Keith Greiman: “I Like the Idea of Being as Relentlessly Prolific as Possible.”

Keith GreimanOnlineKeith Greiman is an artist whose work has appeared in galleries and publications around the world. He’s also the frontman for the funky rock band Prowler.

Our Ian Schobel spoke with Greiman in June 2016.

Why are the arts important to you?

I guess it’s something that I’ve always done, my main bag has always been painting and visual arts. Everyone was always in bands in high school and I never did that, then eventually in college I got into that. My mom was a good mom, she has stacks of drawings I did since kindergarten. I’ve always been very busy doing that. Never broken that habit.

When did you decide you wanted to make a career in the arts?

It’s strange, it never crossed my mind that it was a bad idea. In high school, I was like cool, I’m gonna go to art school. I did that and I loved it, I really benefitted from being in a competitive environment surrounded by a bunch of your peers all doing the same thing. I guess strangely it never really struck me to not do it. Even as we’re talking about it right now, I’m like huh, there’s nothing else I’d rather do. I was talking to someone recently and I remember him making a comment like they had a full time design job but now they focus more on their “real” work. Is it wrong to subsidize and afford yourself the opportunity to do your own thing by having a side job? So many people are like be a bartender. It’s the best. Or do anything to make sure you’re able to do this, what you love. One, its super social and gets me out of the house, and two, it’s the only job I’ve ever found where I don’t have to be there as long as someone is there.

You’ve said that you don’t consider yourself a legitimate musician. Explain.

Maybe that’s a cop out. I take the art and the painting very seriously. If you’re going to put yourself out there and people are going to see it I very much care and take time for the product, but there’s a very definitive difference between how I view both of those things. One is what I do and the other is a really rad, time consuming hobby. I’m going to be 38 soon. I spent a lot of years doing it, but not really enjoying it, for dumb reasons. And now I really enjoy it at this stage. There’s a great apathy, and in that, I like it a lot more than I used to. I don’t play instruments, can’t even play the tambourine. Which is the good thing about playing with a drum machine; the drum machine doesn’t get too drunk and screw up. I’ve only ever been in this band with the same kids I grew up with, dudes I’ve known for my entire life. They’ve been in other bands, but not me.

I grew up 200 yards away from Mike, the bass player. I met Ryan when I was 12 in middle school. In high school, we’d go see shows there and all these guys I knew played, but I’d just go watch. I was into music but I didn’t play anything. You know that line from the silver jews, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” You don’t have to be a good singer. It’s about how you do it. It’s about finesse. Style. Work your mojo or whatever. That took a much longer time to figure out. Then you don’t care. You’re like, that looks like fun, I’m going to do that. And then you figure it out after the fact.

We only play about 3 times a year in Philly. We wait for it to be a good opportunity. There was a part of me that thought I don’t want to play in a basement, but now I’m like I really want that, how do I do that, how do I get in touch with these college kids that live in west Philly that have shitty basements? That’s where I want to go, I want to regress. We’re kind of grandfathered into a nice thing here, we get reasonable opportunities, and we get fun, little shows to play. I want that regression, I want to play crummy house parties.

Is there a scene in Philly? Is there a community of artists that you’ve entered into after Prowler became more than just some friends playing in a garage?

I don’t think so. I think we are very, strangely isolated. I don’t mean in a bad way. You see these other bands that are playing around a lot and they play a lot together. Like everything that comes through Jump magazine. Yes, there is a very, very vibrant scene here that I wouldn’t necessarily associate myself with. It’s awesome. It’s cool. But they are very actively playing a lot of shows and probably doing tours and stuff like that. I’m not doing that. We play every two months.

My wife likes to remind me of this: she says, “Remember when you quit the band three years ago?” I do, and that was a really pivotal moment. I quit. We didn’t play for like seven months. But somehow through that, we became more invested than ever. Now, I love this band. We practice in my friend Mike’s parent’s basement. It is the greatest, there are candy bowls everywhere. They do their own taxidermy, so there are deer heads everywhere, refrigerators with beer, and the most music equipment ever. I’m like, man, I always want to do this. It’s the best.

Can you talk about the way your painting has influence your music or vice versa?

I think strangely, just the social aspect for sure. I think a lot of people that do one do the other. There is a very common thread, so you see a lot of the same people that you do the art shows with also play in bands, if you’re a “creative person” chances are you do it all, dabble. I see that a lot. But maybe there’s also an ego thing too, like hey check out what I do, and if I’m at an art show everybody’s going to be looking at my paintings, but if I really want them to look at me, I’ll get on stage. Then they’ll have to stare at me.

What motivates you? What’s your inspiration?

The other day I was listening to some stuff we made and I was like, “I don’t like a lot of what I’ve done, but I like that I’ve done it.” I take some satisfaction in that someday, I’m gonna have a great grandkid who will open up a box with my music in it and be like, “Wow. That’s weird.”

I like the idea of being as relentlessly prolific as possible. Art is easy because I can just do it myself, and with the music thing I’m vey much at the mercy of a lot of other people. I just want to output, output, output, and in the ten things you make there’s one great one. There’s a bit of “do as I say, not as I do” kind of mentality because when I listen to an album, I expect that it’s going to be top to bottom good but if I put an album out I just want to make stuff and then be like cool, let’s make more stuff. It’s just fun. I want to be busy, maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. Let’s say I make 20 albums, and in that each album has one really great song, two really great songs, and at the end of it you can put all of those into your greatest hits, that would be incredible. I would be fine with that.

You’ve got a pretty unique sound. Is originality a priority when you’re making music or brainstorming?

We don’t think about it. We just do this thing, and I think luckily no one else does it. You have to admire and appreciate something that’s original, but it’s also not to say something derivative is bad, that you’re stooped in a thing. As long as you put your own stink on it. There are certainly trends in music. Like when the strokes came out everyone sounded like the strokes but chances are I liked a lot of those bands. Just don’t play their songs. That’s bad.

What’s it like playing in Philly?

Awesome. My new show policy is I will only play shows on the 5 bus line, and the fact I can do that is amazing. That gives me Kung-Fu Necktie, Bourbon and Branch, Jonny Brenda’s, Ortlieb’s, and Milkboy because it’s close. That’s my tour. Philly is amazing, it is the most affordable, and livable city. Going back to being able to do your thing: Philly is it. It’s incredible. You live like a feudal fucking lord, everybody can buy houses. You can move to other places that are cheaper, but there’s nothing happening there. Philly is the best of both worlds, people are starting to catch on to that, so Fishtown is insane right now. But compared to Brooklyn or something like that, you’re pretty hard pressed to find something better. Obviously I’m biased, I live here, but if you’re in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, which are all places I love and have very vibrant scenes, you’re probably a little more concerned with paying your rent, where as in Philly you just get two roommates, and you get a basement. Which is probably why there’s so much happening here all the time. There’s all sorts of stuff I’m not tapped into but I’m gonna be, I’m gonna play basement shows. Soon as this next kid drops.

There are some shit basement bands, I’m sure kids would love to listen to a band with 20 years experience.

That’s another thing that’s funny. I think we were awful for so long- not awful, that’s not fair to say, but I think with all the experience, there was a lot of fuckery that went on. And now, we are so insanely dialed in so the fuckery does nothing to impact the quality of the performance, and that might not have always been the case. We could sleepwalk through it now, because we are so hivemind. Drum machine is good, does the best job of everyone.

KeithGreimansmallWhat does success mean to you?

I think as long as you’re doing stuff, and you’ve made a thing, that’s good. I think more than anything, you should just make, make, make.

There’s a bar called Kenny’s and when I was 22, all I wanted to do was play Kenny’s. It’s like the shittiest bar ever in Southampton, even made Maxim’s top ten dive bars in America. It was our local bar growing up, and I was like, cool, that’s my life goal.

And we did it when I was 23, and I was like what do we do now? That was easy. I kind of peaked at 23. I’ve been coasting ever since Kenny’s.

Just make. Just do. As much as you can. As long as you’re doing stuff. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’m not saying you have to put it out. Putting out 20 albums versus working on one album for 20 years, same thing, as long as you’re doing it. I went to art school, and I feel like after we graduated nobody did anything, and I thought that was so strange. Don’t you do this at school because you like to do it? I like to sit around and paint. I enjoy painting, that’s my fun. Same with writing music. So when I hear people went to school to get a degree and then never exercise it after the fact is insane.

What’s next? What does the future hold for you?

I got two EPs to put out by 2017, then I’m waiting on this baby to drop, and I have some art stuff that’s looming over me. Hopefully we don’t have the baby until Wednesday, that’ll give me enough time to get everything I need to get done.

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