Ask singer/songwriter Keaton Simons what he takes from his new EP, 123 Go and his answer is as authentic as the six songs on the record. “This was really me coming back into my own as an artist,” he says. “I didn’t do any social media the whole time I was making this record. I got tired of selling my name and turning myself into a brand. I wanted to focus entirely on the music and the moment.”
Before making the EP Simons took some time off to focus on playing with other musicians. He was Chris Cornell’s last guitarist, and he co-founded and co-produced a project that returned him to his hip-hop roots. “I first started with Slimkid3 from the Pharcyde, Snoop Dogg, Kim Hill from The Black Eyed Peas and more. All this hip-hop music started when I was a teenager, and then in my early 20s before I really took off in my own solo career,” he says. “So I had this side project, we had DMC from Run-DMC, Slimkid3 and Fatlip from Pharcyde, we got to open for Carlos Santana, awesome stuff. I kind of lost myself in that and I needed to get back to me.”
His rejuvenated love of making his own music is evident from the opening notes of the spirited title track, “123 Go.” A jubilant roots rocker that picks up both steam and jangle as the song progresses, it is an absolutely infectious groove that defies you not to tap your feet, clap your hands and shake blissfully at top speed as you listen to it.
Equally impressive, though on the opposite side of the musical spectrum, is the moody and gorgeous “The Sound Of Impatience.” The six-song collection bounds back and forth effortlessly between the two tempos, from the feel-good “Crazy In Love” to the beautiful and moving closing track, “Yet.”
The EP’s lead track is the rootsy “Crane City,” a song directly inspired by Simons recording in Nashville.
“The first song we released is called ‘Crane City,’ and that’s my nickname for all the cities in the world dominated by cranes and all the gentrification that’s happening everywhere,” he says. “I thought of that title driving in the car from the airport to where I was staying.”
While there were many factors that contributed to this being the right time for Simons to return the focus to making his own music, the opportunity to record in Nashville for the first time with producer, Marshall Altman were right at the top of that list.
“The idea to make a new record and make a record with Marshall Altman came up and I’m like, ‘This is perfect,’” he says. “All the pieces fit together perfectly. As I was coming back into my own that’s when all of these things coincided and the opportunity to go to Nashville, spend all of September in Nashville hanging with friends, being in the scene and the vibe there, working with an amazing producer, Marshall Altman, whom I’ve been friends with for a long time, we’ve always wanted to do something together and we’re stoked to have this opportunity.”
Simons embraced every aspect of Nashville, including playing with the musicians Altman normally engages. “Making this record in Nashville was incredible. I’ve been wanting to leave Los Angeles to make a record somewhere else. A destination record has been a fantasy of mine for my whole life. It was what I needed, I needed to let go a little bit.”
Simons learned to “let go a little bit” in part from working with Cornell. According to Simons that was part of how they bonded.
“I definitely want things to be amazing, but I love stepping away from it. That’s one thing I learned that Chris really represented as well,” he says. “When we played together we barely rehearsed and that’s how I liked to do it. I don’t like to over rehearse. It’s those little things that cause you to realize that since perfection doesn’t exist you have to replace it with acceptance. The performance is what it is. It exists in the world and over time, you start to love those little things. To me, that becomes the best part of it, those little mistakes. Of course that comes with age for sure. That was one of the coolest things and one of the first things I learned from Chris.”
Between the side project, working with Cornell and other musicians and the combination of Nashville and Altman, Simons had a lot to draw on in writing and recording 123 Go. It all came together seamlessly to make a record that is one hundred percent Keaton Simons.
“That’s what this EP is, this is the real culmination,” he says. “It’s where I am right now.”