In the seventh series of ‘Welcome to The Human Race - Fondness’ talking about a sense of living, home, and freedom. We had a chance to talk with Pepper Keen, an Australian multi-disciplinary Artist / Creative Director exploring the meeting points between music, art, technology, and individuals. Founding member of Melbourne's Sugar Mountain Festival festival, Keen has played a pivotal role in shaping a unique voice for the boutique event since itʼs debut in 2011. Joining Potato Headʼs creative team in the latter parts of 2019, Keen has taken on the role as Director of Music & Cultural Programming, and now calls Bali home.
Can we run to your creative process or works that you’ve been working on and where did you get your inspiration from?
My work orbits the fields of music and art (in a very broad sense). An exploration of communication in itʼs many forms. Iʼm currently working through a number of concepts for Potato Head Bali, whilst enjoying some freedom to invest time into smaller personal art projects. Some buzz has been stirring for me of late when playing with creative concepts around connecting with a higher power.Exploring this topic through the means and juxtaposition of our connection to technology, and to that of the natural world, amongst other things.Iʼve been highly inspired by the clash of traditional and contemporary Balinese culture, and my surrounding environment at large.
In regards to my inspiration - primarily, it stems from some very special moments of connection with people.
Through my process Iʼm not hunting down inspiration from glitz or gloss, or opportunities to work with the next big star, individual, or group. Itʼs never a forced scenario.
My aim is for the work I produce to feel as natural as possible. As natural as the connection between myself and the places & people, in which it stems from. So in saying that, itʼs the connection that comes first. The work is then an expression of the energy shared.
What was your first break and what was your dream back then?
Iʼve been fortunate to experience a great number of, what I believe to be, ‘breaksʼ throughout my life, from a very young age. So, I canʼt quite pinpoint any one pivotal moment.The most recent shift or ‘breakʼ of note however, has been my transition from working internationally, in a more global-roaming sense, to bring focus to a fixed location. Settling in one place. Bali.
I have always been obsessed with deep diving into location specific creative works. This allows me to dig even deeper. Which is and will only bring greater value to my work, and those involved.It wasnʼt necessarily lacking prior, though, this allows me to dip into that obsessive eye for detail and depth within a project.
In regards to dreams.. I have had my eye on Indonesia, and Indonesian artists, for the past 8-10years. Iʼve had many creative ideas marinating in the back recesses of my melon, for work that I felt would be fun to explore here, if the opportunity ever should arise. It now seems pretty damn dreamy gliding into this scenario. Having the chance to bring those ideas and more to life.. It all fell into place with such beautiful timing for me. It feels right!
What about people? Do you have any idols?
Iʼm not sure if I have idols as such.
However, I do find myself in awe of, and drawn to individuals who hold both a strength in stillness, whilst simultaneously, and seamlessly maintaining a bubbling child-like energy.
Primarily, folks who carry this into an elder age.
That being said, popular examples of this, I guess, are artists such as Flea (RHCP), and new-age icon, Laraaji.
What’s the thing that you like to do that you haven’t had a chance to?
Learn to play brass instruments, specifically trumpet. More electronic instruments / tools too.
Iʼm not so bad with Ableton, and have played bass guitar throughout a large period of my life. Though, I would love to taste other instruments and operating systems.
Perhaps to intertwine this within soundtracking my work. One thing always feeds into another. So, whether it has a greater purpose, or ends up being purely for fun, Iʼm down to explore and see what comes from it.
How would you describe your daily routines? and in this situation now how was it?
For context.. Of late Iʼve been working on a project, entitled VIA MORNING RITUAL. The project invites a broad variety of musicians, friends, and friends of friends, from around the globe to take their own personalised approach to a live recording (15 - 20 mins) of improvised music that ushers in the new morning.
We lean towards the more ethereal tip, uplifting and somewhat meditative tones, though not limiting the project to artists commonly found in such a field of music.
Thatʼs been one of the most interesting parts for me.. Individuals from a variety of musical backgrounds approaching the concept in their own way.
The music has been accompanied by a small sound-bite from the artist, sharing a few of their own morning rituals, and entry points into their daily creative process, in hope that it could inspire others stuck in a creative rut.
