Something happened in the intervening years since you last heard Young Love. Sure, Dan Keyes is still masterminding music that sets dance floors ablaze, but since the release of 2007’s excellent Too Young To Fight It, there’s been a shift, a subtle but assured transmogrification in Keyes that manifests itself in each carefully chosen chord, each deliberately delivered lyric. “It’s different,” Keyes says. “It’s older. As a songwriter I’ve matured. I have a more focused, clear idea of what I want to do musically and lyrically.” From the sound of One of Us, what Keyes wanted musically and lyrically was a record that is at once energetic and contemplative, moving audiences seamlessly from a dancefloor packed with strangers to a room filled with friends.
That Keyes writes such emotionally adept music comes as no surprise. Keyes has been writing songs since the age of 11, and has been immersed in making music since he started his first band in Texas while in high school, the hard-edged indie pop outfit Recover (2001-2004) that signed with Fueled By Ramen. After Recover went on hiatus in 2005, Keyes struck out on his own. Keyes has packed a lifetime of experience into his adult years: he’s lived on both coasts and a few spots in between.
During a birthday party, a New York friend of Keyes made the musician an offer he couldn’t refuse. “He said, “I have a room free up here. Be here in a week and a half.” And I had always wanted to move to New York, even as a kid.” Keyes said. So with little little more than a suitcase and a few demos, Keyes was off to New York to perform all over the lower east side with local backing musicians. And when not performing, he was still working at a local restaurant.
At the end of 2005, Island Records signed Keyes and by summer 2006, Keyes and his band were performing with and opening shows for Stolen Transmission (Annex in NY) and for Head Automatica. Soon after, a video of Keyes performing the song “We want Drugs” (acoustic) was released on YouTube.
Upon returning from touring behind Too Young To Fight It, however, Keyes was met with the more challenging issues of adulthood. The social circles Keyes documented on that album had been altered immutably. “There’s lots of heavy things that have gone on over the past couple of years,” Keyes says. “It’s heavy times. Friends getting married, friends having kids, friends passing away.”
Two short promotional videos were released for the single “Discotech” shortly thereafter, as well as a full video featuring live footage being released . It wasn’t long before Young Love (extended play) hit Itunes! Young love played a few shows with British MC Lady Sovereign, New York and Houston being most known.
About Discotech: “That was written a couple of years ago,” admits Keyes. “I had just turned 21, and I was going out to bars and clubs, and realizing how much fun it is. Actually, a lot of these songs are just about nightlife, and the other half are about love. It all sounds really positive, even if you really listen to the lyrics and see that it?s not always the case.”
Though the experiences that inspired Keyes to write much of One of Us are specific, the emotions he conveys are universal. Even the album’s title is meant to construct a sense of community. “It’s something I say all the time, when I’m describing somebody. When we play live, or when I’m working with another artist or writing songs for someone else or doing an interview, I like for everyone to feel like they’re a part of it. We’re all on the inside.”
Along with Keyes’ newfound perspective, audiences will also hear an expansion of Young Love’s sound, given Keyes instrumental experimentation. Having composed many of his songs on the acoustic guitar over the past several years, Keyes started writing on several different instruments, chief of which was the bass. “For the first half of the record, I wanted it to be groove-influenced, and if you want a song to be groove-influenced, you should probably start with the bass.” Written largely on the back of a tour bus, Keyes and company headed to the Los Angeles studio of John King of the Dust Brothers (Beck, Steve Earle, The Rolling Stones), an experience Keyes, who was born in LA, describes as amazing.
In early January 2007, Billboard listed Young Love as one of “2007’s Best Bets” for the year, and described their album as “…the kind of pop that we’ve been missing: melodic, catchy, smart and as young and in love-with the ubiquitous ‘she’-as Romeo…”. On January 3, 2007, MTV premiered the video for the band’s newest single, “Find A New Way”. In addition, the single was to serve as the theme song for the network’s new Jennifer Lopez-produced reality series, DanceLife, which premiered January 15, 2007.
January 30, 2007 was the official release of Young Love’s full-length debut, Too Young to Fight It. The album includes both “Discotech” and “Tragedy” along with nine more original songs. In February, the band will start a tour, playing shows with several different acts including Foreign Islands, Morors Eros, and Federalist.
Most people don’t know but Discotech hit a vein with none other than Jay-Z, who flew Keyes out to visit and talk about music. Sitting on top of a hotel roof, with Beyonce laying near the pool, the two talked songs and music passion.
Along with former Recover producer and constant Keyes collaborator Rory Phillips, Keyes set to work creating the binary aspects of the album, from the light-hearted, beat-heavy tracks to the deeper, darker ballads. “It’s kind of like Side A and Side B,” Keyes says of the emotional terrain covered on the record. “The first half is groove-oriented, and the second half takes a slightly darker, more rock path.”
Indeed, album opener “Unafraid,” an anthemic tune about embracing the uncertain is flecked with spangling, U2 guitars, a driving beat, and infectious handclaps. “It could be about success â€“ [but] that’s not what it’s about. It can be about anything in life where you have to overcome that fear. Once you do the world opens up.” “Black Boots,” matches thick synths with squalling guitars, the perfect marriage of what Young Love does best, complete with a message of hope and harmony. That same spirit of community is captured on “Turn It Up,” which paints a picture of driving around with friends so viscerally you can almost hear someone call Shotgun. “Down On Me” signals the start of the album’s darker side, while the brooding “Can You Hear Me” is written from the perspective of a schizophrenic individual, frustrated with his inability to communicate his thoughts.
After the escapist tales and seedy fantasies of Too Young To Fight It, Keyes turned inward to mine his emotional life for inspiration, and has successfully blended all the expectation of a night out with the realizations of the next day. “Overall it’s a lot more positive than the last record. It’s not just about partying and having fun. The last record was more of a diary. I think there’s a lot of hope and freedom and liberation on this record.”
Keyes also turned to writing for others at the encouragement of his label. he wrote songs with and for Ricky Martin, Katy Perry, and Björn Yttling from Peter Bjorn and John. The song he wrote for Ricky Martin, “Shine,” experienced moderate success overseas. The collaboration with Björn, “Last Ones Standing,” was written in 2007 and wound up being a hit single on the UK rapper/singer Example’s 2010 album Won’t Go Quietly. His collaboration with Katy Perry remains unreleased.
In late 2010, Dan began working with Fenway Recordings, an artist-management company based in Boston and New York that represents bands like MGMT, Mission of Burma, the Cribs, Saves the Day, and about a dozen other acts that they very much believe in. Dan works closely with Fenway’s New York team—Ben Matusow and Nick Palmacci—who have been helping him with writing sessions with other artists, producers, and songwriters since his sudden move to LA.
And where does Dan want to be? “I want to have a record of my own songs almost completely written,” he said. “I want to have some cuts on some big pop records. I want to have a car that doesn’t break down once a week. I want to have a place to live, so I’m not sleeping on floors and couches all across the greater Los Angeles area. I want to begin the next chapter of my life and to be successful doing what I love, which is making music. I want to pay back all my friends for taking care of me right now. And I want to get my girl back. I have a machete in my hand, I’m chopping my way through the fucking jungle, but I see it out there and I’m heading toward it. It’s the first time in a long time that I know I’m on the right track.”