STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Standing the shadows of Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, progressive rock guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist and composer Mike Keneally is symbolic of unlimited musical possibilities.
With dozens of solo and collaborative album releases to his credit, Keneally’s latest effort, a two- disc release entitled “Scambot 2,” once again pushes his creative genius to the outer limits.
This is the sequel to “Scambot 1,” says Keneally, from his home in Southern California. “The first one came out in 2009 so this one was years in coming. I’ve done a lot of different sorts of albums over the years. Some have been more song based and some have been more instrumentally oriented. Scambot 1 was mostly instrumental, very dense and quite abstract in large measure. Some people found it a bit
unapproachable. With Scambot 2, there’s a storyline with characters and a plot. There’s a concept going over the whole Scambot idea of clearing away clutter and just getting distractions and complications out of the way and trying to hone in on something more essential. Scambot 2 kind of describes that, because it starts with the craziest most intricate piece of music, which is “In The Trees” and then, over the course of the album, a little more air gets let in. It gets more spacious and more approachable.”
Standout tracks include “The Trees,” “Forget About,” “Constructed,” “Proceed,” “Scambot,” “Race The Stars” and “Construction.”
Relocating from Long Island, New York to San Diego at an early age, Keneally became a fixture in the Southern California music scene. An established artist, as the founding member of the cult band “Drop Control,” Keneally, while still in his early 20’s, took a calculated risk when he approached the legendary Frank Zappa.
“I called his office and asked for a job, which I didn’t expect would actually lead to anything,” recalls Keneally. “It just so happened I called at a time he needed somebody in his band. I called saying, ‘I play guitar, keyboards and I sing and I know all of your music.’ He had musicians leave the band without warning the week that I called. It was fortuitous timing. Frank always claimed in interviews that his band was the one touring band that anyone could get into if they could cut the gig. Frank was always on the lookout because his music was so specialized and difficult to perform. Back then, it was shocking to find somebody that could play his stuff. To have the guy who was the end all of the kind of music that I loved say, ‘You belong in my band,’ that was unbelievable!”
“On the phone the day before the audition, Frank had told me to have “What’s New In Baltimore?” and “Sinister Footwear” ready for the next day’s audition,” adds Keneally. On the way to the audition Keneally practiced the aforementioned songs, as well as “Little House I Used To Live In” and “every single Zappa melody I could think of, kind of as an exercise for my memory.”
“I was 25 when I joined his band,” says Keneally. “We rehearsed for four months and toured for four months, and then I ended up staying involved with the Zappa family doing various jobs for them. Then Frank passed away. I continued working with his sons, Dweezil and Ahmet. They had a band together, and I was in that band for five years. So my Zappa involvement started in late ’87 and continued on until 1996.”
Keneally’s command of Zappa’s challenging repertoire has since led to opportunities to work with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Andy Partridge (XTC), among others, while establishing his solo career.
“I just do what sounds good to me and definitely my own listening habits are a little bit unusual,” says Keneally. “I’ve always craved a lot of content in my music, and I always craved music that paved repeated listening. The more you listen, the more you find. That’s what excites me and what excites the people who enjoy my stuff. Hopefully, they want to go back to my music again and again and peel away the layers to see what’s there.”
“I would love for more people to get to know my solo music, but at the same time I’m grateful that I’ve had guys over the years who felt that I had something that they’d like to have in their own bands,” adds Keneally. “It’s those types of guys who have managed to keep me gainfully employed while I’ve continued dealing with my own musical obsessions in my solo career. I’m really grateful for that and that anybody knows about me at all.”