Keanan Duffty: I just got back from Kyiv in Ukraine, I was invited to an art and fashion festival. It’s great to be out in the world after almost 2 years of lockdown and Kyiv is a fantastic city with a young, energised music, art and fashion scene that is being touted as the ‘new Berlin’. I saw the Dakh Daughters, a band that consists of seven women who play various instruments; viola, cello, accordion, piano and sing in different languages; English, French, Russian, German and Ukrainian. Brilliant and refreshing! I would love to collaborate with them in the future.
Keanan, you’re best known for your work in the fashion industry; fashion and music obviously go hand in hand, as your own experience has proven; which is more rock n roll, in your experience?!
Keanan: To be honest, I hate fashion. I was always more influence by what musicians wore, what the style they crested. Whether it is Bowie, Sex Pistols or Grace Jones, musicians create an image that surpasses the trendiness of fashion by being dangerous and confrontational. Today however, fashion has become a ‘revenue stream’ for the music business. It’s a way to monetize an artist in a world where streaming royalties are miniscule. But selling fashion via music is not necessarily a new thing. The Beatles opened the Apple boutique on Baker Street in the 1967 and Kings Road shops like ‘Granny Take a Trip’ made fashions for Led Zeppelin and The Faces in the 70s. Fast forward to 2021 and the David Bowie estate just opened a Bowie store in New York’s SoHo and one in Heddon Street in London, where the cover of Ziggy Stardust was photographed. So, for better or worse, the fashion/music mash-up is still in full effect.
I love the idea of a concept band; how challenging was it to get the numerous guests involved?
Keanan: I had worked with my musical partner, the Italian guitarist and producer Fabio Fabbri sporadically for two years writing and recording this album at his Wolf Mountain studio close to Florence, where I happened to be giving a series of lectures. We had finished the album and then Covid happened, so we decided to take the opportunity to call on a bunch of mates and ask them to play on the record. Because everyone was stuck at home they all said “yes”! It was pure luck…or preparation meeting opportunity, as Brian Eno would say. The downside of a concept band is that when we tour people might expect to see all these ‘names’ on stage with us, which they won’t as everyone will be back to their own projects. We may bring on a few ‘special guests’ though. Otherwise our audience could very well end up being three people and a dog….
Was there anyone you wanted but couldn’t get this, time around?
Keanan: Yes, I would love to work with Andy Summers. From his guitar playing in The Police to his albums with Robert Fripp and his solo stuff-what a unique talent. I don’t know Andy personally so I tried stalking him on social media, but that didn’t work. Maybe he’ll change his mind in the future. Meanwhile, every breath he takes I’ll be watching him.
Click here to read our 2018 interview with Andy Summers.
Midge Ure features on ‘Prima Donna’ and ‘Old Boy’; why did you choose those tracks for him, or did he choose the songs he wanted to work on?
Keanan: I just met up with him in New York a few weeks ago when he was playing an acoustic show. We first met when I interviewed him in 2013 in San Francisco. I have been a fan of Midge’s since his work with Glen Matlock in the Rich Kids. To me, both ‘Prima Donna’ and ‘Old Boy’ have a Rich Kids vibe and so they were obvious choices for Midge and graciously he agreed to play on both.
Were you a fan of his work; If so, what are your favourites, and why?
Keanan: Before the Rich Kids, Midge almost joined the fledgling Sex Pistols and post Rich Kids he was co-founder of Visage which by default makes him one of the architects of the New Romantic movement, an often maligned but important part of early 1980s British subculture that married image with sound. And that is exactly what I try to do; bring together image and sound. Growing up in Doncaster, the glamour of the New Romantics appealed to me and harked back to the otherworldliness of early Bowie and Roxy Music but also bands like Deaf School. There wasn’t much otherworldliness in the Doncaster of my youth so when ‘Fade to Grey’ and ‘Vienna’ played in the local disco it felt like we were part of something bigger. In crappy circumstances we tend to dream bigger and the nostalgia of youth is a lyrical theme of ‘Wasteland’, one of my favourite songs of his. And let’s not forget “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, which, although admittedly is a bit of a naff song, was a herculean moment where pop found a purpose greater than itself.
Click here to read our 2018 chat with Roxy Music legends Ray Manzanera and Andy MacKay.
Keanan: Wishbone Ash founder Martin Turner saw potential in my terrible early 1980s demos and produced my first record, along with a BBC Radio 1 session in 1985. Martin is such a lovely fella, a rock god, a talented producer and we’ve remained friends for over 36 years. I have known Richard Fortus, who is in Guns n’ Roses, since the 90s in New York when he worked with Psychedelic Furs front man Richard Butler in Love Spit Love. Again, a talented musician and great bloke. Both have their own studios and it was easy to send them digital mixes so they could sprinkle their magical musical dust on the ‘Fear No Evil’.
“I’m Falling Down” is a beautiful track; tell me what that one is about.
Keanan: “I’m Falling Down” is about stumbling around the East Village from bar to bar late at night in the early 1990s when I first moved to New York. I had left the fading Acid House scene behind in London and Brit pop was yet to happen, so New York felt very exciting; a 24 hour-a-day, seven-day weekend. I can’t do that anymore though but it was fun to feel nostalgic within the lyrics of the song.
David Torn provides some sublime guitar on ‘Euphoria’; was it your past connection to David Bowie that led to that collaboration?
Keanan: ‘Sublime’ is the word. I have admired David Torn’s playing for many years. His work with Bowie and David Sylvian especially. My neighbour Mario McNulty, who has produced and engineered for Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Bowie and most recently Willow Smith, very kindly introduced us. I love what David did with ‘Euphoria’ and we have made an acoustic version of the track with just David and Fabio playing and me singing. I think it sounds pretty special and a bit more experimental. Fabio’s son Fausto Fabbri has made a great ‘comic book’ video for the track. Sort of A-ha meets Steve Ditko…
‘The Beauty in You’ makes a reprise, stripped back at the end of the album; I’m not sure which version I prefer, but they conjure different moods, don’t they?
Keanan: Like the ‘Euphoria’ acoustic version, we decided to create an acoustic reworking of ‘The Beauty in You’ in order to strip it down to the basics. With Slinky Vagabond we have an electric side to our work and also an acoustic side. Fabio is such a great guitarist and he has many facets to his playing so it’s great to showcase his intimate acoustic approach.
Fabio Fabbri: As a matter of fact, the two versions of “The Beauty in You” have different moods, and this effect is part of our concept of making music. The acoustic version of the song creates a much more intimate atmosphere and we thought that it was a good way to close the album. Our way of producing and arranging music tends to create very different songs that can be arranged in different ways that change the sound and the impact of the song on people who are listening. The mainstream, today, is focused on not creating songs with varied sounds, maybe because it is not the current trend of the record labels, but something very basic and unimaginative. Instead, variety is something that characterises our way to produce music and that we are very fond of.
At the time of this interview, there doesn’t appear to be anything available on YouTube from the album; have you anything coming?
Keanan: The album will be on Youtube, Spotify and all streaming services, along with physical CD and vinyl versions after December 6th. Fabio worked very hard to get a great, warm sounding vinyl version of the album and I applaud him for that. It’s no small task and he’s a real musician. I just sing out of tune, dye my hair, wear funny clothes and badger people into working with us!
The album’s seeds were sown a few years back, so it must feel good to finally being releasing it.
Fabio: Yes, we are very happy to have finally released our new album. Sometimes the release of an album-or of a song-is like childbirth. Actually, I think that there are two main steps in producing an album. The first is the moment of inspiration and composition. And when an artist is in his creative phase he doesn’t care how long this period lasts. In fact, it took us 3 years to release King Boy Vandals, also due to the pandemic that stopped any live contact with other musicians. The second step is the moment of the release of the album, and when you get to this step you free yourself of a burden, but you are also very excited waiting for the feedback of the public. This is an important moment for evaluating the work done and for artistic growth.
