Melancholy and nostalgia course through the songs of keshi, who in the coming years has been known to pen heartfelt tracks that deeply resonate with his generation. Those are immense emotions he speaks of, and last Friday night, he performed in a place to match their scale: The Greek Theatre. There he stood, in the middle of the stage, serenading almost six thousand fans. For these two sold-out nights in the City of Angels, keshi chose his most contemplative songs with sustained melodies and powerful revelations.
The 28-year-old musician kicked it all off with his 2021 track, “blue.” And as the first few lines echoed throughout the venue, a hush fell over the crowd. There he poured out his captivating melodies and intimate lyrics, stepped in vulnerability and rawness. Draped in a distressed black denim jacket and matching jeans, he revelled in the crowd’s warm reception. This performance is part of keshi’s current HELL & BACK tour, which included both Europe and North America stops. After four months of touring and just three stops left, keshi will play his last show where it all began–in his hometown of Houston, Texas on April 17th.
Ahead of his performance at The Greek Theatre, we sat down with the thoughtful musician as he shared his earliest memory of performing, his favorite musicians, and his pre-show ritual (which involves exactly five shots of whiskey).
V MAGAZINE: I saw your show in New York City a couple of weeks ago, it was such a great performance.
Keshi: Thank you, and thank you for coming.
V: I had the best time. How would you describe those two nights at Radio City Music Hall?
K: It’s definitely surreal, especially after having been an opener there a little over a year ago. I feel immense pride because when I saw such huge stages on my first actual tour, it was really intimidating, especially trying to win over a crowd that wasn’t mine. I remember longing for my own chance to be on that stage. I never really got to own the fact that I played at Radio City until I did it myself for about two nights. Now I can really say that I played Radio City. It was a dream come true, honestly.
V: It was insane. Especially when everyone had their flashlight lights out, and you could see rows and rows of lights.
K: It’s the most beautiful venue you could ever have the honor of playing in. I tell everyone this, but I have so much a better view than the audience does. Nobody will know except for me and the band, but we get to look out at the audience on the second and third floors–especially when “drunk” plays and you ask everyone to turn on their lights. It gives us a chance to see everyone who came. Otherwise, there are all this haze and light refractions that are blocking my vision, which is kind of a good thing because it protects me from making weirdly intimate eye contact with one particular person throughout the show.
V: Yeah, totally. And as you’re about to gear up for your Los Angeles Greek Theatre show, how is LA different from NYC? What are you looking forward to with the LA crowd? What’s usually their vibe?
K: Both LA and New York are interesting places to play in as a musician because their turf is the most worn down. They get everyone. Everyone gets a chance to go and play. If you’re gonna play anywhere, it’s at least LA and New York. I don’t want to say that they’re spoiled, but they have heard some amazing, incredible acts, so sometimes it takes a little bit more to impress them. I’ve only ever had two nights in both cities every single time. That’s the only experience I’ve had, which is kind of sick. Based on that sample size, one show tends to be much better than the other. One of the shows is usually like, arms-crossed, a little stiff, “Let’s see what you got” kind of a vibe. And then the other show is your typical, really fanatic, enthused crowd. But at Radio City last time, both were amazing. So honestly, I’m hoping to see the same this time at the Greek Theatre, where both nights are solid. I love playing any song where I have a guitar on my neck, that’s where I feel the most at home.
V: Yeah, also aesthetically, it just looks cool.
K: Yeah, I’ve learned how to retain the audience while having a guitar.
V: I also wanted to bring up something you shared at Radio City Music Hall that I didn’t know about before. You said that before you pursued music, you were a nurse, and you would make music during your free time. Can you take us back to that time when you first fell in love with music?
K: Yeah, but we first need to breeze through the past. I’m 28 now, so I’ve been making music for 15 years of my life. I was 13 years old when I discovered the guitar and I fell in love with it. I would skip homework and play it for three, four hours after school every single day. I really wanted to go to music school, but my parents were wary of me pursuing that as a career option. So I chose something that felt safe enough and I could make it my day job. But I’ve done music my whole life. I think that’s the part where a lot of people get it wrong. When people hear that I was a nurse, they think I suddenly made a career shift. It was definitely not that.
K: I made a lot of acoustic music and listened to a lot of singer-songwriters, including Ed Sheeran, Jason Mraz, John Mayer. I love John Mayer; he’s my hero. He still is my hero. But it got to the point where the music wasn’t really working for people–it wasn’t convincing anyone. Of course, you dream of being an artist and a rock star, a professional singer, but never did it ever feel truly attainable. At the very least, I wanted to have some sort of semblance of fans that weren’t my friends and family. The acoustic stuff wasn’t convincing people. So I really struggled at trying to find the answer to what would work. I got into college, I attended the University of Texas in Austin. I started attending nursing school and, while I was there, I wanted to put the guitar down. I fell in love with R&B and I remember I was listening to Drake or Bryson Tiller. I remember thinking, “Oh, the high hats in this song are so fast and syncopated. I can’t believe someone can play that perfectly.” I didn’t know that drums were programmed. I didn’t know that you could make drums on the computer. So I learned by playing around on Garage Band. Then began an era of me making music electronically on my laptop. All throughout college, I was experimenting with being a producer, learning the ins and outs of recording.
Then we fast forward to junior year of college when I started a SoundCloud account called keshi. I didn’t want to tell any of my friends and family about it. I just wanted to earn a legitimate sort of fandom. That SoundCloud account is what snowballed and took off at the end of the day. I started working as a nurse after I graduated–I started working on oncology–and I would approach music with a very hobbyist sort of attitude. Of course, I wanted to pursue it full-time, but I was too scared. Finally, luckily things got to a point where it felt like I could leave and here we are today.
V: Here we are. Selling out The Greek Theatre.
K: Yeah, crazy. It feels like ages ago now.
V: What about your earliest memories of performing?
K: They were all bad. But that’s how it has to be. There are reasons why it felt out of place and the circumstances told you, “Oh, you should be over here. Think about why you’re not happy doing covers and think about why you should make your own music.” I had a lot of acoustic talent show sessions, talent contests and stuff like that. I flubbed a lot of those gigs and I played shows for no one. When keshi finally began to take off, I had my very first show in Houston. It was a small show but I remember we sold out. I think we sold like a hundred tickets. I was so stoked and thinking, “This is what it’s about. This is what feels right to me.”
V: Wow, that’s amazing. What venue was this?
K: The Warehouse Live in Houston, Texas. I played in a very, very small room over there.
V: Yeah, I feel like there’s nothing like a hometown show. I also wanted to talk about your tour outfits that we’ve seen on Instagram. How do you go about curating your outfits for tour? And what makes a good keshi tour outfit?
K: I can’t take all the credit for this. I have an amazing stylist on my team. She and I met by chance, and we just got along so well together.
But if I’d had to answer, I’d say to make a good outfit you would need a solid top. Something underneath that I can still hide the goods when I need to take off the jacket. I’ve been playing the guitar a lot more so I can’t always have something super bulky on. Then, a nice pair of boots. Even though those are typically highly uncomfortable. But it’s for the fit!
V: You have to do it for the fit [laughs]. Do you have a pre-show ritual? Something that gets you in the head space before you’re about to perform?
K: Yeah, I do. Typically 30 minutes before I go on, I start boiling some water to make myself a cup of throat coat, which is a tea with slippery elm. It’s an herb that literally coats the throat, in case I need some extra lubrication. Then four shots of whiskey and 10 minutes of vocal warmups. That’s honestly it.
V: In that order?
K: Yes, in that order. I’ll make myself two more shots before I go on stage and I’ll take those shots on stage with me. I know that if I pour myself anymore, I get sloppy. There’s a threshold of “sloppy good” and then “sloppy bad” So, keeping it at the five to six shot maximum is a good key.
V: You’ve got it down to a science.
K: That’s important. It’s all physiology at the end of the day.
V: And finally, after learning your journey in music and how it wasn’t conventional. What advice would you give people who are looking to pursue music but may have a day job?
K: I’m always very cautious about when I answer these kinds of questions because everyone’s situation is different. You definitely don’t want to be irresponsible with things like that. I finished school and I went and got the job, you know? I think a lot of people romanticize dropping everything and moving to this City of Angels as if the place really matters that much. Of course, it can help, but I guess what I would honestly say is that it doesn’t always have to be all or nothing. I think that gets romanticized a lot. You can have balance if you want it bad enough and use one thing to support another. That’s how I did it. I waited very, very long to believe that it was possible for me.
V: Yeah, it’s all a balance and at the end of the day you need to make smart choices for yourself. Is there anything else that you want to share with us?
K: To new fans and all, thank you so much for listening. I hope to see you at the show and I hope that everyone’s excited for new music because I’m about to hit the studio very hard when I’m off the road.