Runner to Rockstar: How Running Has Prepared and Fueled an Adams State Alumni’s other Passion
-Keegan Calmes and Vinyl Theatre
Just three years ago, Keegan Calmes’ Sunday mornings were spent on the long dirt road system outside of the small rural town, Alamosa, CO getting in his weekly 20 mile long run with the powerhouse DII Cross Country team at Adams State.
Sundays now are spent recovering from late night shows, practice sessions, and nights on the road touring with his band, Vinyl Theatre. Keegan’s singlet has been traded for an Indie-rock-band tank, and what keeps his stage lit after dark are not stadium lights, but concert lights.
Like many runners, he grew up with goals and dreams outside of his sport, but rather than pushing them aside for the sake of chasing down PR’s and championships, Keegan made the hard choice to forgo his final year of eligibility and pursue another passion. After earning multiple All-American honors for Adams State during his four years of competition, Keegan returned home to his family and musically talented friends in the spring of 2012. They began chasing the other dream they’d talked about for so many years.
“I became a relatively successful collegiate runner, but every day, every run, every workout, sitting through every class. All I could think about was music.”
The band changed names for months, finally settling on “Vinyl Theatre”, for which Keegan is the lead singer and songwriter, and also plays the guitar. The other two founding members of the band are friends Chris Senner and Nick Cesarz, both of which Keegan knew before “packing up his running shoes and moving to Alamosa”.
Senner plays the keyboard and co-writes songs for the band while Cesarz plays drums and also co-writes. Senner similarly slowly steered away from his athletic pursuits, making the choice to fully commit to Vinyl Theatre rather than continue with competitive UFC fighting (https://youtu.be/Jbuew_rXxwM). It seems their respective athletic endurance does have some psychological and physical benefits to going on tour.
Keegan claims that his running endurance allows him to dance and sing for hours without getting tired, and the feeling of team camaraderie translates well into the band setting, something he learned while on a cross country/track team for the majority of his young life. Senner and Calmes met in their junior of HS during a Cross Country meet no less, and soon bonded over their musical passions, planning to someday get together and start a band. Little did they know, it would be over 6 years until the band really got going after they’ve both faced individual struggles in their college careers. Just like in running, the long grind of hard work that the band members have contributed over the last half-decade have paid off in innumerable measures, and they are now finally getting into tip-top shape.
Vinyl Theatre has released two full albums, the first called “Gold” released in 2013, and the second “Electrogram” released in 2014. Both have been made available on Spotify and iTunes. They’ve spent the year touring across the United States with well known Indie rock bands like Magic Man, Twenty One Pilots, Smallpools, Machineheart and more.
The Wisconsin based band hopes to continue their upward and outward trend, becoming more widely known and booked. They’ve made a number of widely viewed music videos, the most popular being “Breaking up My Bones” which is closing in on one million views on Youtube.
“I think about Alamosa a lot when I write. I had some of the best times of my life there. Some of the worst times of my life there too. Some of the greatest moments of strength, and some of the worst moments of weakness. But I think that’s worth writing about. The struggle itself.”
Music: Vinyl Theatre falls into an “indie rock” category, creating poppy and electronic music that oscillates between up-beat and acoustic. Keegan’s running-in-a-small-town experiences can be heard in many of the lyrics, if they were intended to be or not. “Breaking up my bones”; “I couldn’t wait for this ghost town to burn”; “We could fly away to a far off place”; “Well hundreds of miles can be a race Just to join you I won’t let them wait. The journey you take walks you to your grave”;”There they were, in the street chasing shadows aimlessly. We’d disappear light was gone we were those shadows all along”;”I could never run from the things I have done I’m wrong to even try”; “I won’t drop you if you won’t drop me” are just some of the many running-inspired lyrics to be found in their two albums. Sentiments about running, especially the “breaking up my bones” feelings can be especially relatable to any runner that has ever faced injury or other adversity in the sport. I spoke with Keegan about his band, change in lifestyle, and influences of running his music career:
Q: When did you start playing guitar and singing?
A: Coincidentally it was right about the time I started running. I was in 6th grade and my mom actually started sending me to guitar lessons. I didn’t start singing until high school on account of being too shy.
Q: Were you able to play a lot while you were running at Adams State?
