If you’ve ever searched up “chill study music” on YouTube, you’re probably familiar with the iconic thumbnail of #aesthetic anime girl working diligently on some labor-intensive assignment. As an avid listener to these types of channels myself, I have grown quite fond of the cozy beats that have kept me sane through numerous late-night cram sessions. 23 year old singer/songwriter and producer keshi (Casey Luong) is one such artist that has made his mark in the lo-fi hip hop community. He has amassed a steady following on various music platforms, and rightly so. With a stream of blissfully nostalgic tracks, listeners are left captivated by the heartfelt sincerity that resonates in each song. Hauntingly beautiful vocals, bittersweet lyrics, and multifaceted beats intermingle to create keshi’s signature sound. His recently released single, “2 soon”, exudes a more upbeat vibe and dynamic instrumentals than his previous works, hinting at a new direction for the musician. Nonetheless, it is exciting to see where this progression will take him.
We had the opportunity to chat with Casey and learn more about the person behind keshi. On top of discussing music and future releases, keep scrolling because things get real when an In-N-Out debate is involved…
Do you pursue music full-time or do you have another job?
I do have a full time job, but I like to keep them separate. I’m an RN [registered nurse], but I’m looking to make music full-time.
Have you always been into music, and what got you started in song production?
I’ve always been into music, ever since I was little. I think I started playing the guitar around when I was 13 years old and I’ve gone through different stages of making music. Before keshi, I did very acoustic-based music, like John Mayer and Ed Sheeran: that’s who I looked up to. That was the first mature song-writing that I had encountered that wasn’t like punk rock music. When I started listening to John Mayer, I really started to hone my craft in songwriting. It got to a point where I played for a competition here in Houston and they flew me out to LA and go perform. I performed against other people and when you are in an enclosed space and you hone your craft, you feel like you’re the only person that does this type of thing. That show was a revelation because I found that a) you’re not the only one that does this and b) the people who are around you do it better than you.
I was at a loss. I wanted to give up making music in general because I also messed up my set which wasn’t a good thing. It was such a crossroads of growth for me as an artist. It was really important and that’s how keshi started. What happened was around that time was when lo-fi started to boom a little bit. I was listening to other artists and I loved how Tomppabeats, In Love With a Ghost, and Joji used these unconventional sounds to create this soundscape-–an ensemble of glass, and water and marble. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It had this diversity that standard, conventional music didn’t have. I think everybody was craving something that sounded different at the time too.
Then there was this other thing. The only listeners I had at the time were friends and family, and I thought I was awesome-–like yeah I got 100 people listening to me. I realized after I had my show in LA that the people who are listening to me aren’t really fans–they’re friends. I wanted to have listeners who were strangers, and if strangers listened to my music, and they liked it, and they told me that they liked it, it was a more genuine sense of accomplishment. Other than people just telling you that you’re doing a good job. And in addition to that, I didn’t want my friends and family to see me fail. If I pursued a different kind of music and it turned out to be shit, I didn’t want them to know.
So what did I do? I went on SoundCloud and I made a random account called keshi. That is a childhood name that I still get called today by my girlfriend. We’ve been childhood friends ever since 5th/6th grade. Ever since then I would go over to her parent’s house and they would call me keshi. They still call me keshi. It’s like a throwback to that. It was supposed to be just a username. I didn’t expect it to explode. It’s not like I didn’t want to be listened to; I just didn’t expect it to turn into it’s own thing. Now people call me keshi and it’s kinda like whoa. I don’t really think of myself as this project. I refer to keshi in the third person because it’s more of like an idea or a project for me rather than an extension of me. It was really weird-–it started as me putting a bunch of bad demos on there for very close friends to see. I put everything on private and then there was this forum where they held this music competition on Reddit and I submitted the first song I had written since I stopping writing since the LA show because it was kind of traumatizing for me. The very first song I had written is actually one of the more popular ones–it’s “if you’re not the one for me who is?”. I submitted it to this Reddit competition and it won. It was just this really small group of people, you know who are trying to emulate the lo–fi sound as best they can. We were all learning at that point. When that happened, it was a really big moment for me because I took this step in the off beaten path, in a direction that I didn’t think I was supposed to go. It was straying away from the safe acoustic music and covers. It got received well by people who weren’t my friends. That’s what I wanted. I made it a point to not just spam people to listen to my stuff.
