Songs are a conversation for Tyler Key, and that conversation stretches far and wide: from an elegy to a former bandmate (see “Local Support”), a rebuttal to binary-driven catchy-country (“Hard Time”), to a love-letter to the songs that run deep (“Living in a Song”), this Athens, Georgia songwriter feels at home in examining the details of these conversations.
Growing up in rural west Georgia, Key saw his first concert in Atlanta at age 15. “I had won tickets to see my favorite band by calling in to 99x (rest in peace), and we drove what seemed like forever to see them,” he said. “I’d never met a musician in real life or seen a show besides at church. There was this whole economy of music that revealed itself.”
After forming bands and solo projects throughout high school and college, Key relocated to Athens during a moment of crisis. “I was in grad school for English, and I was going to the same place I’d gone for undergrad. Things were weird and I wasn’t in a good headspace. My brother had been at UGA for a year and had a couple guys he played music with, and they needed a singer,” he said. His brother Seth Key, along with Ryan Moore and Tom Golden, ended up becoming Falco Brown, an odd hybrid of southern rock, Dylan-inspired folk, and jam band. Falco Brown played keg parties, dive bars, listening rooms all over the southeast for almost three years while the other members finished out their degrees from UGA. “Those guys are still like brothers to me. Well, one of them really is, but Ryan and Tom are now honorary Keys. I had always wanted to make something more lyric- and story-driven instead of seeing if my voice could keep up with a bar-band set.”
In 2017, Key released an album and an EP under his own name, the electronic-tinged folk record Long Run the Fugitives and the Mothman-themed Fever Dream Recorder. Key had found his voice and the scope of the songs had widened significantly, from the caricature of the everyman in “Ordinary Guy” to the portentous yet sexy “Mothman No. 1.” On both of these releases, Key played every instrument and recorded them himself at his apartment, “so they’re not the most hi-fidelity things,” he said. “I knew the next project had to be a big, full thing. If I want anybody to hear these songs, they have to sound good. So I sent an email to Damon Moon at Standard Electric Recorders in Atlanta. I got Seth Key to play guitar and his Nashville bud Harry Cloud to play drums. Everyone in the room knew what each song was supposed to do, and I’m the most proud of it of anything I’ve done,” Key said.
Local Support, Key’s most recent album, is the most cohesive record he’s put out to date, taking sonic cues from iconic Muscle Shoals records (most notably Bob Dylan’s much-maligned gospel album Slow Train Coming) and modern acts like Hiss Golden Messenger and Nathaniel Rateliff. “There’s nothing that’s specifically ‘throwback’ about this album, but I think the combination of our looseness and empathy with the songs makes it seem that way,” Key said, “I basically assembled my dream band and gave them free reign. They didn’t just play the songs, they we’re actively listening to each other, to the form, to the room. So the songs weren’t the only thing in conversation. The players were doing their own kind of communion.”
Key’s promoted early copies of the album on a cobill tour with Athens’ own Georgia Dish Boys in late 2018/early 2019, a tour that took the boys along both east and west coasts for almost three months. Backed by four different lineups, album release shows for Local Support “were a hoot and a half,” according to Key, and took place in Carrollton, Atlanta, and Athens, GA, and Nashville, TN in May and June 2019.
Key most recently announced a full band Tyler Key & Strangers tour for October 2019 over at the Tour section of his website.