- Cat Palmer
Local standouts Talia Keys & The Love grew immensely over the past year thanks in part to their newly released full-length album We're Here. They headlined spots at the Utah Pride Festival and the Utah Arts Festival and made appearances on KRCL 90.9 FM's Women Who Rock feature. Frontwoman Keys also set out on two 30-day tours to the Southeast and the West Coast, tallying more than 100 shows.
"My proudest moment was releasing the album," Keys reflects. "It took two years of recording, mixing and production to get the end result. I worked closely with Michael Sasich and Greg Shaw at Man vs. Music, and we produced it together. My band brought their hearts into the studio, and we created a musical political statement."
Now, Keys and crew are looking forward to an even bigger 2019 starting with their Saturday, Jan. 12 show at The Commonwealth Room, which by design is meant to be more than a couple of mics and amps crowded in a corner. "I really like the performance art aspect of our shows, so we are hoping to do more collaborations. I love supporting other artists, and we like sharing the bill with other local acts," Keys says. "Our New Year's resolution is to not sweat the small stuff—life is too short to be caught up in the small things—keep existing loudly and be the best human I can."
That sentiment is echoed in her role as musical director for Rock 'n' Roll Camp, a weeklong nonprofit camp for female, transgender and nonbinary kids ages 8 to 17. During their stint, campers learn a variety of instruments, form bands, write original songs and perform on a stage with their peers in the audience. Along with learning a thing or two about the music process, kids also pick up the skills to proudly be themselves. "Rock Camp is my favorite thing I do," Keys muses. "It's a music camp, but more importantly it's about empowerment, working together and being brave." This year marks Rock Camp's fourth—Keys has helped out since its creation—along with the debut of an adult version for women, transgender and nonbinary individuals ages 18 and up.
Keys believes LGBTQ and community advocacy is important, and she takes the responsibility of her platform seriously. When asked how the music and queer communities here in Salt Lake City overlap, she says, "I would love to see more of my local friends in bands get involved. Volunteer for things, play more fundraisers and attend more queer events." Or, as Keys puts it, participate in the "human" community. Referring to her Utah bubble of queer and marginalized people, she adds, "Those are the humans facing discrimination for who they are."
Issues about which she is passionate drive many of her creative decisions. In a recent New Year's Day concert for the community organization One World, Keys played solo under her Gemini Mind project. "I am new to the event myself but understand it's for addiction recovery," Keys says. "Having lost my dad to addiction three years ago, this hits home." Keys hopes her audiences relate to the experiences she writes about. Inspired by life events as well as other artists, including the kids at her camps, Keys says she uses music as a "crucial way to express emotion," and writes to heal and "to say how it is and fight for what I believe in."
While Keys devotes time and energy to her full band, her solo allows her unique opportunities. "I started playing solo out of a necessity to tour," she says. "It became a crucial way for me to get out of Utah. I ended up loving it and have had many awesome opportunities because of it." During the last five years, Keys has opened for multiple rock heroes, including Michael Franti and Karl Denson. "I will always play solo and will always play with a band," she says. "The band is special; we play fewer shows and try to play bigger events. It's a production, a performance piece instead of a concert."
Putting on a performance is the best way to open a new year full of new commitments to her causes. "Playing The Commonwealth Room is a big deal," Keys says. "We are really looking forward to collaborating with the opening acts, as well. Big Blue Ox is putting out some of the nastiest instrumental funk, and they are so fun. VadaWave are such passionate performers, too."
And while Keys will always be looking for the fun in performance, she can't separate her art from her identity. Referencing her lifelong "awareness of and desire to squash judgment and fight to have the same rights," she says it has definitely been hard growing up in the state as a pansexual woman. Fulfilling her role as "an outspoken woman on stage" has cost her countless jobs in and around Salt Lake City. "It always stings," she says, "but why would I want to play somewhere that doesn't fully support me? When these doors close, bigger ones always open."