SOUND OFF: keshi
Jul 31, 2020
Casey Luong, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter by the name of keshi, is one of the many bedroom-produced artists to adapt a career from the humble beginnings of GarageBand. Recently named a One to Watch Artist of 2020, keshi resists conforming to any single genre, crossing the sounds of lo-fi hip-hop, jazz styles, and R&B. His hauntingly stunning vocals layered with multifaceted beats is a tranquil mix designed to intoxicate any listener.
Before music, Casey worked as a registered nurse until he gained enough traction to quit his day job officially. The following week after his resignation, the Houston-native jetted off to New York City to sign a deal with Island Records.
Rightfully so, keshi has garnered three million monthly listeners on Spotify, amassing a loyal fanbase on various social media platforms, which additionally led to performing sold-out shows on his first-ever tour.
In today’s Sound Off, keshi discusses his latest releases, overcoming challenges throughout his journey, and his greatest musical influence, John Mayer.
1. For starters, what has life in quarantine been like for you? Has being at home incited more creativity, or do you find it difficult to focus on musical endeavors?
Honestly, probably a lot like everyone else’s quarantine life, kinda feels like I haven’t left my home to do anything fun in like straight up a year. I really missed going to the gym, but I’ve recently amassed a small assortment of equipment so that part of the void is filled. In regards to creativity, I have the luxury of having my ‘full-experience-workspace’ studio already at my home, unlike many of my friends who’ve been on a makeshift sort of office set up in their living rooms for the past few months. The stillness of the routine is kind of stifling, I’ll admit, but I’m very excited about what I’ve made recently. The only other thing that distracts me from my work is my group of friends who aren’t usually online until the evening are now down to play games during the day, under the guise of doing work.
2. Many artists have been delaying albums and shelving singles for fear their music won’t be successful during the pandemic. Yet, you just recently released an astounding new single, ‘more.’ Did you have any initial hesitations about releasing new music during this time?
On the contrary, I’m a bit afraid of being gone for too long. It makes me antsy a little bit. But to answer your question, the release was a conscious decision we made after coming to the conclusion that we felt people needed music now more than ever.
3. Your “genre” is often labeled “lo-fi hip-hop,” but we want to hear it from you, how do you define your music?
I’d like to think that I cross over a couple of different genres. Of course, I do have songs that fall under that category, and I can’t deny it’s influence on my growth as an artist. It’s especially apparent in my earlier material, in songs like “over u” and “magnolia.” But I couldn’t really say that songs like “more,” “less of you,” or “2 soon” fit into the same sphere of lofi as jinsang or tomppabeats. I think of myself more in the alternative-pop space. It’s a bit broad, but that’s the point. I’d prefer not to be expected to fit inside any particular sound. I have certain tendencies that I enjoy putting on display, but I strive to do it in a different manner as much as I can each time. It could be anything from r&b to folk.
4. You’re originally from Houston, Texas. Growing up here, how did your hometown or surroundings influence your musical upbringing?
I wouldn’t say it had much of an influence at all, actually. I occasionally listened to pop radio when my parents took us on drives, but that’s about the extent of the effects of the locality of it, and I think “pop” is a pretty universal station no matter where you are. Music I listened to was pretty much whatever I determined it to be. That’s the beauty of growing up in the age of the internet (and its then algorithms). It’s regionalized in the sense that I never strayed too far from what appealed to an American listener. Still, other than that, it felt like there was a universe of music at my fingertips, from acoustic folk to hip-hop/r&b. I listened to J-pop and K-pop every once in a while, too.
5. We have to ask since you’re from Texas. What’s your go-to Whataburger order?
6. Okay, back to music. Do you recall a specific pivotal moment in your life that made you realize music was your true calling?
I always felt out of place in everything I did unless it was music. It just didn’t really realize it until I’d been working at the hospital for about a year (I was a registered nurse working on an oncology unit). I remember keshi started to snowball traction a little bit, and I was working on the REAPER EP. I was in my bedroom at my parents’ place on my laptop, mixing and thinking, “damn, I’m good at this. I’m not good at anything else. Why the hell aren’t I doing something that I’m good at?”. During a particularly awful day at the job, before which I had just returned from New York to have the introductory meetings of my dreams, I had a breakdown. I couldn’t handle having two separate lives, three days working on the floor, and four days working on keshi. After a year and a half working, I decided I had to take a leap of faith. The next day I handed in my resignation, and there was a catharsis. A whole year later, here we are. I don’t know how to else to describe it other than I finally feel at peace with where I’m at. I don’t have that dissonance anymore.
7. What challenges have you had to overcome since traveling down the music path? Did it affect you and your writing in any way?
For the most part, it’s the job of my dreams. There are definitely times when it feels like work, but I’m always grateful for it because I remember how unhappy I was when I was doing something else. I think that my biggest challenge is to outgrow myself with each project, and it’s something I have to face each time I walk into the studio. I think that my expectations are simultaneously what pushes me forward and hold me back.
8. Last year you signed a record deal with Island Records. Huge congrats! What’s the most significant difference between releasing music under a record label versus releasing as an independent artist through SoundCloud?
Thank you! I am so happy to be among such amazing company and to have a family that is genuinely excited and supportive of the art I want to make. There’s really no difference in terms of the creative since that has always been a solo sort of domain. It’s just that now, there’s now a lot of support and planning in the process now to make any of my visions a reality. There are just fewer barriers than there were.
9. How do you think the DIY music movement has changed the industry and how self-taught producers like yourself get discovered?
Making music will only be more accessible as time moves on, whether it’s studio-grade or not. With all the knowledge available on the internet now, there’s no barrier to entry besides a laptop. Producers can just trade stems via dropbox link. Beats are uploaded on youtube and SoundCloud for artists to write on. If the song is good, it’ll end up getting traction one way or another.
10. We learned John Mayer is your hero and a prominent influence in your music pursuit. What song of his do you wish you had written?
I can’t even bring myself to say that I wish I had written any of his songs, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But my favorite song of his is “Edge of Desire”, it’s so beautiful.
11. How has your creative process changed from the beginning of your career to now?
The overall process remains the same, but I try different tricks here and there (arrangement-wise) just to see what sounds good. I feel like my ear can pick things apart more efficiently than it used to, and probably in a couple of years from now, I’ll be able to notice things I wasn’t able to today. I’ve also definitely gotten better at navigating the DAW than I was before.
12. Do you have any hobbies outside of music that provokes your creativity?
I love playing video games and anime, but the real cherry on top is when the soundtrack to either of these things moves me to want to make music that evokes the same feeling it gave me. NIER: AUTOMATA has a phenomenal soundtrack, highly recommend.
13. What do you want listeners to take away from your music?
I’ve only ever wanted to make music that moves people but is listenable at the same time. I love writing lyrics that are bittersweet, and if it resonates with you, then I’m happy. It means I did a good job of being honest because you could relate to it.
14. How do you envision yourself five years from now?
Probably not much different than how I am now. A more complete home studio setup. Living with my (now) fiancé (wife to be). 30-years-old, so kids soon? I would love to have toured the world. I hope I can have an RIAA plaque by then.