In Conversation With Keaton Henson

“I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding hooks for a long time,” Keaton Henson admits as he dissects the creative inspiration of his newest project, ‘House Party.‘ After seven acclaimed LPs, Henson completely shifts from his usual dreamy folk/indie soundscapes and introduces his new attention hungry alter ego, whose vain and undeniable loneliness are expressed via radio-friendly pop songs.

‘House Party’ uses a pink-suited narrator, a parallel version of Keaton Henson, who dabbles with the disconnection between the persona an artist puts on versus the flawed human version at home. This 12-track compilation portrays an affirmation needing individual and other trappings of fame.

Previously, Henson has released records like ‘Six Letharfies’ composed around mental illness and trauma, or his latest 2020 album, ‘Monument‘ which speaks about grief and losing a loved one. ‘House Party’ still unfolds intricate details of complex emotions, but the catchy melodies and pop elements make for the only language pink-suited Henson can express his hindering isolation.

The real Keaton Henson enjoys the countryside, the calmness of wind-brushed trees, and unlimited space, physical and social. As we discuss his other releases and compare them with ‘House Party,’ Henson is open about not being familiar with the toxic thrills of fame. What you see is what you get, no charades, no pretending, no fabrications. Keaton Henson stands still and lives a fulfilling life with his ego in check.

How are you going to celebrate the release of ‘House Party’?

I don’t think I’ll get a chance, I’ll be having a panic attack backstage at my first show. But I’m not much of a celebrator anyway. I’m really happy it’s coming out though. It’s been a long process and I genuinely think it’s good.

What was the hardest thing about leaving London?

Absolutely nothing, I wasn’t supposed to be there.

What do you love the most about living in the countryside?

I like hearing trees, I like space and the ability to go out and get my hands dirty at any point. But I really love being able to choose when I see people. Its made me want to see people. In one month I probably walk past more than I used to in a day.

In 2010, you released your debut album ‘Dear,’ what do you feel listening back to this project today?

I feel conflicted, no part of it feels like me. It makes me feel strange to be associated with the words of this really young, open wound of a person. But I also sort of want to go back and give him a hug. It’s strange when I do play those songs to have the words of an 18/20 year old in my mouth. but they’re so familiar now they just feel like a (slightly withered) limb.

‘Six Lethargies’ gives a sense of how the world appears to people who have to manage mental illness on daily basis. This album came out in 2016, what do you think changed for the better and for the worse in terms of conversations had about mental health and how we can help people and each other?

Any conversation is good I suppose, and if I’m totally honest I’m not really up to speed, for my own mental wellbeing I keep to myself, so I’m not quite sure what the conversations are, my only concern I suppose is that with the very positive outcome of people now being able to speak openly about their struggles. I worry that people can get addicted to this affirmation and become defined by their illnesses. I don’t want anyone to feel that that’s all they are, or what makes them special. 

I think that there’s great benefit in talking about your struggles to people you love, and then talking about something else for a bit.

Your latest album, ‘Monument’ released in 2020 touches upon feelings around grief , what would be your advice for someone going through loss in respect to everyone’s experience being different?

I definitely wouldn’t know where to start as it is so different for everyone, for me personally its’ always humour that helps, even if, or especially when you don’t feel like you want to laugh. It’s important to allow grief to remind us not only of death, but of the lack of it. Grief is something you earn by having connected with another human being. Congratulations.

Could you talk us through the process of how you came up with the concept for your new  album ‘House Party’?

I was thinking a lot about who I would be if I wanted to be famous, and craved attention rather than running from it, how my life would be, and what my music would sound like. So I started writing songs from the point of view of that version of me. 

I didn’t put too much thought into who he was, just started writing as though I’d spent the last decade needing affirmation. And they came out melodically really pop and radio friendly, but with a deep vein of a cry for help running through the lyrics, like he was screaming about how lonely he was, but could only speak pop.

What is the story behind the title?

There were several ideas for title, house parties I think just felt like places where you can be surrounded by people and feel particularly lonely. 

Also as someone who isn’t a fan of parties they sort of feel like an invasion.

Was it difficult ‘letting more light in’ and making an upbeat confident pop album?

No it was actually great. Rather than being penned in by the limitations of ‘radio songs’ i felt totally unchained. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding hooks for a long time.

Was the writing process therapeutic at all?

I wouldn’t say therapeutic necessarily, but has made me realize how lucky I am not to have that attention hungry trait that I was exploring. How full my life is because of it. 

‘Late To You’ and I’m Not There’ discuss your relationship and how you given your best to being an artist instead of your partner, what helps you to balance the life of an artist versus personal life?

it’s difficult because art is what I do when I’m not eating or sleeping (sometimes while I’m eating). but I have learned to limit my creative time and force myself to take a break and go outside or do something life-based, otherwise I can just keep going indefinitely and start to lose myself a bit. Having a partner who is worth putting the pen down for also helps.

What is the loneliest thing about ‘climbing and reaching the top’?

I wouldn’t know personally as I’ve never been anywhere near the top, and don’t plan to be. But from the people I have encountered who have got there, it seems to be the living in the shadow of a version of yourself you projected, not being able to live up to the you that you’re perceived to be.

You’re on the scene for over 10 years now, would you do anything differently?

There are lots of lyrics I’d change. and I think I’d like to have had more collaborators on previous records, but not really. 

What can you tell us about the live shows for this project?

They’re terrifying.

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Words: Karolina Kramplova