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The Last Drag: Tyler Keith Sets Hard Truths to a Pounding Beat

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Tyler Keith is a living testament to the deep connections between Memphis and North Mississippi, having played here with bands that include the Preacher's Kids, the Neckbones, and Teardrop City for decades. "I'm from Pensacola, Florida. I moved to Mississippi to go to college and I just stayed. I've been in Oxford 30 years or something. But like they say, Memphis is the capital of Mississippi," he says. "And all this time, I've been in awe of Memphis music. The Compulsive Gamblers and the Oblivians and Jack Oblivian and the Grifters. And all that weirdness."

Like the bands he names, Keith's music is raw and rocking. It takes a certain touch to authentically pull that off, but with his ear for perfectly dialed-in guitar tones, stomping beats, and melodies that soar over slashing chords, Keith clearly gets it. His new LP The Last Drag (Black & Wyatt) may be his finest yet. Combining all the above ingredients with maturity's hard-won lessons, these songs convey a sense of dread, destiny, and delight, perhaps best expressed in the opening track, "You Can't Go Home Again."

Tyler Keith - MIKE STANTON
  • Mike Stanton
  • Tyler Keith

Memphis Flyer: Running deep through these songs is the feeling of someone at a crossroads.

Tyler Keith: Exactly. I was considering this to be the last thing I did for a while. It has a lot of ideas about growing up — giving up the delusions of grandeur you have when you're younger, about being an artist, and just getting on with doing it. I just wanna do things. I don't wanna be something. I don't necessarily wanna be a musician. I don't live and breathe it like I used to because it's already become assimilated into my personality. If I want to take photographs, I do that. If I want to write fiction or something, I just do it. You can't worry about what happens to it as much.

And as you get older, you can make your peace with that.

Nostalgia is important, especially in an aesthetic sense, as far as the music that I make goes. It's rock-and-roll of a different kind of era. But I don't try to make anything that sounds exactly like 1966, or whatever. That's the basis of it, but I don't wanna sound like that. I don't wanna be that.

Some people call it classicism, not nostalgia — something about this architecture that's so powerful it can adapt to the current day. Rock-and-roll is folk music to me. It is adaptable and easily constructed. I grew up learning to play folk music. My dad had a bluegrass band, and he taught me to play bluegrass guitar. And I still use these forms.

It's good when the changes have a kind of naturalness to them. Yeah. That's where the hook lives! I'll be 50 in about a month. You really have to let go of what you think and just get on with it, and try to do the best you can without being as dumb. It seems rock-and-roll to not give a shit, but giving a shit is actually way more rock-and-roll.

Tyler Keith plays a live-streamed record release show for the newly minted Goner TV at twitch.tv/gonerrecords on Friday, July 24th, at 8 p.m. Autographed LPs available for order.

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