Growing up in England, Keanan Duffty developed a love for fashion and music from a young age, inspired by artists such as David Bowie, Mark Bolan and Roxy Music. He graduated from Central St Martins in London with a Bachelors of Arts degree in fashion and textiles and in 1993, he moved to New York to his base for a career in fashion design. In 2007, along with Clem Burke (Blondie/The Ramones), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols/Rich Kids), Earl Slick (David Bowie/John Lennon) and a collaboration with the late Pete Shelley, Keanan formed the band Slinky Vagabond, with their first show being played at Irving Plaza as part of Joey Ramones annual birthday bash. They also performed at Fashion Week’s Gen Art and Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp (2008) and Marc Bolan’s 30th Anniversary Show (2007) alongside Patti Smith, Tom Morello, Joan Jett, Ronnie Spector, and more. After playing many shows together, other engagements led the band members to part ways. In 2018, while lecturing at the Polimoda International Fashion Institute, Keanan met Italian guitarist/musician Fabio Fabbri, who teaches at the institute and heard Keanan speak. An instant chemistry led them to play music together and Slinky Vagabond 2.0 was born. “At the beginning, we didn’t have plans or projects,” adds Fabio. “I felt a great energy playing with Keanan: no limits, no barriers. Our different musical backgrounds created an exciting mix and we felt it was time to build a more structured project. I think the true essence of Rock’n’Roll comes out when you can work free from plans or deadlines.” May 6th will see the release of their album King Boy Vandals, the title being an anagram of Slinky Vagabond. Featuring guest appearances by Midge Ure (Ultravox/Visage/Live Aid co-founder), Dave Formula (Magazine/Visage), Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses/Psychedelic Furs), David Torn (David Bowie/David Sylvian), Tony Bowers (Durutti Column/Simply Red) and Martin Turner (Wishbone Ash), King Boy Vandals is an album born of musical alchemy, forged in fire and cooled in sweat. The album was recorded in Fabio’s recording studio outside of Florence, Italy. Adds Fabio, “Having a personal recording studio gave me the opportunity to work during the pandemic and also to get through that very bad period. I think that the pause of live concerts in 2020 made musicians more available to work on new songs and I think that is one of the reasons we had so many great musicians as guests.” Comprised of some songs that they each brought to studio, and some they wrote together from scratch, they recently released the first single “The Beauty In You”, featuring Dave Formula and Tony Bowers. Says Keanan, “It’s about the beauty in decay,” he explains. “Although it masquerades as a love song, it’s actually about abandoned ghost towns like Pripyat in northern Ukraine, which was evacuated after the explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Also, The Salton Sea in California where the town of Bombay Beach was once a popular destination for Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Bing Crosby and it now is a derelict ‘living ghost town.’ I love that place. It’s like being in a deserted town on Mars.” With plans to promote the album and do a later release of the album on vinyl, this is definitely an album you will have in heavy rotation! You can connect with Slinky Vagabond via the following links. Photo credit: Ruggero Lupo Mengoni.
Keanan: You have been a part of the fashion and music scenes from a young age and graduated from Central St Martins in London with a Bachelors of Arts degree in fashion and textiles. What would you say inspired your love for and interest in the intersection of fashion and music? Having said that David Bowie inspired you to be creative in the first place, what role would you say he played in inspiring you?
Growing up in the UK, when we were kids there was obviously no internet and only two tv stations (laughs), so it was kind of limited in terms of the access that you had to media if you didn’t live in London. I grew up in Northern England, in a small town. Religiously, every kid in England used to watch a pop show that was on Thursday nights called ‘Top of The Pops’. It was a show that gave a chart countdown and also had artists whose records were up and coming. Because it was one of two tv channels, and one of the few national pop shows, it was the show that everybody watched and then when you went to school the next day, everybody would talk about what had been on the show the night before. People like Bowie, when he had his breakthrough with “Starman”, that was kind of a pivotal moment. But also, with many other bands, that was really a singular moment. You had people like Roxy Music, and all of the glam people…Slade and Sweet and all of those people. And Mark Bolan. You kind of really saw them first on that show and I think it was so inspiring for the youth of that day. They kind of represented this otherworldly look, so it wasn’t fashion. It was just a kind of style that many kids aspired to, so you’d go to school the next day and be like “Oh my god! Did you see such and such on ‘Top of The Pops’ Last night? Didn’t they look fantastic?”. Bowie was one of those people, and for me as a kid he was one of those sorts of singles artists. We’d buy the 45s, and couldn’t necessarily afford to buy the albums, but we’d buy the 45s and get a glimpse into the world of what seemed like an alien race of creatures who were playing music (laughs)! It wasn’t just Bowie, but all of the aforementioned and many others too. As a kid, we couldn’t really dress like that. You couldn’t really put on the glitter make up and the Mark Bolan corkscrew hair and the rest of it. So it wasn’t really until punk happened that it kind of gave you the permission, if you like, to do that and wear it in the street. Punk, to me, wasn’t that different from glam when it first started. Everybody was wearing make up and very surreal looks that they were putting together, and none of it was anything considered fashion. It wasn’t fashion for us. It wasn’t until later that I realized that people actually designed some of those clothes and that’s when I put the 2 and 2 together.
