Keel Her Talks Recording Projects, R. Stevie Moore, and Her Upcoming EP Based on The Menstrual Cycle
London-based Rose Keeler-Schäffeler writes, records, and performs music via her moniker Keel Her, and in recent months has increasingly become a mainstay in our world here at Weirdo Music Forever. Deftly balancing individuality with accessibility, Keel Her’s music is indeed as unusual as it is inviting. Already familiar to us through her associations with R. Stevie Moore, O Genesis, and Gnar Tapes, WMF jumped at the opportunity to speak with Keel Her recently in the setting of her Hackney home and work space. We delightedly dove into various topics, including her 2019 album With Kindess (O Genesis), musical collaborations with R. Stevie Moore and Tim Burgess, and an exciting upcoming Keel Her EP based on the menstrual cycle.
Bobby Weirdo: Your last name is hyphenated Keeler-Schäffeler. Are the two names your parents’ names?
Keel Her: Yeah, though none of my siblings has the hyphenation. I changed my name when [my parents] divorced and hyphenated it because it made it more interesting.
BW: And then “Keeler” turned into your [artist’s] name, Keel Her.
KH: Yeah, which was actually a joke before I changed my name. I was really young – maybe thirteen or fourteen – and my friend [suggested] “Keel Her”, which I thought was funny. It’s a bit weird and I quite like it.
BW: You grew up in Winchester, right?
KH: Yeah, I moved there when I was five, and was there until I was seventeen.
BW: When you’re not working on music, you work as an independence assistant for a hospital. Does that mean you visit people at home?
KH: I work all over Hackney and cycle to each patient. Usually I do things that they can’t do on their own, but will be able to in the future. I help them gain independence with cooking, washing themselves, and stuff like that. It’s mainly elderly people who have had injuries or mental health conditions.
BW: I’ve seen you listed as an animator, photographer, and illustrator. Did you study those disciplines at school?
KH: No. Those are just hobbies, though I did study photography, textiles, and film at college. But I haven’t been to university – yet.
BW: You are the project Keel Her, but I have seen references to other members like James [Levitt] and Andrew [Barnes]. So is Keel Her you with different collaborators, or how does that work?
KH: In the beginning it was just me on my own. Then Andrew and I met when I was about eighteen, and we were partners. He made music on his own as well, and was quite interested in doing stuff with me when we started playing live. It kind of [became] a duo, but then when we broke up I was still Keel Her, but he wasn’t.
I’ve had quite a few different lineups as well, but I would say that it is just mainly just me, because I don’t ever write with anyone. On the new record, James wrote some bass lines, but I’ve not usually done it like that.
BW: Is the music room we’re sitting in where you write, or do you write music away from this equipment?
KH: I write outside, mainly away from equipment.
BW: With a guitar, just singing, or some other way?
KH: Sometimes [with guitar, piano, or violin], but I’ve noticed melody-wise that singing is the best way for me to do it, because the guitar will distract me and I’ll conform to chords and stuff like that.
BW: You’ve spoken about it before, but I did want to go a bit more into your R. Stevie Moore connection. How did you know about him in the first place?
KH: That’s a good question -- I don’t know. I think through the Internet -- maybe YouTube. “Cool Daddio” is a classic. Then after that I found his Bandcamp, his website, and then I was just obsessed with his stuff after that.
BW: And then you started writing to him, or how did you begin interacting with him?
KH: I wrote a song called “Robert”, and in the lyrics there’s [the line] “I just want to be like R. Stevie Moore”. I sent him that, not expecting him to actually respond, and he said he loved it. Then we just started talking all the time.
I was moving, and had a six-month period of free time. He said, “Come to Nashville,” so I just booked a plane ticket and stayed with him.
BW: You stayed in Madison at his place?
KH: Yes, and we had some arguments, because it’s quite hard to stay with someone for three weeks.
BW: You recorded in Billy Anderson’s studio during that time, right?
KH: I think we were there two times, but mainly we were just doing stuff in [R. Stevie Moore’s] living room – every single day, all day. It was weird stuff.
BW: There’s the track he did with Ariel Pink, “Dutch Me”, and then there’s the track with you and Stevie called “Douche Me”. What’s the story behind “Douche Me”?
