Kathy Keller - interview,
I first came across Kathy and her label Friendly Folk Records some years ago when I first heard the wonderful Greenrose Faire. Given that she is starting a new venture, now seemed to be an opportune time to have a catch-up and ask some questions.
Kev Rowland: Who, what and when is Kathy Keller?
Kathy Keller: Wow, you don’t start easy do you? (haha) Well, my name is Kathy Jo, not Kathleen nor Katherine, just Kathy Jo. I was born and raised in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado (USA). Our sleepy little farm town had a population of less than one hundred people. When I was about ten years-old we moved to Phoenix, Arizona, which had a population of over one million folks. It was quite a culture shock for a child, to say the least. However, I think it had a huge impact on the person that I developed into. I still have a huge love for farms, nature, and animals, but I am equally comfortable hanging out in a big city. My first official career was Kindergarten teacher. After a career detour into business management and accounting, I returned to school and specialized in neuromuscular rehabilitation and stress reduction therapies. Jumping from accountant to medical massage therapist was a bit radical, but it seemed the right choice at the time, and it was a very rewarding profession helping people in pain.
One afternoon while camping in Arizona, the most wonderful man on the entire planet just happened to ride his motorcycle into my life. After a few years of a long-distance relationship, I moved to the Netherlands to join my Dutchman, now life partner, Dirk. He had two wonderful children, so I became an instant stepmom, and now a very proud grandma of four little angels. Moving to a new country and adjusting to the culture is challenging the first few years. To fill the days of missing family and friends I went back to school, finished my undergraduate studies, and wrote three novels. Did I forget to mention that I have ADHD? Having ADHD is a blessing and a curse, but it allows you to live three lifetimes at once. I have lived and worked in the Netherlands for two decades now, as a high school English teacher and coordinator of ‘International Baccalaureate English Language & Literature’ programs. Working with teenagers is a blast. I truly love my job. Since 2013, I have also been involved in the music business, which eventually took over my life on most levels. Now I only teach at the high school two days per week and the rest of my time is music, music, music. And so, this amazing journey called 'life' continues...
KR: What are your earliest music memories?
KK: The first to pop in mind are my mom singing me to sleep every night after story time, and the two of us singing together while we cleaned up the kitchen after dinner each night. Also, listening to music every Sunday on the drive to my Grandparents house. My father only listened to Country music, and by the age of six I knew the lyrics to almost every song by Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline and all the other legends. Mom on the other hand controlled the stereo at home and her station played a variety of music, and I would sing along with Dean Martin, Elvis, Top 40, and what is now called, ‘easy listening’ or ‘classic soft rock’ music. My personal music taste leaned more towards the Top 40 tunes until somewhere in my pre-teens. I went away for a weekend with a classmate to her family’s cabin. Her parents were hippies and being a part of their family dynamics for just one weekend changed my life forever. Seriously! In several ways, but especially music. They had an amazing LP collection, and in one weekend I was exposed to: Lynyrd Skynyrd, CSN&Y, Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Who, The Eagles, Peter-Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, and probably every folk protest Artist who was notable in the 60’s and 70’s. When I came home after that weekend, I told my mom I wanted to have my own record player for my upcoming birthday. Now I controlled the music at home. (haha)
KR: How did you first become interested in progressive rock and folk?
KK: Folk music has been a part of my life since the very beginning. My grandma was a first-generation Irish American. Her parents came from a town near Kilkenny, Ireland. At her house we listened to Irish jigs, traditional folk, and country music (unless grandpa was home then we had to listen to Gospel music). Every year we went to Renaissance Festivals and Scottish Highland Games that had live music with the whole Celtic folk vibe. Progressive Rock music came much later. Of course, I had heard YES, Kansas, Alan Parsons, Genesis, and Pink Floyd because they were played on the radio. I wasn’t aware of all the sub-genres at that time, so for me it was just great rock music. After I moved to the Netherlands in 2000 is when I became a real Prog Rock fan. It is my partner’s favorite genre and he introduced me to a whole new world of music: King Crimson, Procol Harum, Camel, Emerson-Lake & Palmer, Kayak and the rest. Over the years we have gone to many concerts and in addition to seeing several of the bands mentioned above, together we discovered the magic of: Antimatter, Ayreon, Gazpacho, Heylel, Kristoffer Gildenlöw, Mystery, Philhelmon, and Silhouette to name a few.
KR: How did you first get started in the music business?
KK: Totally by chance. In 2013, I assigned my students the project of an interview. I gave them one week to finish the project and nobody, I mean nobody, hit the deadline. One student asked me if I had ever done an interview and knew how much work was involved. I confessed that although I had a diploma from London School of Journalism, I had never done an interview myself. One of my students was in a band, so I took my student’s challenge and interviewed him. The entire process of interview, research, and editing took nearly four weeks. Btw, ever since this experience I have given my students eight weeks for interviews. (hahaha) Anyway, I went to see the students perform at a Battle of the Bands competition. A folk rock band was also performing that night. They did a few Irish traditional tunes that took me back to my childhood, so I ended up interviewing them as well. Before I knew it, I was interviewing every musician I encountered in both the folk scene, as well as Prog Rock. Within a few months, my interviews caught the attention of Denis Champagne at Prog Core Radio in Montreal, Canada. He asked me if I would host a show on his station. So, I created Kat’s Korner which was a radio show that had a hodgepodge of Prog and Folk music sprinkled with interviews. In 2020, Kat’s Korner went from one hour to two-hour show split into segments called, ‘Folking Around’ and ‘Pinch of Prog’. In addition to Prog Core Radio, in 2020 my show was picked up by Raven Radio (USA).
KR: When did you shift from radio to owning a music company and record label?
KK: In late 2014, I was interviewing a band and the lead singer said, ‘you should be our manager’. It planted a seed! So, I sent out an email to all the folks I had ever interviewed and asked if anyone was interested in management and promotion services. To my huge surprise, many of the artists said yes. So, on 15/May/2015, ‘My Music Matters Management Triad’ was launched. To be able to kickstart a music company with folk artists Greenrose Faire and Jyoti Verhoeff; and prog artists Silhouette, Philhelmon, Kristoffer Gildenlöw and Heylel was a much bigger start up than I could have imagined. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I would never have survived my first year in business without the consultation and moral support from: Niilo Sirola (Greenrose Faire), Henk Bol (Philhelmon), and Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Kayak, ex-Pain of Salvation). They were always in my corner and always eager to help when I needed advice, a pep talk, or just a friend to lean on. I am deeply grateful that they are still a part of my life and that we have developed a true friendship over the years, and they are still available for advice. A little side story: For my birthday in 2015, Kristoffer gave me the classic movie, Spinal Tap. He told me to watch it or I couldn’t be his manager. (haha) I swear, within the first few years of working as a manger I encountered every scenario in Spinal Tap. Including being replaced by a band member’s girlfriend…twice! After about a year, I had a pretty good idea of how to do the management and promotion on an effective level. Almost every artist wanted me to get them signed to a record label. Prog Artists were easy enough as there were many record labels for the Prog genre in Europe. However, the folk scene had few labels, and none that were taking on new talent. It seemed the best option was to start my own folk label. So, on 15/May/2017 Friendly Folk Records was born!
This became a bit of a pivotal point in my music career as starting up a folk label and getting established in the folk scene drew my attention away from the Prog world. Also, when the Prog artists signed with labels, it often meant shifting them to in house label management. By 2017, My Music Matters-MT was about 70% folk genre artists. After many long, heartfelt talks with my music gurus, Kristoffer and Henk, the logical step seemed to be to focus all my energy on the Folk scene. At the end of 2018, I changed the name of My Music Matters-Mt to Friendly Folk Promotion. Now, Friendly Folk Records is flourishing and represents artists from ten different countries, and we receive half a dozen or so demo submissions each week.
KR: What do you describe as being the philosophy of Friendly Folk Records?
KK: In a nutshell? Friendly Folk Records philosophy is to nurture a friendly, folky, family environment, by implementing business concepts of honesty, respect, fairness, and transparency. This reflects my personal philosophy, that the world would be so much better off if we all just treated each other like extended family. Our artists become fast friends. Not only with me, but also with each other. When we sign a new Artist to the label, they become part of a family collective. I happen to be the owner and founder of the label, but the Artists input is what has developed the label over the years. The Artists are truly the personification of our motto. ‘We’re friendly, we’re folk, we’re Friendly Folk!’
KR: As with many music scenes, people from the outside rarely know how to get into it, how do you suggest people approach folk and folk/rock?
KK: The most obvious first step to get into the scene is to have talent as a folk musician. When your talent has reached the level to share with the world, the next step is to research the folk scene and get established with folk festivals, radio shows, and find a trustworthy label to distribute your music. That last step takes research as well, and a bit of patience waiting for a response. With most labels, Friendly Folk Records included, all an Artist needs to do is send in a demo submission of their music. If the music is a fit with the label, then the label can help promote the Artist to the next step.
KR:Who are the artists you are currently most excited by and why?
KK: Oh, that is a tough question, as I am always excited with what all my Artist family are creating. Greenrose Faire (Finland) have been with the label since day one. They recently had a line-up change when two of their beloved members left. I’ve seen a few demos with the new line-up. The sound is awesome, but it has a new vibe. They are in studio at moment and I’m getting excited to hear their new music. I’m also excited about all the upcoming releases slated for 2020. With everyone in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many used the time for creating. Between now and end of the year we will have new music from: Drusuna Ritual-Pagan Folk (Portugal), The Midnight (Italy), Scarecrow Jack (USA), Harmony Glen, The Jolly Gents, Sassenachs, Honky Tonk Men and The Flask (Netherlands). Also, this week we signed Chris Murphy (USA) to the family who will release his new album on our label. So, lots of new music to be excited about.
KR: What’s next?
KK: Well, Kev, I am giving birth to a second independent record label called OOB Records. OOB stands for 'Out Of the Box', which I thought was a perfect name for this label, because not all musicians fit in one genre box. The idea for starting the label was inspired by receiving music submissions from folks all around this beautiful world. It felt terrible having to turn musicians away because their music didn't fit in a folk genre box. As a music lover and music journalist, I really hate genre boxing music anyway. But for a folk specific label, music should fit in one of the many folk sub-genres, right? So, what is a girl to do.... create a record label where ALL genres are welcome! Well, that is slightly exaggerated, as there will be some criteria on genres. The music needs to have elements that fall within genres where I have passion and love for the music style, as well as connections for promotion. So, I am most interested in Progressive Rock, Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Metal, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Indie, World Music, Ambient Music, and Reggae genres. Distribution, as well as promotion support will be provided by my trusted distribution associates at Dutch Music Works, who also handle all the distribution for Friendly Folk Records.
The logo was designed by Henk Bol, (Philhelmon) and we have already created social media sites, emails, and website will be ready for official launch of OOB Records on 1/August/2020. We’ve already received over a dozen demo submissions so far. Prog Rock band, Heylel (Portugal) have signed a multi-record deal with OOB Records. Having been the manager of Heylel from 2015-2018, it was a wonderful surprise to be contacted by an old friend, the amazingly talented musician, Narciso Monteiro who said OOB was perfect timing as he was just about to release a new album for Heylel. I love it when life has that Déjà vu feeling and everything comes full circle. It was really an emotional moment having to say goodbye to Heylel in 2018. So, this reunion has given me a great feeling about the future of OOB.
I can also announce that two of our Artists from Friendly Folk Records will release their ‘non-folk’ music on OOB. Within the coming months there will be an album release from The Woolverstones (Germany), and Jyoti Verhoeff is releasing an experimental album featuring guest artists, several from the Prog scene. Lots of great music to look forward too on both Friendly Folk Records and OOB Records.