It felt wrong to work on such a project and not reflect on my own morning routines, and create some new ones..
So.. accompanied by a friend, we would get up at 4.30 / 5AM, hop on our bikes, and journey to different locations around Bali to welcome the rising sun. We would typically film these moments, by handheld camera or drone. So, although the journey was to witness natural beauty, we nudged ourselves further, by trying to create something interesting out of these moments. Which has helped greatly in getting those creative brain cogs in motion to lead to the day ahead.
Nothing necessarily needs to come from any of this early morning art making. It ' s purely the process, and the adventure which has been such a fulfilling way to start the day ..whilst creeping out of a post-sleep zombified state.
From there, I typically grab some breakfast, and head to a calm workspace by the beach in Pererenan, where I lock in till late afternoon.
What have this situation taught you?
This recent stretch has only solidified my beliefs surrounding the importance of community, and the understanding, & re-learning, of my role within community.
Iʼm fortunate to be part of a wide-reaching global family. Intersecting circles, upon circles of incredibly talented, and beautiful souls.
A global community that have provided me with positivity and uplift in various ways over the years. Iʼm always looking at ways to feed back to the energy of itʼs whole, and individual parts. The recent lock-down period is no different, and of course, just as necessary as any other moment in time, to be a provider, if & when needed.
On the flip, I give my all to my friends & my work.. whilst I perhaps forget to look after myself. So, that has been a notable lesson to navigate amongst all of this.Shout-outs to a special few who have kicked my ass for that.
What’s been keeping you sane lately?
Iʼm currently working through one creative project of size, with quite a lot of moving parts to it..
A concept that when shared with a few people, was shrouded in comments - “That seems wayyy too hard to achieve right now”, “Thatʼs crazy”, “I donʼt know how youʼre going to achieve that”, and so on.
Which, after hearing, only fuelled me to go even harder! (laughs).
Typically, when someone says something along the lines of “Dude, thatʼs impossible”, I know Iʼm onto a really good thing!
A month or so on, that project is now very much underway, and feeling really really good!
So... Finding sanity through insanity perhaps?
If you have any advice for others what would that be?
From a young age, as early as I can recall, I was taught to try my hand at everything.
For instance.. say, I had a toy of a character from a cartoon series, or a movie. Though, I wanted something more. Their base, or their flashy car, etc.. We couldnʼt necessarily afford to buy those things. So, my dad would take me to the work shed out the back of our house, and we would make our own version of their base, headquarters, & so on, out of wood, nails, glue, paint, whatever was laying about. Understanding how to use tools correctly. How to cut, saw, drill, sand, and create the things I wanted, in my own way.
A similar situation when learning to play Bass Guitar and not being able to afford a Fender Jazz at first. Only allowed to pick up a lower quality, second- hand Bass at that time, it taught me focus, and finesse, in order to get a better sound out of the instrument. Then, when coming to play something of a better quality, my skills were far more refined.
These moments, and a plethora of others, brought with them a great deal of learnings, on various levels. All of which have easily been some of the most valuable in forming who I am, and how I approach my creative work in some sense. I mean, take someone who has been given everything under the sun, and perfects nothing.. You donʼt need a lot in order to make something great.
My advice being - Make the most of the tools you have at hand.
Try your hand at everything. The more you try, the more skills you build, and can apply in other areas.
How would you describe your outfit preference or how you dress?
It was never a conscious decision, though for the most part, I guess you could say I have an early 90s inspired look (laughs).
My youth was so heavily inspired by that era of MTV. The Celebrity DeathMatch, Beavis & Butthead era. The rough around the edges, punk & grunge era.. long before the gloss and reality shows arose. This era of music and art carries through into many of the ways that I express myself creatively and, of course, often in the way that I dress. Whether or not thatʼs notable to others, Iʼm definitely seeing it surface more and more.
What are your favourite brands? And what is your essential?
TOTAL LUXARY SPA, is definitely up there for me.
Co-founded by Daniel Desure & Hassan Rahim. I have a great appreciation for Rahimʼs approach to his personal work, and that of TLS. Design and ethos. The meeting point between the two (Desure & Rahim), and the involvement with their community is super appealing to me. The concept behind the brand is simple, and carries a great deal of heart.