Friday, March 13, 2015
Tampa's young Denim Blue & Miclain Keith blossom into promising duo
As Miclain Keith sat in the University of South Florida classroom, surrounded by fellow musicians participating in the Grammy Music Revolution Project, a voice from across the room caught his attention.
Kyle Knudsen, known by his stage name Denim Blue, was performing his original song Hot Mess for a group off to the side.
Though the project for aspiring musicians focused on playing in groups, the pair hadn't performed together or spoke to each other until two weeks into the program.
"Right after he played it, I was like 'I want to make music with you'," recalled Keith, now 20.
That was two years ago.
Today Hot Mess is just one of the 11 tracks on Denim Blue and Keith's debut album, The Abyss, which was released in November on their own label, Kick Booty Records.
On Saturday, the duo takes the stage at Florida Southern in its biggest performance to date, opening for New Politics and We the Kings.
While most bands perform shows and often covers to gain a fan base before producing an album, Knudsen, 16, and Keith did just the opposite.
"It made more sense to make a product then go sell it," Knudsen said. "That's what other businesses do."
Recording out of Knudsen's bedroom, they brought his concept to life.
"I was writing it as we were recording, as we were doing shows and everything else," Knudsen said.
With Keith in charge of instruments and Knudsen producing lyrics, it took just over a year and a half to complete.
"It started out more as a solo artist and a producer then it became a partnership and we started doing everything together," Knudsen said, while sharing a piece of vegan banana pound cake with his bearded side-kick.
The album may have taken longer if it weren't for Knudsen's mother, Andrea Knudsen, who opened her house to their creativity, along with the noise. She also assisted with the business side, including helping the duo create its own record label.
"She's done more for us than we could ever thank her for," Knudsen said.
Keith, who has lived all over Tampa but currently resides in Carrollwood, grew up in a household full of musicians. Through his connections, they formed the rest of the band: keyboard player Jacob Trunzo, drummer Logan Coats, mandolinist and guitarist Mike Schmitt and cellist Miranda Godfrey.
"Both my parents were road musicians for 20 years, or so, playing for top 40 bands," Keith said. "There was always music around."
Keith started his musical journey with guitar lessons at age 10.
"I thought it was really cool. I didn't even like girls yet at that point, so it really was because I liked the music," he joked.
From there he learned to record and play the drums.
Knudsen describes himself as the "black sheep" of his family.
"No one in my family had any association with music, or art."
He was still exposed to a variety of genres growing up. His grandparents introduced young Knudsen to jazz, R&B and soul, while his mother played rock albums like Queen.
"I had to take it upon myself to get into music and want to make it," Knudsen said. "As I was going into high school, I realized I had the capability to do this thing I was fascinated with all these years."
Knudsen taught himself any instrument he could get his hands on, which started with a harmonica and keyboard.
Now, only a few years into his high school career at Pinellas County Center for the Arts, Knudsen rocks side swept blonde bangs, writes and sings with a soulful voice that belie his 16 years.
"The concept (for The Abyss) is basically centered around capturing the human experience and what it's like to go through the phases of living, and being better than whatever tries to keep you down," Knudsen said.
Both musicians agree they enjoy the "weirder" side of music.
"The first song has a nice piano ballad but it also has a dubstep bass," Keith said. "We like to pull from everywhere. I think a lot of people get scared because its unorthodox, but we are trying to blur the line between what an actual genre is, because I don't like genres."