A: I played guitar pretty much every day at Adams if we weren’t traveling to a meet. There wasn’t much else to do in Alamosa so I spent most of my free time writing music or making songs just for the thrill of it. Running is a trying sport and there was always something of turmoil to inspire a new idea.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your running career at Adams State, since it was a successful one!
A: Adams State is a unique experience. I was moderately successful for an Adams State runner. They have an extremely high standard for accolades at Adams. I feel like I fall around the middle of the pack for accomplished runners at adams which is, in hindsight, pretty good. I never won a national title individually but I did finish runner up once in the 1500 to a close friend of mine who also ran at Adams. In the moment of all of the races and accomplishments I never felt too successful. Adams does a great job of keeping you hungry.
Q: How has your running background prepared you for obstacles in the music world?
A: I think there are a lot of parallels between competitive sports and the music world. When it comes to writing the music I treat it a lot like running. It’s an everyday practice and whether or not I keep an idea, chord progression, or melody it’s good to go through the motions. It’s good practice. The biggest hurdle to overcome would have to be getting the attention of a major record label. That I can see being a lot like getting a sponsorship in running. They both allow you the means to operate on a higher level.
Q: Do you think your endurance helps you play long shows?
A: It helps immensely. I still run quite often and even do tempo runs and interval workouts just because it keeps me fit enough to perform on the level I want. I probably sweat more during a live performance than I did during an all out mile on the track. I think that athletic aspect of our band actually helps to set us apart in a way.
Q: Which do you prefer: short shorts, or tight skinny jeans?
A: I’d wear short shorts on stage if it wouldn’t prompt people to laugh haha. I always pack a lot of running gear on tour so who knows, maybe I’ll end up in them on stage one day.
Q: Do you feel a connection with your band similar to one you felt with your XC team?
A: The connection seems very similar. The whole “band of brothers” feeling just seems to happen when you’re in a competitive environment. A lot of the times it feels like ‘us against the world’ just like Cross Country seemed to feel on race day. In running we would watch stats, highest marks, and break down potential outcomes at nationals. In music we watch our ranking on Alt Nation and Billboard always trying to get as close to #1 as possible.
Q: How have running and music helped you to get through any hardships you’ve faced?
A: There is no time to yourself on tour so running has been my escape. I don’t get much time, an hour here or there, but it’s crucial I have a moment to clear my head. I’ve stopped running with music the past 3 months as well. In our society we’re constantly stimulated and that problem is exacerbated as a touring musician. Sometimes I just need to turn it all off. I’ve gone through some personal hardships I’d rather not share but I wouldn’t have made it through any of it without the couple of music and running.
Q: Do you hope to return to racing at an elite level someday?
A: I don’t think I’ll ever get to an elite level again. Touring doesn’t allow for the sleep I would need and I plan on touring for the next 5 years. By the time the next 5 years are up I’ll be 30 and I’ll have lost my window. It’ll just be too late. I still train hard, some days I’ll do a 5 mile tempo around 5:35 a mile. Sometimes I run a few 200s on the track around 26-27 average and think I’m getting back to a good level but the truth is my window is just fading away. I’m painfully self-aware and I see that my life as a runner is a past life now. I’m still a massive running fan and follow the sport. In time I want to attend the world championship and Olympics as a spectator and cheer on my favorite of the moment.
Tell us anything else you want to share about traveling, running, lifestyle changes, and the connection between running and playing in Vinyl Theatre:
Running and touring is difficult when no one else has a runner’s mindset. But you learn to cope and find ways to make yourself feel like you’re still an athlete. Grabbing cliff bars before a show so you can fuel up after, ha. It’s funny all the habits that have died hard. Running has made me a resilient person. It’s easy to get through a lot of physical issues with being sore or tired when you don’t have a 20 mile run to worry about on sunday.
“I can feel it in my bones,
we continue to grow old,
at least I have found my gold”.
Two passions that at first seem to be mutually exclusive for Keegan have synthesized into one. His successful running background has given him the endurance and mental strength necessary for pursuing his dreams in the world of rock and roll, and the team mentality to work cohesively with his band on and off the stage. What at first seemed like a huge leap of faith into the unknown world of music is actually a tale of support, friendship and talent. All things runners possess, and are fully capable of translating into other aspects of their lives.
Featured image by Blair Schaper. Featured in JSONLINE.