Duke Keats aka Connor Blundell makes the kind of music that hooks you in on the first listen. The Coventry based singer-songwriter/ producer creates dreamy psychedelia infused soundscapes that not only take influence from the world around him, but are used to create worlds of his own, through characters and musical movements. He released his Black Cat Mixtape last October , a collection of songs that draw influence from many of indie’s great, becoming instantly welcoming yet concurrently fresh and free flowing. We spoke to Connor about how he creates these transportive soundscapes, his journey as a musician so far and what’s next in store for Duke Keats.
What drew you to music and how did you get into it?
My family are big music fans. I’m sure my brother and dad influenced me the most, my brother
would let me listen to his MP3 player or CD player and I’d listen to Kings Of Leon, Jeff Buckley, Bowie and he’d have Danny Elfman’s and others soundtracks on there. My dad is a huge classical music fan, he practically has an encyclopaedic knowledge of composers and would always play and describe the complexities of music. I used to make comics and films as a kid and messed with
Plasticine models. I was always creating. Once I knew guitarists and rock music existed, I wanted to be a rock star. Seeing slash, Tom Morello, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Berry on all of my brothers CD’s and books. All these guys that looked like me. That was another thing that drew me in. The possibility that I could make music like my heroes.
How would you describe your sound?
I definitely consider my music art pop. I’m all about patterns and rhythms and layering, I like to think my sound is quite cinematic too. I like to use a lot of instruments, VST’s and organic sounds recorded through my phone. Most of the time I use them metaphorically or symbolically, I like to make the instrument become a personality or character in the songs. I remember reading a quote from Prince. If I’m right he said “record as if you’re the whole band playing live”. I try to be each person of a hypothetical band when I make music, I become different types of players. I listen to a lot of soundtracks, films scores etc. I love the idea of being able to hear multiple beats and multiple tempos within a song. I think my work is extremely layered in a maximalist way. Bigger and brighter.
Your music really does have a very layered, mysterious and tightly locked feel to it. What’s your process when it comes to producing these songs?
With Black Cat I was really interested in not planning or thinking about what I wrote too much
because I think spontaneity is where the real creative and exciting ideas appear. I’m glad you guys picked up on that, it was super intentional. I tend to use a lot of stacks, and record experimentally with layers. Ableton is my chosen DAW, I think it’s great! I like Sonic Youth and the noise rock elements. That fragmented sound, Prince, Sly and the Family Stone and electric funk sounds and the attitude, and then on the other hand, I listen to a lot of Doo Wop and soul/ jazz music with vocal harmonies and arrangements intertwined and improvisation, I always want to try and get to those levels of production especially for the sound I was trying to convey on Black Cat. I live for unconventional recording techniques and love producing in my space. I think my music matches the world I’m trying to picture for the listener musically. I’m still learning so much from self producing, so I think naturally I have a very static fragmented way of producing. It’s so exciting to make music when you haven’t been trained classically.
Where do you look for influence when creating the psychedelic soundscapes that populate your music?
Movies a lot of the time. I always want to picture a world or story within a song and use instruments to tell the story, whether it be the wind as a synth or a guitar to sound like a voice. Composers like Vangelis or Ennio Morricone who add voices, creaks, odd noises, and drones. I’m trying to tell a story and with Black Cat it felt very potent, I could feel the world and see the streets and everything and the characters. I think listening to a lot of King Crimson, Camel and Pink Floyd have really got me into the mindset that you can combine literature or written ideas to paint the sound of the music you wanna make, (like Dark Side Of The Moon for example) and also have them be unexplained to the listener for added mystery which reinforces the concept. Also, to be random and messy, but be controlled in that too. I love Sci-fi novels and films and I know for me that’s a genre that can be easily translated to music, but merging that with pop or rock or funk sensibilities is where it gets really fun.
It also reminds me a lot of Unknown Mortal Orchestra if you’ve ever heard of them?
100 PERCENT. Hunnybee! That song’s been on repeat a lot lately, I really love their sound, and creative process of so many different techniques and effects. The way Ruban changes his vocal intonations on a lot of tracks.. I love Rubens voice, damn thank you so much!
Who are some of your biggest influences?
I’d have to say Kate Bush, Portishead, Bjork, Prince, M.I.A., Vangelis, Mary Ford and Les Paul, Beach House & The Fleetwoods are probably my biggest influences.
If you could support act for any artists who would it be and why?
Portishead if they ever do return for a 4th album, one of my favourite bands of all time.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, production and sound have really pushed my thinking with my music, they’ve always been with me on good and bad times, playing with them would be a dream. Or MGMT honestly their latest album Little Dark Age, I think I could play a mean jam with Andrew and Ben!
Favourite concert you’ve been to?
I saw Warpaint at HMV Birmingham Institute supported by The Garden, it was insane. The
difference in energies was what made the gig so cool, like The Garden had everyone pumped with like 30 second speed Punk tracks and then warpaint just soothed and relaxed everyone. Also, got to meet both bands!
Favourite show you’ve played?
Central Saint Martins.
What will it be like playing that first show once shows are allowed again?
It’s gonna be a little emotional, a little nerve wracking but its gonna be so good. I honestly can’t wait to be back on stage, my band and I had been practicing for a while before the pandemic hit so we were already on the edge of seats waiting. Just such a shame whats happened globally to the music industry and a lot of people, things are changing but I’m hoping everything bounces back. Stay safe!
Any future musical plans after the new mix tape?
I’m working on my next mix tape ‘Arcadia’ . Exploring film, animation, story telling, different styles and sounds and continuing to self produce and craft my world of characters I’ve been trying to outline for years. I’m working on another project too, a short film. Which I’m splitting in to parts. I’m hoping to release that and the King Crimson inspired soundtrack this year as well.
Where would you like to be in a years time?
In a years time I wish to have recognition for my work. Thanks for the interview guys !