Performance artist Joseph Keckler has an interesting way of telling stories. He mixes a versatile, three-octave vocal range with wit, humor and a refreshing view of the world in his performances, and he’s enchanted audiences all over the country.
He’s performed everywhere from the Lincoln Center and the Miami Art Basel to SXSW, and he recently made his off-Broadway debut in “Preludes.”
Keckler usually puts on concerts, but his pitstop at 21c Museum Hotel Wednesday night will include snippets from his new, critically acclaimed book, “Dragon at the Edge of a Flat World.” He says he’ll intersperse readings from the short stories with performances, and he’s bringing along friend and fellow musician Jordan Corbin to add to the night’s experience.
Insider caught up with Keckler by phone for a brief chat on what we can expect Wednesday, and what fuels his creativity.
Insider Louisville: What can people expect to see at your event?
Joseph Keckler: It’s kind of a hybrid tour. I tour around anyway and do concerts, sometimes theatrical performances. For something like this, I’ll do stuff that’s a little more involved with media and music.
Each one is a little bit different. With this one, I’ll include material from the book and read some, but it’ll be more of a performance. There are a couple of things in the book that lend themselves to performance as well.
IL: Are you happy with how your book has been received so far?
JK: I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from people — people seem to really enjoy it. It’s only been out a couple of weeks, so I think it’ll only gain traction. It’s new to me, because I’m used to only performing. But it’s something I always wanted to do.
IL: What will you be working on in 2018?
JK: I’ve got two commissions on performance pieces that’ll come out in 2019, so I’ll be working of those. The first half of 2018 I’m going back to Austin, Vancouver, D.C., to Athens, Ohio, Ann Arbor, Cambridge … so I have a lot of cities to visit and perform for.
I had two big projects I wanted to get out of my system — one was the book, and the other is unreleased music and unreleased video work I want to put out. So I’m hoping to release an EP next year.
IL: Who are some of your inspirations?
JK: As a child, I was very interested in animation. I was a fan of (Warner Bros. animator) Chuck Jones. And I was fascinated by Mel Blanc, the guy who did all the voices for Bugs Bunny. In musical terms, I was really interested in blues and soul music — I was enamored by Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. In film, it was John Waters. David Bowie was an inspiration.
IL: You sing, you write, you perform, you make videos — do you favor one talent over the others, or are they all outlets for your creativity?
JK: To me, it’s all one kind of animal. Throughout history there are a lot of artists who are driven to attempt mastery in more than one art form. Leonardo da Vinci was a musician as well as an artist. Sometimes you become known as one thing, and that permits you to bring the rest into visibility. I mean, Joni Mitchell considers herself a painter first. The world doesn’t consider her a painter first, but that is the engine that is driving her.
I’m not comparing myself to all those people, but in my case, to me it all feels organically as one process. I have to sing my scales every day and keep up my disciplines. The areas where I have my footing are vocally and writing — so language and voice. The film stuff just extends out of that — makes everything more complete. Without spreading myself thin, I’m trying to locate the limits of what I’m capable of doing.
IL: So creativity is on a spectrum.
JK: Our society isn’t really set up for people to become artists. It’s not very viable. There’s the classic line: “Don’t be an artist if you feel that you have the choice not to be.” That feels true, but I also know there are realities to that. I was fortunate to come from an artistic family, so I was encouraged to develop myself in that way.
Keckler will perform at 21c on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 6:30-9 p.m. The event is free and open to all. Anyone interested is encouraged to RSVP on Facebook.