“Trying To Live Up To Your Shadow” Keaton Henson Writes For Clash

A letter for an alter ego...

Keaton Henson has always been a difficult artist to pin down. A true multi-hyphenate, he was initially a visual artist, before his music – essentially by accident – found its way to the waiting world. Six albums in, he’s developed a ferocious cult following, and gathered more plaudits than artists twice his age.

Yet he remains, curiously, a mystery. Keaton Henson rarely tours, and doesn’t tend to do interviews – it’s not purposeful mystique-building, it’s just the way he operates.

Perhaps the truth can be found where it matters – in the music. New album ‘House Party’ plays with concealing and revelation, offering a glimpse into some of his most private emotions. Out on June 9th, tracks such as ‘Late To You’ haul down his defences – an apology from the songwriter to his wife, it blurs the distinction between the album’s narrator and his own life.

He explains…

“I wanted to make an upbeat confident pop record about depression and being a performer, written from the viewpoint of an artist who has hollowed himself out over a long career in the name of success, an alternate universe version of me, who is left empty and lonely from climbing to the top, but is still only able to express these feelings in the language of confident, performative pop songs.”

Writing for Clash, Keaton Henson riffs on the divide between songwriter and art, between the narrator and his personal life. “The ballad of an alternate universe me,” he calls it, and it might just be one of the more revealing pieces of press he’s ever done…

i dont want to be famous. the idea of being looked at or judged (even positively) by anyone other than the people who know me makes me wildly uncomfortable. because of this i have avoided playing live as much as possible, and stayed away from social media or press such as writing self penned articles for prestigious magazines.

this has been an interesting road with regards to still pursuing a career writing and singing songs. it has been a joy and a struggle, and i’m incredibly lucky to have managed ok. 

the main thing i think that’s saved me has been the realisation early on, that the career successes gave me nothing of any value emotionally. and that all the things that have changed my life and led to genuine happiness, have come from human connections, good food, wild nature, and the joy i find in making things. 

whenever i finish a song i think might be ok, i take a moment to say to myself, almost aloud, that the feeling of contentment i get having just finished making it, is the best thing it will ever give me. 

it feels hard to believe, even for me, but i know for a fact that any award that song might win, or applause it might get, will never give me more meaningful satisfaction than the act of creating it.

i’ve never really understood why being well known or a public figure has to come with the job of writing and singing songs. its like saying in order to write novels you have to be good at reading aloud. the two art forms are completely separate. i like to think that i am good at things that require me to be alone, quiet, and unthinking of the people that will hear or see it.

i’m also often told that you need thick skin to be an artist, but i think thats nonsense, you need thin skin, you need to be hyper sensitive and aware of the temperature of the world in order to efficiently explain the way you see it.

a true dystopian future for me would be a world with exclusively thick skinned, confident, performative artists, we also need shy songwriters, who arent very good at talking about themselves on social media, we need paintings by people who dont like having their photo taken, and novels by retiring garden enthusiasts. 

throughout my career i’ve noticed artists and friends around me who have chased this mythical enlightenment of success, some of them all the way to the top, without finding happiness, and who have lived in the shadow of the version of themselves they created and projected to the world. 

being an artist often requires the, often unintentional, creation of a mask, a two-dimensional version of yourself that people can instantly get, that isn’t confused by the masses of flaws and contradictions that make up a human being. the trick is to recognise that it’s a mask. that the compliments, applause and negative reviews are for that projection and have nothing to do with you, its all a huge misunderstanding.

but there are many who mistake it for themselves, and live as that person, method acting through their daily life, living as the mask they wear for so long that the face behind it disappears. its one of the loneliest things i’ve seen. 

so for my new album i created a version of myself who had also done this, has sacrificed real meaningful connection for as many fans as possible, who replaced fulfilling experiences with experiences that progressed him up the ladder. i wondered where he would be right now and wrote an album from his point of view. (he’s sad)

i call him pink suit Keaton

i think he would wear a bright suit, long ago thrown the comfortable jumpers and black worn suits away to make way for something eye catching. i think he probably lives in LA, drawn to its light when i ran away back to the rain and my friends who make fun of me.

i think he sits on rooftops, and smokes on balconies at 3am, playing the part, wondering why it’s not working.

i think he fears getting older for the wrong reasons, where i relax into the lines in my face. confident i earned them by laughing too much.

he probably stopped hanging out with people who didn’t make him feel important (or reminded him he’s not), so is surrounded by a select few who are similarly hollow behind the mask. 

he catches himself laughing and hides it in case someone mistakes him for ok.

he is not ok. he needs to let go and do something important. like sit with a true friend in a kitchen talking, or make a fool of himself to make a loved one laugh.

it probably sounds massively hacky and over-said at this point, but i dont think this is an issue that exclusively effects artists and performers anymore. most people are projecting a version of themselves into the world, and either giving their soul to feed that projection, or living in its shadow, and feeling like they can’t live up to how their perceived. 

a super connected world is a wonderful thing, and can lead to meeting people we would never had the chance to, having conversations that weren’t possible before, i just think we should all be looking out for if we’re being the pink suit version of ourselves.

or dont, i don’t know, go outside.

‘House Party’ will be released on June 9th, order your copy online now.

Catch Keaton Henson on tour at the following sold out shows:

9 Bristol Thekla SOLD OUT
11 Manchester Yes SOLD OUT
13 London Moth Club SOLD OUT
15 Brighton Chalk SOLD OUT

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