A true songwriter’s songwriter, Steven Keene honed both his music style and songwriting craft in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Greenwich Village, while playing many of New York's most legendary clubs.
Steven Keene grew up in Brooklyn New York and got his start playing the folk clubs and cafes of the Greenwich Village scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s alongside contemporaries Beck, Susanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, and others.
Heavily inspired by the songwriting of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Leonard Cohen, he began performing his earliest material at The Speakeasy, the now-closed folk club that was a singer-songwriter staple in the ’90s.
Keene played regularly at joints like Sun Mountain Cafe and the Chameleon, and for years would crisscross the streets of McDougal and Bleecker, playing well-known clubs including the Bottom Line, Lone Star Cafe, the Mercury Lounge, the Bitter End, Arlene’s Grocery, and the legendary CBGB’s.
But for Keene, it was always about the music, and never about the fame. Maybe that’s why he surrounded himself with only the best players, focused only on the music, and became obsessed with honing his craft as he gigged his way from one smoke-filled Village club to the next.
“Sometimes the perspective is from myself, and sometimes I’m writing a song through someone else’s eyes,” reflects Keene. “I’m not very big on insisting on explanations behind the songs I write, only because everybody’s got their own take on them, like a painting or any art form. I think less is more when it comes to talking about my own personal experience of a song.”
"I wish I knew now what I once knew then."
Inspired by Dylan
By the end of the 1980’s, Keene had made enough of a name for himself on the folk scene, so that when he was ready to release his first album Keene On Dylan, he found former Bob Dylan band members Howie Wyeth and Rob Stoner (Desire/Rolling Thunder) accessible and eager to collaborate on this eclectic mix of originals, covers, and traditionals.
Keene’s album No Alternative was released in 1995 and featured former Dylan band members Tony Garnier, John Jackson, Bucky Baxter, and the legendary musician from the 60’s Village scene, Danny Kalb. No Alternative saw a good deal of success and was distributed through BMG in Europe in conjunction with a European tour and video on MTV Europe.
Taking a Stand
In 2001 Steven released Set Clock which received praise in the local New York press. He was featured on Vin Scelsa’s “Idiot’s Delight” and toured extensively to promote the album. With the advent of war, Steven’s protest song, “How Much Blood’s In A Barrel,” received extensive airplay in the US and was picked up and released by ZYX Music in Europe.
"I'm very lucky, at this stage in my life, that I'm writing and producing more songs than I ever have ...at a faster rate. The bad news is the songs keep me up at night, and they haunt my dreams. And I'm constantly reaching for paper."
The Road Ahead
He’s never been big on offering up explanations or meaning behind his songs. Everybody’s got their own personal take on them, so less is more when it comes to revealing his own personal experience behind any given lyric or refrain. But the refreshingly peculiar aspect of Keene’s distinct lyrical style has always been his poetic capacity to conjure universally relatable imagery – of love, of loss or longing – the well-crafted art of his storytelling that lets listeners connect with and interpret songs through their own lived experience.
Keene’s newly rising star is a sign that there are listeners out there who hunger for his straightforwardly audacious yet classic style of songwriting . Rediscovered by industry veteran Jason Jordan just prior to ONErpm poaching the exec from a position as SVP of Republic Records, Keene has been in no hurry to sign to a major label or conform his sound. When Jordan left Republic in 2018, sensing a seismic shift in the industry, one of his first moves as North America managing director of ONErpm was to sign Keene’ and release the series of singles that have revitalized Keene’s career. Now Keene has moved on to Symphonic with Jordan taking on the role of actively managing the artist.