Keith Harkin rides a wave of success with CD debut
Keith Harkin is a natural. His voice and easy-going personality along with some strong guitar playing remind one of the more relaxed and purely entertaining times in popular music. Songs such as "Sunshine on My Shoulder" by John Denver or "Moondance" by Van Morrison fit right in with his style. Harkin began his road to success as part of the worldwide musical phenomenon known as Celtic Thunder. It has only been over the past year or so that the wheels in motion to record his solo debut have fallen into place.
They say, "Timing is everything." Harkin, an avid surfer, has been known to catch the perfect wave. "You name it. I’ve surfed it," he says. Keith is also right on the money for appealing to those who long for real meaning and quality along with his true-blue voice. As a songwriter, his debut is a solid mix of both his original songs and the songs he loves best. This makes for a winning combination of well-done material.
The timing may be right for that CD, entitled "Keith Harkin," which has held the #1 spot on Billboard’s World Music charts since it was released two weeks ago. It is also tracking at #78 on Billboard’s Top 200.
EDGE spoke to Harkin about his CD, career and working with Celtic Thunder.
A supportive family
EDGE: Start to finish, the overall energy and flow of your solo debut recording is really well done.
Keith Harkin: Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
EDGE: Do you come from a large family in Derry?
Keith Harkin: No, just me and my sister and my mom and dad. The rest of my family is very close to us though.
EDGE: All right. As a spokesman for McPherson Guitars, you talked of your father giving you cab fare for the audition for Celtic Thunder. I imagine your dad is truly supportive of your talents.
Keith Harkin: Oh yeah! Everyone in my family is. Anything I’ve ever wanted to do, they just let me get on with it. They encouraged me as much as they could.
Working with David Foster
EDGE: Nice. Now, you’ve signed with the Verve label, which is phenomenal. Please share a bit of being on this label and working with David Foster [Chairman of Verve Music Group and executive producer].
Keith Harkin: It was actually a little over a year ago, when I got the call to go and see David. He wanted to see how I play and see how he liked my stuff. I actually met David on my 22nd birthday in L.A. years back. I’m 26 now. I went to audition and with my work being so hectic at that time, it just wasn’t the right time. Oddly enough, this year was my time. Once David took over Verve, they asked me if I could sign and I was more than happy to show up for the job.
It was actually Jochem van der Saag who produced my album. He’s a master engineer and has mastered a lot of tracks for the label over the past five or six years. I like everything he’s done. He also had co-production of some stuff with David overseeing the whole thing. I had a great team behind me and Verve is a really cool label. I’ve met a lot of label people before, but they’re really cool.
EDGE: I know you wrote several original songs that are on the CD but how did the process of picking songs that you would cover go?
Keith Harkin: We actually had a lot more songs then you hear on the album. We recorded 17 tracks by the end of the recording process. We basically sat down and picked songs that I love to do. They really didn’t force any songs on me. I had a big say in a lot of the things that happened on the album. I just picked the songs that I loved... I’m been playing "Everybody’s Talking at Me" and "Heart of Saturday Night" since I was 16-years old. I’m also a huge Van Morrison and Tom Waits fan. All the songs that I cover are really songs that I grew up playing.
Music he grew up with
EDGE: I was aware of your fascination with this time period of music. Were these songs you just picked up as a child or as a teenager?
Keith Harkin: I grew up listening to the music as it was always in our house. My mother and father just loved Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil Young. I’m a huge Glenn Campbell fan and love Glen Campbell. I always heard his stuff. The first album I ever had of Tom Waits was "The Black Rider." That’s the music that I grew up on and it’s still the same music that I listen to.
EDGE: Tell me about the experience of working with Jochem van der Saag.
Keith Harkin: He’s amazing. This is sort of the first project that Jochem has got to do on his own as well and have complete control of producing. This is Jochem’s baby as much as it was mine. The way Jochem and I got together and we had exactly the same taste in music and we knew what each other wants when we’re in the studio... it really wasn’t a tough task at all. We put the long hours in and a lot of work but it was never hard between ourselves trying to understand what we wanted on the tracks.
