After keeping a low profile for most of the past three years, rocker Tommy Keene has mapped out an eventful 2006.
As previously reported, Keene will be playing guitar and keyboards on former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard’s first solo tour, which begins Jan. 26. However, Keene also plans to release a new album, “Crashing the Ether,” in April, on 1130 Records, and will follow that up with a disc from the Keene Brothers, his new collaboration with Pollard.
“Crashing the Ether” is Keene’s first studio effort since 2002’s “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” and it’s more of a solo outing than usual. The 10-song set was recorded at Keene’s Los Angeles home, and he played most of the instruments himself, with help from longtime drummer John Richardson.
For Keene, the freedom was exhilarating. “I used to think, if I bring all these different people in, I’ll get all these different personalities. Let’s bring in so-and-so to jangle a tambourine!” he tells Billboard.com with a laugh. “But the luxury of being able to fiddle around with the guitar sound — not that I needed to, really — was amazing. Rather than saying, ‘Oops, look at the clock — there goes another X amount of dollars.”
The ringing guitars on many tracks may remind some listeners of Keene’s two, late 1980s albums for Geffen — especially 1986’s “Songs From the Film,” considered a landmark of American power-pop. “People were saying, ‘These guitars sound so great. Why don’t you use those cleaner sounds again?'” Keene says. “I’ve always had kind of a dual sound, both clean and dirty. But on this record, I just tried to mix up the guitar sounds more.”
There will probably be a 10-to-12-date solo tour to support “Crashing the Ether,” following the April conclusion of Pollard’s concerts. And Keene says it’s likely he and his band may play an opening set at Pollard’s April 20 show in New York.
Keene, who has backed such artists as Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush and says he loves being a sideman, opened for Guided By Voices during some of the group’s final dates in 2004. He volunteered to join Pollard’s solo tour and play keyboards as well as guitar: “Robert was really excited. He said, ‘I’ve never had a keyboardist live!'”
The friendship between the two men has also generated the Keene Brothers collaboration, to be released later this year. Some of the songs on “Crashing the Ether” were originally slated for the album, Keene says, adding that the disc will be, at Pollard’s request, “a Tommy Keene record he can sing over. “I thought, okay, that’s good,” Keene says with a laugh. “I mean, nobody does Tommy Keene like me.”