KEYBOARD DOG, THE NEW INDIE-FOLK BRAINCHILD of 21-year-old Northeastern student, Steve Kurz, has been on the rise recently with his newest EP release, throw your soul, that debuted in late June. From childhood piano lessons, middle school jazz classes, playing in a band with friends in high school, to now making a name for himself in the local scene, Kurz continues to make strides as an artist.
Kurz and I sat down to talk about the process of making the EP, going on tour together opening for Geskle in early July, and his perspective as an artist in the Boston DIY scene.
HASSLE: How did you get your start in music, and how did that lead you to where you are now?
STEVE KURZ: The long winded answer is that my parents stuck me in piano lessons when I was 5 with my siblings, and I was the only one who stuck with it. The more relevant stuff would be when I got around to middle school and high school getting into jazz band. I was lucky enough to be in a public school district that had a really good music program so by the time I was in high school I was able to get really involved in whatever I wanted. I joined a band with some friends outside of school called Pilot the Universe, and we played the local scene for a little bit, wrote together — and they were also just my four best friends. I got connected to music really for music’s sake when I was younger, but by the time I was in high school I got into music as a community thing; being able to find people in it that I really appreciated who they were as musicians, but also kinda what they were all about. As far as my own personal music endeavors, I started to write and record my own stuff in the later half of high school. It sucked at first but I just kept at it and knew that there was some part of that writing and recording process that was a really good outlet for me. By the time I was a second year at Northeastern I was writing a lot of the stuff that is on the EP — finding things that really stuck and writing songs that I felt connected to. If I didn’t have music I wouldn’t know where else to put my thoughts and feelings and things I want to remember. Writing and kind of capturing the production and recording is how I record life. It’s how I get my shit out.
HASSLE: Could you tell me a little about your progression as an artist, from putting out your first single “Cutout Model” to writing, recording, and putting out the songs on the EP — or even songs previous to “Cutout Model”?
KURZ: “Cutout Model” was the first song out. It wasn’t the first song that I was happy with, but I wrote it and I really felt something when I wrote it. I had this system for a while where I would scribble something down in my dorm and then I’d run to the Northeastern music building and immediately get behind the piano and start feeling it out. “Cutout Model” was one of those where I really wanted to get shit out of my head and into something physical. The production for that was kind of a test run of what I could do production wise, I was in a recording class at the time where the semester long project was to fully produce and mix a song. “Cutout Model” was that song for me, and it’s cool because it’s nothing I would make now. At least if I was given the chance to do it again I would do it differently now because I know more. At the time, it was a really cool sound I was able to make. I have learned to love the value in that. When it came time to keep writing, it was the next round with a batch of songs that I was writing in a similar period that became the EP. A lot of it I wrote Fall 2020 when I had come back to Boston to start school up remotely. I kind of still had that same habit of scribbling something in my apartment, go find a piano and like bang it out and that got me very close to my songs. It might sound corny but they felt like friends — where these were something I could confide in, or something I could have this closeness with during a time when I couldn’t be close to many people and things felt very disconnected. I found that kind of self composure and sanity by interacting with these songs in a way; going and playing them again, writing them as I went, and figuring out what they represented. I remember for those few months of my life giving a lot to those songs and that’s why they stuck with me so much that I wanted to make them into an EP.
HASSLE: Is there a certain person, group of people, place, or things that inspired the EP?