I made it a point for people to find it and I think that genuine discovery of it makes it more appealing. It’s crazy because these Youtube aggregators have established this really solid relationship with their viewers that they have good taste–like they’re curators–they find music for you and once you’ve established a really solid reputation, at that point any artist you feature is going to be “it”. They’re going to get a bunch of attention directed towards them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get the attention of these aggregators. Thanks to them, I’ve gotten a listener base. And now also with Spotify doing their discovery thing–you know using their algorithms I’ve gotten directed a lot of people who like to listen to that kind of music so I’m really lucky in that regard too. I remember back then when I first started making music as keshi, my friends would listen to the radio and the first time one of them sent me a screen shot and my name was on the 27/4- for one of them–and I was like whoa that’s so cool, I made the cut. And that’s when I didn’t have anybody listen to me, hardly. Now we’re here.
How do you get the inspiration for your songs?
They’re all from real life and they’re all real stories. I think that’s really important to making a genuine sounding song. It’s interesting. I see keshi as a very concentrated part of me. A lot of them are very moody lyrics. I have a fear of being alone, so if you look into the lyrics for all the songs, you can definitely see that there. I really enjoy the dichotomy between being really vulnerable with the one that you love the most, but that also gives them the ability to hurt you the most. There’s this bittersweet aspect to it and I love capturing those feelings in my music. It’s my favorite thing to write about. Conveying that mood is something I really enjoy doing. “if you’re not the one for me who is”– I was talking about that earlier, how it’s my favorite because it is the epitome of that kind of feeling. On one hand that phrase “if you’re not the one for me who is” is like there’s nobody but you; “you are the only one for me” is the romantic side of it and the other flip side of it is like well if you’re not the one then who is? And you’re really lonely and like all of a sudden it’s just you.
Is there a specific approach you take to making music?
I like to take unconventional chords and chord progressions that aren’t so present in conventional pop music. Lo-fi is getting pretty saturated with the same kind of minor 7 chords, so I try to avoid using those. I think John Mayer put my guitar in that direction. It used to be where I would just sit down with a guitar and start to write lyrics to it and that would be it. Now it’s gotten to the point where I’m searching on the fret board for something that sounds really neat and I’ve taken a sampling kind of approach. Not in the sense that I like to sample things because I really don’t–I don’t like taking other people’s music and claiming it as mine. I sample myself in the sense that I’ll record something cool after noodling on the guitar into logic and it’ll be a four bar loop. I’ll manipulate it in there until it sounds the way I want it to and then I’ll just attack it with drums. It’s one of the most fun things in the world.
I love producing music, making it sound really full. I’ve always enjoyed making music sound dynamic and that’s something I couldn’t do when I was just doing acoustic music. Like little easter eggs for you to find. I’ll track out the beat, and what usually happens is I’ll make four bars in a guitar and then I’ll fill it with drums and bass and everything. Once I have those four bars done, it’s probably 15-20 seconds worth of stuff. Then you go on to create the full song you know the chorus, bridge and everything. Once that’s all laid out then I add my little effects and nuances. I’ll turn on the mic, put my headphones on, and I’ll start humming melodies. Just mumbling a bunch of nonsense until I find lyrics that fit. Producing is not the hard part, that’s actually the most fun part of it and it’s in the beginning. The hard part is writing the lyrics and finding really good lyrics takes months. I just have dozens of beats sitting around that I haven’t had the time to write to.
Do you think being Asian-American has shaped your identity as an artist?
I feel like the whole Asian identity part to it gets stressed a lot, you know. Wanting Asian representation in media– I think that’s great. But for me, personally, I feel like the bigger part, the more important part to me is making good art. Whether I’m Asian or not shouldn’t have anything to do with it. And I know that’s kinda what you guys are going for which makes a lot of sense, but I think that when you try to stress that you are an Asian-American artist, it’s almost like you’re trying to carve out a space for yourself that says, “Hey, this guy is an Asian artist so you should give him attention because of that”, when the real reason you should be giving someone attention is because their art is just good. I’ve strayed a little bit away from doing those kinds of organizations because I didn’t want to be labeled as an Asian-American artist, I just want to be an artist. I think that’s where I found success, just doing my thing.
Do you have any hobbies aside from music?
I’m a big sneakerhead. I have one prized pair of sneakers. They’re the Off-White Air Jordans. They’re dumb expensive but they’re my trophy because I worked with a rapper named Phora who signed to Warner Brothers. He really liked my track “over u”, so he asked for sampling clearance and [I used] the clearance fee to get them. I still have leftover too, but I used them to purchase the Air Jordans. It’s like a landmark. It was big step for me and I wanted to treat myself. Whenever I have shows, I’ll always be in my best sneakers. It’s excessive but you can’t help what you like.
Do you have any new material in the works?
