Keaton Simons is truly what the Los Angeles Times terms “a triple threat.” He captivates audiences with an authentic voice, compelling and soul-baring songs, and a true command of both acoustic and electric guitars in every genre. The energy and passion that Keaton brings to his work (whether in the studio or performing live) are as infectious and stirring as his lyrics and melodies. This multi-faceted artist is gearing up for the release of his sophomore full-length album “Beautiful Pain,” co-produced with Mikal Blue (Colbie Caillat, One Republic) and mastered by Gavin Lurssen of Lurssen Mastering. Beautiful Pain also includes co-writes with friends and peers Jason Mraz, Jason Reeves, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket) and Mikal Blue among others. The highly-anticipated album will be released in the Spring on Keaton’s newly formed label, Best Revenge Records. The label’s marketing efforts will be headed up by Croshal Entertainment Group, who have assisted a number of prominent independent releases including those by Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Collective Soul, Elliot Yamin and Gnarls Barkley amongst many others.
A regular in The Hotel Café singer/songwriter circuit, Keaton Simons has been recognized by Examiner.com as achieving “cult-like” status in his hometown of Los Angeles, CA. But as most know, Keaton is far from being just an ”L.A. guy” let alone a “new artist” on the mainstream map. His debut EP Currently was released on Maverick Records in 2004 and his debut full-length album “Can You Hear Me” was released on CBS Records in 2008. Since then, he has toured nationally and internationally, opening for Coldplay, Train, Guster and REO Speedwagon amongst others. He has also worked as a writer, musical director, singer, bassist and guitarist with such notable acts as Gnarls Barkley, Snoop Dogg, Josh Kelley and Tre Hardson (The Pharcyde.) In addition, Keaton’s music has been heard in dozens of feature films and television shows, including “Sons of Anarchy,” “Private Practice,” “NCIS,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Numb3rs” and “Hollywood Heights.” His stellar live performances have landed him spots on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.” In 2011 Keaton appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew alongside stepfather, actor Eric Roberts, who was a patient. A performance of his song “Unstoppable” on the show resulted in over 10,000 iTunes downloads in only two days.
Keaton Simons and Best Revenge Records have a big year planned for 2013, beginning with the release of “Beautiful Pain,” the first single and title track of the new record. Fans can also expect to see Keaton back on tour throughout the US, performing both solo acoustic and with his full band at a venue near you. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this inspiring artist for a quick Q&A to learn more about the creation of his powerful new album, songwriting process, influences and much more!
What are your first memories of music in your life?
My first memories are of hearing my mom sing and play Joni Mitchell’s songs on the piano.
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as an artist?
The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters.
What made you pursue music as a career instead of going a different route?
Just sheer passion. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to play and make music for the rest of my life.
Your latest album is titled “Beautiful Pain”. How did you arrive at this title and what does it mean to you personally?
“Beautiful Pain” is the feeling of being so overwhelmed by beauty and/or love that it hurts. It’s something that I’ve experienced all of my life, and only now figured out how to put it into words.
What can you tell us about the writing process for this album and your songwriting process in general?
When I write songs I’m wide open. I love writing alone, with other people. Had the opportunity to do some great co-writes on this album including “Is There Any Other Way” with Jason Mraz and “Gonna Shine Brighter” with Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket). Every time I write a song I let out a sign of relief because it feels like a small miracle.
Are you an artist who is always writing? If so, what do you find inspiring you these days?
I’m always thinking about writing new songs and messing around with ideas in my head. I have a song on “Beautiful Pain,” which my dear friend Tyler Hilton is singing with me, called “Inspiration.” The lyrics are, “If you want to find inspiration, let it find you…” I try to just leave myself wide open and let it enter me.
For the album, you worked with producer Mikal Blue. How did you two originally cross paths and what did he bring to the table for this project and bring out of you as an artist?
After being aware of each other for years, Mikal Blue and I were formally introduced by Angelique Sheppard and David Garner of GreenRoots Productions. Mikal brought a tremendous musicality and sensibility to the project, as well as a gorgeous recording studio in Thousand Oaks, CA. He and I are both huge Beatles fans, and became close friends immediately. He hooked me up with some great writers like Shari Short, who I co-wrote “Hearts Don’t Break Themselves” with, as well as Josh Zegan, co-writer for “Thrill Of It All.”