Although it’s only coming out now, do you have any plans to work on a follow-up?
Keanan: We have already started recording more material with legendary fretless bassist Percy Jones (Eno/Brand X) and Dom Beken (Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets/The Orb). Fabio has written a lot of new tracks and I have some demos, so there is plenty to work on.
Fabio: We imagined King Boy Vandals as an album to be listened to many times and enjoyed slowly, to be explored in all the detail that it contains. Many great musicians played on the album and all their contributions deserve to be appreciated. We are already working on a new album that will contain new songs and some tracks we haven’t included on this album.
In an ideal world, who would you like to collaborate with on a future album?
Keanan: My wish list is Bowie piano man Mike Garson, Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran and Martin Rev from Suicide. I would love to have Youth (Martin Glover) at the controls for a couple of tracks too. He’s a fantastic producer and Killing Joke are one of my favourite bands.
Fabio: Musicians always live in an ideal world. When I write songs I often imagine who could be the right interpreter or which musicians could participate in the project. Considering the great parterre of musicians who played on KBV, your question is particularly legitimate. So, considering that dreams don’t cost anything, I’d like to collaborate with Dave Grohl on drums, or Gail Ann Dorsey on bass guitar or Lenny Kravitz or Mike Garson.
Any plans to play any live dates?
Keanan: I’m live onstage every time I walk out the front door! Seriously though, it’s logistically a bit tricky with me being in New York and Fabio in Italy. Once we get into 2022 I think we will have clear plans, which will be either busking outside of Leicester Square Tube Station or playing at Irving Plaza in New York. Maybe both!
Fabio: We would love to play live! Although we are a two-piece band and it would therefore be more difficult to organize a tour, we think we could be very successful playing live! Unfortunately, the pandemic hasn’t given us the possibility to program a real tour yet. We are trying to build a real four/five-piece band, hopefully with the support of some of our guests. It would be a great pleasure to play with them in our gigs, offering the public something extra.
In your ‘day job’ you’ve worked with the Sex Pistols, who are famously fractious; how cantankerous were they?!
Keanan Duffty: Don’t get me started! I met the Sex Pistols in 2003 when I gave them clothes for their US tour and I co-hosted a party with the band at the Chelsea Hotel following their gig at Jones Beach in New York. I’ve stayed close with Glen and we were in a band together in the mid 2000s along with Clem Burke and Earl Slick, the first version of Slinky Vagabond, actually. I also used to see Steve Jones every time I visited LA and he invited me as a guest on his radio show with the Buzzcocks. I don’t really know Paul Cook although he did visit my design studio with Steve one time.
Steve, Paul, Glen and John founded a band that has a seismic effect on global culture. Cantankerous behaviour in your 20s can be cheeky and funny however, when you still behave like that when you get older, it’s a bit sad. It’s good to mature like a fine wine, not to go ‘off’ like smelly cheese. I am looking forward to seeing Danny Boyle’s series ‘Pistol’ based on Steve Jones’ book “Lonely Boy”, which is well written, witty, brave and tells his side of the story. Glen also put out a cool autobiography called “I was a Teenage Sex Pistol” which would be great on screen as it paints a unique and vivid picture of early 70s London.
Finally, what’s next for you?
Keanan Duffty: In March I am staging a ‘Rebels on the Runway’ fashion show in Palm
Springs, in the California Desert and I will probably incorporate some of our music into that show, which will include a retrospective presentation of the fashion collection I did in collaboration with David Bowie back in 2007. The pandemic is still (unbelievably) very much with us but hopefully, Slinky Vagabond will get to do some lives shows in 2022. We will definitely be working on our follow up record too. So, more music, more fashion, more hijinx and no smelly cheeses! Maybe that’s the next album title “No Smelly Cheeses”!
‘King Boy Vandals’ is released on 6th December 2021. Pre-ordered at: firstname.lastname@example.org