Fabio: Your interest in music also met fashion in the 90s when you started collaborating with iconic Italian fashion designer Enrico Coveri. You also expanded into the realm of music branding in 2000. What can you tell me about collaborating with Coveri, as well as your interest in fashion and how it is connected to music?
My encounter with the Italian fashion world was by Massimo Coveri, Enrico Coveri’s nephew, who collaborated with the family company. Massimo loved my music and my guitar playing and I was often invited to Coveri’s home in Florence for parties and shows. This relationship showed me a different side of fashion and I realized how that world was different from the one I had imagined before: more creative and wild, less formal for sure.
The Coveri maison proposed me to participate in their fashion shows in Paris playing guitar next to the models on the catwalk. That was a very innovative way to present a new collection. I realised how much creativity and skills went into a single costume, a fashion show, a brand. The creative process is not so different than writing a song or making an album.
So, I started to explore the relationships between fashion and music: sound can be a very powerful medium to help define a brand. It strikes before the words. After that first inspiring experience with Coveri, I started composing music for corporations and teaching young people how the endless possibilities of sound can enhance their creations.
Keanan: You’ve lectured a lot and taught about the intersection of fashion and music and its effect on modern culture, so what do you see as the ways in which they influence each other?
Today, it’s very different too because fashion has kind of infiltrated the music industry to a degree where a lot of bands are styled and required by management and record companies to work with image makers and so on. It’s a very different career trajectory today. I think, until probably the 2000s maybe, that wasn’t really the case. Bands were kind of concocting their own looks. If you think of a band like Suede, or The London Suede as they’re known here, they were regarded as having a very fashioned look when they started. But they were really poor and were going to thrift stores and buying old 70s clothes and not cutting their hair because they couldn’t afford to get a haircut. And that was their look and it became kind of thrift store sheik, but it was their look that they had because that’s just the way they dressed, and they would share clothes as a band. They weren’t styled. They were self-styled. They actually influenced fashion, and today I think what’s happening is music artists are really aligning themselves with labels, either in the form of an influencer or as a revenue stream. I hate to be cynical like that but it’s sort of true. All they are looking to actually create in a clothing collection themselves is to kind of supplement their income from meager streaming royalties. It’s just very different in terms of the way artists are looking at a career today. I think, in the mainstream, artists become a little bit seduced by the fashion industry because it’s a very shiny object and fashion loves the credibility of the music industry. Fashion wants the authenticity and the emotion that music creates, because fashion by nature is frivolous. I mean, some people do need more clothes, but most people in metropolitan locations throughout, this continent at least, maybe they don’t need more clothes but they will buy more because there’s that emotional need. Music is very different. You can absolutely remember when you first heard that first great song…where you were, who you were in love with. Maybe fashion does that a bit, but I don’t think it does it as intensely. There is a different relationship, I think, between the consumer, the user of music, and the user of fashion.
Keanan: You moved to New York in 1993 to be your base for a career in fashion design. What do you love and find inspiring about living in New York and with London greatly inspiring youth culture in the 60s, 70s and 80s, what are your thoughts on the influence of the New York fashion scene and how the two cities compare for you?
I moved to New York at a time when Brit-pop was just about to kind of kick off in England, so in a sense it was probably bad timing. I kind of missed the whole explosion of music culture that was really coming out of the UK at that time. Actually, New York was a fantastic place to be in the 90s, because there was a certain energy here. The 90s, I think, were, between ’93 when I got here and 2001 (I’m sort of picking that year because of 9/11), there was a certain energy that was a building energy. I think it was just an incredible place to be. From a creative standpoint, there’s a certain energy in New York that I have rarely felt anywhere else. I think it’s because of the fact that everyone is really compressed into…it’s a melting pot that’s really condensed. So, everybody has to find a way to work together and live together and be together without, you know, killing each other! There’s dance music, there’s alternative music, there’s a nightlife scene, there’s a live music scene and all of these things that were going on in the 90s. The Lower East Side was really expanding with music venues and a scene that eventually exploded in the early 2000s. So, I think it was kind of a brilliant energy and for me, it was just an evolution. I grew up in the north of England and moved to London and spent like 10 years in London, and for me it was just like a next step. I loved the energy of New York. Just being in the US, I still find that here, if you want to do something, the answer is usually yes, whereas in the UK, I would find the answer is no, and then there’s a negotiation to get to maybe. The answer here is yes and then it’s “Ok, now we have to figure out how to do it.” And the UK mentality is just a British thing, like “Ooooh. No sir, that’s too difficult” (laughs)! That’s why punk happened, because young people didn’t have the chance to express themselves creatively, and so they just said “Ok. We’re going to kick down the doors and do it ourselves and start our own labels and create and make our own clothes and do our own hair and do everything ourselves.” It was this complete alternative to what was happening in the mainstream at the time.
