Tommy Keene Organizes His Own Party

Latest album from vet pop-rocker includes a dozen tracks of classically fuzzy tunes.

For nearly 15 years, Tommy Keene's fuzz-guitar-based pop has been this

close to chart success.

So it's tempting to hear

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>"Long Time Missing" (RealAudio excerpt) -- the opener from his fifth

full-length album, Isolation Party -- as "The Ballad of Tommy Keene."

"It's definitely the ballad of somebody," Keene said, speaking from his home in

Los Angeles about the album for which he recorded most of the instruments and

handled production. "People see it as about my battles with the music business.

There's a little bit of me in there, but there's bits of other people in there."

At one point in the song, he sings "1,001 tiny voices ringing clear/ Another day

and no career" -- the indie-rocker's rebuttal to Elvis' greatest hits album

50,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong. Keene knows the story well enough,

having gone from independent labels to Geffen, only to split when the industry

giant tried to make his music more Top 40-friendly.

Three years after parting ways with Geffen and after negotiations with

other major labels, Keene, 39, landed on well-known indie label Matador.

Matador co-founder Gerard Cosloy said that he leapt to sign Keene, who he

and his partner Chris Lombardi had been fans of for years. "His material has so

much emotional depth, he easily transcends the 'power-pop' thing so many

people lump him with," Cosloy said. "He's also an incredibly underrated guitar

player. He does more within the admittedly narrow confines of 'pop' guitar than

anyone else I know."

"Long Time Missing"'s mixture of humor and pathos runs through the whole

album, a disc full of moody, shimmering, melodic rock in the Bob Mould/Paul

Westerberg power-pop vein. "That's been my shtick from day one," Keene said.

"I have a trademark of writing melancholy songs that are juxtaposed against a

very driving beat. Most of the great songs in bands who have influenced me

have been that way. I think the Who, the Beatles and even Bob Dylan tend to be

sort of anthemic."

If Keene sees any difference between the 12-track Isolation Party and his

previous Matador release, Ten Years After, it's that all of the new album's

songs were written around the same time, he said. Some of the songs on

Ten Years After dated back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, after

Keene's relationship with Geffen Records had fallen apart and he was

attempting to get a deal with another major label. "Ten Years sounds to

me a little bit more all over the place. Isolation is more of a piece and a

set period of time. It sounds more consistent to me."

Even the LP's lone cover tune -- a version of Mission of Burma's "Einstein's

Day" -- sounds as much Keene's own as the album's "Battle Lines" and

"Tuesday Morning." "I try to choose cover songs that wouldn't be totally out of

place alongside my songs but try to provide a bit of variety. ['Einstein's Day']

had these poppy verses but then this ridiculously punky interlude."

Wilco's Jay Bennett played keyboards and bass on the album, and Bennett's

bandmate Jeff Tweedy and ex-Gin Blossom guitarist Jesse Valenzuela also

sang on various songs, but most of the tracks were laid down by Keene and his

longtime drummer John Richardson.

Richardson and Keene's usual bassist, Brad Quinn, will back Keene on a short

tour later this spring.

"It's really expensive to tour these days, even at the club level," said Keene, who

has toured with Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush over the past

few years, channeling the money he earns on those major-label-supported

tours into his own recording and touring. "Playing with other people is

profitable and fun," Keene added. "My tours are unprofitable and hopefully

fun."