On the way to the top

Ally Taylor

Keith Jones. Even his name sounds like that of an up-and-coming acoustic rock star. Keith, a senior at Villanova, has been writing his own music since high school, but he only recently began performing his music live and now enjoys local success as a musician with his independently released EP, “The Long Way Home.” “I never really thought of my music as so great,” he says. “I was just playing for me.” As a manager for the men’s basketball team for three years, Keith spent most of his time working with the players. “It was my life for three years,” he says. After taking a broadcasting internship with NBC 10 Philadelphia, he decided he wanted time to pursue other things, even though he enjoyed managing. “Although I miss it now, all the things I’ve accomplished since then – music, journalism, broadcasting – have made it worth it,” he says.With more free time, he concentrated on his musical talents. After several compliments and much coaxing from family, friends and students, Keith performed for the first time last November as the featured artist for one of CAT’s Live Music Wednesdays in Belle Aire Terrace. Then finals hit, meaning no time for music other than the quick study break. In early March Keith decided to enter the Jersey Guy Idol contest, sponsored by the Carton and Rossi Show of NJ 101.5, the most listened to unsyndicated talk show in the country. He placed second out of 32 contestants selected to go on air and was the top male performer. “That was such a big deal for me,” Keith says. “It’s my proudest accomplishment.”Finally, he began to play at small venues, clubs and cafes around Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. On campus, he competed in the WXVU Battle of the Bands, placing third; opened for Water for Waslala’s Braddigan benefit concert; and entertained participants at Tuesday’s Balloon Day carnival. Sometimes he plays solo, but he also performs with his band, the Keith Jones Trio, with Ryan Hall on bass and his girlfriend Lauren Messinger filling in on keyboard.Keith’s musical interests began with guitar lessons at age 12 and seven high school musicals, and he then began experimenting with the idea of writing his own songs. His father played the guitar, which inspired Keith to follow in his footsteps. He’s not really sure what inspired him to start writing music. “I started writing music just as a stress reliever,” Keith says. “It just dawned on me – hey, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can write my own songs.”His first experiment was nothing like a stress reliever, though, and he describes it as a “psychedelic” medley of rhyming words that don’t necessarily make sense.”That song remains only on my computer,” he says.Influenced by Bob Dylan’s acoustic work, John Mayer’s guitar style, the Counting Crows’ lyrics and Jack Johnson, Keith’s music mixes modern sounds with hints of old school classics. Then he adds the words.”I write the lyrics to how the music makes me feel,” he says.Currently, he has written over 40 original songs, and he records his own work on a four-track mixer, playing all the parts – vocals, backup vocals, one or two guitar parts, bass, drums and sometimes harmonica – himself and then mixing and editing them. He’s learning to play the piano, too.”Once I get involved, I just can’t pull myself away,” Keith says.And he’s good. So good he writes music in his sleep – no, really.Keith wrote the song that means the most to him, “The Long Way Home,” in his sleep one night last summer. “It’s kind of this realization that I don’t know where I’m going to end up,” he says.Sounds like the kind of question that bugs everyone during their sleeping moments – the kind of question that urged Keith to get out of bed at 4 a.m., pick up his Epiphone and write “The Long Way Home” in two minutes.During the wee hours of the morning isn’t the only time Keith feels inspired. He pulls out his cell phone to play back some little clips of lyrics, melodies and beats that he thought up and recorded while walking to class or wherever. He blocks his mouth with his hand when he records so people can’t see what he’s doing.While a random person on campus may think his behavior is strange, his family and friends have been supportive of his musical aspirations … for the most part.”I’m sure one of my two brothers – or roommates – would have loved to throw my guitar out the window,” Keith says.His former roommates, Kyle Lowry and Ross Condon, resisted, however, as Keith’s guitars are still in tact. Musical talent runs in Keith’s family (in addition to his father’s talents, his brother goes to school for music), and his parents have encouraged him to “come out of his shell.””They have confidence sometimes when I don’t,” he says.Of course, there is always the dilemma of post-graduation career plans. Keith, a communication major aspiring to go into broadcast journalism, only recently saw a musical career as an alternative option. Right now, he has sent his tapes to news studios across the country. He’s had a couple offers, but he is not sure if he wants to pursue them further since they are far away.At the same time, placing in Jersey Guy Idol has led to multiple opportunities for Keith to play in the tri-state area, including at Tasty CoCo Café & Lounge in Caldwell, N.J and venues in New York City. “I would absolutely love to take a summer off – you know, my last summer – to see where this music thing goes,” he says. He is being realistic, however, since playing small venues does not provide the best financial situation.For now, Keith says he plans to continue his job search while booking shows over the summer to see where his music goes. Now that he’s finally begun to perform live, he says he loves it. “The coolest thing that I’ve encountered is when people have heard my stuff, and they show up and they sing along,” Keith says. He says his music has always been very personal; he only gave copies of his songs to family and friends at first.”When I saw people were affected by it, I realized not only might I be able to help myself, but I might be able to help others too,” he says. He even has groupies.”When I introduce myself to people, I’m not Keith anymore; I’m Keith Jones Trio,” he says, particularly of the younger classes who didn’t know him before he began performing.It’s not just the younger crowd that loves him, either. He says an older woman approached him after his last show at Tasty CoCo and told him she was going to try to make it to the Balloon Day show. With an ever-growing fan base, Keith doesn’t let the fame get to his head, graciously and genuinely accepting any and all compliments.”It’s still flattering,” he says. “I feel like a lot of artists lose track of the compliments they receive.”While he may not have received his “big break” yet, don’t be surprised to come across him on stage at a club in New York City or Philadelphia one day. Then you can say you saw him perform “way back when.””People are listening,” he says. “That’s the part I’m really pumped about.”