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Eric Kiefer one step ahead of live-music changes

Eric Kiefer was well prepared for the change the pandemic handed the live music business back in spring 2020.

That change was in the mode of performance, when musicians went from standing on a stage in front of humans to standing in their homes in front of a camera. It was a necessary change to the music business, and if you were a touring musician who still wanted to play despite your tour being corona-canceled, you went the performance-via-computer route.

The virtual concert, however, was nothing new to local musician Kiefer, who has recorded and performed online under the name “Oblee” since 2007. Those performances were part of the online and virtual world Second Life, and as a result, he’s sold records and been paid for shows that have been viewed by other Second Life citizens here in the U.S. and as far away as Russia, Japan, New Zealand and beyond.

In addition to playing online shows, he’s also continued writing and recording. Back in August, Kiefer dropped “Shapeshifter,” an EP of his lo-fi experimental folk music. These are songs Kiefer describes as having “existed in the junk drawer.” It’s the place where random things in your house end up, like an old lighter, a screwdriver, loose allergy medicine and your extra pair of sunglasses. Only in this case, the junk draw was holding songs that were on the back burner, itching to find the right place to be released.

“These are older songs – ‘Shapeshifter’ itself was recorded back in 2016. It didn’t fit for this next album that I’m making, and I didn’t want to lose them because I liked them,” Kiefer said. “It’s 2021, you can just release something, you don’t have to get it pressed or anything. I can just release it. So, I had that, and I wanted to round it out, so I had a few other tracks. So, these are misfit tracks that I like enough that I wanted to do something with them, but they didn’t really fit with where I was going with the next record.”

That next record will travel down a more rootsy avenue, a road seldom traveled by Kiefer with the exception of the times he played with country crooner Sand Sheff, or when his former band Aftergrass would sometimes explore newgrass territory.

But all of these songs end up in his performances, whether those shows are happening in real life or in the virtual world that so many musicians have been forced to take advantage of since March 2020.

Kiefer jokes that when it comes to online performances, he was “doing it before it was cool.” The jury is still out on whether playing on line is “cool” or not, but one thing for certain is that when other musicians were trying to figure out how to become online performers, he already had that infrastructure intact. It’s a method of performance he was heckled for at first, but that heckling has stopped, and Kiefer has found some overall good to the online shows he’s been performing now for over a decade. Those positives for the fans include not having to deal with venue distractions like crowds or overserved babblers, and for the musician, it’s another avenue to further perfect their chops.

“I got made fun of for it back in the Aftergrass days. Those guys were like live music people. They would say, ‘live music should be in person in front of real human beings and real places.’ But it is playing in front of real people, just at home. People listen on headphones, people are thinking about the lyrics, people are kind of overanalyzing your performance, which could be bad or could be good,” Kiefer said. “And when you do 100 or 200 performances a year in addition to your real-life performances, you’re pretty well practiced.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.