So I have new material coming out very soon. I’ve been telling everyone that I’m going to be releasing a small EP of four songs, like the best things I can come up with. All of the songs I’ve been working on are in a gladiator pit right now– they’re all fighting each other for the best four spots. Two are completely done, while two are to be decided. I want to release it very soon. I have this itch– like I need the gratification of having other people listen to it. I’m very tempted and I’m very weak to my instinct, so I might actually go ahead and just drop them. I feel like it’s a new sound, a little bit that I think everyone’s going to really like. When I made “2 soon”, I thought that it was going to be big and I feel like these are going to be going in that same direction, so if you enjoyed “2 soon” you will be getting more of the same.
Have you been performing lately?
I actually haven’t performed since the LA show. I wanted to go back to the drawing board and really hone my craft and now looking back at the numbers, I’m just like yeah I think it’s about time. I want the cities of LA, Houston, San Francisco, Dallas, and Chicago. I think are my top 5. I’ll definitely be dropping by LA first, that’ll be my first show. I’ll announce when that happens, but I have to release this next project first and then the shows are going to happen. It’ll be awesome, I’m so excited for it.
What’s the most rewarding part of making music?
You want to hear a crazy story? So I already mentioned earlier that I wanted to go to Berklee College of Music, which I now realize was not the best idea. I just know most people who want to pursue music say that because it’s the first thing that pops into their head. Like, “hey if I go to college for music I’ll do well”. Basically what ended up happening was while I was on shift, I was on my lunch break and I was reading a fan message from Instagram. I just get a bunch of DM’s every day now. It’s gotten kind of tiring but I love replying to everyone. I got this one and he was like, “Hey I go to Berklee College of Music and I’m studying here. I’m just trying to do what you do. How do you do it?” So I sat back for a while and was like holy shit–like here I was trying to go to this school and because I didn’t go to that school, I’m making music, and the student is wondering how I do it. If I had gone to Berklee, I would still be pursuing jazz or blues, or guitar-based music and I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s because I didn’t go that it ended up this way. It was one of the most validating experiences. It’s crazy, I couldn’t believe it.
On the other end, what is the most challenging part of what you do?
I’m haunted by “over u”. It is just like the mountain that I cannot surmount. While I love the success that it’s getting and all of my old tracks are getting, I am in constant fear that I am going to get lost in this humongous saturation of the lo-fi scene right now. I feel this immense pressure now when I write music that I need to deliver quickly, but space them out so people won’t get tired of me…but just enough so that people want to listen to me. It’s so hard juggling it and I want to do better than “over you”. I want to do better than “just friends” and I want to do better than “as long as it takes you”. It’s basically trying to top myself that’s the hardest part.
Random, but do you have a favorite food? (I mean who doesn’t, amirite?)
I like Japanese sweets. I love daifuku. My girlfriend’s mom will make it for us and it’s like red bean paste covered in mochi. I am Vietnamese, so I mean I enjoy my Viet food and everything. I love Shake Shack Burgers. I don’t know if you have Shake Shack in LA, but man Shake Shack is bomb.
Sorry I’m an In-N-Out fan!
So, there’s actually an In-N-Out in Texas now and there’s this huge debate between Whataburger and In-N-Out. I do not like Whataburger. If you post that I’m going to be eaten by my Texan fans. Everyone here shits on the In-N-Out fries, like “It tastes like cardboard blaerhjsh,” but I’ve learned to love them… Yeah I agree they’re good.
What’s your favorite movie?
Dude, I love John Wick! Everytime I tell my girlfriend, she’s like “I don’t get why you like that movie so much, it’s just John Wick shooting people up”, but I think the choreography in that movie is great. It’s my favorite movie.
What advice would you give someone who wants to make that jump into the music scene?
The mistake that I made was that I was too eager to share what I made because I wanted validation. I think it’s important to really be honest with yourself and hone your craft. Create a very small group of people, like one or two people who know what you’re trying to pursue, and will give you honest feedback. I have a very close friend that handles, or he doesn’t handle the mixing but he will lend me an ear because he’s much better at it than I am. He doesn’t make music like I do, but he’s got a really great ear. So, the first thing is to try and save your music for yourself and really hone it. The second thing is to not release everything that you make. It’s to be very critical with yourself and only release the very best stuff that you do. Don’t spam your friends to listen to your stuff. Just put it out there, make good stuff, and wait for somebody to find it. I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it, that’s just how I did it. I got extremely lucky.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well, if any of my listeners end up reading this, I want to say thank you for listening and I hope you stick around. There’s more music coming soon. And if you haven’t heard me, please give me a listen. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me!
Shout-out to keshi for answering our questions! 🙂
This interview was conducted over video chat on Saturday, October 6th by Clarissa Aben. Photos courtesy of keshi.