The word resilient is defined as, ‘able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.’ With this in mind, it is certain that many people can relate to the notion of being resilient through the events of 2020.
Multi-instrumentalist Dr. Keys, a 20-year veteran of the Toronto live music scene, which has included a six-year-long solo piano stint at Parkdale bar Motel. Having worked live and in the studio with such artists as Shawn Brady, Disco Rebels, QuiQue Escamilla, the Dreadful Starlings, and Felix’s Belt, to name a few, one can say that his latest studio effort, “Hot Takes,” epitomizes the above-mentioned definition throughout the album.
Written over a span of two weeks after going through a spell of writer’s block, Dr. Keys had decided the time was right to put out a solo album on his own terms. Adhering to widespread restrictions by self-isolating and making use of his home studio, Highview Sound, Dr. Keys enlisted the help of a few longtime friends to bring this album to life. The sonic result is one that is stylistically eclectic, yet brought together by common themes such as unrest and frustration, moving forward under any circumstances, and growth through learning.
With 11 tracks to heighten your senses, Dr. Keys begins the album with the preliminary single, “Quarter Time.” In a Funk filled universe, the reminiscent tendencies can be cripplingly overheard in the instrumentation, as well as the vocalization. Submerging the audience in airy synths, a resonant bassline, and live off the floor drum patterns, the eclectic blend that Dr. Keys puts together brings the ultimate dance vibes to your mindset. Tackling the approach for, “Quarter Time,” in true nostalgic fashion, the composition includes a Bruno Mars influenced breakdown that peaks your interest in the most intriguing manner, without Dr. Keys compromising his sound. The experimental soundscape has you paying attention to each detail emitted as you sink into your seat for what’s to come on, “Hot Takes.”
Switching the tempo to a mid-tempo sizzle of Jazzy vibrancy, the intriguing sound of “How Are You,” creeps into your mind through a swift mood transition. Dr. Keys allows the rhythm section to take the foreground in this particular song. Paired with the psychedelic ambiance that the synths conjure up, you’re deeply feeling the infectious grooves saturate your very being as you appreciate each detail brought to life. The raw and wistful vocal performance from Dr. Keys hits home on, “How Are You,” as you become fixated with the manner that the progressive instrumentation bends to mold around the melodic structure.
Third, on the tracklist, we’re offered up an alluring approach to, “Corazon Y Alma.” Dr. Keys tends to this piece in a raw artistic manner as he commences the track with a live off the floor performance of the harmonious bliss captured by a 1999 Fisher-Price tape recorder, as seen on the album artwork. Slowly incorporating the full performance with the rise of each fader, the analog feels that we are receiving from the overall body of work that is, “Hot Takes,” conveys a unique offering in the world of music as we know it today. The intoxicating hook, “I must be simping over you,” has us repeating the chorus numerous times; including long after the memorable song is over.
As we pick up the pace and the tempo pulses through the speakers, the up-beat environment that, “Premium Spirit,” displays is a bop your head to the vibrations kind of feel. Transporting us to the freeway with our windows down and the volume all the way up, Dr. Keys sets the ultimate tune frolic with the fourth track found on, “Hot Keys.” We adore the use of each sound effect, music drop, and live performance aspect of the realism exuded in the mind-altering fusions heard on, “Premium Spirit.” Welcoming us into his funk-filled world one song at a time, we could get used to the soul-infused grooves provided.
Serenading us in smooth Jazz styled motifs, we are fans of the elusive atmosphere molding the soundscape of, “What It’s All About.” The lyrical content that dips into life’s lessons has our thoughts provoked with a fresh-minded appeal to the songwriting techniques that Dr. Keys nails with realistic views. A flowing balance between tranquil qualities and lush bass plucks, have us floating towards the great heights that Dr. Keys has cast as the destination of this sonic voyage. “What It’s All About,” slows down the echoes of the hustle and bustle we face each day, as Dr. Keys sedates us in evocative goodness.
“Can’t Get Down,” sends shivers down our spine as soon as Dr. Keys' vocals kick into the wavy instrumentation. The manner in which he sings with a high-spirited juxtaposition is congruent with the minimalistic feel that the arrangement holds. Coming together in a unified structure, the harmonies that seep into this masterpiece add a dimensional flow as we pass the halfway point on the album's offering. Dr. Keys is in an unmatched creative realm that has listeners gravitating towards his eclectic talents. With the proper use of time and space, the vocalization hits even harder, as we immerse ourselves in, “Can’t Get Down.”
The melancholy placed into the purely instrumental contribution of the seventh song on “Hot Takes,” acts as the needed interlude that we venerate deeply. “Issatoto,” plays profoundly on the piano performance that Dr. Keys sends out. You feel a storyline developing in the somber examples heard on this body of work. The wind noise assimilated in “Issatoto,” is brought to you by a 1974 Roland synthesizer. As you ease your mind with relief, you’re able to regain focus in a prevailing kingdom ruled by poignant concords syncopated with raw emotion.
Shifting to one of Dr. Keys' favorite past-times, “Breakfast Song,” holds a raucous zest that gears you up to get in the morning. With this song being written several years ago, Dr. Keys steers the importance of homemade sourdough bread making the trend of 2020. The lively jive of this track is playful and hones in on the authentic traits that Dr. Keys embodies. There is no denying the artistic talents that this man has. He can sing about anything, and we will eat it right up. Serving us visions of breakfast foods dancing in our heads, we’re ready to hit the kitchen and have breakfast for dinner.
