Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog

Quiet on the set: An interview with Aaron Keim

Newsrooms can be noisy places. And for somebody like me, who has been to too many rock and roll shows, well, the ears don’t hear like they used to.

The phone is the worst for my hearing, especially when it’s noisy in the newsroom. And a prime example of what I’m talking about landed in my music column the other week. Did you happen to see it?

I was on the phone with a gentleman who wanted to put his band in the paper. So I asked him the band name, and he said “Speedqueen Underground.”

But what my ears heard, for some reason, possibly due to the noise in the newsroom, or possibly due to the condition of my ears, was “Stevequeen Underground.”

So, guess which band name made it into the paper?

Yup. The wrong one.

What makes this incident worse for me, was for several hours after that phone call, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was thinking about Steve McQueen and why he would be in a rock band. It never occurred to me to double check what I thought I heard.

So, I’ll do a shout-out to the Underground, please accept my apologies, and next time, I promise to double check the band names. Especially if the newsroom is noisy. and I’ll double check even if the band is noisy, too.

Let’s talk about less noisy things. Aaron Keim and his wife, Nicole, are a folk duo known as The Quiet American. And “quiet” is a nice word that I can relate to. Aaron was kind enough to send me a copy of their new CD, “Wild Bill Jones.” The songs on this record harken back to a time of pioneers and outlaws — when music was created to tell stories and perpetuate ideas into what we call folk-legends today.

With 15-songs that feature a bevy of modern and vintage instruments, Aaron and Nicole are reminding us that this kind of music was created on the back porch — and was enjoyed by anyone who happened by. These songs focus on the old story of an “ill-fated love triangle,” and in some cases, the duo have added their own lyrics to the traditional tunes — and that’s exactly how folk music is supposed to work. The next generation always has something to add.

If you’re a fan of the old-time country duets, harmony singing, fiddle tunes or even jug-band music, don’t miss this upcoming opportunity to hear these old melodies presented in today’s format. I have a feeling the songs will be just as revalent today as they were back then.

The Quiet American will be having a CD release concert for “Wild Bill Jones” on Sunday, Jan. 27, at Everybody's Brewing in White Salmon, Wash., starting at 6 p.m.

Interview with Aaron Keim

What drew you into performing folk music? Nicole, my wife, and I were trained in classical and jazz in college as we studied to be music teachers. We are kind of late bloomers when it comes to folk music, but it is our focus now. We enjoy the intimate connection with the past that these songs provide, the stories are great and it's simple structures allow us to dig deep and be creative.

You travel extensively to different music festivals. How is that fitting in with your new job at Mya-Moe Ukulele here in the Gorge? They really support each other. At many music festivals, people get to know me as a performer and teacher first. When they find out that I also build instruments, they often show me even deeper respect. It is good exposure for Mya-Moe for me to travel and play concerts because people get to hear them live and see them up close. It's a great balance for me personally to get to do both things and I know that having a seasoned musician on staff for Mya-Moe is good for business.

“Wild Bill Jones” is your third CD. What story is being told here, and how do the other songs help tell, or expand this folk tale?

The song Wild Bill Jones is about two men who fall in love with the same woman. One of them shoots the other and then the shooter hangs. We took this tragic story and told it from each of their perspectives. Some are traditional songs like "Gallows Pole" which is about the shooter's family abandoning him on the gallows. "Posy's Song" is an original that discusses the women's relationship with the two men in detail. "Come Walking With Me" is Bill's attempt at seduction.

You’ve been living in Hood River a relatively short time, but it looks like you’ve already enlisted some local help for the album. What brought you to Hood River and who contributed? I first came here when I was touring here with my old band (The Boulder Acoustic Society). We got to know lots of local musicians through the ukulele festival, summer concerts in the park and playing at The Pines. For this CD, we recorded in Portland, but Ronnie Ontiveros played bass on the record and we did the photo shoot at Ben Bonham's property.

You’ve got a show coming up later this month in White Salmon. What can we expect, and what’s the process for you to take these songs from the studio to the stage? The live show will be a little more energetic and upbeat than the CD. In recording, we get to explore a spectrum of tempo and energy, but live has to be a little more fun. In addition to Nicole and I, we will have Ronnie on bass, and Char Mayer will sit in on vocals. We will sing most of the songs from the record as well as other banjo tunes, gospel, folk and jug band songs.

You play at least eight instruments on the CD. Do you prefer vintage gear or new? I like both. I built most of my banjos and ukuleles, but my upright bass and tenor guitars are from the 1930s. I just love old instruments, especially ones that seem to have a personality! The new ones are more dependable and easier to play, however.

Where did the term ‘Quiet American’ come from? It seems more like a philosophy than a type of music.I just plucked it out of the air. I found out later that it is the name of a novel and a movie.

And finally, how many decibels are going to be required to hear The Quiet American from the stage at Everybody’s? It may be The Quiet American, but we plan on making some noise!



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