“Imagination to the Nation”, the new album by Great Bend’s John Keenan, is now available on iTunes for digital download, or on CD at Perks. The Tribune met with Keenan on Thursday to talk about the direction his music is taking him as he continues exploring today’s independent music scene.
“This album is a lot darker than my previous one,” he said. Last year, he released “Where I went wrong,” on which he collaborated with fellow musician Scott Martz with guest appearances from brother Mark Keenan. This time, Keenan is keeping it streamlined with solo work.
But in September, Martz and Keenan rejoin John for the release of the EP “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” Other guest appearances are made by Wichita rapper Kanzaz Chiefa, Kansas City rapper Irv Da Phenom and their first cousin Tyler “DJTK” Keenan.
After the last album, as he was moving out of Oxford House in Wichita, he was working with younger men who were coming out of jail and into a treatment center. The turnover was incredible and began to weigh on his spirit, Keenan said. He began to feel the need to surround himself with people who came from a place of recovery, not from jail. Finally, he had to leave the work behind and threw himself into the making of the new album.
“The world’s not all rainbows and sunshine. There’s some darkness to it too,” he said. “A lot of this stuff that sounds pretty vicious is going after the rappers on t.v. with all the rap costumes. Its a facade and an image. It’s a creative writing competition. That’s all that rap is.”
Picture the 29-year old singer-songwriter now living out of his recording studio, and you begin to get a picture of the dedication and devotion to the craft he’s chosen. The self-produced and self-engineered album became the major focus of his life at the beginning of the summer, and only recently has he emerged into the light of day. Between the that, the occasional videography job and maintaining his website, there’s not a lot of time for relationships, let alone sleep.
“When my chiropractor learned I didn’t have a bed, he gave me this narrow, low to the ground one he had laying around for years,” he said. “It’s really nice. It makes it easy to hit my knees before I go to bed, and again when I wake up in the morning. I think God knew I needed to do that.”
Keenan admits trying to label the music contained in “Imagination to the Nation” is difficult at best. He blends several styles to create a sound that he has coined “Soft core rap,” at once rap, but also with eclectic hints of both the electronic realm of music and the more concrete elements of piano and guitar.
“I threw out all the rules, basically,” he said. “The rap people think it sounds too guitarish, the guitar people think it sounds too rappish. I’m just working on my own unique sound.”
Despite living in Wichita, Keenan says Great Bend still feels like home. He looks forward to someday moving back home.
“If I ever really made it, the first thing I’d do is move back home,” he said. “I’m not a big city guy. I want to go fishing and stuff. My grandpa graduated from Great Bend High School, my dad did, and so did I. If I’m ever blessed enough to have kids, I think they will too.”
Keenan can be found on facebook at www.facebook.com/johnkeenanonline, or twitter at www.twitter.com/johkeenanonline. A full discography and lots more can be found at www.johnkeenanonline.com.