Zack Keim can find inspiration nearly anywhere. The Pittsburgh singer-songwriter hatched the hook for his new single, “Canyon,” while driving around Washington, D.C. making food deliveries. “I was delivering Uber Eats, and I wrote that on my phone—just a voice memo,” Keim recalls. An insistent vocal refrain (“Can-yonnn!”) was all it took; Keim started strumming the melody on his guitar, and pretty soon the song blossomed into a buoyant folk-pop gem of a tune. Keim’s first solo single since his 2017 debut First Step, “Canyon” is both a monumental leap forward and the first taste of Keim’s forthcoming sophomore effort, Battery Lane.
At 25, Keim—whose musical background bridges the gap between garage-rock scuzz and kaleidoscopic folk reveries—has done enough performing for several lifetimes. Born and raised in the factory town of Blawnox, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh, Keim first picked up a guitar at age 13, when he enjoyed pretending to play along with his dad’s Beatles Anthology CD. He formed his earliest bands in middle school, performing Strokes and Arctic Monkeys covers to pubescent classmates. His life changed when he started sneaking out of the house to catch indie-rock concerts, particularly the acclaimed Pittsburgh group 1,2,3. “Seeing 1,2,3 definitely had an impact on me as a musician,” Keim says.
Keim’s father started taking him to local open mics around Pittsburgh. It was at one open stage that Keim met Bob Powers, a veteran slide guitarist 40 years Keim’s senior who introduced him to garage-rock staples from the Stooges to Black Lips. Keim and Powers hit it off and, after working together on blues standards, formed the garage-punk outfit Nox Boys. Keim was just 16 when the band was signed to Get Hip Records, and his life became a whirlwind. Nox Boys rose through the local underground scene, released two gloriously scuzzy albums with Get Hip, and toured nationwide and—more recently—Europe.
By 20, Keim yearned to create something of his own. His debut solo album, First Step, arrived that spring on Get Hip’s Folk Series sublabel. An aching and sparse work of sixties folk classicism, First Step wore its vintage influences on its sleeve: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Nick Drake. “A lot of artists, when they start out, their first record takes a lot of inspiration from people they listen to,” Keim reflects. By comparison, “Canyon” finds Keim expanding his musical parameters and locating a voice all his own.