Better Know an Artist (Vol 15): Keegan McInroe

Keegan McInroe is a local Americana artist whose name I’ve heard buzzing around for years around these parts. His latest album, Uncouth Pilgrims, is drawing some critical praise and generating some nice buzz in the area, as it shows off his intricate and detailed songwriting skills. I reached out to Keegan to do the thing, and he said yes, so here we are.

Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?

KM: I first got a guitar for my 17th birthday, so I was kind of late to the music thing. I’d written poetry before, so songwriting came natural enough. After high school and high school football, music became my outlet in college. I’d sneak off at parties and play in rooms where I’d find guitars and people would come in and listen. Enough drunk college friends told me I should be playing in a bar, so eventually I did.

It became a more feasible reality to me when I was studying my senior year in London (through the TCU London Center). I started playing this open mic night down the street from the student housing I was in, and the enthusiasm and compliments coming from total strangers from various places around the world kind of gave me the confidence that perhaps I could make a living playing music.

After I graduated, I was waiting tables when I left on a five week tour of the west coast with my former band, Catfish Whiskey. I had to quit my job before I left, so when I got back, I just decided I’d see if I couldn’t make a living playing music. That will be ten years ago in May. I’ve been eking out a living from my music ever since.

Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

KM: Texas Folk Blues is a typical response. Americana is another.

Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?

KM: The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty album was the album that made me want to play music myself. Ben Harper and Jim Croce were both early influences, then Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and Willie Nelson, particularly from a songwriting stand point, became major influences. Mississippi John Hurt and Townes Van Zandt are the two biggest influences on the finger-style playing I often employ these days in my solo stuff.

Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?

KM: “Mozelle,” which is the title track from my first solo album.

The day my grandmother Mozelle died, I was living in Fort Worth. I got the news on a Wednesday morning, hopped in the car and headed to Levelland, TX, where she and my grandfather lived, just 30 miles west of where I grew up in Lubbock. Between that evening and the morning of her funeral, I wrote “Mozelle.”

The song is told from the perspective of my grandfather reflecting back on their life together after their death. It is essentially the song and event that kicked off my solo career. It also meant a great deal to my grandfather and my mother, which, of course, makes it that much more meaningful to me.

But I don’t play it anymore. The last time I played it was at my grandfather’s funeral in 2010.

Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

KM: Good question…ah, it’s a toss up between Willie Nelson and Tom Waits — but if I had to choose, it’d probably be Willie. I know we have some extracurricular activities in common that I can imagine would lead to great conversations. And I think it would probably be less intimidating than opening for Tom Waits. How do you open for Tom Waits?

Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?

KM: Sure. We’re blessed in Fort Worth and the area with an enormous amount of songwriting talent, so it’s hard to even begin without going on and on, but I’d say amongst my favorite locals are Vincent Neil Emerson, Kenny Uptain, Katie Robertson, Jacob Furr, Deanna Valone, Jake Robison, Jake Paleschic, Leon Bridges, Ginny Mac, Brandon Adams, Lindsay Hightower, and the Quaker City Nighthawks.

Overseas, I’d say Michele Bombatomica and the Dirty Orkestra out of Italy, Blackwell out of London, Moonshine Wagon out of Spain, and the Voltz Brothers out of Germany.

Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?

KM: Hmmm…Grateful Dead’s American Beauty or Tom Waits’ Raindogs or Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger…do I have to pick…? If I have to pick right now, probably I’d pick Raindogs, but ask me tomorrow and that very well and probably would change.

Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?

KM: I can’t speak so much to Dallas, as I’ve not really spent so much time in that scene, but my favorite thing about the Fort Worth music scene is how inclusive it is. It doesn’t always translate to inclusiveness in the press or in the venues — it sometimes does — but certainly amongst the musicians is this great camaraderie and willingness to help each other out, support each other, play on each others’ records, play together live. It’s really lovely.

My least favorite thing is a little harder, because I really love the Fort Worth music scene. If I had to critique anything, I’d go back to what I kind of alluded to in what I liked: sometimes the inclusiveness amongst the musicians doesn’t translate into inclusiveness from the press, venues and booking agents. There’s a lot of amazing talent in this town that often goes unnoticed, unrecognized, but I don’t see it as a huge problem. When you have talent bursting at the seams of your scene, it’s gonna be hard to cover everyone and everything all the time.

Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?

KM: I don’t have a favorite, per se, but one of my favorite places to play is Fred’s, the original location. I liked it better when it had dirt floors and a fire pit way back when and wasn’t as “West 7th Street”, but it’s still a great chill place to set up and just disappear for about three hours into your music. It doesn’t hurt that one is rewarded with one of the best hamburgers in town after.

Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?

KM: I kind of touched on how hard it is to narrow this down in the above question, but Deanna Valone is someone I just recently had the pleasure of meeting and getting to hear. Ginny Mac is always top notch. If you haven’t seen a Quaker City Nighthawks show, you should probably hurry up and do that. And someone I didn’t mention above that I really enjoy is Luke McGlathery, who I understand is about to put out a new record.

Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

KM: I lived in a haunted/possessed house in Lubbock, TX from the age of four to the age of 11. Not sure how fun that was or is…but that’s the first thing that popped into my head, so there ya go.

A big shout out to Keegan McInroe for sitting down with us. Be sure to check out the new album, Uncouth Pilgrims below and catch the album release party at Lola’s on Feb 13. He’s also currently on residency at Fred’s (his favorite venue up there) with Jacob Furr and Stefan Prigmore on Wednesday nights this month, so you’ll have plenty of oppurtunities to go get some Keegan in your ears. Catch you next time, and keep supporting local music.

photo credit: Jeremy Hallock, Dallas Observer

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