Keanan: Having such a big influence on you growing up, what can you tell me about getting to meet and collaborate with David Bowie on the fashion line you did for Target?
It was a dream come true for me and it was very easy. He was a really, really great guy and very funny. You know, it was all of the things you hear about him now. The human side, really, not the kind of alien spaceman side. That’s who I met. I worked with David Jones. David Bowie is a construct and I worked with David Jones on a collection that was inspired by David Bowie. So, it was sort of weird, you know, when he turned up to the meeting in a Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt and you sort of think “Wait. What?” (laughs) and he had kind of scuffed up, bad shoes and everything. I thought “Is he messing around with me?” and then I thought “No. Of course. He’s just not on duty. He’s not David Bowie. He’s just himself and he doesn’t care what he wears.” He didn’t need to be the performer. That’s in a box somewhere until it needs to come out next time. That’s the impression I got. Bowie always talked about him creating the new school of pretention and he loved the idea of pretentiousness, but he was the most unpretentious guy. Or at least in the interactions I had with him, which were over a 6–8 month period. He was very ironically down to earth.
Keanan: You also said that he taught you about the importance of mystique and how in the age of mass celebrity and online exposure, we kind of become over-familiar with our heroes and they can be easily cast aside. In the age of the internet and social media that we are in, what are your thoughts on the mystique of artists in the modern age? Do you think that exists?
I think that Bowie and artists like that were able to maybe step back, and Prince is another example, and not give their lives away. And not just because they wanted privacy and wanted to maintain a private life, but they truly understood that when you give you everything there’s nothing left for…individuals have an amazing imagination. It’s like the horror movie where the monster that you don’t see is much scarier. When you actually see the monster, you’re kind of like “Oh my god. Is that it?” and it’s not that scary. But when you don’t see it, you’re mind is so creative that you can create something really fantastic. I know that with people like Bowie, and probably with Prince, they understood that the audience they were connecting with had a construct in their minds that Bowie got out of bed wearing platform shoes and full make up and his orange hair. That he gets out of bed and picks up a guitar and launches into “Life On Mars” or whatever. And people would imagine that was the life of that Rockstar. But if you are on Instagram showing them you getting up and eating breakfast and walking the dog, it’s boring. I think that’s what they truly understood, is not to give too much away. You know, Boy George is one of the first people that actually spotted this a long time ago. In the 80s he kind of, like, literally gave everything away and then he said retrospectively that he wished he hadn’t done that because he just didn’t have any mystique because of that. He sort of ended up becoming like a soap star, where everything you do is in the paparazzi’s view and so there was nothing left to imagine. Great artists have to get to the point where they have an audience. It’s really hard to be mystical when people don’t really know who you are and you don’t have an audience, unless you’re like a Daniel Johnson type. He had a mystique because of his own way of doing things and a total lack of pretention in what he did. He actually created a wonderful mystique because of that.
Keanan: In 2007, you formed Slinky Vagabond with Earl Slick, Glen Matlock, Clem Burke and Pete Shelley. What can you tell me about forming the band then and that era of Slinky Vagabond? What was it like to have your first show be at Irving Plaza as part of Joey Ramone’s annual birthday bash? I imagine that was a lot of fun!
