Songwriter John Paul Keith is a fixture in today’s Memphis scene - a roots rocker and a regular contributor to the Beale Street Caravan radio show. His new album, his fourth since a 2009 debut, is called Heart Shaped Shadow.
Keith is also part of Motel Mirrors, a four-piece he co-fronts with noted Americana bass player/ songwriter Amy LaVere. That band released its first full length album, In The Meantime, on the same day.
The sequence of events leading up to the coincidental release speaks to the deelpy connected Memphis music community. Amy LaVere’s husband Will Sexton is the other guitarist in Motel Mirrors. Their album was recorded nearly two years ago and was on hold while they shopped it around. During that time Keith recorded Heart Shaped Shadow.
“For me it was a breakthrough after being kind of lost in the wilderness as far as my writing," Keith told WMOT. "I wasn’t sure what direction I was going and I was writing songs I didn’t much care for and that I ended up shelving.”
But then he turned to Will Sexton, based on the trust and respect he’d built doing the Motel Mirrors recording. Keith invited Sexton to produce.
“That was the thing that helped me get my head straight about my writing. He could go: ‘Maybe not this one.’ Or ‘That one’s good.’ That kind of got me going.”
Keith is a native of Knoxville who spent five years in Nashville before moving to Memphis, burned out on music he says, in 2002. That city’s mojo reinvigorated him and inspired a sound that balances the rock and roll past with a clever and confessional approach to lyrics. He says he strives to be both a student of the city’s music and a representative of its spirit of innovation.
“There’s no end to the inspiration you can get from numerous decades,” Keith said. “I’m just always exploring and taking what I can from it and trying to incorporate it into my thing.”