Written by: Jocelyn Van Saun | Photo(s) by: Stefan Poulos
Artist Spotlight: Talia Keys [Interview]
For our June Artist Spotlight, singer, songwriter, musician, DJ, and activist Talia Keys spoke candidly with Volume about her experience as a queer woman in the music industry, which she describes as a “constant uphill battle,” current projects and upcoming shows, and what Pride Month means to her. I could try to describe Talia and her music, but I’d rather let the artist do what she does best and let the power in her words speak for itself. *Edited for brevity and clarity*
Name: Talia Keys
Band: The Love
Members: Dave Brogan (drums), Ryan Conger (keys), Josh Olsen (bass), and Lisa Giacoletto (backing vocals)
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Genre: Funk/Soul/Rock n’ Roll/Blues/Hip Hop/Reggae
Fun Fact: “I don’t know if it’s fun, but it’s interesting. I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. I’ve been diabetic since I was ten years old and I’ve always had to adjust my life because it’s a disease, but I don’t ever let it hold me back. 24-hours a day, it’s doing chemistry to keep yourself alive. There’s a routine I get into when I’m at home, there’s a show routine, there’s a tour routine, and they all are a little bit different and it is a constant juggle. It’s definitely something I’ve had to get used to being a full-time musician, not letting my health come second to that.”
Who are your biggest musical influences?
“It’s constantly changing. But when I was growing up, I was pretty sure that I was Elvis reincarnated when I was like eight…I used to do Elvis impersonations and that was kind of my first time getting into drag and exploring cross-dressing and being more of a tomboy. Then I found The Beatles, who opened my mind a lot. And then I found Bob Marley, who opened me up a lot more to Black music…I’m a huge music aficionado. I’m also a KRCL DJ, so that’s definitely added to that.”
How’d you get your start in the music industry?
“I started playing at a really young age. In high school, I was in a band and we did these things called coffee houses…so we started playing those and that was it. I loved performing for people. When I was about 21, I started going to a lot of open mics and open jams and that’s where I really got my start. I loved meeting other musicians and playing music with people I didn’t know, but still being able to speak a language together. It became my ritual…and then I got my start doing solo stuff at Pat’s Barbecue. At one point in my career, I was playing there two to three times a week. It’s where I cut my teeth.”
So sometimes you play with your band, and sometimes you’re a solo act. Tell me about that dynamic.
“Well, the first real band I was in was with the used-to-be-local artists, Tony Holiday and Jordan Young. We were in a band called Blue Root together. That’s when I first started to do shows and festivals. After that, I had a long-time band called Marinade where I fronted from the drumset. We were in a band for about eight years, we had a really good run. After that, I started Talia Keys and Friends, which would just be whichever local musicians were available, I’d hire them and we’d play shows. Through that, I found my current band, The Love, and we’ve been a band together for over five years now. So sometimes you’ll see Talia Keys & the Love, and that’s a show with the full band, and sometimes I do solo shows. Pre-COVID, for about six years, I toured the U.S. coast-to-coast doing solo shows.”
Speaking of which, any plans to get back on tour?
“Our main focus right now is just getting through this summer. I’d love to get management and booking, I’m at the point in my career where I’m ready to hand over those reigns. I’ve been doing it myself for over 12 years. So we haven’t really been looking to book tours because [with COVID] things are still so up in the air and can get canceled last minute. It was already hard to tour before COVID.”
What have the last two-plus years been like for you as a musician?
“When the first quarantine hit, we went into full-on streaming mode and would stream multiple times a week. Our fans showed up for us. They helped us not only pay our bills, but we were giving back to over 15 non-profits throughout that time. We got involved heavily with helping unsheltered people in Utah. My fans are just amazing. In such a dark time, we still played two to three shows a week for people. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to deal with all of that loneliness.”
What current projects and new releases are in the works?
“I’ve been shifting my focus more to the music business side of things, which is different, and promoting our new album, Lessons. We did seven singles for that and we’re currently focusing on making music videos for every single song…This is the first time we’re doing that for an album.”
What previous albums and releases do you currently have out?
Lessons – 2022 (Talia & the Love and the Omega Horns)
We’re Here – 2018 (Talia Keys & the Love)
Fool’s Gold – 2015
Gemini Mind – 2014
So Fool’s Gold and Gemini Mind were solo endeavors?
“At the time (I was making Fool’s Gold), I was dealing with a lot of misogyny in the music scene. I was dealing with a band that I was previously in that made fun of me for being gay. I was dealing with a lot of sexual harassment. It was all just really getting me down, so Fool’s Gold was my f*** you to people who had discounted me as a musician or made fun of me for my politics or who I was as a human. I went into the studio and played 90% of the instruments myself, to say ‘I don’t need any of you.’ I had some local musicians come in and play on some songs. My studio engineer and co-producer, Michael Sasich, and I had an absolute blast making that album together. Before that, Gemini Mind was my first solo record. Half of those songs were with my band, Marinade, and half were with the band that I did not get along with.
… It’s real being a woman, especially a queer woman, in the music industry. It’s a real thing that we have to deal with pretty much on a daily basis. It needs to end. Everyone’s value in the music industry should be equal, even though 75% of it is male.”
With that, what has your experience in the music industry been like?