KURZ: Yes, when I think of places the first one that comes to mind is sat behind the piano in Ryder Hall. Sitting behind a Ryder piano you can see your reflection in the gloss of the wood — I found that to be a very comfortable zone for me, or one that I just spent a lot of time at. The Esplanade; going up if I needed a place to kind of head out and it gives me something to kind of look at while I focus on listening to something or when I would mull through ideas. At the time of writing all this stuff skateboarding was my quarantine hobby, I was never good but when I got back to school I was like yeah I’m a skater now, I would skate to Ryder Hall and back and feel so cool. I had my laptop and recording equipment on my back. Behind the piano, having to look at myself playing and trying not to. Being on the river and watching the water, if I need something to take one sense away while I try to focus on another. There’s a couple people that the EP references or frameworks about. I was going through a breakup at the time and so a good bit of it follows the progression of the breakup. It’s a weird reliving of that a little bit but I’m happy with how it’s ended up and I think the EP also reflects that. “how she loves,” specifically, is one of those songs, and I very much lean on a lot of the things that I say in the second verse of that song: we’re good and if ever it is good again we’re fine. A lot of it frames around detaching myself from this person that had a huge presence in my life. Another person that it focuses on is myself because it was one of the first times that I had really stopped and taken a good look inward and that’s a big theme throughout the EP — just unwinding myself a little bit and trying to sort out so many of the things that I had been feeling for a long time and put names to them. COVID really slowed me down and quieted me down, it made me sit with things a lot more, it made me sit with myself and undo habits that I had been building up, or things that I didn’t like about myself necessarily that I was seeing through the process of that breakup. A lot of just trying to put a name to things, and if I could undo them that’s a big thing that “sbtm” — the last song on the EP — is about. Boston is a little bit of a theme, as “amsterdam” is kind of about Boston. It’s more about the idea of inhabiting the space you’re in, because what you want is already where you are. I framed it in the idea that my family went to Amsterdam years ago and I had similar feelings then and felt like this is what I’m feeling now like: “Oops I wrote about how I’m feeling.” It’s really about coming back to Boston and taking the opportunities that are presented to me. I felt like up until that point, I hadn’t really taken full advantage of everything that Boston has to offer. I’ve been getting better at that and I’ve really enjoyed seeing more of the Boston Music Scene. It’s been nice just to get out there, and to have had this EP as a vehicle to get out there has been really fulfilling.
HASSLE: To talk a little bit more about the EP, “amsterdam” is doing numbers. You’re on a hefty amount of playlists on Spotify — how does that make you feel as an artist?
KURZ: It’s way more than I would have ever expected. For a guy who made these songs in his apartment, it’s pretty cool anytime I think about it. I can’t think about it for too long, it’s just really nice that people enjoy it. When I was making the EP I wasn’t thinking ‘Are people gonna like it, are people gonna stream it a bunch?’ I wanted to make something that felt fair and representative of me and put that forward. If people are into that, that’s wonderful. It’s nice to see that people enjoy it — that’s the bottom line. If I see any number that’s more than four digits, it all looks like the same number to me, especially once “amsterdam” hit 100,000 streams — which is already insane in itself. I have no words for that, but it’s really cool. Numbers are numbers and I know they mean something to some people but if I think about numbers I freak out.
HASSLE: The other day I said “TikTok” to you, and you were immediately like “NO!”
KURZ: No, because that makes my head hurt a lot. I just know myself too well. If TikTok was something I did, if I really tried to gain the marketing thing and that success was measurable in numbers, I would not handle that well. It is not how I work. At this point I am so deep into my return of needing music to feel sacred for me if it’s going to be something I keep doing. Thinking about TikTok, marketing, and numbers, it pulls me away from the value of music. Thankfully there are a lot of artists out there that are similarly minded, but for me it is music first, hands down. It needs to be good music, it needs to be thoughtful music, it needs to be meaningful music first and foremost, and then record it. I view it so distinctly as you need to create something that is special, then you capture it in a way that serves the song and serves the purpose of the music. Then you think about marketing. I do all three steps myself or I have up until this point. For me to stay sane, I need to separate those three things. That being said, it’s nice to see people enjoy it. With those numbers and everything, I don’t always get to see those people who are getting it from some Spotify playlist. It’s really cool that it spits it out farther than I could ever do it. What I really like to see is the people close to me, the people in Boston that go to Northeastern or Berklee or Emerson who are around, and how they have their own relationship with the song or the whole EP. That is way more special to me than numbers. Playing shows is the most fulfilling part of it. People come out and they resonate with the music — that’s like all I could ever ask for. It’s there, it’s physical, and it’s all in one place and everything within that room is contained. That’s special.
