Though he is an academic with a Phd in philosophy, do not be fooled, for Gerald Keaney does not do idle contemplation.
As well as being a writer, film maker, poet, musician and provoker of the odd online debate, he is one of the most active members of Brisbane's DIY alternative music scene, as covered in our multimedia feature 'Brisbane Noise', thoroughly immersing himself in the ideals of DIY gigs and the freedom it affords. He is one of the organisers of the William Jolly Bridge solar gigs - unrestricted open air events where the amps are powered not by traditional generators, but by solar panels.
The purpose of these gigs is partly to claim open space for the public, but also to bring attention to clean energy and, of course, to play some challenging music. Anyone can participate and if you happen to be in Brisbane on the 20th Feb 2016 at 2pm you can attend the next one!
Now Gerald has released a fourth album, 'The William Jolly Bridge House Band', with the help of his band which consists of Heidi Cutlack (bass), Skye MacNicol (violin), Glan (drums, electronic percussion) and, the most recent addition, guitarist Ashley Jenkins.
In the below interview he offers a fascinating insight into the Brisbane scene and its unique attitude, as well as mass telepathy, singing cities and Dr No. outfits. Welcome to the imaginarium of Dr Keaney.
You have just released a new record under Gerald Keaney and the Gerald Keaneys called “The William Jolly Bridge house band” – how long did it take to put together and what are the main themes of the album?
"The International," the first single from the new album, was pre-released mid 2014, so the ball was rolling for 18 months. In the last six or eight weeks (prior to the later Jan 2016 release) I pulled out all stops. With the help of the band, I mixed and produced the home studio recordings we'd made.
As for the themes, we wanted to use senses of benefit from music to drive hearings of 'The William Jolly Bridge House Band'. For instance, despite a promise of instant gratification, the benefit on offer might be endlessly deferred as in "Watch the video instead" and "Go buy our single." Dissatisfaction drives these songs. Similarly, the driving force of the song is an expected nostalgia in "Rockumentary made 2034 A.D." But the album uses concepts for momentum rather than being a concept album.
I presume the album name is a reference to your DIY solar powered gigs under the William Jolly Bridge – what was the purpose behind those gigs?
Yes no one seems to get residencies like you once did in old pubs any more, so we just gave ourselves one. Sometimes the gigs under the bridge were run by a generator, but in the solar case we obviously wanted to experiment with solar energy. Sound is not too energy-hungry, so bands are good for such experiments. Our conclusion: solar powered guerrilla gigs are the future of rock and roll! With both generator and solar gigs we wanted to reclaim inner urban space for DIY creativity. More details of what I think are here:https://geraldkeaney.wordpress.com/1196-2/
How easy was it to get hold of and maintain the solar panels?
Batteries and panel are getting cheaper, better and more available, while the grid gets more expensive and unsustainable. Drawing attention to that was part of the point of bridge gigs. If you wanna DIY it yourself, come down and watch us set up, and or I can put you in touch with the right advice. Right now I am part of an anarchist engineering group. They will be engineering the future with me at a William Jolly Bridge solar gig on the 20th Feb 2016, 2pm. Acquiring the knowhow is a more difficult and most important part of the process. As I was reminded when I set fire to a panel and blew up an inverter.
In Josh Watson’s documentary “Brisbane 2012” Joel Stern was quoted as saying when he came to Brisbane: “There seemed to be a strange attitude. It was like...it still had a weird hicksville country town vibe, but it was mixed...just an aggressively strange sensibility which I found refreshing.” Would you agree there is something different about the Brisbane alternative movement compared to other cities?
Brisbane is not a university town like Canberra was before the uni cuts, and even the UQ is young compared to universities in Sydney and Melbourne. In Brisbane DIY there is a die-hard, naked anti-intellectualism that I have never encountered elsewhere. Brisbanites romanticise their own stupidity. While I am no rocket surgeon, I don't actively try to remain a hick, and I found Brisbane in 2012 deliberately and depressingly dead-headed.
Then again Melbourne is where bands go to die - it's so competitive. At least there has always been solidarity in Brisbane against the most brutal aspects of hicksville - like The Saints and the Go Betweens versus Sir Joh. Or the Brisbane Blacks cassette circulated on Invasion Day a year or two back. This solidarity permits more risk-taking and facilitates involvement.
Who is the most exciting or important artist in the Brisbane alternative music of recent times?
You mentioned Joel Stern, and I'd have to, begrudgingly, say he. "Begrudgingly" because I do not agree with a lot of what he does. He got students to jam in his uni course, whereas I think we need to theorise more. His music can be quite branded and steers away from exploring ideas. He is a networker and grant-getting machine where I think we should lead cheaper lives (pushbiking, scavenging etc), to be less dependent on professionalised institutions.
But Joel organises as a practising artist and has been supportive of experimentation. While he did not challenge Brisbane's anti-intellectualism, he helped create scenes where it could be challenged. The Audiopollen Social Club, where he and others like Sally Golding, Drea Lam, Chloe Coggle and Yusuke Akai had heaps of input, is an example from slightly more engaged times (mid to late naughties). Via Yusuke and people like Daiji Igarashi and Tad, Japanese DIY had also catalysed Brisbane art noise/rock. For instance, through the Japanese experience of free jazz/rock and Yusuke's, Diaji's and others ability to support. They were important too. But due to not having citizenship difficulties, Joel proved a little more able to conjure (funded) infrastructure. Along with Danni Zuvela and others, Joel was still organising well-paid Brisbane gigs with a variety of performers in 2015. This helped me get the solar stuff going.
You have been described variously as a Writer, Poet, Musician, Political Activist, Performance Artist, DIY Legend, Film Maker, Creator, Co-Founder and Participant in underground scenes – What did you want to do growing up?
The closest thing I have to a profession is philosopher, and I wrote my PhD thesis at UQ on how objects can survive change.
Are all these hats vehicles for the same thing – to communicate your ideas or is there more to it?
Because I am not post-modern, i.e. I do not think reference to power best explains human life, as a philosopher I think reason tells us about the best way to live together. All my other activities seek to stimulate the use of reason on the street. Especially now that the unis have been lost, this is where it counts.
Is there a favourite vehicle of expression and why?
No. Lately I have felt the need to make time to write more actual philosophy. Even so, consciousness has non-conscious preconditions, so there is a lot that can contribute to generalising reason. Interior decorating meets formal logic.
Reading interviews with yourself you obviously see music as a way to make the world a better place. If we lived in a Utopian society in which everything was perfect, (a) would music be meaningful? (b) would you make it?
It's very interesting to imagine significantly resourced music not curtailed by the market. Singing cities perhaps - but avoiding a post-revolutionary Mexican waves. Perhaps coordinated broadcasts of a certain type in an effort to stimulate mass telepathy? Getting more serious about alien contact than sending the mixed tape with Brandenburg 2 out on Voyager - may be basic rock broadcasts in Bohemian subspace, where there are no Lorentz constraints? Certainly (the hopefully not-too-aged) Keaney would be up for any such megalomania, possibly attired as Dr. No.
Gerald Keaney and the Gerald Keaneys' 'The William Jolly Bridge House Band' is out now.
For more information see Gerald's Facebook page.