Q&A: Height on the New Shark Tank Album and Impending Height With Friends Tour
More than a decade ago, Dan Keech began rapping under the name Height, forming the short-lived hip-hop group Wounds with a few high school buddies and later releasing three solo albums. In 2009, however, he began billing his records as Height With Friends, first with Baltimore Highlands and then last year’s Bed of Seeds, pulling a growing family of local indie rappers and producers into his orbit, many of them performing together at the annual Rap Round Robin concert.
This month, his latest group, Shark Tank–featuring longtime collaborator Mickey Free, Lord Grunge of Pittsburgh’s Grand Buffet, and Canada’s Brendan Richmond–released its debut album and the video for the single “Don’t Shoot.”
Last week I sat down with Keech to talk about the creative process behind his unorthodox approach to rap, how the Insane Clown Posse inspired Shark Tank, and the epic two month national tour that Height With Friends kick off this Friday, Feb. 25, with a hometown gig at the Golden West.
City Paper: So what’s the plan for this tour you’re about to embark on?
Dan Keech: Well, it’s a really long tour, it’s 51 days long.
CP: Wow, that’s gotta be the longest tour you’ve ever done, right?
DK: The second longest.
CP: What was the longest?
DK: The first tour that I ever did with Grand Buffet, actually.
CP: And you’re hitting the whole country?
DK: Yeah, well, not doing the Northeast. But actually right after that, we’re doing our first European tour. It’s like France, Poland, Russia, and Belarus.
CP: How did that come up?
DK: P.T. Burnem went over there about six months ago, and one promoter that set up the Moscow area shows wanted to manage a whole tour for him, so they’re gonna do that, and I’m being brought over with him. It’s Height With Friends, but it’ll just be him and me performing, he’ll just be assisting during my set as well.
CP: When I interviewed Mickey Free last year, he mentioned that he’s intimidated by the idea of touring but that you’re kind of fearless about going on the road. Is it just something you love to do?
DK: It’s really still our main way of getting people to hear us. So it’s kind of like our only choice, but also I happen to really like it too. I still don’t feel like I’ve got it all figured out by doing this, sometimes it feels crazy. But the fact that it’s not the way you’re supposed to do it in rap, it definitely has made me feel insecure like, “What am I doing?”
CP: Have you done a new Height With Friends album since Bed of Seeds yet?
DK: No. Sort of by accident, 90 percent of the places we’re playing, it’s the first time we’re playing there with the record out. Because the last two big tours we did, we were supposed to have the records and we didn’t. We’re playing probably only two brand new songs. And there are a couple in the set that have been in the set for a long time, but only two that we finished this week.
CP: Do you do any old songs from the pre-Height With Friends records?
DK: Yeah, we’re trying to [be] a lot more adventurous with mixing it up this time. I think this’ll be a good thing for a tour this long, to try to do songs I’ve never done in years, songs I’ve never even played live.
CP: And the other people in the group mainly perform vocals?
DK: Yeah, but other stuff too, now we got the lights goin’, kind of a low budget light show. So we got that and some live percussion stuff, and we’re tryin’ to get more into the singing stuff.
CP: How’d the whole Shark Tank thing come together?
DK: Maybe two and a half years ago me and Lord Grunge thought of the idea. This is kinda funny, but have you ever heard of the group Soopa Villainz? It’s Esham plus ICP [Insane Clown Posse] with another guy, and we sorta modeled it after that, it’s like this side project they have where it’s more like a straight up hip-hop group. It’s kinda cool to hear these different weird guys just kicking it. And I always wanted to hear a rap album from Grunge, I always liked his rhymes, but with Grand Buffet he only rhymes like once an album.
CP: How did Grand Buffet get so connected with you and other rappers in Baltimore?
DK: We first met them in Pittsburgh in 2000; Wounds played with them. For all of us, it was one of the coolest shows we’d ever seen, it was the last date of our one and only tour we ever did. But it wasn’t through us that they started playing in Baltimore, they were kinda playing everywhere. And I think Todd Lesser from the Ottobar really helped them out a lot, I think he was really into them. But I always wanted to hear Grunge do more, and the same with Brendan, I’d heard his stuff for a long time but always wanted to hear him in this context. And Mickey and me, we never could get a [duo] album together, that’s always been on the agenda, this is the closest we’ve come so far.
CP: Have you started planning this year’s Rap Round Robin yet?
DK: I’ve been, in my mind, planning it, I’m not sure who’s in and who’s out from last year, I hope people will be into it again.
CP: Have you thought about taking that on the road?
DK: I have, I have. I don’t know how we could do it, but I would really like to. When we did the Wham City round robin, we did a tour for that.
CP: That seemed like it went off pretty well.
DK: It did, but financially, it would be crazy for me to try it the way that they did. I just can’t lose too much of my own money. They got a bus, plus two vans. We’d figure out some way to do it, I’d like to try to do it within a year.
CP: So you’re not in a rush to do a new album?
DK: Yeah, for a this tour, a lot of the Bed of Seeds stuff, we’re just still learning how to do it live, so there’s a lot of songs we hadn’t even tried until the past two months or something. So I’m excited to give this new stuff a go. I think at the moment, we have a ton of new songs that I just have these rough versions and stuff, I think we just wanna do something manageable and have it come out in not that long a time. Because like, by the time these U.S. and European tours are done, it’ll be three and a half months later. We’re basically not gonna make any progress on it for the next three and a half months so I don’t wanna take on some huge thing, I kinda wanna do an EP.
CP: So do you write to production or do you start with lyrics?
DK: For all the new stuff I’m doing, and for most of the Bed of Seeds stuff, the very first step is I record a demo by myself with a super rough idea.
CP: With guitar or just vocals?
DK: A little bit of everything. Just like drums, guitar, bass, some singing. And then I get people to replay most of that stuff. With Bed of Seeds, that’s how we did it, but we mixed it up with a couple more conventional beats. And so far this is all just songs like that.
CP: Do you just let ideas pour out or do you really feel like you’re chasing a particular vision of hip-hop and how you want your music to sound?
DK: Definitely pursuing a vision, all the time. I don’t always have the tools, even just sitting down by myself with a guitar, I don’t even have the chops sometimes to figure out what I’m trying to do, but I always have a goal.