HASSLE: To segue from that, do you have any notes or thoughts about our time on the road opening for Geskle on tour recently?
KURZ: It was fun. I’m really glad we did it. To be thought of for that is really nice — and then helping planning it and putting together the tour, and how that was a collaborative effort made it more fulfilling. To go play music in a place you’ve never been and have such a nice response feels very special. I appreciate it for what it was, and what it was turned out to be pretty cool.
HASSLE: You gotta have a certain like minded group of people to be able to throw something like what we did together in such a short amount of time and put it on the road — and actually be okay on the road together.
KURZ: Big props to a lot of the Geskle folks for being super cool and easy to work with. For us to — like you said — have a same team mindset and for us all to be working towards a common goal, like “Let’s put on a good show at the end of the night and help each other where we can.” For us to have had that mentality is really helpful and in the process of getting to know a lot of the Geskle folks was a real treat.
HASSLE: With talking about the tour, I wanted to talk about your backing band, and how you met Max, Anna, and Andrew.
KURZ: Yes, fuckin’ love them. I signed up last fall for a music mentorship program at Northeastern, where I would take an underclassman or someone who was just getting there and be a mentor to them. I get paired up with this guy Max, the program sent out an email with the pairings saying “these are each other’s phone numbers, get it touch,”10 minutes later he texts me and he’s like “Hey, I know this sounds crazy but I found you on Instagram and you’re a producer. I have a song that I wanna record, can you help me?” So, the next day he came over to my apartment and played me this song. It was this gorgeous, beautiful folk-acoustic, singer-songwriter style. It’s thoughtful and really, really beautiful. I was like, “oh shit I really want to know this guy for a long time, and work with him, and be his friend” and that’s Max. Anna was in one of my classes and I was just like, “This person is so fucking sick.” Then I found out they played guitar from their Instagram, and I was like “Yo, any chance you also play bass or like to play bass?” and they were like, “Oh my god I want to play bass in a band” and I was like, “Hell yeah.” Anna, Max, and I did the first Keyboard Dog band show together in December. We had a drum machine as a drummer. I was playing a show for Max, he put the crew together and everything. He had this bassist named Andrew, and one day while we were rehearsing Andrew hopped on the drums and started playing. At some point later, I asked him if he wanted to play drums for me and he was kind enough and said yes. Now we’ve played a bunch of shows together and I love them. Going on tour together was one of the first times we got to spend extended periods of time together that weren’t rehearsal or music related. We got to just hang out and I just love them more for it and we play better for it. I like having a band, it’s cool.
HASSLE: What is coming up in the next year, and can you talk a little more about the new unnamed song you’ve been playing live?
KURZ: So in our set there is one song that we’ve been playing that’s unreleased. I haven’t even started recording it, but I’m going to start within the next couple weeks. I wrote it a little over a year ago and playing it live has really brought it to life and showed me what the song can be. I like when bands play a song live and then go back in the studio and record it then they bring it back out and play it again. […]It’s important to me that the song holds up on its own — whether it’s me with a piano, or me with the band or this produced version where I have weird little production things going on. The most important thing to me is that the song stands on its own, and it still is well served. I’m really excited to dive into that. Other things in the next year: this summer I’m producing Max’s EP and I’m honored that he’ll let me be a part of it because I care so deeply about his stuff and I’m really excited about what we’re going to put together. I love his songs, and he has a very similar thing to me where he’s very meticulous and detail oriented about a song sounding right or if the song sounds like the song. I’m really excited for that, and I want all the best things for him and I want to make sure people are appreciating his music as much as it deserves to be. In the fall, I go back into classes and I’m still playing shows. I have a couple booked in the fall, we’re playing a show in September with Winona Forever and Boyscott which is a really cool one to be a part of. I’m sure we’ll be in and out of house shows, both playing and attending because I really love the scene. I want to keep playing and releasing stuff. I’d like to have a few more songs out by the time I graduate college in the spring, and if all goes well I’d like to get back out on the road again next summer and do it all over again. Keeping moving forward is what’s important to me, whatever it, is it’s a step forward.