By Sarina Bhutani
With over a billion streams on Spotify, over 1,000,000 followers on Instagram, and an already sold-out worldwide tour on the horizon, Keshi has all of the traits of a star. But because the 27-year-old settles right into a late-night Zoom name, dressed casually in a purple hoodie and complementary blue Yankees cap, he appears extra just like the boy subsequent door than music’s subsequent massive factor. Even on the point of a breakthrough, his demeanor is assured but by some means light, very like his viral music.
Before he was Keshi, he was Casey Luong, a son born to 2 Vietnamese immigrants in a suburb of Houston, Texas. That’s why, together with his debut album Gabriel (out at present, March 25), Keshi resides his personal American dream. Recorded between Los Angeles and Houston over seven months, the 12-track document is what he describes as his “life’s greatest achievement.”
Though he grew up listening to All Time Low and Never Shout Never, the musical solutions of the ladies on whom he had crushes, it was a mix of puberty, his grandfather’s previous guitar, and a Pandora station that stirred his musical awakening. This manifested as a “borderline obsession” with John Mayer, he tells MTV News. “It was a song of his called ‘Stop This Train’ that really lit a fire in me as a songwriter. That’s when I knew I wanted to make songs of my own.”
After years of educating himself guitar by way of YouTube tutorials and “writing songs for no one to hear,” the University of Texas at Austin grad turned to SoundCloud in 2017 as a primary try at a music profession. “At that time, I actually wanted to quit music for a little bit because I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was doing with it,” he reveals. By that point, he was additionally working as an oncology nurse in his hometown of Houston. “But then, I opened that SoundCloud account as an experiment to see if I could attract a stranger’s attention and have them stick around. Then maybe it would be something worth doing.” Thanks to a mix of divine timing and newbie’s instinct, Casey remodeled into Keshi. He launched his ghostly debut single “If You’re Not the One for Me Who Is,” and a brand new alt-R&B star was born.
His musical moniker initially derived from a childhood nickname given to him by his fiance’s dad and mom, and he put it ahead with a view to retain a sure diploma of anonymity, one thing he believes is “a weirdly liberating thing that is really essential to creating your best work.” Even then, Keshi understood that with on-line recognition comes inevitable stress and invasion of privateness — each issues he knew he wanted to keep away from with a view to defend his psychological well being. “I’ve always valued this distance between me and the virtual world because I know not all of it is real,” he says. “Keshi is a line that I deliberately drew in the sand. If you let everyone through the door, then what do you have left that’s actually yours?”
That’s why Keshi spent his early years letting his music converse for itself, racking up hundreds of thousands of streams within the course of. Pared-back, lo-fi hits like “Magnolia” and “Over U” snowballed into even larger successes with heartbreak anthems comparable to “2 Soon” and “Like I Need U.” It was a time frame he describes as “really daunting.” Though the modifications have been gradual, they have been nonetheless clearly felt. Not solely was Keshi unable to keep up a level of anonymity, however he additionally knew his days as a nurse have been numbered.
After months of flying forwards and backwards from New York, for ultimately fruitful label talks with Island Records, and what he calls “the worst day of [his] nursing career,” Keshi felt it was time to loop in his dad and mom about his rising digital footprint. “[The original conversation] wasn’t even about leaving nursing, it was solely about going part-time. But my dad bought set off and he took it as me not appreciating the alternatives that I had been given being born within the U.S.” As a first-generation American, the thought of disregarding his dad and mom’ sacrifice plagued him.
But after months of radio silence was “rough conversations,” Keshi articulated that he wasn’t really losing his privilege. He was harnessing it. “The point of my grandparents immigrating to America is so that I could shoot for the fucking stars, right? I really think that’s what I’m doing,” he says.
Creating Gabriel was a problem for Keshi, who began the method feeling “dry and uninspired,” as if he’d “never be able to write again.” It took bringing in an out of doors collaborator, producing associate Elie Rizk, to kickstart his creativity and produce him again to life. As he and Rizk labored collectively on sonics and manufacturing in L.A., a lot of the album’s writing passed off in Houston, the place Keshi might write alone in his house studio. “I didn’t want to stress over writing because it’s the part that takes me the most time. So, if we were ever stumped, I would say, Hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t stress over it. I’ll take this home,” he recollects. The album experiments tremendously with sound and style, however its lyrics stay persistently Keshi.
Sonically, Gabriel launches with an act of insurrection in “Get It,” which he can solely describe as a “really disgusting, just heinously loud beat that goes crazy.” Though he by no means envisioned himself creating such a high-energy, hip-hop-inspired observe — in distinction together with his sometimes delicate output — Keshi needed Gabriel to remind listeners of his huge capabilities as an artist. “There’s a connotation with my music that revolves around being heartbroken or in a somber state of mind,” he admits. “But I don’t want to be typecast into that. I don’t want people to think that I am only able to make one kind of music.”
Before any album particulars have been even launched, Keshi teased his pleasure about mid-tempos “Angostura” and “Hell/Heaven.” The former, titled after the favored Trinidadian rum model, is “a very, very sweet and easy listen” that serves as a tasty entry level for brand new followers. “Hell/Heaven,” in the meantime, finds worth in its complexity. Keshi passionately narrates the observe, detailing every manufacturing method with utmost precision. He describes every little thing from using “soft guitalele and plucked tremolo” to “the glitch part of the deep vocals that comes in and out,” making it abundantly clear why he views this music with such delight. “There are so many different moments in this song that my head latches onto because it’s something that my ear hasn’t heard before,” he says. “It might not be everyone’s favorite, but it’s one of mine.”
Fatherhood, or the thought of it, is a typical theme on Gabriel, which is sort of actually represented on “Père,” a spoken-word interlude carried out totally in French (a language generally spoken in Vietnam resulting from France’s former colonial rule over the nation.) At Gabriel’s midpoint, “Père” options Keshi’s father talking to his 18-year-old self, a younger man who simply left his house nation searching for a greater life. “I would like to tell myself don’t worry,” he says on the observe. “One day I will have a beautiful family and an intelligent son.” Upon transcribing the recording, Keshi was moved to tears. “It’s pretty special to me,” he shares with a smile.
Another music impressed by paternal instincts is Gabriel’s title observe. Though Keshi possesses no explicit non secular affiliation, he’s at all times been drawn to the identify, referring to the album as “Gabriel” earlier than the music existed. Biblically, Gabriel is one in all seven archangels, and in line with the New Testament, it was he who introduced to Mary that she would carry the son of God. As one of many final tracks written for the album, “Gabriel” describes what Keshi “imagines parenthood might be like” and “what it’s like to watch [his] parents grow old.” Upon turning 27 final November, he realized he’s entered into “this weird part of [his] life where having kids is no longer such a far-gone concept.” With fun, he clarifies: “I mean, not like tomorrow.”
When requested about thematics, Keshi shares that Gabriel has no actual purple thread, aside from the truth that “each and every song is immensely personal to [him].” As somebody who spent a lot of his profession trying to remain in relative anonymity, Gabriel is a uncooked and revealing portrait of the person behind the artist.
Despite the immense hype surrounding his debut, Keshi nonetheless doesn’t know why individuals are drawn to his music. “All the artists that I love have some sort of ‘it factor,’ but I can’t really tell you what that is for me,” he admits. “All I know is that I try to do the best that I can.” But placing the nerves and expectations apart, he manages to remain optimistic, feeling assured within the artwork he’s created and believing he’s finished justice to the artists who’ve come earlier than him. “I want Gabriel to be to my fans what John Mayer’s Continuum is for me,” he says. “A record that loops forever.”