When you hear "NDN Car" coming over the PA system, you kinda know who's on stage. And, even if you don't know all the words, Keith will teach you the refrain; and your body will begin to move. It's instinctual and automatic. He's dubbed his style as Native Americana. "It's kind of a new genre," he says. "It's rooted in Native tradition with blues, rock and roll, and reggae. It's topical, like you might include a chant, or a vocable, or a flute. So, I call it 'Americana' with a little more [specificity] where you write songs about America. One of the better compliments was a promoter told me I was an American original. I feel like that. You know, you're cutting your own thing. I'm not really trying to play covers. First of all, I was never that good to learn covers. So, I had to write my own shit."
Keith Secola performing in Albuquerque on July 30. Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards.
Secola spoke with ICTMN on July 30 following a reunion gig, of sorts, with the Indigo Girls, at Albuquerque's Go Wild! Benefit Concert. He has known and toured with the duo (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) for quite a while. "Back in the late 90s, we were part of this Honor the Earth Tour. Amy Ray put out a compilation album with Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos and other mainstream artists. And they asked if I would contribute a song. They had heard "NDN Car." We became friends, and they asked if we would do some openings for them out East. So my band made a run up the east coast with them. Last year, I did another show with them, and they asked if I would do a western run with them. It's such an opportunity to get new audiences, try out some new songs, with a couple of great musicians. It was fun."
Albuquerque was his fifth, and final, show with the Indigo Girls, but Secola was far from finished touring and being active in the Native community. "Minneapolis will be a solo show. But, in North Dakota I'll be backed up by a Native band called The Whiskey Rebellion. I go in a day early and do some community outreach with local musicians. The next day they get up on stage with me. Tied in with the radio promotion, I find that it's a really good community outreach. It's a really neat way of connecting on a musicians level." The veteran rocker has also shared the stage with greats such as the late Johnny Winter, Bono and U2, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia and Rolling Stones producer, Nicky Hopkins.
Secola has been busy writing and recording, as well. He is in the midst of completing Seeds, a rock opera, which has been in the works for six or seven years. "Last year, I actually pitched it to a few people who are interested. And, I'm getting it scored this year. I've been performing the songs for a while. It's a twenty-two song rock opera. It's Native American story-telling with electric guitars and Native drums." His most recent album, Life is Grand, was released a few years ago, but it's still getting a lot play, recently, especially in Canada. In fact, one track, "Say Your Name," has been nominated in the Best Video category of the 2014 Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards. The song "is about the relocation and the residential schools. And the horrible damage it did to the Native populations in Canada and the United States."
The new album doesn't yet have a title, but the material is there. "I have maybe fifteen songs that I need to record," he says. "I'm excited about that. They're electric, and really rockin'. Lyrics take me a long time. I dig a little deeper, so my process takes a little more time. Everybody has a different process. It's a beautiful thing when you can write and hit the recording studio the next day. I've been doing a lot of recording at home. And I've demo-ed over 200 songs in the last two years. There's not one formula. It's what works best for you. How can you best express what's in your heart. Like Woody Guthrie said, I want to write songs that make people feel good." But his songs are meant to have a message, too. "I'm going to have you understand, and be aware of the brutal history that Native People have had. But, I'll stop them off in a more pleasant place so that they can honestly look at themselves, and their pre-conceived ideas of Native People. I always write pushing our agenda. I always say lead people, gently, to a brutal truth, and do it with music."