ToneGym Hero: Josh Keisler
ToneGym Hero: Josh Keisler

October 19th, 2022

ToneGym Hero: Josh Keisler

Music producer and Vocalist with a Passion for film, Currently from southwest London, Josh Keisler is this month's ToneGym Hero!

Who are you, and Where are you from?

My name is Josh Keisler, and I’m 27 years old. I’m originally from New York but moved to southwest London when I was two years old.

How did you get into music?

I took piano lessons from about ages 7-10 but really fell in love with music at around 15 years old when I came across J. Cole on Youtube. Something about his passionate self-expression captivated me. Maybe because I was going through a bad time at school, he embodied an urge to assert myself. From there, I delved deep into hip hop, and in the same year, I experimented by recording covers of some of my favorite songs I had heard, the stand out being ‘HiiiPower’ by Kendrick Lamar. Around the same time, I also wrote and recorded my first original song.

It was very rough, but it was a start. I was just as interested in the instrumentals/beats as the vocals and delved into many genres besides hip hop over the next few years, including electronica, indie rock, soul, jazz, and classical.

It wasn't until I was 19 that, after some encouragement from a friend at university, I took up creating with more purpose. I released several songs on SoundCloud that year (2015), including a response to a diss track someone made against me. I was very much still finding my voice. Later that year, I ended up withdrawing from that university due to mental health struggles. Taking up the piano again (self-taught) was one of the only things that gave me joy during that recovery period at home.

At 22, back at another university studying Computer Science (a last attempt to go with something realistic/safe), I released my first proper song called 'Cuckoo'. I released it in April 2018 to all major digital stores as part of a project with the Music Production Society at the University of Southampton. I am thankful to society for encouraging me to take that step, even though, looking back, I think the track, in some ways, wasn't ready to be released. After another difficult period, in December 2019, I decided to leave university and pursue a career in music.

What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?

Listening to music (not technically working on music, haha), climbing, watching films, reading, and seeing friends. Climbing is great as an exercise because it’s fun, and it's like solving a puzzle, so you don’t feel like you’re exercising. I’m quite a cinephile and have a letterboxd account 

What's your most useless skill or talent?

I can juggle, do the Rubik’s cube and take really big bites out of apples. 

What inspires you to keep making music?

This one is hard for me to explain, so forgive me for being vague. There is something inside me that I’m trying to explore and/or express, which is like a dark side. But I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to somehow be freer to make music about lighter things. Sort of like how the Beatles had seemingly unlimited creativity and could make a song about anything. That’s what I hope for because I know there is such beauty and love in the world, but it feels like there is a block for me to express that in music at the moment. If it seems like I’m putting a lot of pressure on the music and myself, I know...

If you could sit down to a session with any artist, who would it be?

I suppose it would be J. Cole because he was my first and biggest inspiration, but I didn’t like his last album, so it would be a close one between him and Kendrick Lamar, whose most recent album was great.

Any habits you have before starting a session?

Nothing really, but I pretty much always have a fan on myself even when it’s not hot because it’s relaxing for me.

What have you been working on lately?

Oo, this one’s gotta be complicated if it’s gonna be honest...

In early March 2020, I released a five-song EP called 'Wandering' on all major digital stores. It was also around that time that I started performing at open mic nights around London. One venue invited me to perform as a featured artist. Unfortunately, Coronavirus got in the way of that. Soon after, other issues made creating much more limited and performing impossible.

I decided to make the most of the time inside and started a year-long online music production course at Point Blank Music School. After two months of the course, I released two songs in October 2020 - ‘Caught Up Pt. 1 & 2’, which is still my most recent release. They are probably the songs I'm proudest of that I've released. During the course, I learned a huge amount about production and music theory. I grew in confidence using the keyboard to create different parts with virtual instruments and improved in production in general, but I was struggling creatively. Between May and July 2021, I met every couple of weeks with a music industry mentor at the school, and he suggested I temporarily stop producing and focus on vocals.

