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Dan Keyes is a 21st-century emo man. Mugging for the cameras on a Santa Monica soundstage a few weeks ago during a taping for Yahoo!, he seems more engaged than he did the night before at Hollywood's Knitting Factory, where his dance-rock act Young Love entertained a roomful of MySpace-addled L.A. hipsters. You have to figure it's an issue of novelty: As frontman of Recover, a C-list Austin band that only people writing articles about Young Love remember, Keyes burnt out on doing the rock-club thing every night. "I'd been on the road since I was 18," he says, "and just wanted to do something different."
Keyes, 25, got his chance when a friend called and said he had a room in Park Slope for $525. "I was like, 'See you in a week," Keyes says. "I packed my guitar and a bag of clothes. Literally." Once in town, he sold T-shirts at American Apparel and bussed tables at Employees Only; after work, he began recording beat-based songs inspired by Daft Punk's Discovery. "I gave a CD to a DJ friend, who passed it on to another DJ. I'd be out at a certain night and all of a sudden my song would come on. Then I'd go to the same night a month later and people would be singing along."
When DJ pals in L.A. spread the buzz, labels started calling; at first, Keyes would take the free dinner but toss the business card. "I was into the idea of being this normal guy who also happens to write songs you could dance to," he says. "But Island Def Jam came at me really hardI ended up having brunch with [Def Jam prez] Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the roof of a hotel in Miami. I think they brought Jay in to sort of say, 'Don't let this busboy tell you no.' "
Young Love's self-titled debutwhich Keyes made with a handful of collaborators in New York, Austin, and Bath, Englandis music made for Miami hotel rooftops (or Santa Monica soundstages). Keyes has a knack for sleek, catchy electro jams, but he says the album only presents one side of his musical persona. His buddy Matt Sweeney wants him to record a batch of "heartbreakingly beautiful" country songs Keyes's grandfather penned back in the '70s. Grandpa gave Dan his acoustic guitar when he got too old to play it. "He sat me down and said, 'Be a plumber,'" Keyes says. " 'You'll always have work.' "