Dollars to Pounds: Keaton Henson

January 05, 2012

Keaton Henson will not be coaxed out to meet me in person, he doesn’t want to talk on the phone. Over email I wrote, “I’m a nice person to have coffee with,” and he replied: “I’m sure you are but you frighten me. (Sorry.)”

Thankfully it’s not just me. Increasingly the 23-year-old Londoner doesn’t much like talking to anyone, or more specifically answering questions about his deeply personal debut album Dear… , which finds the singer pouring over the spiky shards of his broken heart. It's a tear-stained love letter lamenting the loss of a lover to another. His vocals are vulnerable; the music is sparse and delicately finger-picked.

As an accomplished illustrator, Henson has freely discussed his artwork and his ink-sketched characters. Compelling in their weirdness, their bloodied, distended limbs and hair-swathed faces adorn T-shirts for Topshop and Blood is the New Black. Henson’s work also features on album covers and in magazines. But as people have grown more curious about his music and his personal life, the further Henson has retreated, negotiating the panic attacks he’s suffered since a kid by performing webcasts instead of live shows. Recorded in the sanctity of his bedroom, his self-released album sold 4000 copies without press or radio play. He has his ardent fans to thank, fans obsessed with both his lyrics and his welfare.

It’s hardly surprising when the lyrics are as stark as closing tune “Party Song,” which is anything but. Henson apologizes to his former flame for being unable to attend her party before singing: “I’m afraid that I’ll kill your lover while your back was turned.” Later he admits, “I see pictures now of the two of you and it makes me sick.” No word on what his ex thinks of this collection, but if I heard his song, “You Don’t Know Know How Lucky You Are” (below), I'd melt into a puddle on the floor Amélie-style.

Stream: Keaton Henson, "You Don't Know How Lucky You Are"

So instead of having a chat, I sent Henson some questions and he drew me some answers:

How do you balance art and music? What expresses you the best?

What are you hiding under your beard?

How do you feel when you’re onstage?

How do you deal with panic attacks these days?

What were you like at school?

When you were a kid what did you think you’d be doing when you were 23?

What does love look like?

Is there a character who recurs in your artwork?

Please you choose one song from your album and draw it.

Where is your favorite place?

What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy?

What’s the biggest misconception about you?

This February Pocko publishes Henson's first book, Gloaming, a field guide to a spirit world beyond what we can see in reality inspired by Scandinavian folklore and Japanese kwaidan (ghost stories).

If you’re in London head to Blackall Studios from February 28th to March 1st and check out his art installation, “The Woodhouse Project.” Showcasing both his collaboration with architectural artist Joely Brammer and his own pieces, the exhibition will encourage attendees to stick their heads into a small, purpose built house in which sits a tiny projection Henson who will be perform one song via a live feed from another room. See: inventive ways around not liking to play live!

Henson's debut album Dear… gets a proper release by Motive Sounds on February 27th.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Keaton Henson