I make up melodies. I usually do it late night, trying to come up with melodies. Like “Enid Coleslaw” I did in the middle of the night, I just sang it and worked on it from there.

Do you find collaborating easy?

I do, kind of. It depends on if that means just sitting down and writing a song for a purpose. I find that really hard. A lot of people are really god at it and I don’t think I’m that good at that, really. When I went to R. Stevie Moore’s house, though, that’s what we basically did every day, so I kind of got used to it after a while. I still find it quite hard to write with other people. Starting a band with someone is easier than writing songs with someone.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because lyrics are quite personal, so especially when you’re writing songs with someone else, for them to actually be good instead of stupid makes it really hard. I think that the main reason I write by myself is because I like doing that. There’s no one who is going to be like, “No, that’s not that good, don’t bother doing that anymore.” I’ll always carry on with a song even if it’s not that good, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

How many demos do you think that you have available to use?

I have on my iTunes about 400 songs, including the stuff that’s online.

That’s amazing.

It’s okay. I feel like most musicians would have that. I think that most people just throw stuff away, though. I would never do that because I might use it or I might like it in the future. Like when you throw away clothes and then you want them back.

Can you pinpoint times that you’ve thought, “Oh yeah, two years ago I recorded this little snippet, I’m going to go back and use that now” or do you have to go back and listen to the old demos all over again?

I make a lot of folders on my computer. There are ones that are “Yes” and “Maybe” and there are files on my computer that are literally named “I like this chorus but I don’t like anything else.” If I know I have to write a song, I’ll go through everything that I’ve done. I basically have recorded everything that I’ve thought of, so I’ll go through all of that and pick what I like that best and then work on it more.

You do a lot of writing and recording in your bedroom. Is there a way that your room has to look for you to feel comfortable doing that?

Yes, it really matters. I need my room to be really organized and tidy, otherwise I won’t concentrate. I can’t concentrate on anything unless it’s tidy, which is one of the problems I’m having at the moment because I’m living in a house that is not very tidy or clean.

You do everything in your room?

We recorded the whole album in our room because I share a room with my boyfriend. It’s super small and super cramped and it has a really small band, not much room at all, but it’s doable and it’s more comfortable to me than recording in a proper studio.

Have you had the experience of recording in a studio?

I did it in Nashville when I went to R. Stevie Moore’s. We did it in this little studio. My friend James had a studio in the North of England so we went and did one there, but it was pretty much hanging out and doing it with friends, so it wasn’t a true proper recording experience.

How did you like it?

I liked it, but I didn’t get a chance to work on the songs more because I wasn’t producing them or recording myself. The way that they came out didn’t exactly come out the way that I wanted. I think that I was just too scared to say that I didn’t like the way the guitar sounded, which is probably why I still do a lot of recording in my room, as well, because I prefer it as opposed to in a studio. I don’t really care if the guitar doesn’t sound great quality.

How do you determine what sounds good or what sounds bad to you?

I know that there are loads of songs that I’ve written that I don’t really like, that I think that are okay. I didn’t want my SoundCloud to be just the best of the best. You know when bands put up their three songs, you know, when they’re like “Oh we need to write hits every time.” I kind of wanted this to be someone’s journal, maybe, of them uploading a song every day, and every song has a different moo kind of thing. I think I probably just have, well, I don’t know if I have good taste anymore. I’ve changed my music taste so much over the years. I love a lot of Italo pop disco stuff now, stuff that my brother would be like, “Turn that off, I hate this.” And I’m like, “It’s great, how could you not like that?” I do that probably with my own songs. “Oh this is really good, let’s put it online.”

When you first started uploading songs, how did your music get attention?

I made a SoundCloud and a Facebook, maybe a Twitter. But I used to make music when I was younger, and it used to be a lot more twee. Kind of like The Moldy Peaches. I had that already, so I just made a new Myspace or whatever, and I had all my friends from that, the old ones, and just suddenly more people were listening to it. I didn’t really post it or be like “Listen to my music.” That’s why I feel really happy about it, because I didn’t necessarily put loads of effort into that part, but yet I still get a good response now.

Do you ever feel exposed when people get so into it?

Not really, because they don’t ever really ask me about the lyrics, so that’s fine. Some people ask me “What are the lyrics to 'Riot Girrrl'?” which is fine because they’re pretty vague, but everyone always thinks it is about butt sex, which it’s not. I love telling people that.

