Aaron Keylock has been playing the guitar since he was 8 years old. By the time he was barely in his teens, he was already playing every night of the week. Now Aaron is 19 and he's just released his acclaimed debut album Cut Against The Grain on Mascot Records, who also boast issues from Robert Cray and Beth Hart. PG caught up with Aaron to find out more about his album and his early life jamming on the blues circuit.
PHOTOGROUPIE: (PG) YOUR DEBUT ALBUM CUT AGAINST THE GRAIN HAS BEEN A LONG TIME COMING, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FINALLY HAVE IT OUT THERE?
AARON KEYLOCK: (AK) Good. It has been a completely new experience, I've been enjoying every bit of it. I'd sat on the album for so long it felt like it was finally time to get it out there. It's a relief and it's good to know people like it.
PG: NOW THE FIRST ALBUM IS OUT OF THE WAY, DO YOU FEEL IT WILL BE HARDER TO COME UP WITH MATERIAL FOR THE NOTORIOUS SECOND ALBUM?
AK: No, not really. I had like 35 songs ready for this album and I'm still writing every day. It was easy to make the first album and put it together because I had all the songs there so it came together naturally. I've not thought about the next album yet, I'll think about that when I get to it, but I reckon I've got plenty of songs for it.
PG: DOES THE WRITING COME EASILY TO YOU THEN?
AK: The guitar playing came first, but I've been writing since the day I picked up the guitar. It took a while to find a voice as a songwriter, being so young. I think I was probably about 15.
PG: THE ALBUM HAS A LOT OF DIFFERENT STYLES AND VARIETY, DID YOU HAVE A FAIR AMOUNT OF FREE REIN WHEN MAKING THE ALBUM?
AK: Yeah, that was the main thing really. It was looking through those 35 songs to find ones that showed the different colours of what I did. I went through then with Fabrizio (Grossi) the producer, but it was pretty much up to me and we just handed it back to the label when it was done. I was free to make the record that I wanted to make.
PG: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO MAKE AND HOW DID YOU APPROACH RECORDING?
AK: It took just under two weeks. We made it over in LA and the fact that we had different people, touring schedules made it a bit complicated so some of it was live and some of it was overdubbed. We did it in a raw way in that if there were mistakes but they sounded cool we left them. I think it gives a record personality rather than try to cover things up and make things too perfect.
PG: HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK WITH PRODUCER FABRIZIO GROSSI?
AK: I was talking to a few different producers, but Mascot introduced me to him because they'd used him a few times before. I spoke to him on Skype and he looked at the record in the same way I did, so we had the same vision.
PG: A LOT OF THE ALBUM WAS WRITTEN WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER AND SONGS YOU'VE BEEN PLAYING FOR A WHILE – DOES THE ALBUM FEEL LIKE CLOSING ONE CHAPTER TO PREPARE FOR ANOTHER?
AK: In a way because even though the songs have changed it's still the same message as when I was 15. So the songs I write now go to different places. The next record is the exciting thing, by the time the first record comes out you already have a bunch of songs to start playing. I really like this record and it's the right statement that I wanted to make when I released it.
PG: YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER PLAYING EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK, NOT THE STANDARD LIFE OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD.
AK: No it's not, but I was lucky enough to be able to do it and I love it. The turning point for me was when I saw Black Crows at Brixton Academy when I was about 10 and I decided I wanted to play live. I started doing blues jams with my Dad and then started doing one or two nights a week and then it started to grow. Everything I did was working towards playing the guitar.
PG: DID YOU FIND IT HARD BALANCING MUSIC AND YOUR STUDIES AT SCHOOL?
AK: I went to school when I could, but it wasn't something I took interest in. By the time I got to secondary school I knew it was what I wanted to do, so I didn't really care for anything else. I did what I had to do and I got threw it and left at 16.
PG: YOU CUT YOUR TEETH THE BEST WAY, PLAYING LIVE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE AND THROWING YOURSELF IN AT THE DEEP END. WHAT WERE THOSE EARLY DAYS LIKE?
