Newcomer Raleigh Keegan’s journey is one worthy of its own country song. As a co-writer on every track of his upcoming album, he’s letting listeners in on the unique events that have shaped his life, one song at a time.
Keegan was born in the Columbus State Penitentiary, where his mother was being held on drug-related charges. A few days following his birth, he was put up for adoption, and a loving family in Cincinnati soon brought him into their home.
“I always kind of looked at it like she made the brave choice to offer me a better chance at life,” he tells Holler of his mother. “It’s been something I’ve always been thankful for. My parents were just so great about this growing up.”
Keegan was in elementary school when he discovered his talent for music, while also growing up as an avid sportsman. He ended up playing football for Kentucky’s Georgetown College, before his sports aspirations were halted due to injury. While working as a personal trainer, he'd dedicate his lunch breaks to writing songs, and soon began to book over 100 shows a year. Since moving to Nashville in 2018, he’s dropped multiple singles and a debut full-length record, 2020’s intermission - in the process racking up an impressive 7 million streams.
In telling his stories, Keegan puts value on lyrical honesty. Earlier this year, he released ‘Handyman’, a single on which he waxes poetic about being able to fix just about anything, only to vulnerably admit that the one thing he can’t mend is his own flaws. His latest, ‘Easy on the Trigger’, is a soulful, upbeat country confection, the lyrics serving a cultural warning shot that belies the track's uplifting sound.
With a view to releasing songs that will eventually culminate into his second full-length album later this year, Keegan has been collaborating with producer Ryan Gore (known for his work with Old Dominion and Jon Pardi), crafting a sound that's self-described as “Billy Joel country stuff.”
“For me, you're never going to hear any fake drums,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I can bop to some Florida Georgia Line any day, but that’s not my personal flavor. For me, it’s just about honesty. There’s a song about my birth mother and a song about my birth father. Everything I sing about in these songs has either happened to me or someone close to me. I’m super hyped because I think people, for the first time, will really know me - not just my music. They’ll understand me better as a person.”
Catching up, Keegan spoke to Holler about his momentous journey into music, reconnecting with his birth mother and the mission behind ‘Easy on the Trigger’.
You play five instruments, most prominently piano. When did you realize you had a talent for music?
When I was in kindergarten, my teacher told my parents that I would go over to the piano and would play things that a kindergartener shouldn't know how to play if they hadn’t been taught. My parents love a good bargain, so they found a free piano in Michigan and we drove seven hours to get it. Music was one of those things that I excelled at early on - in middle school and high school, I played jazz trombone and I was first chair in the state in jazz.
You eventually graduated with a degree in exercise science - so why did you continue to focus on music?
There was something about it that was a never-ending challenge. It's like you conquered one song, but then the next day you've got to prove yourself again.
At the time, what music were you inspired by?
I became obsessed with Zac Brown Band's record, Uncaged, and then Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton and Eric Church. I was like, “Gosh. I just want to do this more than anything.” I put out a demo of six songs and built a little fanbase. My wife and I sold our house to pay for my first record, One of These Days, and we moved to Nashville. I don't know if I'd recommend doing that to people, but that's what I did, and by the grace of God it worked out.
You’re very open about your life in your songwriting. After growing up as an adopted child, you were eventually able to reconnect with your birth mother. What was that experience like, and did you find that she also had a talent for music?
She didn't, but I found out that my birth father did. He was a guitar player. It was odd meeting her because we are so similar, we looked just like each other. She’s as stubborn as me. They called her the black sheep of the family because she walks to the beat of her own drum, and I relate to that so much. It was great because I found out from her that, for so many years, she worried about whether she made the right decision with me. That would be a struggle for any mom. It was quite a risky choice to meet her - so many people meet their birth parents and it goes horribly - but she ended up being a real friend for me. It was great to tell her that I’ve been okay and that she made the right decision.
Were you already doing music at that time?
This was a few years ago, so yeah, I was already writing songs. She ended up passing away not too long after we met, but she did get to see one of my shows, which is insane! Imagine you’ve known you’ve had a kid for 25 years but not know what they did, only to one day get to watch them perform. That was a sweet moment.
In one of your songs, ‘Long Line of Lovers’, you open with the lines: “The shade of my family tree / Has sure left its mark on me”.
More than anything, I just want my music to be honest. I was inspired to write that title because of my birth mom’s father. He was a bank robber and went to federal prison, at one point being one of the country’s top 10 most wanted people. The song is also about focusing on something healthier, and I wanted to connect that to my wife and the love I have for her. She’s helped me make this career a reality.
‘Easy on the Trigger’ offers a pretty timely message as well.
Yeah, I came up with the title after I saw somebody attacking another person on social media. I was looking at my newsfeed like, "Man, we really treat people poorly on here". I thought of our words like a bullet or a gun. It's funny because it's an upbeat song, right? Yet it's meant to call us out. I love songs like this; they trick the listener into thinking they're singing something fun, but it's actually very culturally relevant.
You wrote that with Alex Dooley and Brian Carper. How did you end up writing with them?
I think that that was our second or third song. Songwriting really is like dating - if you're dating people, you can tell if it's going to work out or not pretty quickly. I don't know what it's called but you can just feel that connection. It’s the same with writing.
At the end of all this, what’s in store with the album?
I’m excited because it’s quite personal. There’s one song that tells the story about my birth mom and my adoption story and another that will tell the story of my birth father. It feels good to be able to share these stories.
Raleigh Keegan's new single, 'Easy on the Trigger', is out now - watch the video below.
Raleigh Keegan is this week's featured cover star of the Introducing playlist! Subscribe and listen below: