When Casey Luong first started performing acoustic guitar covers in his early 20s, he would have never have expected widespread success. In 2017, “over u” was released, between juggling his full-time job as a registered oncology nurse and uploading music anonymously to online streaming site Soundcloud— it signified the start of his re-found musical journey and accumulating hits that will put him on the radar.
Today, he is Keshi. 25 years young and riding the serene waves of lo-fi music. The Houston-based producer/singer-songwriter has since made his transition from acoustic pop to the chilled-out beats of lo-fi, amassing over 21 million streams for his track “just friends” on Spotify. After the release of his debut four-track EP THE REAPER, Keshi announced his signing with Island Records, and his second album, Skeletons.
Popspoken: How did your musical journey begin?
Keshi: It started when I think I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was a big fan of this show called Drake and Josh. It was a sitcom about these two stepbrothers who get together, one’s really goofy and one was kind of like the super cool guy who plays the guitar and gets all the girls. It made a really strong impression on me as a little kid. I really wanted to be just like him, so I asked my grandpa to let me borrow his guitar because when I asked my mom if I could have a guitar, she refused and said: “You’re gonna drop it in like, two days”. Ot happened that I just fell in love with it the first day I got it. I was just glued to it. I would sit in front of the computer, watch covers, learn chords and how to sing along with it.
It just evolved from that into today. I even start to get a collection of guitars from various sources like Reverb and Allaxess.com as if my life runs into music alone. I listened to a ton of different music back then, like All Time Low, Never Shout Never, and then it slowly transitioned into this Coffee Shop-type of music like Jason Mraz, Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. When I started listening to John Mayer, I decided that I actually wanted to write my own music and for a long time, I wrote a bunch of acoustic songs. It wasn’t until when lo-fi hip-hop started booming that I started actually learning how to produce music properly—or improperly, in Logic on my MacBook and now here we are, combined; lo-fi production with my old John Mayer songwriting.
Popspoken: How did you manage to persuade your mom that you were serious about music?
Keshi: I don’t think I’ve convinced her yet! I worked as an oncology nurse for about a year and a half, and all throughout that time, Keshi was beginning to get traction, getting more and more followers. I was starting to get interest from New York. I remember the first time I told my mother that someone wanted to meet me from New York, and they were flying me out. She came immediately and was really defensive. As a mother, she was just concerned that people might take advantage of me. But once I signed on to a major label, she was able to sit back a little bit. She was able to relax and be like “Oh, you’ve got it figured out”.
Popspoken: Walk us through your music-making process, from writing to production.
Keshi: Usually, it starts with me hanging out in my little home studio, picking up the different guitars from my rack and exploring the fretboard in a way that I haven’t before. Once I find something that’s really interesting to me, I’ll put it on the laptop and put it on repeat. Then I’ll slowly flesh out to beats from there; adding like the drums, the bass, those little background vocals and everything, and when the whole beat is done, I start to write my melodies and vocals.
Usually, I can make a full beat in maybe three to four hours. It doesn’t take that long and honestly, time just flies by for me because I’m so engrossed in it. The writing process definitely takes longer. It’s definitely a little more frustrating, but it’s really cathartic when the whole song is done.
Popspoken: You used to anonymously upload your music under the moniker Keshi. Why were you scared of failure at that point when you posted anonymously? How did your journey of self-confidence begin?
Keshi: I was making music under my legal name for a long time, making the acoustic John Mayer-type of stuff and I had done a performance in California that I botched. It was definitely a roadblock for me and I wanted to quit music. For the first time, I put down the guitar. I told myself, “I don’t really want to play anymore” and I realised that something had to change, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t realise it then but it was at that point where it was like, growing pains, and I knew I really wanted to become an artist. Not just somebody who plays the guitar—not even just somebody who writes music—but an artist. So I had to evolve a little bit and every time that you try something new, you’re going to be bad at it.