“I really do believe that when doors close, it’s for a reason. I was fired from about 80% of the gigs I used to play in Utah since I came out of the closet and since I started talking about legalizing gay marriage, back when we were talking about that. And then, of course, when Donald Trump came into the picture, I lost even more. It became that sort of thing where basically people just wanted me to play my music and keep my mouth shut. But I’ve never been that sort of musician, so for me, it meant not playing shows where people are not there to see me, and that’s okay. I’m at a point where I only want to play for people who want to receive my message. It took me a long time to get there. I’ve been physically assaulted on stage. I’ve been called every name in the books. I’ve been made fun of by other musicians. I received death threats during the pandemic for speaking out for causes I believe in. My mouth has gotten me in trouble and, to me, that’s okay because it just closes these doors that I really shouldn’t be in anyway. Since losing a lot of those jobs, I’m not being physically assaulted. I’m not being called names while I’m onstage. My life is better.”
Do you notice a difference, between playing here in Utah, and in other parts of the country?
“I grew up here, born and raised. And it is the South of the West, that’s what I call Utah. I’ve toured in the South and, for me, I get shut down way more playing here. And again, when Trump came into the picture, touring became different for us. It became even scarier. We decided not to play in small, rural venues, but only in big cities out of fear for our safety.”
*Talia goes on to describe one especially terrifying instance of sex-based discrimination that she and her fiancé recently experienced.*
“We went on a trip to Idaho during the pandemic just to be out in nature. We were sitting on the side of the road watching the sunset and a truck pulled over and shot a gun at us out of the window. They flipped their truck into reverse, I jumped into the car, but my fiancé said she didn’t want to let them intimidate us. They shot their gun two more times and then sped off. We were doing nothing but sitting on the side of the road watching the sunset.”
Thank you for sharing that. Given your experiences, both in the music industry and in everyday life, what does Pride Month mean to you?
“Yea, I mean it’s always been an uphill battle. It is for countless marginalized groups and individuals and the only way it’s going to change is if we shine a light on it and call it out and have these hard conversations..That’s why I’m so passionate about it. We have to stay loud, we have to stay proud…If you look at the greats in music, queer and androgynous people have existed in music forever, so you’re not going to get rid of us.”
Are you doing anything to celebrate?
“Oh yea. We just released a music video for our song, “We’re Here.” I wrote that about being gay, and gender norms, gender roles, and all of these things that are forced upon us, and kind of how I’m not cool with that. The chorus goes, ‘We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. We’re here and we will never hide.’ That is us. Whether you’re straight or gay, if you are different, you are bringing your difference to this world and it matters. We filmed it at the Capitol Theatre and had six of us queers, kings, and things and we performed a very gay music video starring Madazon Can-Can that we just released on June 1st. I’m very proud of it and glad it’s out there in the world. And on a personal note, this month, Pride month, marks 12 years my fiancé and I have been together and we’re getting married!”
“We’re Here” [Official Video] – Talia Keys
[Video: Talia Keys]
You just played a Pride show at Urban Lounge, how was that?
“It was a great fundraiser for a non-profit that I’m involved in called Rock Camp SLC and for Red Rocks Music Festival, which is a music festival that only books marginalized genders. It was great and nice to not be a part of a corporate pride party and kind of do our own thing, it felt really safe. For me, right now that’s the most important thing. The shows have got to be as safe as they possibly can.”
Where can we see you play next?
“As for our next band soirée, Talia & The Love is playing a show up at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater on June 29th. That’s going to be a blast, our last show was in April so we can’t wait to play together. Then I’m playing solo at the Park City Kimball Arts Festival on August 7th.”
What has been your most memorable show thus far and why?
“It’s a toss-up between two…In 2019 we played the mainstage at The Utah Pride Festival for 6,000 people. That was out of control and so much fun. To see people of all identities, all races, and all ages just being there in the name of queer love was huge to me and made me realize that not all of Utah is bigoted, and actually more people here are accepting and loving and giving and caring than we realize. That will forever be burned into my brain.
The other one was our recent album release. It was smaller than we’re used to, but it felt good to still be able to be here after all that we went through the last two years. To be able to still take the stage with my band, I could feel the audience just release with us. That darkness and these demons we’ve been dealing with, we got to scream those out. And even just to still be alive after seeing musicians in this town that I love and family members get sick and pass from COVID, I don’t take that lightly.”
What’s the best show you’ve attended?
“The best show I’ve seen in my life was Silk Sonic in Las Vegas. I had full-body chills for three songs in a row and tears streaming down my face and I didn’t care. I just let myself feel the whole thing. It’s such a healing thing, so get out there. Whoever your favorite band is, get out there and see them. And if you don’t have a favorite band, go support any band right now because we’re all struggling and we all need the fans and the audience.”
Where is your dream venue to play at one day?
“Red Rocks Amphitheatre. For me, locally, Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre was a dream, it still is. Last summer I got to open there for Lukas Nelson. That was so cool to have that come full circle and knock out one of my bucket list venues. So, Red Rocks, we’re coming for you.”
What do you want fans to feel when they listen to your music?
“I want them to feel empowered to be themselves. And feel the urgency that life is too short and every day spent not trying to make this world a better place is a day wasted. Small actions every single day really can change the world. I want people to realize that they do have the power.”
Tickets to the Park City Kimball Arts Festival can be found here. There is free entry to see Talia Keys & The Love at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater on June 29th. For more information on Talia Keys, follow her on socials below. Check out all of Volume‘s previous artist spotlights here.