By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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Not, by any stretch, in the grasp of rock and roll--naive, fickle, and solipsistic as that particular art form can often be.
Yet Keith Killoren--the frontman-singer-songwriter for Denton's Budapest One, a young man and a very old soul--nearly forsook his own flamboyant rock leanings to attend the seminary. Odd, from a guy who says of his earlier stage days: "I wore a priest collar. I cut myself up with beer bottles." Then he drives his point home: "I was frustrated. I saw it as a lifetime of curtsies in the depths of my theatrical purgatory. It was me serving my penance."
So Killoren did the next best thing to seminary and got a degree in philosophy and religion, and imagery from the Book of Revelations to Beowulf to T.S. Eliot to Greek mythology rolls off his tongue--and pervades his song lyrics--as though he's studied these texts for decades, or as though this Yber-discourse has surged though his veins since his birth. He's no religious fanatic. Far from it--he's a self-described secular humanist. And he's only 24. (Try asking any other 24-year-old rock boy what his life theory is: Uh...)
As far as the rock interview subject goes, Killoren's as close to a wizened sage as it gets. He's lost in--no, challenged by--the rules and structures that make up rock music; yet instead of prompting him to back down, his philosophical adventures catapult him and his songs beyond the great unwashed. For Killoren, no concept is too superficial for analysis, no matter too trivial for an extended-allegory treatment. Yet the nine cuts on Budapest One's self-titled demo tape prove, start to finish, that this guy can out-rock a mountain.
"I have a twofold theory here about songwriting, about how songwriters get in trouble," Killoren says while scarfing down a sirloin steak at the Denton Waffle House. ("Don't stop eating meat," he warns. "Musicians, especially drummers, shouldn't give up meat. They lose all their passion.") He's wearing an old letterman's sweater from the music school at the University of Texas in Austin (not his alma mater) over an equally vintage polyester button-down with a collar so big it threatens to drop down onto his plate. Killoren is all about the past.
"One, there's the ghost of Buddy Holly," he begins, winding up. "That's for one-hit wonders. I'll tell you about that later. So really the first is the narrators. Jimmie Rodgers hopped trains. He was a narrator--a documenter of this--and you can vicariously jump into [a scene] and then write the song." He pauses. "Now, some people have to be the song--mostly the whiner songs: 'Boy, I'm gonna have to get another girlfriend and break my own heart, so I can write another song.' That's no good. Those are the bands that have one quality album, then the sophomore slump. I try to be a completely vicarious songwriter. I observe, I write about it. Therefore, the well is never dry, 'cause all you have to do is go to another well. Just don't take from your own well."
Killoren's scattered wells run the gamut from the suicide of an old lamplighter to prom-night jitters to the martyrdom of an alcoholic. Nothing is sacred, yet everything is treated with reverence, a process he honed over five years with his indie band 3 Liter Hit in Wisconsin (where he grew up), as well as his days in the theory-laden classrooms of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. A year and a half ago, he abandoned 3 Liter Hit out on the tundra and moved to Denton, not long after he decided seminary wasn't his calling. An Arkansas girl named Amanda, whom he had met while touring with the band, was his calling, and she had pinpointed the University of North Texas for undergrad school.
"I love the whole Milwaukee thing," Killoren says. "But there's a Prairie Home Companion-ism, that Lutheran conservatism, about the area. Up north, I'd walk down the street in my red pants, looking like Jackie Wilson. And the people are like, 'Nice fuckin' pants!' Whereas in Texas, even the good ol' boys don't give me any shit. I guess they're used to rodeo clowns."
He spent his first Denton phase hanging around with former members of Brutal Juice, Dooms U.K. frontman John Freeman, and Will Johnson of Centro-matic. Instead of mourning the loss of his old band, he says, he wanted to find out whether he could make music on his own. The first six months after moving to Texas, he would just sit in his room and play for himself, listening to Lawrence Welk and Jimmie Rodgers--"just trying to acclimate myself to being a Texan," he insists. "Of course, you have to listen to Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb to acclimate yourself correctly. Now I think I've done it. And musically, I'm now my own man."