EDGE: How long have you been playing guitar?
Keith Harkin: I’ve been playing the guitar for almost sixteen years. Singing comes a lot easier for me than playing guitar. I’ve been singing since I was four-years-old. When you are recording with Jochem and these guys, they are so particular in what needs to be done and what they hear. When I started hearing the finished tracks, I heard how pristine and clear the playing was that I have done. It was worth doing it that way.
EDGE: Definitely. Now, where did your songwriting talents spring from? The new songs you wrote all clicked with me for different reasons.
Keith Harkin: That’s great. I’ve been writing since I was about sixteen. I started writing songs just for the fun and the heck of it. Once I joined Celtic Thunder, I wrote a song called "Lauren and I" for the first album, I wrote a song called "All Day Long" for our album "Voyage." When the first album came around, they had no idea that I wrote and basically I threw a few songs at them.
For this debut, once I realized the kind of songs they were looking for, I knocked out as many songs as I could. It ended up being fifty-fifty, six originals and six covers, so I was delighted.
EDGE: That’s a strong aspect of this CD as well. Your song "Nothing But You and I" is a beautiful ballad. Did you write that song for someone or was it not as specific as that?
Keith Harkin: It was specific in one sense and non-specific in the other. A lot of my lyrics came from when I was going to L.A. to do my first recording session. A lot of lyrics were written when I was delayed for a plane and basically wrote about everything that was said. It’s about getting to L.A. It’s not particular about someone. Jochem slowed the original tempo down, put a string arrangement on it and if that came across as a love song, that’s cool.
EDGE: After phenomenal success with Celtic Thunder, what were some of your feelings before this debut was released on September 18th?
Keith Harkin: To be honest with you, I didn’t really know when they were offering it on pre-sale. There was a friend of mine who contacted me from the states. He said, "Your album is on pre-sale at Amazon." I was like, "What!" So, I would go and check and it was number six that day and then the week after it went to number one on newest releases and number two in bestsellers. The only person on the planet who was beating me was Adele at one point. This was six to seven weeks before the release in the states.
Still the same guy
EDGE: Didn’t that freak you out?
Keith Harkin: It was insane when you see those kinds of things happen. (laughter) Seeing your name around all these other acts, I’m still the same guy. I think it’s just my time hopefully.
EDGE: One of the most powerful compositions you created is called "Rosa."
Keith Harkin: Rosa is actually my Goddaughter. It came out of Rosa telling me not to leave when I’d go out on the road for long tours. She would be in tears and how beautiful a kid she is and that’s how the song came about. I really pushed this song the most because it is relatable. It could be about a girl, it could be about someone. It’s not necessarily about a kid.
EDGE: What were your goals in making this record?
Keith Harkin: I love a good album regardless of what kind of music is on the album. You can listen to a great album and they all have a bit of rock, a bit of pop and a slow love song on them. I think a lot of albums are just stuck in one genre of music. I love having a wide variety of music to choose from the artist, as it shows more of what they can be.
EDGE: With the responsibilities you have touring and recording with Celtic Thunder and now, the release of your debut, how do you stay grounded? It’s got to be overwhelming at times.
Keith Harkin: Yeah, I auditioned for Celtic Thunder when I was 20-years-old and I turn 26 in June. I’m well-seasoned in the path of touring. I know the lay of the land and what it takes to be playing every night. Our Celtic Thunder tours aren’t easy tours. Sometimes, we do maybe ten gigs in seven days. They are high-pressure gigs with a minimum of three, four thousand people every night. I’m well use to it and I’m just gonna spread myself as much as I can between now and I drop dead. (laughter) I’ll give it my best shot.
EDGE: Knock ’em dead, great talking with you.
Keith Harkin: Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate it.
Keith Harkin is currently touring with Celtic Thunder. To find out more about the tour and how to purchase his debut CD, visit his website.
Watch Keith Harkin performing "Don’t Forget About Me" from his debut CD: