Keaton Henson – House Party – Track-by-Track
Up to now the English musician and composer Keaton Henson has been writing music about finding ‘a part of himself that’s his is willing to give away’. Advice given to him by his film-making mentor.
This served him well with his debut album Dear in 2010, as he explored feelings of anxiety and separation. Followed by 2016’s Six Lethargies that flirted with a modern classical sound, painting a picture of the world where people manage mental illness on a day-to-day basis.
With new album House Party the 30-year-old Londoner sas decided to drop that advice and embrace the positivity that marriage and moving to Sussex has brought into his life. He has assembled a new team that includes Matt Ingram (Laura Marling), Harry Deacon (Gaz Coombes) “Little” Barrie Cadogan (Edwyn Collins) with co-producers Luke Smith (Foals, Depeche Mode) and Fiona Cruickshank (Paul Weller, Dot Allison). Together they have created a collection of songs that Keaton would want to fit on 90’s teen film classic ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ soundtrack.
He goes to say “I wanted to make an upbeat confident pop record about depression and being a performer, written from the viewpoint of an artist who has hollowed himself out over a long career in the name of success, an alternate universe version of me, who is left empty and lonely from climbing to the top, but is still only able to express these feelings in the language of confident, performative pop songs.”
As he drops House Party Keaton chats to 1883 and gives a track by track break down of the new album revealing the hidden stories behind the music.
I’m Not There
I think I started writing this having (accidentally) caught sight of a video of me on stage, and just thinking that I didn’t recognise any of myself in it at all.
The song itself though is about coming home from performing, or touring, or just being someone else publicly. and feeling like you need to just sit still and look for who you really are. It’s about the wind-down, where you allow yourself to be human and flawed, and the fear that maybe one day you’ll come home or offstage, look for that real you, and not be able to find it.
Rain In My Favourite House
The “favourite house” in this song is the act of staying in and creating. I have always felt the most comfortable and calm when I’m alone at home creating. This is about getting to a place where even that feels scary and dark and unwelcoming. it’s about a time where things feel so bleak that even (or specifically) your favourite thing has turned sour.
Everything these days is so performative and aspirational, and we all seem to live in envy of people and lives that aren’t ours, the lives that seem shinier and we’re convinced would solve all our problems and feelings of emptiness.
It’s about getting to the place where you always wanted to be, and were convinced would make everything better, and realising it hasn’t worked, and the scary realisation that no amount of money or success or fame will.
As having spent a lifetime convinced that that’s all you needed, it can be frightening to think you were wrong, and not know what is.
I think the guy in the song has forsaken all his friendships and meaningful relationships to get to this place in his life or career, and now, realising it was never going to make him happy, is lamenting his loneliness and the wasted years. and trying to warn others away from the same way of thinking.
The Meeting Place
I guess this is more of a straightforward love song. I think the character singing has spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone, and having found the person he wants to be with, is just grabbing on for dear life.
the brief I gave the band for this song was “I want it to fit in on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack”
Two Bad Teeth
a love song about the romance and fireworks of a toxic codependent relationship. when two lost and damaged souls find each other and the (soon to be destructive) explosion at the start of the relationship.
I don’t think this relationship is a good idea based on the way he is singing. But I have been in that place of excitement and sense of throwing everything out the window to pursue it.
This song was intended to utilise and maybe challenge some classic songwriting tropes and clichés.
I want it to sound initially like the classic “Don’t go, stay the night” song. but reveal that it’s not romantic or cheeky, or lustful, but just because the protagonist is just so unhappy and is desperate for connection, and can’t face the idea of being alone tonight.
it feels quite selfish and bleak. but I hope the really classic and upbeat music hides that on first listen.
Late To You
This is one of the songs that I really relate to and feel is really taken from my own feelings about my wife. but perhaps for different reasons than the character in the song
It’s about finding the person you want to be with forever, who makes you feel like you can be yourself and finally relax. but feeling as though you’ve found them too late, and have already given the best of yourself to other people, and work, and life. and all you can offer them is what’s left in you. but offering it anyway, and praying that they take you, baggage, flaws and emptiness and all.
(fun fact: originally the lyrics to this song were just “I’m Taylor Swift” over and over again)
This is another love song of grabbing onto someone and wanting to just team up against the world and all your problems. I think the character is feeling like he just wants a partner in his fight against the world.
Holiday is about those periods in a depressed person’s life where they just disappear from the world. I think the character has been holding a deluge of feelings at bay, and this song is a sort of “out of office” message to say that he’s going to shut himself away and just let them all overwhelm him for a while.
I think it’s also maybe written to a partner, and there seems to be some warning and fear that the other person will follow them in, or get dragged down into his “holiday” too.
In parts of it I wanted to explore the idea of what depression is when you’re sharing a life with someone.
The Mine for me is the centrepiece of the record, and sort of summarises all of the feelings that it’s exploring.
I think of it as the moment that all the facade drops away, the music is sparse and the band have left the room, there’s no shine and radio-friendly hookiness, just a really lonely guy, who’s given everything up for success and renown, and is left a husk.
the ending though feels like a sad moment where he puts the mask back on, the band re-enter and he tells himself (almost maniacally) that it’s all fine because his success as an artist means he’s loved.
This is obviously just a super sarcastic silly song. but also is a sort of caricature of the themes in the record.
I think it is written from that place where you feel so miserable and hopeless that you sort of can’t help but laugh maniacally.
It’s sort of the song equivalent of when one final straw thing happens and you go “oh wonderful, just great”.
Hide Those Feelings
I wanted this to feel like a big, lighters up, chant song. a sort of universal mantra about how everyone is masking things and hiding feelings. there’s some sarcasm in there, but it’s also a sad ending to the album in a way, as it sounds like after this whole album of crying for help he is putting the mask back on and going back out there to project the unreal version of himself “I want to get paid to be someone else” feels like a bleak final line after the journey of the album.
I think I also just liked the idea of a big “feed the world” style chant about repression and hiding your emotions.
House Party is out now. Follow Keaton via @keatonhenson