Aaron Keylock doesn’t mess about. By the time you read this, the boy wonder of British blues will be deep into sessions for perhaps the most anticipated debut album of 2016, having flown out to Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. “So I mean, New Year’s Eve is probably not going to be too wild,” he tells The Blues. “You don’t want to be hungover and jet-lagged!”
Scheduled for a late-summer release on Mascot Records, Keylock’s untitled debut will be helmed by Fabrizio Grossi at his Sounds Of Pisces studio in Santa Clarita, California, with the veteran producer also cherry-picking a crack band to support the 18-year-old gunslinger.
There will be no time for frivolity, insists Keylock. “I’ve got in my head that I’m going out there to make an album,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else. And I don’t know if I’d even get into the clubs on the Sunset Strip!”
When The Blues calls him in mid-December, Keylock is in pre-production at Wendyhouse Studios in Shepherd’s Bush, pinning down a tracklisting that will likely be drawn from his recent live sets.
“We’ve got about 14 songs we’re working on before we pick the final ones, but [fan favourite] Medicine Man is definitely on there. There’s Spin The Bottle, which has a laid-back Exile On Main St kinda vibe. That’s about being young and getting into music, just taking a risk and going for it.
“Down,” he continues, “is about people trying to knock you down. Not necessarily in music, just in life. Y’know, people trying to tell you how to be, how to live, what to say. That song is just about keeping a belief in who you are. Then there’s Against The Grain, which is a Johnny Winter slide-riffy kinda thing. That song is my life story, really, about going against the grain to normal people my age.”
Fame has never been important. I just want a great album
Keylock is certainly no ordinary teenager. Since the fateful day he strafed the Charlotte Street Blues club – aged just 12 – he’s been likened to Rory Gallagher and tipped for immortality. “It was weird when I was at school,” he admits. “I was kind of living two different lives. I guess the Rory Gallagher comparisons are because he’s been my main focus, ever since I was about six. I’ve always listened to his albums, watched all the YouTube clips.”
Despite the press making all the right noises – and a deal with famed Dutch label Mascot – the debut album has been frustratingly slow to arrive. Keylock nods. “It was just waiting for the right time, the right producer, the right studio. I signed to Mascot last February and since then, it’s just been trying to sort things. As soon as we met Fab, everything has been moving really quick. It seems to have either gone too slow or too fast. We could have done it a lot quicker but it wouldn’t have been as good, so it’s good that we stuck it out.”
Debut albums are important, and Keylock has some clear favourites. “I mean, Johnny Winter’s first album [1968’s The Progressive Blues Experiment] was great for me. I think that was his strongest period; my favourite playing of his career. Also, The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker. It came out in 1990, but they were kinda playing things like the Faces and the Stones in the 70s. They caught on to another generation. It took going back to move forwards. I’ve always liked doing that as well.”
People have said Keylock is here to carry the baton for the blues, and for many artists at this stage of their career, it would be unwelcome pressure. Keylock thinks differently.
“No, I don’t think it brings pressure. It’s a privilege and a compliment. It’s everything I’ve always wanted. But I think as soon as you start to think you’ve made it, that’s when you’ll stop moving forwards. Even when you’re there. Even when you’re Keith Richards, y’know? When you stop looking forward, that’s when you’ll stop.”
And when it comes to his new record, Keylock is clear in his aims.
“Well, everyone wants as many people to hear their music as possible, and to sell as many tickets as possible,” he considers. “Obviously, I want that as well. But fame has never been important to me. It was never in my head whether I was going to make it or not. I started out playing music before I ever got into the idea of fame and money, or ever found out about the whole rock’n’roll, drugs, girls thing.
“So if the album sells well, then it does. But as long as I know it’s a great album, that I’m proud to hold up and call mine – that’s all I really want. Hopefully the album will be as good as I want it to be. As good as everyone wants it to be. You want it to capture the best you’ve got…”
Aaron Keylock’s debut album will be out later in 2016 via Mascot