While 29 years in showbiz can certainly provide clarity, for power-pop veteran Tommy Keene, it can offer a lot of hilarity, as well.
Around 1986, when he was making a splash with his Geffen-launched debut album “Songs From the Film,” the music industry was glutted with high-salaried fat cats.
“And where are those people now?” he asks, snickering. “The A&R people making $5 million a year and flying first-class with their kids to the North Pole for Christmas, and arranging for a reindeer to come out and meet them on the runway?” Yes. Painfully true story.
Maybe the good old days, sighs Keene — who’s back in classic style with the chiming new DIY disc “Behind the Parade,” from which he’ll play in The City this week — weren’t so great after all.
“Long gone is the era of spending $175,000 on a record,” says the still-razor-sharp tunesmith, who now tracks everything but drums in his Los Angeles living room studio, with his chocolate lab Cocoa always on hand for inspiration.
“But I remember one A&R guy sneering ‘I’ve never made a record for less than that!’ Their whole thinking back then was, ‘If we didn’t spend a lot on it, it must suck.’”
Keene, 53, has a bevy of wry recollections. Like the big-name producer who was secretly flown in to catch one of his early shows, who glugged $400 bottles of hotel-suite wine, then nearly passed out at dinner. “He was a nice guy, but when we got the bill for his stay, it was $4,700, which I had to recoup since it was on my tab,” he says. “Major labels always knew ‘a producer’ like that. But they signed me from my 8-track basement demos (1984’s “Places That Are Gone” EP), and they messed with them so much they completely destroyed what they thought they had.”
After taking thoughtful stock of his career with the recent 40-cut “Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009,” Keene returned to that basement-session simplicity.
Today, he employs a 24-track digital hard drive, a microphone and mike pre-compressor, plus his small arsenal of basses, guitars and keyboards. “The only the thing that costs money these days is mixing,” he says.
The upshot? Keene sounds more gung-ho than ever on ebullient “Behind” anthems like “Deep Six Saturday” and “Already Made Up Your Mind.” “I always thought ‘Just let me do one more record. Let me give it one more shot’,” he says. “But this record was so effortless, I got really inspired. So my life is actually starting to make sense now.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday