Kaleb McKane releases his debut recording on Friday (27th July).
An eyebrow raising three-track EP, “Universe In Reverse” where the 24-year-old London-based artist blasts into orbit with some outrageous fretboard skills and an equally impressive vocal.
Almost certainly destined to be compared to early Bowie; while there are definite similarities, there’s a heck of a lot more to this young guy than that.
This triple teaser was produced by Miles James (Michael Kiwanuka, Emile Sande), and mastered by Gavin Lurssen (Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age).
It features drummer Dean Pearson and Toshi Ogawa on bass from The Wildhearts, Kaleb’s former housemates, and gives a tantalising taste of what’s to come from Mr McKane, and the mahoosive potential in this audacious young singer, songwriter and guitarist.
On first listen, it’s a traffic stopper. It is then gob smacking to discover he isn’t yet signed to a record label – this EP was crowdfunded. Ladbroke’s would probably not offer very good odds that this will be the case for much longer.
Word is already out there among music biz VIPs about this precocious and incendiary talent; as a guitarist, as a singer and as a writer of songs.
Such as Woody Woodmansey, drummer and partner in crime with Bowie and one of Ziggy Stardust’s Spiders From Mars. Woody played on an as yet unreleased bunch of songs from Kaleb some time ago, and the pair also played some gigs together.
Others to loudly sing Kaleb’s praises include Hans-Martin Buff, who was superstar Prince’s personal recording engineer. Hans was stunned when he heard Kaleb and has got him on board for his next project. He mixed Kaleb’s new record.
“One of the best singer/songwriter rock guitarists I have heard this decade – an extreme quality” says top producer Steve Brown, who has worked with Freddie Mercury, ABC, Alison Moyet, George Michael, Manic Street Preachers and many more.
Chris Kimsey, famed producer who worked with The Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton, Marillion, The Cult, Soul Asylum, Yes, INXS and many more big names, calls Kaleb McKane “someone amazing”. He says: “His voice is really special, love his guitar work, and we love his music”.
Mike Berry, founder of The Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore says: “If this guy doesn’t make it as a rock star, the world is not a fair place”.
Another top end producer who knows his stuff, also hails Kaleb a star. Terry Brown, who worked with Rush, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Joe Cocker, says: “Kaleb is quite the talent, major productions and epic stuff!”
So, it is only a matter of time before the great unwashed pick up on this young guy as their new guitar hero, killer singer and (probably) a future rock star. “Universe In Reverse” is a bloody good start.
So, who is Kaleb McKane? “A musician, guitarist, singer, songwriter. Passionate about it. Fully dedicated to it, and to making it as good as it can possibly be”. As a person? “Introspective, inward looking, thoughtful”.
He’s 24, lives in Highgate in London, was born in Brisbane, Australia and lived there until he was three-years-old. He moved to the UK and was raised by his mother, a professional performance pianist.
Kaleb started out as a pianist, but at about 12-years-old he fell in love. He was smitten. Hooked. With the sound of the electric guitar. So his mother bought him his first “axe”, a red Fender Squier Strat’ copy for his birthday.
“The electric guitar spoke to me. The excitement of it, and the shape and colours. The vibrancy, the aggression and the vulgarity; all of those things spoke to me at the age of 12″.
The first song that really made an impact with Kaleb as a kid, was hearing Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot”. He was 10. Seeing Jimi Hendrix in a documentary on the BBC on TV also lit a flame inside him. Today, he recalls that moment as “exhilarating”.
He started playing guitar at 12, and early on, got his first gig; a village fete in Oxshott in Surrey, an open-air affair where he sang and played guitar; covers of Hendrix songs such as “Voodoo Chile” and “Purple Haze”.
He won a music scholarship to the independent day school at Ewell Castle, in Surrey — the same school where Mercury Prize-winning songwriter/producer Sampha studied. “I knew, in my heart, I would never be an ensemble musician like my mother was. I didn’t have the discipline to apply myself.
“I dropped out of school at sixteen, and after a year at the ICMP (The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance) I went to do a foundation degree in popular music at the Royal Northern College of Music.”
“At the RNCM I was confronted with classical works and a lot of really committed and stimulating musicians. Although, it’s true, I still felt out of place — as if I was the musical anti-Christ in a sacred institution. ”
When he was 16, Kaleb went to see Jeff Beck in concert. “I don’t mind admitting I cried. I was emotionally struck by Jeff’s fluency, supreme ability and elegant grace. He seemed so easy-handed yet in complete control. I remember thinking he was self-determined and self-sufficient, but also free. I wanted to be just like him.”
Kaleb’s musical approach clearly has classical sensibilities. That was the world he was brought up in. With his mother the pianist, and then when he was accepted for the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
His compositions on this new EP are not structured like the usual verse, chorus verse, middle eight, bridge, chorus mallarkey of most popular songs. He seems to be allergic to “repeated sections” in his songs. On paper; the dots for the arrangements to a pro’ musician would look, well; nuts!
But to Kaleb and the way his musical brain is wired, it is the only way. When you hear it, none of that is going to be at the forefront of your mind. My first thoughts when I gave the three cuts a spin ages ago, were: “******* hell. Who is this? Wow! What a player. What a voice!” I suspect, that is likely to be the collective response from most people.
Music has always been 100% of his day-to-day life. Kaleb has never had a day job. He works as a guitar player; teaching, performing guitar demonstrations and recording/live sessions. Plus his own solo career.
He joined the band Never The Bride for a year as a guitarist at the age of 21, and toured with them. He has played guitar on various low key records as a guitar for hire, but this new EP, “Universe In Reverse” is his debut solo release in physical form. Last January (2017), he released a single,“Talk To God” as a digital track, which attracted critical acclaim. That track really is like Bowie. Seriously good.
I wanted to be a Jimmy Page…
So, did he yearn to be a superstar singer and guitarist, and is he chasing fame and fortune? “The songs are what I focus mostly on. Primarily first and foremost, I am a guitar player. I started singing in my teens more because I couldn’t find a Robert Plant.
“I wanted to be a Jimmy Page and work with a singer. But I could never find one. So, I got better and better at it and ended up really enjoying it. Fame and fortune: Important? No. No. I would like success, but not at the cost of my music”.
With all of these heavyweights in the music industry raving about you, do you feel like you are on the verge of becoming a big star? “I would love to think some success is going to arrive before too long, but that is not my ambition. I want to write great music, and I want to be regarded as very good by my peers and by my fans. But of course, I’d love to commercially and financially achieve as much as I possibly can”.
I just love that; he wants to be seen as “very good”.When you hear him, that comment should make you smile. I’ll leave it there…
Kaleb had his own musical vision even as a young teenager, and a laser beam focus on how to achieve it. “Yes, I had a musical vision of what I wanted to do when I was 14. Now at 24, 10 years on; I feel I can finally achieve it. That vision was to create immersive rock music…It is all about the composition and the way it flows…To write and record great big epic songs is what really gets me.
“Like ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. These great big, giant songs that you go through and don’t have to sit there and listen to repeated sections. That sort of thing is what I want to achieve, but updated and concentrated. A bit more accessible to the ears of today”.
Kaleb gets very passionate and a perhaps a tad frustrated with himself, when trying to make a point about exactly where his head is at in terms of the music he hears. How he wants to transfer those ever-present swirling thoughts to his live performances and his recordings.
What he is basically saying, I believe is; he NEEDS to make music which is an experience, rather than disposable pop music. He’s building a career, not trying to get famous for the sake of it.
He cites Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, as the kind of career he would map out for himself if he could. “I really admire Josh Homme who created a template with his own band and applies it to many different projects. Working with Iggy Pop. The Arctic Monkeys’ album he produced….he has his own sound.
“Like Josh, I need to be building up a style that I am really known for and being able to apply it; not only to my records and live performances, but also take it and work with other artists”.
For a young guy who has not yet released a full body of work, and who is hardly known outside of a few industry VIPs, he has some big ideas and ambitious dreams. But this is probably far more than just a dream, when you hear how big and how powerful these three tracks are on this new EP, and his previous digital single.
How gifted he is on his 1968 Les Paul, and how “wow” his vocals are. The kind of focus and commitment this guy has, is highly likely to see him achieve his aims. When asked what he does to relax and to have fun away from music, he stutters a bit, there’s a silence while he thinks; and then he laughs and says he is “a typical 24-year-old guitarist”.
Notice he said, “guitarist” not person or man! Methinks he eats and breathes music 24/7, 365 days a year, and is “obsessed” with making music; but on his terms and 100% how he hears it inside him. Nothing wrong with that if he’s happy.
Those three tracks on the EP throw out a big, big sound. More like the music of a bonafide rock star on his 10th record, not a guy in his early 20s releasing his debut. It really does sound like an artist who fills arenas around the globe. But he is nowhere near that status yet, if he ever will be.
So, does it get frustrating that he knows he is that good, and he hears this epic, huge stadium-sized sound in his own head, yet he is restricted to playing pub and club-sized venues at this time?
“No, I really like it. This is an example of where my sense of humour manages to come in. I like to shock people in these little rooms and I love challenges. I perform at my best when I am under pressure”.
Kaleb will launch the new EP at a special gig at Camden Assembly in London on 19th September, and he plays Hard Rock Hell festival in November. More dates to announce.
But his main focus for the rest of this year is finishing off recording a debut album. He’s back to the studio in October, with a release date pencilled for sometime in the first half of 2019.
How’s that going for you? “Absolutely stunningly. The more ambitious I get with the material, the more it seems to pay off”. There will be a single out before the end of this year too.
He describes his music as: “A dark mixture of swirling, late 60s, prog’/psychedelic, Bowie/Pink Floyd ballads; mixed with something quite a lot more aggressive and heavier. More akin to Sound Garden and Alice in Chains. Vibrant guitar solos played with gusto. Very stark mixtures. Quite bi-polar music”.
His constant guiding star and reference point while making this record, was Jeff Buckley and his debut album, “Grace”. “That record is stunning and certainly had a big influence. The way certain songs of his over the course of five or six minutes, open up and blossom, is really beautiful.
“I wanted to capture some of that in my music. Songs like ‘Mojo Pin’, ‘Grace’, ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’; they really do open up so fantastically. As well as particular tunes by Pink Floyd and Bowie, like ‘Moonage Daydream’ by Bowie; an absolute favourite.
“ ‘Time’ by Floyd, ‘In The Flesh’, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. All these kinds of big tunes that you can be absorbed by, are what I aim for with my music”.
Bowie, Ronson and McKane
Mick Ronson is Kaleb’s hero as a guitarist. You can hear that in his playing, but it is not copycat in any way. Brian May and Bill Nelson are also nodded to perhaps, but the latter, Kaleb doesn’t recall hearing.
Justin Hawkins and The Darkness will also undoubtedly feature in comparisons when Kaleb’s music gets out there properly. The consistent Bowie references don’t irritate Kaleb; far from it. He is flattered as a huge DB fan. Like the late Mr Bowie, Kaleb McKane isn’t driven by appealing to the mass market, either.
“I see myself as more of a niche artist, appealing to people who really like to consume interesting music”. Interesting music. Hmmmm; understatement of the year award goes to…..
If Adam Levine or Brian May ever quit Queen, I know a young chap who’d easily fill both pairs of shoes – at the same time!
By Simon Redley
Polka dot shirt & sunglasses shots – photographer: Paul Harries