AK: The first one was a bit intimidating because you're getting up and jamming with people who have been playing for 50 years. The jams I've been to have been so open, friendly and full of respect. I still go along and see everyone as a social thing and to jam. I think I did it in the right way rather than putting a school band together and rehearse a few times a week for a gig ever two months. With jamming and improvising, you learn how to cope with every situation with other musicians. You learn how to play in a different way.
PG: THAT'S PRETTY MUCH WHAT OLDER BANDS DID, THAT 'BEDROOM GUITAR' THING DIDN'T REALLY EXIST 30/40 YEARS AGO, THEY JUST GOT OUT AND PLAYED.
AK: Exactly, but I never really thought of it like that, nobody in Oxfordshire wanted to play 70s rock and roll, so I went to play at blues jams in London.
PG: YOU'VE SAID HOW YOU FELT LIKE AN OUTSIDER GROWING UP AS THE ONLY LONG HAIRED HIPPY KID IN OXFORD, HOW DID THAT IMPACT ON YOUR MUSIC?
AK: That's where I found my voice as a songwriter and that's what a lot of the songs on the record are about. I felt different and I was different. It wasn't the struggles of growing up it was wanting to do something different; being arrogant enough to know what you want to do and believing you can do what you want to do, that's pretty much the mentality behind a lot of the songs. That gave me the inspiration and the voice to write.
PG: YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE THAT SELF BELIEF, THOUGH, HAVEN'T YOU?
AK: I think so. With things that I've wanted to do, I've always known how I've wanted to do them. With the record I wanted to make the record I wanted to make – I didn't want to make one for anybody else.
PG: WAS MUSIC SOMETHING THAT WAS QUITE PROMINENT IN YOUR LIFE BEFORE YOU STARTED PLAYING THE GUITAR?
AK: I can't really remember early memories, but I remember wanting to play guitar at 5 and I was listening to music way before that. My Dad would listen to everything from The Faces to The Rolling Stones and everything around that from Blackfoot to Black Sabbath and David Bowie was in the house. It was a pretty broad spectrum of stuff I was listening to. Then to go off and find the blues, later on, was great because it's another dimension to what they did and you hear where those bands got it from.
PG: WHAT WAS THE FIRST SONG YOU LEARNT TO PLAY?
AK: I use to go through books with my guitar teacher...I think it was Knocking on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan.
PG: WHAT WAS THE BEST BIT OF ADVICE YOU'VE RECEIVED?
AK: The top two bits of advice I got were from Joe Bonamassa and a guy in London I used to jams with called Sam Hare. Sam told me to be true to yourself, have your own sound and play honestly and not try to be the one kid at the jam trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughn. That advice has always stuck with me since that first jam. Joe told me when I used to go to his shows, be careful not to burn yourself out. I'd been doing shows for a long time at that point. He taught me how to move on and take the next step and start looking for management. I went looking for it and I got management and then everything started going to the next level. That was a bit of an eye opener when Joe Bonamassa says that to you, you take notice. I'm thankful for that.
PG: YOU'RE STILL ONLY 19, DOES THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD FEEL A LITTLE BIT SURREAL AT TIMES?
AK: Not really, when you are so close to something, you're always looking for what's next. I don't think you can pay too much attention to what people say about you, it's just an opinion of what you do, good or bad. It's not good to keep reading the press on you and building yourself up on it too much.
PG: DO YOU GET TIRED OF THE GUITAR PRODIGY LABEL?
AK: I don't mind it, I wouldn't necessarily call myself that. I've been called lots of things; you get lots of tags attached to what you do.
PG: WHAT'S YOUR CAREER HIGHLIGHT BEEN SO FAR?
AK: Just being able to play with people you respect and love and share the stage with people you are a fan of.
PG: YOU'VE ALREADY ACHIEVED SO MUCH AT 19, WHERE DOES AARON KEYLOCK GO FROM HERE?
AK: Just keep going. To me, it's no different to when I was a 13-year-old kid and kept pushing things on. It's the same mentality, just keep doing it and keep being honest with my songwriting.