You have some impressive cowries on this album with the likes of Jason Mraz, Jason Reeves and Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket). Can you tell us a little about the creation of those songs?
A few years ago I was invited by my friends, the band Hanson, to a writing retreat that they host called Fools Banquet. There were a ton of great artists and writers there including Jason Mraz who I co-wrote “Is There Any Other Way” with on the album. One night Jason and I found ourselves awake at 4AM, wanting to write a song that tackled the concept of feeling alone. We asked ourselves, “How do you feel about yourself when you’re not concerned about other people’s opinions of you?” That kind of lead to a larger concept and the song very naturally flowed out as a true collaboration. We’ve been friends ever since.
As an artist, what was the biggest challenge you encountered during the making of “Beautiful Pain”?
The biggest challenge was choosing which songs to cut from the album; a good problem to have, but difficult nonetheless. The good news is, they’ll find a home really soon!
What is the biggest thing you have you learned about yourself while putting the album together?
Recording this album allowed me to rediscover my love and passion for all different instruments, and give me a boost of confidence to play them. With the exception of the drums, which are played masterfully by the amazing Robin DiMaggio, as well as some other special guests like Alex Al on bass and Zac Rae on keys, I played everything on “Beautiful Pain.”
You have also worked as a writer, musical director, singer, bassist and guitarist with such notable acts as Gnarls Barkley, Snoop Dogg, Josh Kelley and Tre Hardson (The Pharcyde.) What jumps out at you as the most memorable experience working with talented artists such as these?
One of the most memorable experiences of my life was dressing up as a scarecrow and performing with Gnarls Barkley at Coachella. Working with Cee Lo Green and everyone else in that band was incredible and awe-inspiring.
As an artist based out of Los Angeles. What is the current state of the music scene there? Anything you see that you find inspiring?
I think the state of the music scene in LA is fantastic, and I find a lot of things inspiring. There are a few venues in particular, Hotel Café in Hollywood and Witzend in Venice, that are fostering a scene for up and coming artists. They’re doing an extraordinary job supporting and fostering talent.
As everyone does, you have surely had your share of ups and downs along the way. Looking back on your body of work so far, what do you consider your biggest milestone to date?
Starting my own record label, Best Revenge Records, and releasing this new album on it is a pretty huge milestone for me, both personally and professionally. Everything I’m doing right now is a true culmination of everything that brought me here; I’m able to apply elements of all that I’ve learned over the years, including the ups and downs of past major label deals.
How do you feel you have evolved as an artist since you first started out?
I always say that if I’m not better today than I was yesterday, then I’m doing something wrong. My goal is to continuously evolve in everyway for the rest of my life!
What do you hope that people come away with after seeing your live show?
I hope that people feel inspired, connected, enlivened, loved and hungry for more.
When might we expect to see you on the road in support of the album?
As soon as possible! I have some dates coming up, including April 6th at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles, April 11th in Denver at The Soiled Dove Underground, and June 6-8th in Outer Banks, North Carolina at Pat McGee’s Down The Hatch festival.
It seems like almost everybody has one. Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap Moment” on stage where something totally unexpected has happened?
I was in Seattle a few years ago playing Hemp Fest. This one guy jumped up on the stage while I was playing and completely passed out. The security guards, who I’m assuming were stoned at the time, didn’t even notice, so in the middle of my song with one hand on the guitar, I went over to check his vitals. He was all good!
You have opened and worked with for some huge names in the industry. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you along the way that you can pass along to artists looking to to someone who wants to pursue a career in music?
The entire conversation is too much to include here, but to paraphrase, Joni Mitchell once said to me to keep it real and everything will be cool. I definitely take that to heart.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Keaton Simons? Both long term and short?
The future for Keaton Simons is full of music. Writing music, performing, traveling the world, performing, meeting and connecting with people along the way, learning and exploring!
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
I appreciate you guys more and more every day. I hope to see you soon!
Keaton will be performing a very special free show at Universal City Walk on April 6th.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.