It was great! This was in the era of Myspace (laughs)! I put up a Myspace account with some of my tracks on it and somebody messaged me and said “I like your music”. It was from an account of Earl Slick and I thought it was obviously somebody making fun. I messaged the person and said “Oh thanks” and this person said “Look. I’m going to be in the city in a couple of days to see a friend of mine who is in a band. Do you want to meet up?”. I said ok and we met up and it actually was Earl Slick. He’s like one of my all-time heroes. And it was like “Oh wow. This is really weird.” He said if I ever wanted to record material, he would be interested in doing something and I was like “Yeah. Let’s have a go.” I knew Glen Matlock, and obviously still do, from doing the clothes for the Pistols and we’ve become friends but had never done anything musically. I knew Clem through a mutual friend who used to do the sound for Blondie. We need a bass player and a drummer and I said “Glen, would you be interested in doing this. Slicky is going to be playing guitar” and he was like “Yeah!”. Clem happened to be in New York and so he was up for playing drums and had always wanted to play with one of the Pistols, so that was kind of nice for him. It was really initially a recording session and that’s how it came together. We recorded 4-5 songs. Pete, actually, sang backing vocals on one of the songs and did his recording in his place in the UK and just sent us the files. He wasn’t in the studio with us and just sent us the files afterward. The Joey Ramone bash came up because Glen played it the year before with his band and Mickey Leigh doesn’t like having the same bands every year. He said to Glen “Do you have another band you can play with?” and Glen said “Well, funnily enough…”, and so we decided to do it and just used the name Slinky Vagabond, which I’d already been using for clothes and recordings and stuff. It was a very sort of natural progression. It was amazing to play with the New York Dolls and support them, and it’s for a really good cause, as well…an annual lymphoma fundraiser. I mean, it was kind of terrifying for me, because I had to get up with three of my heroes and then support the rest of my heroes who were going to be on later, so it was a lot of fun. Actually, someone messaged me yesterday on Facebook and said they were at that show and that we’d killed it. It was really nice to hear that, because it was a long time ago now. I do remember that show very fondly. We did a bunch of other shows after that, as well, and then the Pistols did the reunions and Blondie went on tour again and we all just sort of went our separate ways. We still speak and see each other all the time. I was just texting with Glen yesterday.
Fabio- In 2017, you started teaching a course in Music Branding For Fashion at the Polimoda International Fashion Institute and Keanan, you did a lecture there in 2018, which is how the two of you met. What can you tell me about meeting each other and deciding to play music together?
Keanan: Yeah. So, I was invited to go and give a lecture there and I asked Polimoda if I could bring Glen with me so we could do the lecture together and talk about working in the stores that we had worked in when we were in college, which we thought would be interesting for the students and the link between fashion and music in that way. Fabio came to that lecture and he came up to us afterwards and introduced himself. We got to chatting and he said to me that he had a studio and asked if I would be interested in coming over and having a bit of a kick around with some music. That’s really how it started. Initially, it wasn’t a plan to do anything. He just invited me to his studio. He’s really a lovely guy and we hit it off immediately as friends. He had some tracks and some demoes and needed somebody to sing on them and lyrics and gave me a few demoes and I wrote lyrics. Then we went to his place and recorded them and they came out really well. We had an instant chemistry and it wasn’t really a plan to do anything. We weren’t going to call it anything, but were just sort of seeing what happened. It developed sort of in the year before the pandemic kicked in. That was when I was in Florence a lot and I’d go to Fabio’s studio at the end of the week when I was there and do a couple of songs in a day. Then he decided “Let’s put it out”, because what was the point of recording it and just having it sit in a drawer (laughs)? I said to Fabio, when the pandemic started up, that it would be great to ask around to friends and see if they would be interested in playing on some stuff. That’s when we started to get the guests involved. It was mostly people I know, either friends or good acquaintances, with the exception of Tony Bowers, who played in Durutti Column and Simply Red. He’s a friend of Fabios and was living in Tuscany for several years, so he played bass on everything and did that mostly before the pandemic happened. But Midge and Dave Formula and all of the other guys. And Richard Fortus. I’ve known Richard since the 90s but we’d never played together. There had never been an occasion to. I just asked him if he’d be interested in playing on a couple of songs and he said yes, to send them over. We did all of that stuff digitally.
Fabio: After Glen Matlock and Keanan gave a lecture at Polimoda, I had a chat with Matlock who wanted to introduce me to Keanan but I think he got lost in that crowded hall. Some months passed before I had the opportunity to get in touch with Keanan. Due to the fact he was living in New York City and he only came to Florence a few times a year, we had our first meet on Skype at the end of spring. Despite not having a good command of English, we had a great first chat. I immediately realized that Keanan was a very charismatic person, friendly and sensitive. Discovering our common passion for a certain type of music, we said: “We have to make music together!”. I was impressed by his practical sense and his desire to create without limits or barriers. In the end, that Skype call became a sort of our first jam session!
Fabio: You have said that in the beginning, you and Keanan didn’t have plans or projects and played with no limits or barriers. How do you feel that lack of plans and deadlines contributed to the music you wrote?
