Local Current Blog

Minnesota-bred musician Doug Keith recruits J Mascis, others for new album

courtesy Doug Keith

Though an established artist in New York, Doug Keith has roots that run deep in the Minnesota music scene. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, he moved to Lakeville when he was six. His late uncle Tom Keith worked for Minnesota Public Radio—best known for his sound work on A Prairie Home Companion—and Doug’s brother would bring home records by the Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

“My older brother—I don’t know how, he was, like, 14—but he was bringing home the Replacements and Hüsker Dü and Soul Asylum records. They are still very near and dear to me,” he said. “For the longest time I also collected First Ave calendars.”

Keith and his family moved to Syracuse, New York, right before he started high school, and since then he has participated in a wide range of musical projects. Recently, Keith has toured with Sharon Van Etten, playing bass, guitar, and harmonium. (He played with Van Etten in the Current’s studios in 2012.)

“I like working with people,” Keith said. “It’s always interesting…in music, when you open yourself to other people’s input, you may not understand what they’re going for, but it can really change your approach with a song.” In Van Etten’s band, he says, the players are “trying to create a greater whole. No one wants to stand out or be the most important.”

Now based in New York City, Keith has released two records under his own name: Here’s to Outliving Me (2009) and The Lucky Ones (2010). They showcase his sensitive and evocative lyrics, as well as his rumbling vocals and rock influences. The title of his new album, Pony—forthcoming February 11 from the Village Label—alludes to the blues. “I’m fascinated with ponies,” he said. “They’re just these little creatures that walk and work…and the word is used for a lot of other things in blues.”

Pony is different than past projects in many senses, and Keith says he is very excited about the album. Unlike past records, which were written for both solo and group performance, many songs in Pony require a full band. Among the performers on the album are Phil and Brad Cook—the Midwest-bred brothers from Megafaun—as well as members of Van Etten’s band. The album was recorded in one week in the mountains of North Carolina. Keith said the experience “was almost like a summer camp.”

“Pure Gold in the 70’s,” the leading single on the album, boasts a slow build driven by smooth, deep vocals and an electronic pulse that breaks around halfway through the song into a robust guitar solo by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. The song was inspired by the mid-life transitions that Keith and many of his friends are experiencing, but Keith intentionally kept the lyrics open-ended and approachable from a range of perspectives.

Next up for Keith is more touring with Van Etten, as well as more performing and collaboration in the New York area; a summertime Midwest tour is in the works.

Gabby Coll is an undergrad at St. Olaf College pursuing her B.A. in art history and Spanish. She loves Minneapolis, Twitter, and a good Cappuccino.