He advised me to record some vocals over some instrumentals of songs I like and to send them to him to get feedback. For a few days in a row, I recorded some vocals, experimenting with different sounds, singing, and rapping. Unfortunately, I must have been using my voice too much, or with poor technique, or both, because one evening, I started having a sharp pain where my vocal cords. I have seen several specialists (including medical) since then, and the problem is still ongoing. The current most likely explanation seems to be Muscle Tension Dysphonia. I’ve had some vocal rehab and singing lessons, but they haven’t fixed the problem. I’m thankful for them, especially as a form of education in my recovery.

Back in July 2021 again, once my course had finished, I started practicing and playing the keyboard a lot more because I couldn’t use my voice and was trying to make the ‘music dream’ happen, and in November 2021, I injured myself again.

This time it was my fingers, wrists, and forearms. I had been playing a ton and with isolated finger movements and generally tension everywhere. Specialists (including medical) couldn’t help. I could not play until about February this year when I started getting the hang of a piano technique I'm learning called the Taubman method. I know now that I still had a long way to go with the technique, but it worked enough that I could play mostly without pain. I have since had a couple of lessons with senior Taubman teachers who have guided me in a better direction, and I am currently working to play even more freely and hopefully completely pain-free. 

While struggling so much with physical problems, I started practicing ear training which I have continued to do, of course with ToneGym. My approach has had to go back to basics and learn everything from scratch. As I alluded to earlier, I have had some mental/spiritual and physical blocks. Some specialists suggested (and they’re probably right) that my physical problems may be related to stress and other psychological reasons. 

So long story long, my keyboard injury is mostly better, and I’m still retraining my technique. My voice is still limited though I’m learning and improving my technique. I’m hoping to get a Nasendoscopy soon to understand the problem better. I’m seeing a therapist try and understand my mental/spiritual/creative ‘block’. In the meantime, I’m still creating what I can, even if it’s just for me. For some structure, I’m using a service called ‘Studio’, where artists and producers teach classes and set creative tasks. I may upload some things I’ve been creating on SoundCloud at some point, but I’m not sure. 

If you could pick one, what would be the theme song of your life?

I’m gonna pick Lover’s Carvings by Bibio because it’s beautiful, and right now, I’m imagining a montage of my life, and I think it would be a great montage song. And also because it has a slightly cheesy happy vibe (after 1:28), and it would be nice if a slightly cheesy happy song fits my life without a hint of irony..

What's your favorite musical instrument?

My answer would be the voice because of the amazing range of musical expression possible with it. And when you learn about its inner workings, it is pretty miraculous. It is also naturally connected to our musical intuition so that even people who don’t play an external instrument can sing along to their favorite songs. 

What's your favorite ToneGym feature?

I really have enjoyed all of the games and the community too. But something specific I’ve been finding useful recently is the game ‘Solfegiator’ even though I’m still not that good at it. My vocal injury has recently improved to where I can just about do it. I find it’s really helpful for getting a better feel for tonality, being able to know a note’s place in a key, and work out melodies, for example, based on that. I’ve recently got more into this functional/Solfege approach rather than the sort of atonal interval training. 

I also think I will get much more involved in the competitions soon. My plan is to join in once I’ve bought the Steinmay piano (my last instrument) and I’m not saving up ToneCoins anymore. I’m also closing in on the Diamond Ears award and hopefully will get that around the same time as the Steinmay so I can really focus on competitions. I might have already got them by the time this comes out.

What does the future hold for Josh Keisler?

Hmm, sometimes I wish I knew... I’ll try to keep this about music. I hope someday I’ll be involved in the creative process of making music I love as my career. I’d love to be able to sing pain-free. I do feel like quite an underdog at this point, so I hope what the future holds is alright.

 

You can follow Josh Keisler on his Instagram, Spotify, SoundcloudTwitter, and Facebook.

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