Films need soundtracks, hence the Sundance Music Cafe at 550 Main in Park City amidst the Hollywood hoopla last month. You couldn’t get a break from the festival schmoozing there, either. There was a young and quite lovely blond woman sitting next to me who was passing out headshots and bios to anyone who would give her the time. She didn’t give one to me; I guess I didn’t look important enough. As each person walked through the door, she would ask her friend, “Who is that?” I don’t know if it annoyed the singers, but it annoyed me.
This was the third year for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers event, and the organizers finally figured out they needed more space and made the room a little bigger. The two previous years were standing-room-only affairs, but this time around they added a few more tables, removed a wall and doubled the capacity to around 100. It still wasn’t enough. Bands like Nickel Creek and the Old 97s had to turn people away, as did Deana Carter.
I caught up with two of the singers after their sets. Chris Keup hails from Washington, D.C., where he owns and operates a record label called Grantham Dispatch Records. His album, The Subject of Some Regret, is the fourth release on this label. The first three releases, which comprise the bread and butter of the label, belong to another band he plays in called River. The fifth release is coming soon from Rebecca Lord, one of the stars of MTV’s Real World Seattle. Chris helped write and produce, and he likes the way it turned out. “We put on our pop hats and made this record, and it sounds pretty pro.” He thinks the album will get a good response, and compares her to Natalie Imbruglia. Up next are one more solo album, one more River album and an album for his sister, actress Heidi Ladd. “Most of these should be out by the end of the year, if things go well.”
Keup ended up at the festival with the help of ASCAP’s Sue Devine and the fact that his song, “The Colder Months Ahead,” won ASCAP’s Foundations 2000 Sammy Cahn lyricist award. This put a little money in Chris’ pocket and helped finance the trip to Sundance. Chris brought a lot of people along, including members of River. The Agents of Good Roots were supposed to accompany him, but canceled at the last minute. That left River as his backup band, even though they hadn’t played the new songs yet.
The band did a good job regardless. “The crowd was excellent,” Chris says. He debuted three new songs, “Some Days,” “Water Still Warm” and “I Don’t Want Love,” and the response was excellent. I didn’t hear all of them, because the aforementioned blonde was on her cell phone telling her friend she had talked to Danny Aiello. But hey, I’ll get to hear them on the album.
He’s happy he was chosen for the show, because he feels it’s more likely he’ll do a soundtrack for an indie film someday than have a big top-40 hit. His music is definitely not for the current teeny-bop charts. The sound is somewhere in between Tom Waits, Morphine and Bob Dylan. The songwriting is topnotch, and there are too many highlights to mention.
I asked whom he thought the highlight of the festival was. “Amy Correia can sing. And the mandolin player in Nickel Creek was excellent,” Keup said. He also made it to a movie, Sexy Beast, but couldn’t understand much of it because of the thick British accents. Still, his excitement about the trip to Park City paid off in CD sales and a great crowd response.
The Cafe’s other unknown singer, Phil Roy, was born in Philadelphia but currently makes his home in California and has been an ASCAP writer for close to 20 years. The people in the L.A. office helped get him to Sundance. Rooming with one of the film festival’s judges got him into two movies: Go Tigers, which he liked, and another he doesn’t want to mention because he didn’t care for it. “I don’t like to critique other people’s art,” he defers.
Roy does have an opinion about his Cafe set, however. “The second show was packed and the people were so attentive,” he said. I was curious about how much schmoozing was going on during the show. “It was there, the whole festival is about it, and it’s pretty much what makes Sundance.” Regardless, he thought the crowd was extremely nice, and loved Nickel Creek. “That was my personal highlight.”
Phil is currently touring to promote his album Grouchyfriendly, a collection of singer-songwriter material similar to a stripped-down Bruce Springsteen. He put it out on his own and has been amazed at the response it’s received. “I get an e-mail or call every day from people wanting to buy it.” That’s due in large part to New York radio station WFUV, which had one of his songs, “Melt,” on heavy rotation. At the end of the year when the station asked its listeners to name their favorite albums of the year, Grouchyfriendly was on the chart below Emmylou Harris, Aimee Mann and Steve Earle, but above the likes of Tracy Chapman, U2 and Radiohead.
Recently, singer-actress Jennifer Love Hewitt took his song “How Do I Deal” to the top 10 in a few countries. His most popular tune, “Hope in a Hopeless World,” has been recorded by Widespread Panic, Pops Staples and Paul Young. Joe Cocker, Adam Cohen, Ray Charles and Aaron Neville have also recorded his songs. Things are looking up.
Both Roy’s and Keup’s albums should be available in most record stores. If you can’t find them, log on to www.ChrisKeup.com or www.PhilRoy.com.