Keepaway: Prefix Artist to Watch (P.A.W.)

    The members of Brooklyn’s Keepaway make music with a texture, weaving straightforward guitar melodies and intricate drumming with energetic loops and samples. The product feels very much in and of the zeitgeist, a careful integration of sounds drawn from indie rock, experimental music, pop, electronica and hip-hop. (Drummer Frank Lyon, formerly a folk-pop singer, is an aficionado of Southern rap.) But there’s nothing cut-and-paste about Keepaway’s music, which maintains a refreshing balance between the old and the new.


    Keepaway is Mike Burakoff (sampler, synth), Nicholas Nauman (guitar), and Lyon (drums, sans kick). All three lend their vocals to the mix, producing rounded, sweet choruses as well as yips, chatters and rich harmonies. There’s clearly a lot of experimentation going on; “Yellow Wings,” off the forthcoming Baby Style EP — it’s due out May 18 on Lefse Records — is a summertime banger thick with rolling snare and a touch of nostalgia, while “5 Rings” gets tripped out with buckets of reverb.


    Live, Burakoff, Lyon and Nauman share an intimate intensity (we’re talking heavy eye contact, wide grins) and are attuned to one another in a way that not only allows for improvisation but also suggests that their music is both a purely collaborative effort and a constant work in progress. Sometimes things get a little weird — a recent show at Cake Shop in New York saw Nauman getting loose, maybe even a little sensual — but that just seems to be part of Keepaway’s ethos: Keep it open and feel it out.


    Over beers and an orange at Enid’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the men of Keepaway spoke about their process, aspirations, and what it feels like to be an eighth-grade girl. Below, a slightly truncated condensed transcript.

    “Yellow Wings”


    What is your process for building a song?

    Mike Burakoff: Frank is like a crate digger, just with an MPC. Essentially our band is a conversation about how to reconcile the new way of making and composing music with the old way. We attack from a lot of different angles to find the right thing, and I hope we never stop doing that. It’s definitely becoming more comfortable to approach a song knowing we’ll have to come up with creative ways to get it done. It used to be a burden, because I don’t think any of us were totally convinced it would work, but it’s become a fun part of the composition process. It’s like solving puzzles.


    Nick Nauman: I think that all collaborative projects are just about people sharing their ideas and using the tools that they have in order to tinker and bust out something coherent. We’re no different than that.


    When you play live, how do you contend with the electronics? Is it new for you to be working with this material? How do you adjust to that?

    NN: I think that’s the primary challenge of our live show, the integration of the analog and the electronic instruments. And I think that’s the primary challenge of most interesting music being made right now. And it’s technological, too, because people don’t do electronic musicianship with a starter kit. There isn’t a built-in infrastructure of equipment to make these things sound good together.


    MB: A lot of people are doing this, not just from an indie-rock perspective. A lot of people are stabbing at this from a hip-hop direction, or from the electronica direction. We’re carving out a new template, and there’s a lot of experimenting going on. There’s a lot of skepticism, and people get pigeonholed sometimes. We’re all searching for the same thing.


    Speaking of pigeonholed: How do you feel about early comparisons to Animal Collective? Does that affect you?

    Frank Lyon: I have a thought.


    NN: We all have a lot of thoughts on this issue.


    FL: I hate the phrase “it is what it is,” but seriously, it is what it is. I wouldn’t fuck around for a minute. Animal Collective is an awesome band. It’s like being a self-conscious middle school girl in eighth grade and someone telling you, “You look just like Cindy Crawford.” I’m gonna be like, “Sweet, that makes me feel good.” The idea that a band shouldn’t sound like anything that’s ever happened before is beyond stupid. I think Animal Collective changed the game. We’re just trying to sound like us in a music environment that was deeply shaped by them.


    MB: I think all of us have much too strong egos to try to deliberately go after and copy someone.


    Where are your differences when you come together and try to make something? What are points of contention for you?

    NN: One time, Mike took my dog and pushed it down a slide.


    MB: Happened a long time ago, but OK … . There are really subtle ways that our creative personalities butt up against each other that yield results. And that happens whether we are conscious of it or not. To isolate and name those places is difficult being insiders in the process.


    FL: The odd irony is that the differences constitute the strengths. No, for real. The reason that you choose to make music with others instead of making music alone is to bring differences to the table that animate your work and bring it to another level.


    NN: I think wise men have said that difference generates meaning, and it does come from our instruments, but that’s positive. We’ll be jamming on something super hip-hoppy and I’ll be playing something more guitar-melodic on it, and that’s where our cool stuff comes from.


    Are there other people with whom you collaborate or who give you feedback?

    NN: Just us three.


    FL: Sometimes I e-mail demos to certain friends of mine and I don’t tell either of these dudes about it. Then I come back vie really hard for ideas from people who aren’t in the band.


    MB: Really?


    FL: Not really really … but a little bit.


    MB: I think for the live show it’s really important to get criticism. Sometimes I’ll ask my mom, although that gets mixed results. I remember I used to make electronic music in my bedroom, and 90 percent of the time my mom would say, “You should stick with your drawings.” An important thing is to know who to go to for advice on your material.


    NN: I don’t go to my mom. My dad is a socially conscious folk-rock musician. He likes our music, but I don’t ask him what I should do on mine.


    MB: Don’t ask your Aunt Jeanie either, she hates it.


    NN: Aunt Jeanie doesn’t like it. She said she doesn’t understand it. It’s OK, because I don’t understand her.


    FL: I don’t think anyone is the wrong person to ask.


    What’s something that I didn’t ask but should have?

    MB: How about predictions for the new year?


    FL: I’m gonna have a child.


    NN: Oh, god.


    MB: There are no limits. I deleted “limits” from the Google dictionary on my computer. I suggest you all do it for yours, because there is no such thing. This year is gonna be all about pushing boundaries, success, and making things flip in the way you want ‘em to.


    FL: What was the question? Oh yeah. Predictions for the new year was the child.


    NN: It’d be cool if you didn’t use anything from the interview, but just wrote stuff that we could have said. Fiction is reality.



    Our “Artist to Watch” column is our way of calling attention to new bands that deserve attention.