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Jon Keller on Deception -or…
…Nashville or Bust!
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
If you were lucky enough to see Greg Locke’s recent documentary Holler and the Moan, you may remember Jon Keller as guy who intermittently made everyone laugh hysterically, and then instantly grow entranced as soon as he started playing his guitar. Often known as the guy who plays alongside such notable local songwriters as Lee Miles, Josh Hall and Mark Hutchins, Keller proved last year that he could hold his own, when he released his first album, the excellent Down in a Mirror. He’s got a new album coming out at the end of the month, titled Deceiver, and will be have a release party for it on Aug. 26th at The Brass Rail. This will be a bittersweet celebration, however, because on the heels of releasing Deceiver, Keller will be moving to Nashville with his wife Amy, where he hopes to make a living playing music.
For Keller, the decision to leave seems to have happened gradually over the last year or so, as the he came to the conclusion that moving would be necessary if he’s to make any real headway in the music business. “I had taken a semester off of college to get married, and my wife suggested I take another one off to concentrate on music, and then we decided to move to Nashville with the goal that I can hopefully make enough of a living playing music that I don’t have to have another job, but that’s really hard, and it’s super hard in Fort Wayne, almost impossible. So we figured we might as well do it now, while we’re young and don’t have kids.”
In regards to the new album, Deceiver is one of those indie-rock efforts that defies any concrete categorization. It’s singer/songwriter, and there are acoustic guitars, but it’ll never be in danger of getting confused with a Fleet Foxes record. Part Elliot Smith, part Robbie Robertson, part M. Ward, Deceiver moves from songs that are made up of only Keller and his guitar (“A Bottle Tonight”) to songs with elements of calypso (“Coaxed”), to songs that sound like they could’ve been included on After the Gold Rush (“The First Thing”). It’s a first-rate effort, and one worthy of devoting an hour or two to in a recliner.
The title Deceiver seems to work thematically on multiple levels for Keller. The album opens up with the title-track, and often comes back lyrically to the idea of deception. “I think the majority of [the lyrics] come from growing up, and trying to figure out who you are, and then finding that out, and realizing that you’re not that cool, and you lie about stuff, and you just don’t feel like a good person. So I think it has to do with deceiving yourself, putting on fronts, and just not being the person you thought you were.”
This idea also comes up with Keller as he is in life. As I said before, if you saw him in Holler and the Moan, or if you know him personally, you know that Jon Keller is one of the funniest people in the local music scene. Personally, I’ll never forget the Halloween when he was dressed up as Beyonce, and ran around all night telling everyone to “put a ring on it.” Rumor has it that there is also a video circulating around Ft. Wayne’s seedy underbelly of Keller wearing only a cape, a gas mask, his boxers, and wielding a sword while running around the Lakeside neighborhood (and by “seedy underbelly,” I mean a friend’s facebook). Now, this is relevant because these images of Jon Keller the guy stand in such stark contrast to Jon Keller the songwriter. Make no mistake; Deceiver is a hauntingly beautiful album full of melancholy, despair, and inner-turmoil.
“For the most part I am a really happy person, but you know, everybody has stuff that happens to them that really sucks, and drama and whatnot. And so a lot of times when I write music, the songs come out from those small parts. The bad things that happen that get you depressed.” For Keller, it’s this focus on the melancholy in his music that helps keep him upbeat in life. “It’s definitely a way for me to get what I’m feeling out of my system, so I don’t have to take it out on people.”
On a final note — if you enjoyed Keller in Holler and the Moan, then you be pleased to hear that he has also been spending a lot of time lately as a subject in another documentary in the making. Local film maker Greg Locke is currently hip deep in his new project--documenting Fort Wayne’s local music scene, and Keller is one of his main subjects. “It has been motivating. I feel like I’m not that great on camera, but I just try to be myself and be as honest as possible. I don’t know; we’ll see how it turns out. I’m nervous.”
Jon Keller’s release party/going away show will be at The Brass Rail on Friday, August 26 at 9:00pm with special guests Wooden Satellites and Lee Miles & the Illegitimate Sons. Keller also performs as part of the line-up of “Dessert” after the Taste of the Arts festival on Saturday, August 27. Visit Keller’s Bandcamp page at jonkeller.bandcamp.com.