I wanted to learn production without being under the scrutiny of people you meet so that they won’t be able to tell, like “Oh wow, he’s doing something different and you’re going to be bad at it, you should stop.” I didn’t want that to be the case, so I just uploaded it under Keshi, which is a childhood name of mine. And it just got traction on its own, it was amazing. It just kind of snowballed. Slowly, this anonymous person, who never posted any pictures of his face, nobody knew who he was, not even my friends, started getting a fanbase. That’s just kind of how it happened.
Popspoken: Now that you’ve gained popularity, if you had a chance to go back to being anonymous now, would you take it?
Keshi: Honestly, no. The fact that people listen is the only reason really why somebody would want to do this. Of course, I’m an artist, I want to make art and I want to create, but it’s hard to feel motivated and keep on going without anybody to listen. There is a charm to being anonymous and to being a little bit more low key, but at the expense of not being able to reach people? I wouldn’t want to trade that for anything.
Popspoken: Tell us more about your latest song, BLUE.
Keshi: Blue is a song about missing friends. It’s a song about growing up past college. I didn’t know how to deal with having everyone who was close to me, leaving. Everyone moved to a different city and everyone lost touch. I guess this is how I took out my frustrations; in the form of Blue. I’m always “waiting for another round of drinks”, is basically what the song is saying. I just want to see them again. It’s all worth it when six months have passed and its fun to get together, you know the whole group is there. It feels like nothing has really changed. We get together once in a blue moon.
Popspoken: We noticed that you leave annotations on the lyrics of several of your songs on Genius.com. How important is it to you for your listeners to understand the meanings behind the words you sing?
Keshi: Yeah, sometimes I do! I think that the meanings of songs are up to interpretation, but sometimes the lyrics on Genius are wrong so the only reason why I’m adding annotations on Genius is because I’m correcting the lyrics. I really want the lyrics to be right. I’ve spent so much time writing the words and I need them to be heard properly. But I know that Blue was a little bit more archaic, so I’ve made sure to break those down and make sure people knew what I was talking about. I feel the interpretation of music is very personal and it’s different for everyone, so I don’t want to tell anybody how to interpret the music that they hear, even if it’s my own songs. I try not to explicitly say, “Oh, this is what the song is about”.
Popspoken: Which of your songs have a deeper connection to yourself as a person? Could you share with us memories etched to it?
Keshi: Probably the two that resonate the most right now are Skeleton and Atlas. Those came from some really frustrating times of my life when I was still working as a nurse and I wrote those songs. There’s just so much dissonance between what I was doing and what I really wanted to do. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than not being able to carry out what my heart actually wants, and that was to pursue music. So I think those two songs are some of the most personal I’ve ever written.
Popspoken: We know you are fond of John Mayer. Have you guys spoken, and if so, any possible collaborations in the future?
Keshi: I wish! That would be a dream come true. He is a hero of mine and I’d love to someday work with my hero, but you know, it seems like it’s very far fetched. But who knows.
Popspoken: Who else are you into at the moment other than John Mayer and Ed Sheeran?
Keshi: Well, my music tastes have very much changed from the days of John Mayer and Ed Sheeran. Of course I love them dearly, but the people that I listen to now are pretty different. Brockhampton; number one favourite artist right now. Love them, love them all. They’re just so talented and there’s so much diversity—not only in the group but also in their melodies and their beats. I love being surprised; I love hearing something different yet so listenable. I’m a die-hard fan of Brockhampton.
Dean, an artist from Korea, is one of my big heroes and I love him a lot. I really like Dominic Fike, The 1975, and No Rome from the UK; I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of No Rome but he’s very talented too.
Popspoken: What’s a dream gig you’d like to play one day?
Keshi: When I was younger, I would watch John Mayer’s live concert DVD, it’s called Where The Light Is. It’s about two hours long and I’d watch it front to back all the time. He performed in a place called the Nokia Theatre – but it’s now called the Microsoft Theater. It’s not like I’ve ever been to the venue but it’s the only venue that I know the name by heart because I was such a big, die-hard fan. If there were ever a chance for me to play there, that would be incredible.