Keilan Creech has gotten rid of his TV, his couch and his guitar picks. Shedding isn't unusual to him. The son of missionaries, he traveled frequently between Brazil and Florida. Friends came and went. But after settling in Richmond in 2012, the process continued. He began wondering how much to carry, including assumptions he had taken as universal truth. One of the few things he picked up was a copy of "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown.
"I went through a faith deconstruction," he says, looking at falling foliage through the window of his Fan apartment. "That was very, very scary. Much of the record comes from that darker place of not knowing, the fear of impending change."
During that period, Creech recorded 40 arrangements in his apartment, which he whittled down to an 11-song album called "Honey Waits." By chance, the album's title track was recently featured on influential Spotify channels such as Alex Rainbird, and the single quickly surged to more than 200,000 streams. By the time Creech officially released the album on Nov. 17, he had a horde of eager listeners and indie influencers ready for more. It's a lucky roll for someone who ditched working with Nashville producers so he could sit in front of a solitary bedroom microphone.
"I love the challenge of, 'What can I do with just this?'" he says. "The album was recorded in GarageBand, and I mixed it on my ear buds. It was just another fun limitation."
"Honey Waits" feels positioned to be a hit with listeners of intimate lo-fi music. Surprisingly, the album's melodic skeletons suggest Creech could lead a band, should the 27-year-old artist grow into that role. Creech says he's been keeping a close ear on Richmond's singers and songwriters, like Lucy Dacus and Natalie Prass, and questioning how he might fit into the local scene. He calls his falsetto-filled performances a kind of meditation, but he plays the same venues as other up-and-comers: the Broadberry, the Camel and local breweries. His recent show at the Camel was a benefit for Opportunity Alliance Reentry, which supports adults leaving incarceration and re-entering society.
"Stylistically, Keilan has a sound that is completely his own," says Graham Stone, a local Americana artist who's been featured in No Depression, a 22-year-old roots music journal. Stone recently called Creech in to supply pedal steel and background vocals for his own album, but tables turned when he saw his collaborator's studio.
"Going over to Keilan's apartment and seeing this recording studio he had fashioned in his closet and then hearing the incredible sounds that he produced from there, it was truly inspiring," Stone says.
Rocketing from a bedroom onto Spotify's charts is not only difficult. It can be rather mysterious, too. This summer, Spotify decided to attract do-it-yourself musicians with Spotify for Artists, which presents data on where streams are coming from. Fast Company analyzed the product, yet still came to this conclusion: Getting a boost on a popular playlist requires "finger-crossing and patience."
"Whenever I would check Spotify, I would notice the single always had way more streams than before," Creech says. "Once I discovered that it had landed on a couple play lists, I was shocked. Obviously, I'm happy that I didn't wait until I had the perfect gear and the perfect studio."
In an effort to stay committed to authenticity, Creech uses hand-me-down gear. A classical guitar, which he says is "really shitty and maybe worth 30 bucks," appears on the record after being tuned down a whole step. Creech plays it with his fingers instead of a pick, which feels like an invitation to focus on the lyrics. The album's songs have a diaristic flavor, but they could also be heard as philosophical reflections on existence itself.
"We're fortunate enough to witness a vulnerable side of Keilan that he has never shown before," says Andrew Krupacs, a longtime collaborator who supplies electric guitar at Creech's live shows.
Listeners really will have to nest inside open spaces, because "Honey Waits" doesn't overload the listener with fast time signatures. Creech does succeed at variations on bossa nova and folk genres, though, which offers a change of pace. Overall, it's a listen that inspires feelings of acceptance.
"You can't let fear control you," Creech says. "Because then you'll never put anything out." S