I understand that today we often do a lot of planning before starting a project, but we wanted our creative process to not be limited by anything that could affect our idea of music. In fact, we explored fields that were part of our musical background, comparing our experiences, searching the right mix between our styles without anything external that could affect our work. I understand that not having deadlines may seem a little primitive nowadays but I think it was worth it and made the work more truthful and honest to who we are as musicians.
You two will be releasing your album King Boy Vandals on May 7th! What can you tell me about the process of recording the album in Fabio’s studio outside of Florence? What influence do you feel that the other musicians had on the album and how do you feel like they helped to shape the sound?
Keanan: First of all, I think that Fabio is a really talented player. He’s a very, very good guitar player and a great producer. For me, he’s a great vocal producer. He’s worked in the studio a lot over the last 30 years or so and out of all of the producers I’ve worked with, he’s the one that’s really coached a vocal performance. I’ve worked with people like Slickey and he’s like “Do it a bit more with a Cockney accent!” (laughs)! I think it’s an Italian thing, actually, without meaning for it to sound cheesy. Fabio will sort of, like, gesture a performance or the way a line will unfold and it really helps as a singer. Because you’re in a booth and everybody else is looking at you through the window (laughs). It’s just you and you’re on the spot and every time you hit a wrong note everybody’s looking at you! It was a joy to work with Fabio in that way. Honestly, my hope with this this music is that I hope people get to hear and see more of Fabio as a player and a producer. I think he could really work with other artists. He certainly has the chops and he has a great down-to-earth personality. He’s like the anti-Phil Spector, in all ways (laughs)! Or Guy Stevens, who throws chairs across the studio and smashes a window. Fabio’s a completely different type of director in that way, kind-of like a film director and producer in one. And that’s what I’m kind of hoping this record could do, is show his skills to an audience who maybe likes rock and roll that’s a bit left of center. It’s sort of not really classic rock, but a bit more of a weird influence thrown in there. And all of the players that are involved, they’re all of a particular genre, with the exception of Martin Turner of Wishbone Ash, who was my producer when I was recording in the 80s. Martin is a phenomenal bass player. Wishbone Ash is completely different to the sound that we’ve got in this record, but Martin is a phenomenal bass player and an amazing singer. He didn’t sing on this unfortunately, because we didn’t have time, but he’s a really funny guy. It was all players of a certain vibe. I’ve loved Dave Formula’s work for years. I actually didn’t know him. My school friend managed Magazine when they reformed in the 2000s and is a very good, close friend of Dave’s. I actually contacted my friend and said “Hey! Would you put me in touch with Dave because I’m interested in asking him to play on a couple of sessions on tracks”. He’s a really great keyboard player and very gracious person. So, they all influenced the making of this record, because I was very influenced by all of them. Midge…you know, I’ve always loved Midge from Rich Kids days, when he was in the band with Glen Matlock. So it was very much like the first incarnation of Slinky Vagabond. The guys who were playing on it had already influenced me in my creative life, and it was kind of great to be in a room with those people, and this time virtually in a room with them, and work them them and let them do their thing.
Fabio: I’m convinced that in the era of streaming and playlists, a musician must not bend his creation to the needs of sales. Keanan and I had a lot of material we put together before we met. We decided to collect all that material and we realised that it represented our history and our musical experience. So, it’s a kind of autobiographical album, a trip in the music we love and it shows the experiences we have collected in our musical life. In all the tracks, there is a soft use of electronics and synthesisers that is always in the background, but still essential to emphasise the instruments played live.
I was born a raised in Florence but I’ve always written songs that, starting from an Italian background (opera, classic), were meant to be international rock songs. I think this is the reason why I found an artistic connection with all of these important musicians who really loved playing on the album. I think each guest gave his distinctive style to the album. There are so many great ones that it is really hard for me to pick one.
What can you tell me about the songs on the album? You all have said that some of them were written beforehand and that you wrote some together from scratch. What was that process like for you guys to write songs together?
