Tommy Keene Two Decades and Still Going

tommy-keenecropvtFor nearly three decades, Tommy Keene has been quietly churning out power pop, jangly guitar masterpieces, while everyone from R.E.M. to Matthew Sweet managed to snag all of the glory.

Though he spent most of the 90s as a freelance guitarist – for former Replacements front man Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush – he has releasedIn the Late Bright, 11 songs of brilliant pop/rock that rival anything he’s done before.

Keene, who has also been a constant collaborator with Guided By Voice’s Bob Pollard, spoke with Innocent Words about the new record, working with Pollard and why power pop is not having resurgence, despite what you may have been told.

Innocent Words: What can you tell me about the new record – what can people expect?

Tommy Keene: As with any Tommy Keene record, most importantly – good songs! There’s a certain amount of craftsmanship that, despite varying trends in the music business or tastes in general, is something I would hope people can count on. I’m basically making records these days for myself, and believe me, I am the harshest critic!

IW: Any songs on In the Late Bright you are particularly proud of?

Keene: One especially: “Elevated.” It’s an instrumental, a very atmospheric guitar fest! I started off with the intention of doing a whole album in this mode, but the inevitable pop/rock songs just kept coming. People have been saying it’s a welcome departure from me, which I like. I’m a guitar-playing singer/songwriter first and foremost, and a lot of people in this genre don’t especially come from that school.

IW: You’ve been recording and touring for more than two decades now. How has the music business changed in that time?

Keene: Besides obvious answers, or whatever the state of the music biz is in, you still have to have a gimmick or one fantastic song to rule the earth! Besides that, absolutely nothing has changed.

IW: Have your musical influences changed much from your first records to the newer ones?

Keene: Not really. I tend to like what I like – be it brand new or 40 years old. I have a set basis of classic – in the best sense of the term – rock that is a blueprint from which I draw. The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, Dylan, etc. No matter what the current trend is, you can’t go wrong with that template.

IW: Do you think power pop is finally getting the recognition the genre deserves?

Keene: No, not at all. I’m appalled when I browse on MySpace, and people call themselves power pop. Which these days is any band with loud guitars and semi-melodic hooks in that tired soft/loud format invented by The Pixies and done to death by Nirvana and all their imitators.

IW: Are you still recording and touring with Robert Pollard? How did the two of you first meet?

Keene: I played guitar on his last tour behind The Boston Spaceships’ debut LP Brown Submarine. Recently I did a little guitar part on a song from their forthcoming third album 0 to 99, out this fall. A mutual writer/friend hooked us up, which led to me opening some GBV shows in ’03/’04, to my playing guitar with him live in ’06 and ’08, and us doing the collaboration recordKeene Brothers-Blues And Boogie Shoes.

IW: Do you have plans to re-release any of your earlier albums?

Keene: Actually, we are talking about a best of Tommy Keene two discs, which will hopefully come out this fall, covering 1982-2009.

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