Leah Sanderson is the sonic spell-spinner behind Keto, a forward-thinking acoustic project that floats somewhere above the minimal end of 21st century folk.
Guided by the songwriting nous of influencers like PJ Harvey, Elliot Smith and Karen Dalton, hers is an intense sound, where bare-all lyrics rub against sweeping orchestration and gentle rhythm.
Like contemporaries Cate le Bon and Hannah Peel, she warps simple melodies into something much richer, drawing you further in with each curve of her voice.
The Notts-based artist has had a great year, bagging a place on the Green Man Festival’s Green Man Rising stage, performing at Glastonbury Festival and Iceland Airwaves, and playing two headline shows for Communion Music.
Her connection with the Mumford & Sons-backed label and publisher doesn’t stop there: Communion co-founders Bear’s Den also selected the title track from her debut EP Waiting on Dreams for a compilation in the summer.
With a load more tracks ready to record, Leah went all Macbeth during 2017, travelling up to the Outer Hebridean island of Great Bernera to capture its broody isolation and dramatic shoreline for her release Blackened Pool.
She recorded it at her friend Pete Fletcher’s Black Bay studio, and became so embroiled in her surrounds, wrote another three new tracks before she left.
In late January, she releases the first new track, Always, with support from PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music fund. We learn more about its origins and how time in the wilderness has shaped her sound…
How did Keto start life?
I started out singing in bands and writing music with one of my friends. Then later, as the bands never seemed to get off the ground, I began teaching myself guitar. I wrote my own music, and played shows around my hometown of Nottingham. This has developed into the ‘Keto’ you hear today. Keto is an alias I started performing under, inspired by a family friend indigenous to North America.
What have been your biggest influences and inspirations along the way?
I love artists like Karen Dalton, Richard Dawson, Elliot Smith and PJ Harvey, to name but a few, but when writing music, I don’t consciously use influences to guide my style. I am inspired by artists who are doing something different than the norm, that’s the magical thing about music, you can do anything you want.
Describe your sound in three words…
Emotive, hypnotic, lo-fi.
Why did you decide to record your latest single Blackened Pool in the Outer Hebrides?
I worked with Pete Fletcher on my debut EP, and I enjoyed working with him. He moved up north and opened Black Bay Studio. I thought it would be an amazing place to go and record my songs.
I’d never done anything like that before, being in a residential studio and having nothing to really think about except recording songs was amazing. Just a true focus that you can’t really get with day to day life. I’d like to be in the position to be able to record like that again.
What was the experience like, and what did you take away from it?
It was an amazing experience, not only the studio, but also the beautiful surroundings. The scenery and tranquillity inspired me to write another three new songs, which we also recorded! It was great to be up there with my bandmates Rob and Andrew, and to be working with Pete again. We knew we had a deadline to hit to get everything finished, and that pushed us on to make something I think everyone is really proud of.
What’s the thinking behind your next release?
Always will be my next single released in January. It’s a song I wrote whilst I was in Scotland, during a little spare time when I wasn’t recording. It’s quite a sweet-sounding song which for me provokes some quite dark imagery.
Musically it is held together by my nylon string guitar, with grand piano chiming in during the chorus. I want people to make up their own minds to what they think the song it about, but it does have a story…
What else does 2018 have in store?
I already have a few cool things in the pipeline for next year. It’s really exciting to have this collection of songs recorded, and I’m in the middle of making a plan… so look out for more releases in 2018…
How important has PRS Foundation funding been to you this year?
It’s had a massive impact. It’s allowed me to be able to record this next release to a level that would not have been possible without the funding.
It gave me the opportunity to travel to a beautiful part of the world and do what I love… making music.
It will enable me to promote my release so that my music can reach more people, and so much more. Everything I speak of so passionately above was all made possible by the PRS Foundation – thank you!
Top picture credit: Abi Hubbard