The Kind Keith Experience

The Kind Keith Experience

December 6, 2023 in Features

by DJ rat

A love for the muddled gray complexities of life came early for Austin-based artist Kind Keith. Under stained glass hues dawning their Sunday best, Kind Keith's fingers danced along the black and white keys of a church grand piano adding a soundtrack to their father's sermons.

Keith started playing the piano at the age of 5 to appease a religious family. The genre-bending piano phenom transitioned from a chapel to a palace, diving into the arts and pursuing a career as a musician at the University of Texas Butler School of Music. The Fort Worth native conjured the name Kind Keith from a grade school icebreaker alliteration game.

After years of playing in bands of various sounds, it was time to establish their unique voice.

“It was a long-time-coming type of thing,” they admit. “I chose the name Kind Keith when I was in the sixth grade. I knew forever that would be the name. Then I spent a long time, waiting for the right moment to start. Then I got to college and was like ‘fuck it.’”

Keith’s life as a student and part-time musician began unceremoniously in 2019 due to a global pandemic.

“When I dropped the first Kind Keith song, it was kind of un-serious. I didn't have any real goals, like starting a band. I was focused on jazz school. Then when the pandemic hit, I was finally getting serious about it,” they said.

COVID isolation forced artists to surrender themselves to solitude and find creative inspiration while imprisoned in their own homes. Being silly and playing around with the piano brought joy to Keith’s confinement.

It might also help to be featured in a Jubilee video.

In the 20-minute video with over 1.2 million videos at the time of writing, three producers and three musicians randomly teamed up to write a song in under two hours.

“Two hours,” Keith interjected with air quotes and a giggle. “It was one sitting but still, not two hours.”

After the success of the Jubilee video and the release of singles, “NO!” and “Brazos,” Kind Keith burst onto the Austin scene and took major steps to begin performing live in the fall of 2020.

With connections from Butler and others in the music world, Keith began assembling a crew.

“I met Keith during my junior year of college. We were both in jazz school together,” said Zach Kursman, the drummer for Kind Keith.

“Over the pandemic, I recorded drums for one of their seminar projects. It was during Zoom University. After collaborating on those projects our relationship began in terms of artistic and musical collaboration. I started to play some shows with their band and the rest is history," Kursman said.

Zach Kursman has plans to release a debut album next year. His latest single, "i',m worth it (cry it out)" gives you a taste of what's to come.

Follow Zach Kursman on Instagram here.

Keith took their songs to Studio Milk and Chez Skinny, a studio where their friend Skinny Salazar worked as head engineer. With the help of their best friend Skinny, Kind Keith's first project was born. “Take what you need” released in May 2021.

The project is a culmination of the work it took to become the musician they are today. Desires to feel a connection feel fresh and authentic at a time when everyone was making art centered around isolation. A more challenging approach to life and the effort needed to continue as an artist are showcased with an adventurous R&B neo-soul sound, focusing on what they love about music, namely the piano.

Keith told, the Austin Chronicle, “Guitars are so overused.” The piano is the end all be all of Keith’s first project.

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Photographed by Spencer O'Neal

“I spent every day of the pandemic doing that. It came out right after the vaccines became available,” Keith said proudly “The world started opening up and so did my career.”

Ushering into a new era of Jazz in Austin, Keith’s new sound debuted at a venue close to home and familiar to many Butler students — Monks Jazz Club, a frequent collaborator for Butler students.

Monks Jazz Club has been known to host senior recitals and other performances for Butler students. Before Keith was Kind Keith, they happened to play the piano at one of these performances.

“It was really rough – actually It probably isn't nearly as bad as I remember,” Keith said referring to their performance for their friend's senior recital.

Keith said an average person probably couldn’t notice the band's breakdown, but jazz people would know.

“When I came to my lesson the next day, [my piano teacher] was like, ‘This is everything you did wrong, and we’re gonna fix it.’”

Making music and being a performer has always been a priority for Keith during their years at Butler, after taking a gap in their studies have shifted to not only learning music but writing, performing, and building their name as an artist.

“I've been trying to get out of my comfort zone. I am trying to make some weird stuff. I like really weird music,” Keith said.

In a city full of weirdness, the abstract and the bravado that comes with Keith’s willingness to combine sounds attracts fellow fusion artists. What convinces these musicians to stay on board is Keith's ability to tell their story, and bring their emotions to life in their lyrics.

Within a transformative period in their life, Keith sings about longing, and each word echoes and reverberates off of a twinkling piano, and traditional R&B beats. Each song has evolved considerably since they were first performed. Natural evolution includes jazz guitar chords following nicely after choruses and Keith a steady drum that grounds the dreamy sound of Keith's music.

Kind Keith's first album.

“I've enjoyed watching and hearing the evolution in the music that Keith writes,” said Stacie Agnew, a keyboardist for Kind Keith and other Austin groups known as Salt Kid. They've come out of their shells as far as writing about their queerness and where they are on the gender spectrum.”

Follow Salt Kid here.

“It's a very transformative experience, hearing their music. It makes me feel very vulnerable and raw,” said Kursman.

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Photographed by Spencer O'Neal

The enthusiasm Keith exhibits in leaving their comfort zone doesn’t necessarily trump convenience. The main reason they decided to record their most recent album, “Live at the Pink Palace,” live at the Pink Palace. It’s not the only reason though.

“I have a lot of feelings for the Pink Palace. It's an all-black Co-Op, which is a pretty rare thing, especially in Austin. We're all super close with each other. We're all artists at the Co-Op as well,” they said.

Donning a pink shirt with the words, “When I Can’t Cope, Jesus Offers Hope,” for our interview, Keith continues to combine their new appreciation for art and creation with their beginnings at the piano. With hopes to return to Butler in the near future, and continue to create “weird shit,” for a growing fanbase, Kind Keith continues to be a friendly face for Austin’s new wave of fusion artists.

Make sure to catch Kind Keith perform live for Austin's annual "Bill Ball," at Radio East December 9th.

Follow the amazing musician here.

All photos thanks to KVRX's own Spencer O'Neal.

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