KH: I think I just sang along to “Dutch Me”, and then when I heard the final version, he’s singing “douche me”. I didn’t know he was going to do that. I liked it; it was funny.
BW: Did “Boner Hit” come out of those sessions in Nashville?
KH: Yeah – I had already written it, and it was on my first-ever release, but none of those songs ever had bass guitar. Stevie said they needed bass, so we re-recorded two songs, which are the ones on the single.
BW: Was Billy Anderson doing the engineering when you were in his studio?
KH: Yes, and he added strings and stuff like that.
BW: “With Me Tonight” was the other one you did, but you’d already released that before as well, right?
KH: Both those songs were on YouTube, and I actually like [what I call] the “proper” versions, but some people prefer the scratchy original versions.
BW: And then Tim Burgess got in touch with you after Stevie passed those recordings on to him?
KH: Yeah – he put the single out. I was already signed to Fire Records at the time, so there was no prospect of doing an album through O Genesis, but we played some shows together. I supported the Charlatans at one point, which was scary because I was really young, but it was fun. Afterwards, I did that thing of reading reviews, and it wasn’t good!
BW: What did you feel from the audience at those shows?
KH: I think they just wanted The Charlatans, and were like, “Who the hell is this?” And I was way less confident back then because I was just so young. Everything was different in terms of the way I felt about myself then, but it was a good experience.
BW: You’re a fan of the Go-Betweens. How did they come onto your radar in the first place?
KH: [I got into them] few years ago, and then James was reading the biography by Robert Forster after Grant [McLennan] died, so then I got into them [even] more. I think I like Grant’s songs most. The way they wrote was really interesting, and I think they’re quite a big influence on Australian bands. There’s loads of bands now that sound like them, but they’re not as good [as the Go-Betweens].
BW: Are you going to be doing some vocals on the upcoming Tim Burgess solo album?
KH: Yes. It’s a bit of a mystery, because I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Daniel [O’Sullivan] just went to America [with This is Not This Heat] and we’re going to be doing it when he gets back.
Tim said they’re not going to tell me what I’m going to sing until I get there. I think it’s better that way because sometimes once you hear the song, you get an idea and then you’re stuck with that. He also wants me to play something on it that sounds like me, but I’m not sure what yet. Maybe the melodica if it works.
BW: You’re working on an EP about menstrual cycles. Is that going to be as Keel Her?
KH: Yes, but I’m undecided whether I’m going to do it all on my own or not. I know quite a few other musicians who struggle with their menstrual cycle, and how that affects the way they write. I think that’s quite interesting.
BW: So you’ll write and record the material at different times during the month, capturing those stages?
KH: Yes – I’m going to compile the cycle into sections, and then write a song for each section. Or I’ll just pick one and then get other female musicians to also do the same for other sections.
I’ve been having a bad time with mine recently, because I get really low. Then it will be an awful week, and you can’t control it. After that, I’m like, “Oh, I’m fine now.” A lot of people don’t like talking about it, and some doctors don’t understand it, so I thought it would be a good way of making people aware. One of my doctors is interested.
BW: You mention the different phases of the cycle – do you have a set number in mind for how many there might be, and how you might distribute those among collaborators?
KH: There’s premenstrual, perimenstrual, and other parts of the cycle. I might get [something] like three other musicians, and then we’ll all do the first part of the cycle. It’s going to take quite a long time, because you can’t do all [the parts of the cycle] at once.
BW: Will the musicians be experiencing that particular phase of the cycle as they’re recording the music for it?
KH: Yes. That’s what I want to happen, if it’s possible. But there are parts of the cycle where some people can’t do anything. I personally have that [experience] where I can’t listen to music and don’t want to do music [during a certain part of the cycle]. But it might be a good way to get people to express how they feel during that time if they force themselves to do it.
BW: O Genesis recently released your album With Kindness, and you’ll be playing live shows as well with a band.
KH: We’ll be playing a London show and some shows in Spain. I’m getting into playing live now that I’ve been doing it for five or six years. But it hasn’t always been a good experience, so it’s difficult for me to be proactive in organizing [live shows]. I like this [current] lineup, and everyone knows what they’re doing.
BW: Besides the projects we’ve just spoken about, is there anything else coming up for Keel Her in 2020?
KH: There will be another album, which I’ve already started recording.
Keel Her’s album With Kindness is available here.