Songs like “Roswell,” where you want to hide within yourself, everyone has been there. Does that make you uncomfortable that people respond that much to something so isolated?

No, no, I think that’s good. People always have views on people that they don’t know, really. So I’m glad that there are people who feel alone or don’t know how to talk to anyone have found ways to deal with it. If they listen to the song and they relate to it, then I’m really happy that they’ve done that, and I wouldn’t be put off if they said anything to me about it.

What about a live show? Is it different from your recordings?

It used to be really different, we’ve been through loads of lineups. We’ve kind of tired everything out. We had a three-piece live band, we had a five-piece live band, because it kind of had all the layers. First of all, I just hate playing with a really big band.

Why’s that?

Because it’s so hard to organize everyone around because everyone’s always working and everyone’s always in another band, so that’s not how I like doing it. But now me and Andrew do it just as a two-piece with a sampler so it sounds a lot more like the recordings as opposed to just an indie band playing on guitar. It sounds more like what we want. I think that we’ve got criticisms about how the online stuff doesn’t really sound like the live stuff.

You feel that it sounds more true to it?

Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot noisier now, as well.

The interest for people to go see a bedroom band live is really strange. Do you enjoy playing live?

Oh I hate it. Okay, well I don’t hate it, but I didn’t like it before. I have loads of songs that are like, “Don’t look at me, I hate when you look at me,” because the whole point of recording in my bedroom is that I don’t have to look at anyone, that I don’t have to perform in front of people. I can do a song, put it online, and I can still have someone say something good about it. I have gotten more into playing live, though, I think I just have anxiety about it. I never really see female bands. I never get to play with other female bands. The lineups are just like us, then loads of boy guitar bands. It puts me off.

Oh really? Is that specifically in Brighton that you see that?

It’s more in Brighton. We’re actually moving to London next month, so we’ll be playing a lot more. We’re playing with White Fang. They’re coming on tour, which will be really fun. I just want to play with bands that are nice and that like my music, as opposed to when we’d use to play, we’d get people who didn’t even like us.

What’s behind the decision to move to London?

The main reason is that there are more jobs in London and also it’s just easier to play in London. Brighton only has a couple of venues, so you can’t really play here all the time, because it’s such a small city. We only really play here about once a month. In London you can kind of get away with playing all the time because there are so many places to play. And also I just like London more. Brighton’s great, but it’s very small and it gets kind of dreary after living there for a while. I’ve only lived here for a year and a half, so that’s not that long, but I just like London more. And Brighton isn’t that far, either, so I can always go back there.

Do you think Brighton influences your songwriting at all?

Yeah, kind of. It definitely did when I was working, there was definitely a big influence. There are a lot of bands that play in Brighton, there's a scene going. Even when I was living in Winchester, which is where I grew up, I find that the less time I have the more I record because basically I have a time restriction.

Do you work better under pressure?

Yeah. When I’m working all the time, I’ll record more and more. At the moment I haven’t been working as much, so I’ve found it quite hard to record.

Are you a typical late night person that you can record when you’re done working?

I prefer recording in the evening when I’m done. I usually get most of my ideas at like two in the morning so I kind of have to.

Have you had any long nights recently?

I went home to stay at my sister's and I stayed up all night recording because I hadn’t had a day like that in a long time, where I just had nothing to do, so I just went for it and slept the next day.

Did anything come from it?

I’ve been recording a lot more because I had that break last year when I was ill. But now I’ve really gotten back into it. I have this equipment that makes it so much easier so I’ve found that I actually genuinely have better ideas than I used to. I work harder to form the actual songs than I used to. I would literally just record a song then another one then another one. I show Andrew stuff and he’ll come up with things as well, and we’ll kind of go from there. I’m trying to write the next album at the moment.

How is that going?

I don’t want it to come out soon, but I want to make sure that it’s really good because everyone always says that the second album is never that good. I don’t want that to happen.

Do you work better knowing that you have pressure from yourself to perform?

When I feel pressure to write stuff from other people, I find that really hard. I don’t really find recording a chore, so it’s kind of just an enjoyable thing. When people are like, she should record a song like “Enid Coleslaw” I don’t really feel pressure to write songs in a specified style, like according to what they think it should be. I do a lot of stupid, dumb pop songs to myself, but I don’t necessarily put them out. I do punk and rap sometimes. I don’t really do it myself, but I’ll make beats and my friend will rap over them.

You should release a rap album under a pseudonym.

Yeah, I’d like to. I’ll be like Snoop Lion.