August 28, 2013 • 02:09:38 p.m.

Chit Chat: St. Charles singer, songwriter and guitar player likes to inspire his audience


Matt Keen, 23, of St. Charles, is a singer, songwriter and guitar player who recently won a talent competition at Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva. About 60 performers participated in the competition. Keen has shows coming up in September. (Nicole Weskerna –

ST. CHARLES – It’s hard for Matt Keen to describe his music simply as one genre.

Keen, 23, of St. Charles, said he’s written reggae, rock, gospel, folk rock, rhythm and blues, rap and country songs since he started playing music at age 10.

“I’m a singer first and foremost,” he said. “ ... I spent a year in a gospel choir in Chicago.”

His musical influences are just as diverse as the spectrum of genres he plays. They include Ben Harper, The Doors, Frank Sinatra, Dr. John and Beethoven.

“I pride myself in that. If I hear a song, I like to know who’s playing it,” he said.

Keen recently took home a $2,000 prize after winning the Claddagh’s Got Talent competition at Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva, and he’s scheduled to perform at upcoming local shows.

Andrea Lay, manager at Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva, said about 60 area performers participated in the eight-week contest, and the winner was announced earlier this month.

“[The judges] loved him,” she said. “He did original songs; he did cover songs; and he had a lot more passion doing it. That was kind of one of the things they truly appreciated.”

Keen is no stranger to talent competitions. He was a contestant on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” show in the fifth season, which aired in 2010. He was among about 100 acts to advance to Las Vegas for a performance, although he didn’t take home the grand prize.

He said his music is about inspiring people to feel something.

“My focus is on the audience, but it’s not about impressing them,” he said, “but it’s about taking them with me.”

He said he likes the concept of everyone in the audience being in the same moment when he performs.
That’s harder to do in the age where cellphones, social media and the Internet constantly are at everyone’s fingertips, he said. He noted that it’s easy, especially for the current generation, to be taken out of the moment because they’re more apt to reach for their cellphones to snap a photo or update a Facebook status.

“My mom turned me onto the idea of mental pictures,” he said.

Keen said he often plays hourslong sets without taking a break. Sometimes he performs with his band – a drummer and a bass player – and said he has written more than 500 songs.

“I have seven albums on my computer ready to be recorded,” he said.

He said his lyrics give his songs a “tense” feel, though the melody might be upbeat. He said he’s inspired by the macabre and death, but also writes about people he knows and tries to keep the lyrics simple.

“You don’t have to way over-write,” he said. “You’re never going to connect that way.”

Keen has two upcoming local performances scheduled. The first is at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at EvenFlow Music & Spirits, 302 W. State St., Geneva, and the second is at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at Claddagh Irish Pub, 1702 Commons Drive, Geneva.

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