We’re at that point in the “Hot Takes,” album where we’ve reached the lead single reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin On. “Take It Back,” dishes out an unapologetic sound that shines a bright light on Dr. Keys' quirky, and boisterous persona. Right on cue, the vocals contain enough character to fuel an army. His brashness sets a prevailing tone of confidence that you wish you could embody. “Take It Back,” has us effortlessly bopping our heads as we take in all that Dr. Keys emits through his genuine self. We’re urged to keep this one on repeat; we’re sure you’ll want to do the same.
Experimenting with time-signatures in the hard-hitting, “Detritus Wrought City,” Dr. Keys uses the song title to play upon KISS’ Detroit Rock City. Although the witty wordplay may be the only similarity, Dr. Keys lets this track live in the thunderous alleys of Rock n Roll. Fixating on the guitar solo that sends a high-voltage surge of energy our way, we’re sure that you’ll feel it too. It’s hard not to get caught up in the exclusive, one of a kind vibration that “Detritus Wrought City,” brings to the table. With it being vastly different from the other songs on this record, we find that it’s the perfect edgy feel as we almost come to an end of, “Hot Takes.”
As we reach the final track found on, “Hot Takes,” Dr. Keys takes it upon himself to close off the album with a genre he deems as ‘space-folk.’ A sound that we have yet to hear on the collected works of the album. “Not This Time,” delves into delicate tenors as the instrumentation is navigated by warm acoustic guitar strums.
Touching on the theme of disapproving the theory of time travel, Dr. Keys uses these more intimate moments to bring closure to what, “Hot Takes,” has to provide listeners. As you hear the sonic expedition take you through numerous pit stops of emotion, you appreciate all that Dr. Keys and his artistic talents have to offer.
Congratulations on your album, “Hot Takes.” With having to adhere to pandemic restrictions, could you please take us into what the creative and recording process looked like for this project?
Thank you! Having been laid off from the service industry during the "first wave", I had started to get some ideas together for my funk band Felix's Belt, specifically "Quarter Time" and "How Are You," little knowing that the live music industry would soon go sideways as well. After a few weeks of these ideas not going anywhere, I decided to do something I don't normally do and wrote down point-form notes for brainstorming lyrics. Within a couple of days in self-isolation, "Quarter Time" was completed, and within a week I had six tunes! The week after that, the total number of pieces written got up to about 10. It was pretty crazy as I hadn't experienced such a creative spurt as a composer in a number of years. The craziest part was it felt like songs just wanted to come out. For example, the beat for "Can't Get Down" popped into my head while I was writing lyrics for "What It's All About".
A short while later I got in touch with my pals at Highview Sound and we started fleshing out all these ideas, one song at a time. Then I moved into a new place, got called back to work, and started the recording process in earnest. Every song was recorded one track at a time, pretty much learning the songs at the same time, and we worked fairly quickly at each session.
Once September ended, my day job also ended, and that's when recording went into high gear. It was at this time that some songs were refined into the state you hear them as they are on the album, such as "Detritus Wrought City" and "Not This Time". I also got into doing a little tracking on my own, experimenting with layering different sounds and using a 1999 Fisher-Price tape recorder among other things. It was not the easiest album to mix, but definitely worth it for the experience.
The order in which we hear the songs is the order that the songs were created. What influenced you to place them in this order on the tracklist?
Truthfully, "Breakfast Song" was written back in 2013. I had considered kicking off the album with it, but it didn't flow as well. When it was given new lyrics and an updated arrangement, it actually fit better among the newer pieces written around it. I had experimented with a few different track orders, and the one that made the most sense to me was chronological.
Out of the collection of songs, do you have a particular song that resonates with you more than others? Why?
I think each song on the album resonates with me in different ways because they are ultimately moments captured in time. That said, each song will continue to grow in different ways as time goes by and as more time is spent on them. If I had to single out a recording, it would be "Can't Get Down". There was so much stuff recorded that we ran out of tracks! That song definitely came a long way through all the recording and editing for sure.
What memorable moments can you share with us about the making of, “Hot Takes”?
The summer of 2020 spawned another project I am involved with called Doctors Without Orders, and I had the idea of making a remix for "Quarter Time" before the original version was even recorded!!! [laughs] Needless to say, that motivated me to get to work on recording it. While I was doing the first session, the drummer on the track came by the studio unannounced, so I asked him if he'd be interested in laying something down on a song no one has ever heard. He said "sure" and after about two takes, we had the majority of what we needed. Happy accidents!
Overall, the whole project has been quite memorable as it is different from all the other recordings I have been a part of over the past decade. There are a few moments that stand out more than others.
I was doing a take for the vocals on "Breakfast Song", just really getting into it. At the end of the take, I turned around and the recording engineer was literally on the floor laughing!
Recording one track at a time on "Can't Get Down" so we could follow the guidelines. [laughs]
"Premium Spirit" being recorded entirely within one day also stands out. That was a super-fun session.
How have you found yourself growing as an artist from the first song on the album to the final one?
Working on Hot Takes has been an invaluable experience for me not only as a recording artist but also as a performing artist. I have been doing live performances every Thursday on IGTV since the start of 2021 and watching playback every now and again, I can definitely see and hear how much I have improved since I started working on Hot Takes. The experience has allowed me to continue looking at music differently and applying different principles to my playing.