In the latest installment of Front of House, photographer Tara Thomas shoots and talks work, experience and breaking through in the industry with Irish tour manager, backline tech and touring guitar tech Keith Killen AKA Skinny.
Hi Keith! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I like long walks in the rain and… I’m 30, I work as a touring guitar tech, backline tech and tour manager for a number of bands as well as FOH and some corporate work. I absolutely love my job and don’t like having too much time off, idle hands and all that!
How did you get your nickname ‘Skinny’ and does everyone refer to you as that?
I got the nickname when I met a guy named Rowan McDonagh. I’m pretty sure it was because I was really small but ate like a horse haha. He also had a few other names which still come out sometimes (Princess and Pants depending on who I’m talking to). Not everyone uses it but most would; I’ll answer to pretty much anything though.
How did you first become involved in music?
I started helping my friends bands at rehearsals and was in a few myself when I was a young teenager, I quickly discovered I was more interested in taking guitars apart and finding out how they worked than playing them! Before I left school I got accepted to DFEI to do sound engineering, had a few amazing influences in that place like John McFadden and Willie Demange who were just great and made me want to work in the industry even more. I met a guy called Brian Carroll who ran hard working class heroes and I started volunteering at that, that’s where I first met rowan and he got me to start doing local crew and then took me into CAVS (Corporate Audio Visual Services) and the rest kind of just happened from there.
Can you describe your typical working day?
It really depends on the band or if it’s a venue or festival show, but, generally, it will involve going to an airport somewhere at a time I used to be still in a bar at! Travel, travel, get to the venue, have a walk around the venue and talk to the house crew about the day and that they received all the correct information. Then load in and start to set up everything, get fresh strings on the guitars and check everything is working before bringing the band down for sound check. After sound check we chill and get some food, maybe have a walk around whatever city we’re in. Then it’s time for change over, this is the part I love, getting everything up and running in a small amount of time and getting the band on in time, then do the show! After the show it’s pack up everything and get it back in the van/truck and proceed to try finish the rider haha depending on if the next day is a day off or up early to travel we either go for some drinks or just go to bed (I know, how rock ‘n’ roll right?)
How does your job differ from band to band?
Well, it depends on what my gig is for the band, during the show it can vary from having a mountain of guitar changes to making sure all the midi is talking to each other and working correctly. Obviously, each band has they’re own charm and own set of jobs to do but I suppose when it comes down to it it’s really the same, make sure the gear works, make sure the show goes well and the band feel comfortable and safe on stage.
What are the biggest problems you encounter in your line of work?
I think miscommunication is the biggest problem. If the venue or festival doesn’t get the right information it can become a real nightmare real quick so I always like to check in with them a few days before and re-send the newest versions so we’re all on the same page and don’t end up in a proverbial shit storm!
How have things changed in the industry since you first started out?
I suppose the biggest change I have noticed is budgets, people having less money to run a gig which filters all the way down to maybe not being able to afford to bring the extra crew member, lights or whatever to the gig. Other than that, lots of new young people making me feel old as fuck!
From a personal point of view, what has been the most rewarding job/concert you’ve done over the years?
Hmm, now there’s a head scratcher. I really try to take something rewarding from every gig. I really love what I do so just the fact I’m doing it is rewarding! But one that springs to mind would be Ryan Sheridan last year, in the 3Arena, or the Point Three as I like to call it. He played a small acoustic set with the band out on the end of the ego ramp, and the energy in the room was just electric.
Is it hard to juggle your personal life and your working life?
No, they’re kind of the same thing at this point, each band is like a little family so you always feel at home and in your own little tour bubble! when I’m back off tour I just spend time with my actual family which is always nice!
Who is the most interesting band you’ve worked with?
I couldn’t choose a favourite. They all have their own charm! I’ve been very lucky over the years to have some of the coolest people to work for: Otherkin, Ryan Sheridan, God Is An Astronaut, Le Galaxie, Gavin James, Wounds and Heathers would be just a few and they all are immensely interesting and fun people to spend time with! I’ve spent most of the last year with Otherkin and they are just so fucking good live, aside from the great music they know how to put a show on, throwing guitars across the stage for me to catch and going out in the crowd for some fun, that always makes for a very interesting time at work.
What would be your dream gig to work on?
Dream gig? I’m doing it! But if I had the opportunity to work with either Biffy Clyro or Brand New. I’d absolutely love that.
Any gig disasters or funny stories you’d like to share?
Tonnes! Like the time I done a pre-Oscars party and ended up in a Compton Jail for three days over a belt buckle (no charges though ha!) or the time I got mistaken for a terrorist, or more recently as anyone who knows me will know about, I lost my passport… well, I thought I did, it was a rough 20 minutes and my mates have not let me live it down since. There’s actually a lot but I don’t think they’re very publishable… they’re more a story for over a pint.
To anyone who might have an interest in getting involved in the industry, how would you advise them about forging connections and starting out?
I suppose the main thing is just to talk to people; local crew is a great way to learn, or volunteering at festivals on the tech crew. Try be helping the crew for the job you want to work, be it audio, lighting, video or whatever. If you don’t know something… ask, the worst thing you can do is say you know something and then potentially breaking something or making it a pain on the next in or out. Everyone will help you out and that’s how you learn! Oh, and have fun, it’s one of the most amazing industries to work in, full of an array of incredibly talented characters that I’m sure the general population would think are clinically insane. Something important to remember is “every day is a school day”. Try to walk out of every gig having learned something. I still do!
Finally, what upcoming gigs will you be working at for 2017?
At the moment it looks like next year is mainly Otherkin and more Otherkin, then a bit more Otherkin with a bit of Gavin James, Heathers and God Is An Astronaut thrown in for good measure!