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Testify - Zoë Keating

Submitted by RamonLP4 on May 10, 2024 – 9:30 amOne Comment
Zoë Keating (photo by Lane Hartwell)

The cello’s warm and expressive sound is one that I think would find few detractors yet the instrument rarely seems to take the spotlight. Thankfully there are artists out there who have no qualms about dropping the instrument front and center. One such artist is Zoë Keating who is playing The House of Blues Peacock Room this Thursday.

While having performed with various artists (Imogen Heap, Mark Isham, Curt Smith, Amanda Palmer, Kaki King, and DJ Shadow to name a few) as well as a few years in Rasputina, Keating most notably stands out as a soloist. Her live shows consist of her cello accompanied by a foot-controlled laptop that essentially loop phrases into layers of sound that, drop by drop, build each piece into a fluid, moving stream of sound. Intrigued by what we heard, we asked Keating if she would kindly respond to a few simple questions and she was good natured enough to take some time to reply.

FPH - Can you talk to us about how you approach performing solo - how the various elements interact, how your approach affects your interaction with the audience, and how that experience is has shaped you as a performer?

Keating - When I’m onstage, there is a lot to keep together: playing the cello, managing the live arrangement of all the phrases, the shape of the music and operating the technology. To cope, I go into some altered state where I’m there but not there. It’s like a hyper consciousness where time becomes meaningless.

One main thing about performing solo…you can’t slack off and there is nowhere to hide. So If I make a mistake, or the energy is flagging, it’s up to me to save the performance. There are times when I feel like I’m performing on the edge of a cliff. Everything could so easily collapse. But I think I thrive on this feeling and the work ethic it requires. It makes me practice really, really hard so that I’m ready for anything that happens.

FPH - Can you discuss the elements that shape and inform your music?

Keating - My music is made of tiny little phrases, each with their own little story to tell. These phrases make up the larger whole, so you can listen to just one phrase at a time, or the whole meta-phrase.

FPH - You performed for a while with Rasputina. How was that experience, why did you leave the band, and how do you contrast that and other previous collaborations with your solo work?

Keating - I loved performing with Rasputina. It was cathartic. I always like to have at least one side project going on. In Rasputina my own work was my side project and eventually I decided it was time to focus on my own thing. Now I perform with other musicians as my side-projects.

FPH - I love sound of the Cello but it’s not exactly the most prominent instrument out there and people either see it in strictly classical terms. Do you feel that the instrument is underutilized and if so why?

Keating - When I first started playing with bands, I rarely met other alterna cellists. But every year there are more. The idea of the cello as a non-classical instrument seems to be growing exponentially. This is great.

FPH - What drew you to the instrument and continues to engage you about it?

Keating - A teacher asked me when I was 8 if I wanted to play the cello. I don’t even think I knew what it was, but I said yes. People don’t believe me when I say this, but it just never occurred to me to stop.

FPH - I think of music as a conversation between performers, between performer and audience, or simply an internal conversation. What do you think you are trying to communicate or express in your work?

Keating - I’m trying to express something with my music, but I don’t always know what it is. It’s a moment in time, a feeling, a sense of direction, a shift in the light, an atmosphere. Whatever it is, it can’t be said in words but I need to keep saying it.

FPH - How does a Cello player eke out a living in the 21st century?

Keating - I sell a surprising amount of digital recordings. I say surprising because when I mention the numbers people seem surprised.everyone assumes no one is selling music. I think this only works for me because I don’t have a label, so all the purchases are direct. Roughly half my income is music sales, the other half is between licensing and live performing. But you know what, the only constant in this business is change. Who knows what next year will be like!

FPH - I saw that the Houston date is the first birthday of your son Alex. How do you juggle the life of a musician and life as a parent?

Keating - Minute by minute, day by day! Since he’s still so young, Alex and his Dad, come with me on tour. They hang out backstage and I nurse the baby before I go onstage and when I get off. Alex’s first concert was when he was 6 weeks old and so far we’ve been all over North America, to Mexico, the UK, Switzerland and Germany. I haven’t slept through the night for over a year and sometimes it all seems impossible, but we make it work. I feel extremely lucky to have a job that allows me to be with my baby.

FPH - Lastly, complete this sentence: “If I weren’t making music, I’d be….”

Keating - If I weren’t making music I’d be a visual artist.

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Zoë Keating performs Thursday May 12th at The House of Blues Bronze Peacock Room. Doors 7pm, All Ages, $15 presale $17 day of

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