Keanan: It was really easy. Fabio would have, in some cases, a whole backing track done and would give it to me and I’d then write a lyric for it. He even had, in certain cases, a top line melody already done and so it was very easy to just jump in. I’m somebody who has books and books of lyrics. I have tons of lyrics and am always writing down ideas and go back to them a day later or a week later and they are mostly rubbish. Sometimes they’re good. Or sometimes you wrote a really old lyric and it actually fits to a song you’re just working on. So it was very free form like that. I would either create a new lyric, brand new, or I would look in my archive, like “Ok. This line or this title works with this new song.” And there are a couple of songs that Fabio wrote in total and had lyrics for them and was saying to me “Oh. You can rewrite the lyrics. I’m Italian and maybe you could write a better lyric in English” and I was like “No. Let’s keep it.” I’m not somebody who needs to rewrite the lyrics in order to have an imprint on the song. Some singers are like that, like “No, I’m the singer. I have to write the lyrics” but they’re happy to sing cover songs (laughs). The logic of that never really worked for me. Fabio had a couple of songs completely written and the lyrics are great. I brought in a couple of songs, one of which is on this record and another we recorded that’s not on this one. I’d written it completely as a demo-music, lyrics, the whole thing-and demoed it reasonably well. And so Fabio recreated the demo and we just re-sang it. One of those songs is called “English Country Garden”, which is one that Richard Fortus is playing on. So that was really the process. We didn’t really do this with an idea or a plan of what it was going to be before we started. We did it because I happened to be in Florence a lot and we got on and both Fabio and I like to be creative. That’s still the impetus. It’s quite, I guess, honest in that way. We’re just enjoying ourselves and making music. I said to somebody the other day that we’re kind of blokes of a certain age but we like making music. Listen, if you’re walking around the golf course…I don’t play golf…but if you’re walking around a golf course, usually somebody’s not following you around saying “Give it up mate. You’re never going to be Tiger Woods.” You know what I mean? With the music industry, it’s like it’s only for the young people and there is truth in that, like fashion. It kind of is a young people’s game. But it doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing it. Rock and roll’s gotten to that stage now where it’s something people do. Unless you’re falling over, there’s no cut off.
The two of you initially composed a cover of Spandau Ballet’s “To Cut A Long Story Short”. What can you tell me about that experience and how it encouraged you two to continue with composing and recording music together?
Keanan: We did that because I know Gary Kemp and at one stage they were thinking about…their singer left and they were looking for a new singer. I had coffee with Gary in London and chatted about it and then they ended up getting a chap to be their singer for a while, which didn’t really work out. But I’ve always loved Spandau Ballet. I thought they were a really good band and I loved them in the very, very early days before the kind of true mega hits and all of that. I kind of liked them when they were a bit off an underground, slightly electro band. They had a lot of energy. They were at the tail end of punk, I guess. I’ve always loved that song, “To Cut A Long Story Short”. And so, just as a testing ground with Fabio, I said to him “Would you be interested in doing a cover of it?” and he said “Yeah, sure. But I’d love to do it differently.” Fabio plays in a lot of great styles and loves flamenco and a lot of great guitar styles like classical and so on. He decided to do it that kind of Flamenco style, which I thought was a really good idea, because it takes it completely away from trying to do a sort of new electro version of it, which a band called the Cazals did 7 or 8 or maybe 10 years ago. So there was no point in doing that. So Fabio did this kind of Flamenco style version of it which turned out great. It was, I guess, a demo way of us working together. We sort of did that in the early stages as a sort of testing ground and I sent it to Gary and he liked it. He stuck it on his Twitter and told Spandau Ballet fans to give it a listen and so on. I think it was nice in that way. We haven’t put it on this record because it’s a bit of a different style to what we’re doing on this record, but we both really enjoyed doing it.
Fabio: I heard from Keanan again shortly after our first chat. Keanan suggested we record an acoustic version of the Spandau Ballet’s hit ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’, written by his friend Gary Kemp. On a hot July afternoon, the cover version of the track was born – an acoustic guitar, a simple rhythmic sequence, and Keanan’s voice. At the beginning the arrangement, we decided to add violins to give the cover version something new. But things went differently. I was looking for a good solo with my acoustic guitar but everything seemed too predictable or banal. At a certain moment I tried to insert a ‘reverse effect’ , that effectively reversed the guitar execution by making it sound like a real Tzigano Violin. Keanan loved this and we went ahead with arranging and singing on the track. Kemp loved our version and invited us to the Saucerful of Secrets concert in Milan, the new Nick Mason project where Kemp plays guitar. It was the first time Keanan and I had worked together but we immediately understood that we really enjoyed doing that, without limits or preconceptions, only making the music we love. I think that that experience encouraged us to continue with composing and recording music.
The two of you spent two years figuring out what sounded good to you and what you wanted your sound to be? What was it like to merge your different influences together and to adjust and rearrange the tracks that you brought to the project?
Keanan: We didn’t really plan it. Basically, I gave Fabio maybe 5-6 tracks that I had demoed and he brought in probably 8-10 tracks, some of which were finished and others in various phases. And we just sort of picked things and listened to things. I would listen to a track and try a lyric over it and if it worked, it was like “Let’s do that. Let’s just do that song.” If it didn’t work or was tricky in some way, we’d just move on. The beauty of it was when I was in Florence, at the tail end of each trip, I only had kind of a day to do this, so we were always on the clock. I was there like 10 times in a year, so I was there pretty much every month…so about 10 days. If you think about it, it’s like we recorded I think 16 songs…there’s only 10 on this record…so we just had to get stuff done. Initially it didn’t start out with the idea of making a record. Initially, it was quite laissez faire. And then we got further down the line and thought, “Maybe we could do kind of an album?”. And then it was like, ok but if we do an album, we need 9 or 10 songs, so let’s make sure we have plenty to pick from. That’s what we ended up doing. So it started out laissez faire and then it became it became more of “Ok. We’ve gotta get this done” (laughs)! Some things totally changed. There’s a track called “Euphoria” on the record and David Torn, who played guitar with David Sylvian and Bowie and is an amazing guitar player, I asked him if he would play on “Euphoria”. And he completely changed that track, because we took off a lot of the existing instrumentation. David plays a very ethereal guitar style that’s very ambient and quite abstract. It totally changed the nature of that track. I love that track. It’s a great song and one that Fabio wrote in total. Then suddenly David’s guitar gave it this whole other vibe and it became something else, once the guest artist played on it. That happened in some cases. Like with Richard Fortus, he has a very distinctive, almost like west coast rock and hard rock guitar sound that gave a different edge. It suddenly jumps right out of the track when he hits the solo or he’s playing fills. It’s nice because it adds a whole other element and sits well with Fabio’s guitar playing…sort of sits against it but with it.
Fabio: This creative approach was the most exciting thing and it developed through a completely natural process merging the idea of sound I already had in mind and Keanan’s vocal characteristics. In fact, when we started with the songs I had already composed, adapting the work helped us to understand better and better what our sound and our artistic direction would be. The sound we wanted came out naturally and that was very encouraging. I had the chance to be involved in the project having various roles that allowed me to perceive our work from different perspectives.
You guys will be releasing your first single “The Beauty In You” soon. What can you tell me about the track and why did you decide to release that track as your first single?
Keanan: It’s one of those songs where it isn’t what it appears to be. It appears to be a love song but it’s not. I’m always really interested in those decayed cities that have been abandoned that are around the world. You sometimes see these amazing National Geographic documentaries where they go to some abandoned city in The Ukraine or wherever that’s been reclaimed by nature. Or The Saltan Sea in California, which I really love, is kind of like being on Mars, or what I imagine Mars to be. And it’s all of these abandoned houses that have completely decayed and I just love the idea…in fashion, we have all of these beauty standards, which are based on ideals that are often created to make people aspire to something that’s completely unattainable. So, there are beauty standards in fashion of body types, the way people walk, the way people present themselves, and particularly women. Fashion has been predominately…well, now men are more interested in fashion than ever, but has been predominately been an industry that’s targeted women and created these unattainable beauty standards. What I’ve always been interested in is the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You can find beauty in everything. Everybody finds beauty in everything. The standard is created by marketing, actually. If you look at, I don’t know, the Italian Renaissance, there’s a certain beauty standard there but it was created by the Medici’s who were paying Leonardo to create this artwork to create a certain standard of beauty. I find that idea of beauty in chaos really interesting, and that’s what the song is about. A long-winded answer (laughs)! That’s what the song is about, the beauty in chaos. And we just liked the idea of doing a kind of ballad. We thought it was kind of interesting because I think the sort of mid-tempo track we have done, I do have a lot of time for those. You know, rock and roll tracks. We did a track called “Primadonna”, which Midge Ure plays on, that’s very like late 70s rock and roll and I love that. It’s great and has a great shouty chorus and everything, but I do love sort of mid tempo melodies, as well, because you can stretch the melody out and sing it a bit.
Keanan: You recently became the head of the Masters of Professional Studies In Fashion Management at Parson’s School of Design. What can you tell me about the program and it’s mission of addressing the lack of diversity in fashion leadership roles and just the history of racism in fashion in general?
On January 1st, I actually transitioned into a slightly different role at Parson’s. Now, I work out of the provost’s office and my title is Director of Fashion Programs. That program, which I launched, I am not the director of anymore but the mission is still the same. As I was eluding to earlier, fashion has been a very western-centric industry where fashion is created and sold predominately in one part of the world but manufactured and produced in another part of the world. I think, as we’ve become more of a global society, we are becoming more aware of what really means. Beauty standards that may be applied in London, New York, Kentucky, California or wherever, are maybe not the same standards of beauty that would be found in Nairobi, Shanghai or Jakarta. I think that fashion has to be not just aware of that in terms of beauty standards and in terms of how the image of fashion is presented, but also in organizations and fashion companies and how those decisions are being made. When you look at boardrooms of most corporations, it’s kind of white men. I’m a white man. A middle aged white man with the privilege that comes with that. The difficult thing with fashion is that fashion companies for years would talk about diversity and would say “Oh, we’re really diverse. We use models of color in our runway shows or in our advertising campaigns” and so on and so forth, which is great. But, who’s in the boardroom making the decisions and who is in the leadership team. Really, unless you have a diverse team, those voices are really not being heard when decisions are being made, and that’s bad in many ways. It’s bad because people are then not being heard. It’s also bad, if you want to talk about the economic side of it, in a corporation like Gucci, for example, who have made some missteps in recent years that have raised red flags in terms of products they have made that have appeared to be racist or have racist connotations. If they had a person of color in their boardroom…I’m not saying they don’t. I don’t know if they do or don’t. But if they had people of color in the boardroom making decisions, those missteps wouldn’t have happened, and therefore they wouldn’t have lost consumers or money and wouldn’t have had to kind of walk back some of the decisions they made. People who would have an opinion about that would be present. So, that’s what we tried to instill into the program at Parson’s, and I think that’s a Parson’s-wide and probably higher eduction-wide, initiative, to really create that awareness, so when students are learning, they’re understanding that actually these aspects are very important in the creative industry. That all voices are heard and that all communities are present. There’s a sort of consciousness. We want people to be creative and have creative expression. I don’t believe that creativity should be censored in a heavy-handed way, because then you would lock the flow that a creative individual might have if they are having to overthink. I do believe that this is a time of reckoning and it’s really late in coming. It’s kind of really late in coming. Beverly Johnson was on the cover of Vogue in 1974 and was the first Black woman to be on the cover of Vogue. That’s a considerable amount of time that’s passed since then. In terms of the business of fashion, and probably in other creative business’s too, in the world of fine art, for example, and in contemporary art and so on maybe that’s the case too, that people haven’t been as thoughtful about the meaning of a diverse representation. John Basquiat was asked about being a Black artist and he would say “I’m an artist”. At that time, in the 80s, he was sort of perceived and presented as this exotic anomaly, and that was so vehemently racist. If you think of female artists, so many female artists, like Tracey Emin, it was talked about in the 90s as female artist, but she’s an artist. She’s an artist, and yeah she’s female, but she’s an artist. It was kind of compartmentalized. Even with music, I’ve got a…unfortunately, I’m on The Guitar Center mailing list (laughs)! I got a catalog the other day and my wife brought it into the apartment. It’s great. They have Joan Jett on the cover and are kind of doing this whole “we’re for female musicians”, which I think is great. But it’s sort of heavy-handed in a way. I hope this movement, particularly in creative arts, isn’t sort-of a trend. Do you know what I mean? I hope people will keep being open and inclusive and diverse in their thinking.
What’s next for Slinky Vagabond, aside from the upcoming album? What do you guys have coming up?
Keanan: We just did a little Zoom video for the single, which is just Fabio playing guitar and me singing. That’s being edited at the moment, actually. We just did that over the weekend. So we’re going to put that out, as well. Fabio’s son, Fausto, is a really talented video artist. He’s made a cute video to go along with the single, which will come out the same day as the single. A friend of mine, Kevin Grady, who is an act called Black Plastic, he’s doing a kind of dark house remix of one of the tracks on the album called “Old Boy”. I actually wanted to call our act The Old Boys, but I think it might have been lost in translation with Fabio (laughs). I think was a little too self-deprecating (laughs)! But I thought it would be really funny. So Kevin Grady is going to do that and then we’re just going to keep going and doing stuff. Hopefully we can do some live shows at some point. We certainly won’t be until later this year, but we’d love to do some. It’s nice to get out in front of an audience. What was great about the incarnation of Slinky Vagabond in the mid-2000s was that we sort of tagged on to…we did the Joey Ramones thing. We did a thing in Times Square during Fashion Week in New York and we did a thing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for a Mark Bolan tribute. So we managed to sort of tap into events that were bigger than us. I’m interested in doing that. Of doing a festival of some kind. I’m not interested in playing in a bar in Florence in front of 5 people (laughs). I’ve done that so many times! If we can sort of tap into events where we’re not the main act, I think that makes sense. That’s a great way to promote a record. Fabio actually is cutting a vinyl of this, which won’t be ready probably for a few months, but we’ll kind of re-promote the record probably once the vinyl is ready to go!
Fabio: We hope that King Boy Vandals will be listened to by as many people as possible and that the energy, care and love we have put into this work can be perceived. We really want to repeat this experience and record new material soon.