Whether creating the film scores for award-winning indie movies or fronting the acclaimed Nashville, Tenn.-based indie band Wild Cub, composer and songwriter Keegan DeWitt writes music that’s cinematic, smart, and evocative, filled with atmospheric spaces and layers of complexity. So when he describes his style as crisp and clean with an intelligent edge, he could just as easily be describing his art.
After growing up in Portland, Oregon, and living in New York for 10 years, Keegan landed in Nashville both to be close to family and to be able to channel his time and energy into pursuing his music career full time. He still loves to go back to New York “as a tourist,” though, and visit his favorite stores for solid, crisp oxford shirts and jeans.
Keegan’s clean, simple style is the perfect fit for his life today. With Wild Cub gearing up to record a new album in May, several new film scores in the process of wrapping up post-production, and a busy family life with his wife and young daughter, there’s not much time left to shop. But we were able to catch up with him during a quick break in his studio to talk creative inspiration, style, and staying sharp.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Usually, the first thing I’ll do is make a really strong pot of coffee and throw on an oxford shirt and jeans. It makes me feel like, ‘Alright, now I’m going to get to work!’ even if it is in my studio that’s a hundred feet behind the house.
How about your grooming habits? What’s essential?
I think of grooming a little differently than the traditional sense, but some of the most satisfying grooming things I do are a clean shave, hot yoga, and getting a massage every couple of weeks. It forces me to be thoughtful and present, especially as my life gets busier.
How would you describe your style?
It’s funny because I’m probably the one member of the band who doesn’t bring a suitcase to a photo shoot! My style is crisp, clean, simple—solid oxford shirts and solid cuts in a jean that lasts. I grew up listening to tons of British music and that’s something I still carry with me. These guys were real badasses who could totally blow your mind but would dress with this crisp, intelligent edge. In a band, it’s so easy to dress like a 16-year-old your entire life, so it’s nice to be able to go against that.
Is there a connection between your style and your music?
Yeah, if I think about my own taste, I’m always drawn to things that happen within a construct—whether it’s poetry or film—where you have this classical setup but if you really dig into it there’s some edgy stuff happening, and it’s happening in a way that demands intelligence. I find that really exciting.
Does being on the road affect your style?
Well, just in general, I have to be super utilitarian about style, because between being a dad and then having “film score world” and “band world,” the time I have to go shopping and think about what I wear is so minimal. I’ve lucked into a lot of it because we’ll collaborate with cool brands and I’ll get some great boots or a jacket out of it. But also on the road, you have to be utilitarian about what you buy. Otherwise, between crowd surfing and other crazy things like that, I could tear through a pair of jeans in 10 days! So that’s why I really like inexpensive but smart clothes, from companies like Uniqlo and ASOS.
You’ve talked about how things like poetry, music, and art inspire you. Is there anything in Nashville specifically that inspires you?
There’s a really great restaurant here called Rolf and Daughters, and I’ve heard the owner talk about how it’s like the democratization of fine dining. That speaks to me, the idea that something can be intelligent and classy and have attention to detail but not be so expensive that somebody can’t just walk in and try it and connect with it. As far as Nashville style goes, it’s starting to change, and I think it’s only going to get more interesting and diverse as more and more people move here.
How do you define success?
Someone recently said to me, “Success is being able to do what you want, when you want, and with whom you want.” And I think that’s really true. I’m finally getting to the point volume-wise with film scores that I can work on the films that I want with the filmmakers who really excite me. And it’s nice to finally be doing the work rather than constantly in pursuit of the work.
With so much going on in your life, how do you stay sharp?
For me, it’s a question of how do I stay focused creatively. When I was single, I could just hang out and write songs all day. There were no limitations and it was really easy to be creative. Now I have a family, different film scores I want to do, and the Wild Cub songwriting world, so I’m trying to figure out ways to trick myself into having that same kind of limitless creative imagination I used to have. But the simple answer is work: trusting the fact that working consistently and working hard is the great neutralizer. If I sit down every day and write from 10-to-6, somewhere in there, something’s going to pop up that’s definitively unique in my own voice and my own way.
Do you have a schedule that you stick to?
I try to. With Wild Cub not touring right now since we’re writing for the next record, I can come in here every morning, make that pot of coffee, pace around, write a little, pace around some more. But I enjoy it. I’d much rather be trapped in the studio having to confront my own writer’s block than be trapped in a green room somewhere on my iPhone, burning time before sound check.