Behind the piano

Behind the piano: It’s Kevin

Today it’s time to get to know the dude with the ukulele on top of that mountain I introduced you to a while back (read the post here).

What’s your real name?
My real name is Kevin Hines! 

Where did you come up with your artist name?
“Hello, It’s Kevin” has always been my way of introducing myself. Whether on the phone, meeting someone in person, or sending an email, Kevin is rarely found unless following an It’s. When I started to write and share my music with friends and coworkers, I would introduce myself as “Hey It’s Kevin. I do the music”. And the artist name of “It’s Kevin” stuck ever since.

Where are you from? Where do you live?
I was born in the metro Detroit area. I still live there, but I’m more excited about where I’m going to be next year over where I’m living now. I eventually want to make my way to the west coast or (ideally) out of the country! 

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments well?
I’ve been playing the piano for around 15 years now. Over the years I’ve added guitar, bass, saxophone, ukulele, bassoon and countless other instruments to my tool belt! 

Tell us about how you started playing music.
It started with lessons in elementary school and progressed towards a small obsession with music. In junior high, I picked up the saxophone and the bass guitar to play in my school’s jazz band. Around this time I starting to improvise jazz solos. My junior high band teacher (Shout out to Mr. Groth!) showed us the basics of music theory; things like scales, chord progressions, minors and majors and I used that to make up my own solos. They weren’t great, but they also weren’t terrible so I kept pushing towards getting better at it. There was something about improvisation that kept me interested; something about the high risk of potentially playing one wrong note and everything falling apart kept me going.

After junior high, I started to play the guitar (because come on what musician knows how to play bass but not the guitar?). Guitar opened the world of pop-punk up to me and I started writing and recording any time I wasn’t in the practice rooms getting better at jazz. High school was when I really started to get serious about music. My music teacher at the time (Mr. Traskal) was an absolutely monstrous influence on me becoming the musician that I am today. Mr. Traskal taught me all about music theory. He showed me music as if it were an open canvas ready to be written on, not some paint by numbers. He let me dig deep into music theory and fed me with all sorts of insane music knowledge. He pushed me to become the best musician I could be both when playing shows and when practicing. Thanks to him I’ve played countless amazing shows across several countries and two continents.

After high school, I went for a safe route of studying computer science. I had to put music on the back burner while I focused on undergrad but once I graduated I dove right back in. Around the time I wanted back into music, I met my lovely girlfriend, Katie, who pushes me to be better every day. A lot of my growth in music today wouldn’t have happened without her amazing support.   

How long have you been making piano music?
I’ve been noodling on a piano since my family got one put into our family room 15 years ago. Sure I wasn’t writing coherent pieces at the time, but I like to think the gears started turning back then.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself.
In elementary school nearly everyone was in band. For 3 hours a week, a large group of us would pile into the music room and play Hot Cross Buns so terribly out of tune, I have no idea how any of our parents could stand it. I knew we were bad, but it felt good to see how happy everyone was for us. In junior high, my 3 hours of music a week from school got bumped up to 5. I started to get more serious about my piano lessons and I started to learn more about music and what made it so beautiful. The first jazz concert I played in 8th grade had me improvising a solo on the baritone sax. I remember walking off the stage and people being blown away that I just ‘made’ that all up as I was playing. I loved that moment and have been expanding my knowledge of music theory ever since!

What are your favorite artists in the “piano” genre?
Whenever I’m in the mood for super relaxed and chill piano lines, Balmorhea is my go to. I know it’s not necessarily a piano-focused song, but I feel like everyone should give Masollan a listen. It’s an absolute masterpiece! 

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
vi – IV – I – V. Those four chords are all anyone needs to noodle. Play those four chords and your I scale is going to sound good. The first chord I play on nearly every piano is an A minor, followed by an F, bringing in tension with a G and resolving it back to the root, C. Play anything in C here and it’ll fit; Heck learn a bit of theory and any note can sound good here! 

What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
All of them. I was browsing the music theory subreddit when I came across a post by /u/nuggles1. They said “PSA: It’s music theory, not music law” and that really resonated with me. Throughout this amazing thread users go on to bring up how music doesn’t really have any set in stone laws. It has a few reasons why some things may sound good, but at the end of the day, any musician can make any scale work over any chord for any reason at any time. It’s all about the general feel of the music.

How do you record your music? 
I started off recording music through a super simple midi controller. I’ve never recorded in a professional studio but dream to do it one day. I’ve always loved the idea of building my own home studio so when I started to take music really seriously I built a super low end one. Throughout the years I’ve grown my studio to take up well over half a bedroom in my house along with countless VSTs and audio effects. What started with a simple keyboard plugged into my laptop has evolved into my dream keyboard playing out of studio monitors inside of an acoustically treated room. I couldn’t be happier with my current setup!

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
We live in an absolutely amazing time right now. Technology has made it insanely easy for musicians to get their hands on exactly what they want without needing to spend thousands of dollars. I’m a big fan of sampled instruments. For example, in some of my songs I need a punk-pop-styled drum kit. If I were to go the recording route I’d be looking at thousands of dollars in mixing equipment, microphones, and kits (and that doesn’t even get into the size of the room I’d need!). Thanks to the ease of sampled instruments I’m able to write killer drum hooks directly from a launchpad for well under 10% of the cost. 

Anything else you want to share?
I love playing music for people! I stream some improv peaceful piano music at night whenever I get a chance for people that are struggling to fall asleep directly on my FaceBook page. They’re called Pillow Plays and they’re just meant for people to put on in the background and relax to; Either to do homework and focus or to fall asleep to. I’d love to see you in the next one!

And, as always the question from my five year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?  
I don’t know how I’d be able to live without music. My songs come from my life, I write based on where I’m at in my life. I wrote a song about hating my job while driving into work stuck in traffic (8 Year Old Me Would Be Upset I Didn’t go to School and Get a BS in Happiness). I wrote a song about people not able to find happiness based on their geographical location while sitting in a Cracker Barrel (No One Smiles in the Midwest). I wrote a song about falling for my now girlfriend when we started talking (Want to be Needed) and about how much she means to me (Katie) about a year into us dating. 

Thank you very much Kevin for these amazing words!

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