Among the most criminally underrated people in the music industry are those who make a living writing songs for pop stars, playing in backing bands and tracking for studio sessions. These artists thrive outside of the limelight, with some even earning the fabled title of “your favorite musician’s favorite musician.”
As a professional bassist, producer and songwriter, this is the league Keith Rosiér has played in for most of his career.
Since relocating from his hometown in Texas to Southern California at age 19, Rosiér has built an extensive résumé. Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, he picked up session work at Kitchen Sync Studios and performed on various movie soundtracks. This led to him joining a few bands and playing behind such well-known artists as Hoyt Axton and Jackson Browne.
But Rosiér’s career really took off when he linked up with fellow Texan Charlie Sexton. As a part of Sexton’s band, Rosiér traveled the world and appeared in music videos and on MTV. “That was a major deal for me, and it really established me as a session musician because of the cred I got from working with Charlie,” he explains.
“I came from Texas, and all of a sudden, I’m hanging out with Madonna, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Rod Stewart—you can imagine,” he adds with a laugh.
Rosiér also writes and produces his own music as an active member of the songwriters organization Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). His compositions have been featured on TV shows such as Supernatural, King of the Hill and Soul Food. He has also worked on movie soundtracks for films including Beverly Hills Cop II, Material Girls and Kalifornia. Rosiér even produced and mixed the Sweatin’ to the Oldies III video for exercise guru Richard Simmons. And in the ’90s, he wrote three bass-instructional books that were issued through music-publication giant Hal Leonard.
Although he’s spent the majority of it behind the scenes, Rosiér has a successful, prolific career. “My friends know about me,” he says, “but I’m just one of those under-the-radar guys who people call in to do things, and I’ve been completely fine with that.”
But that changed last year when Rosiér decided to bring his daughter, Madeleine, to one of his gigs. “I was playing an event for The Walking Dead cast, and the band had me sing a song,” he says. “My daughter [didn’t] know much about me as a singer, but afterward, she [said], ‘Dad, you sound pretty good!’”
Soon after, Madeleine convinced her father to work on his own album. Rosiér had been writing songs for more than two decades, and it was now time for him to perform some of them himself. For this project, he would have to step out of his comfort zone and into the role of a front man/bandleader. “You just don’t know about people who are basically just serving the music,” he says. “So being a solo artist is a big step for me.”
Rosiér and his daughter immediately began conceptualizing the album. A student at Laguna College of Art + Design, Madeleine would serve as associate producer and art director (she created the cover art), while her dad would assemble a band, gathering an all-star roster that included pedal-steel guitarist Gary Brandin, pianist Skip Edwards and guitarist Rick Shea. He then created arrangements for 10 of his songs (with the exception of one) and booked two, three-hour blocks of studio time at Kingsound Studios in Van Nuys. The resulting record, Big Sky, released earlier this month via store.cdbaby.com/cd/keithRosier, is nothing short of an instant country classic.
The first track, “She Cheated on a Cheater,” is proof Rosiér knows how to write a song. It’s everything a great country tune should be: catchy, illustrative and drenched in down-to-earth irony. “Hey Baby,” which was co-written by Rosiér and Orange County Americana icon James Intveld, is a foot-tapping shuffle with a Cajun feel. With the rhythm section locked into a tight groove and a searing accordion solo, it’s not difficult to imagine hearing the song in a Texas dancehall.
Also on Big Sky is the first song Rosiér penned, a western ballad titled “Lovin’ ’til it Hurts.” “I wrote that song on a dare,” he says with a laugh. “I was recording with some people, and I was kind of giving them some shit. I said, ‘Hey, you guys need to write some tunes,’ and they go, ‘Listen, Mr. Big Shot, why don’t you write a song if you think it’s so easy?’”
Perhaps the most distinct thing about the album, aside from Rosiér’s top-notch songwriting, is its overall sound. It’s raw, but not unpolished; it’s perfectly imperfect. He attributes this to the recording process and, most of all, his band. “These guys are so good,” he says. “I’ve produced a lot of things. I’ve learned to let the guys just be themselves and to only say something to them if they need some help. I want them to bring what they bring; that way, the recording is going to really blossom instead of being a very controlled, track-by-track kind of thing.”
Rosiér had the band record everything live on the studio floor, including most of the guitar solos. He didn’t let his band tune their instruments between takes, so the album would have more of that natural, down-home tone. Rosiér even tracked his bass and vocal parts at the same time, an unconventional method. All of these factors created a distinct energy that is present throughout the entirety of Big Sky. “I feel that the strength of my album is that it’s so fuckin’ real it’s almost novel,” he says.