Alum of the Month: Keanu Ienco

Portrait photo of Keanu Ienco

"I honestly can't remember a time when I thought I would be anything other than a musician." VIU alum Keanu Ienco is celebrating the recent release of his debut album, Celestial Desire.

April 30, 2022 - 11:00am

Ever since he picked up a guitar at age eight, music has been a passion for Keanu Ienco, who graduated from VIU in 2019 with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies. Earlier this year, Ienco, who is Métis and part Havasupai Native American, released his debut album, Celestial Desire, which he describes as an instrumental rock record. He shares more about his inspiration for the album and how VIU helped him find his own sound.

Portrait photo of Keanu holding a guitar

Keanu Ienco

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 24 years old and live in Nanaimo, BC. I have been playing guitar since I was eight and by my teen years, I was playing numerous live performances as well as having original songs played on the radio. Music had been my passion my whole life and over the years I’ve played with many different musical groups. After graduating from VIU, I started writing music under my own name. These days when I’m not working on my own music or gigging, I am a guitar teacher both locally and online. 

Why did you choose VIU?

I’ve lived in Nanaimo since I was a kid, so the location was very easy for me. In my teen years I also started getting involved with the local music scene and I noticed a lot of great musicians were graduates of the VIU music program so that really inspired me to check it out!

What are some highlights of your time at VIU?

I’ll name just a few since there were many! Musically, I truly feel like I discovered my voice in music, and through all the education I continually felt like I was growing both as a person and musician. Another big highlight was the sense of community the program had. There was a lot of encouragement to constantly jam and gig with your peers and that really helped build personal and professional relationships.

Can you share an experience where one of your profs made an impact on your learning experience?

I was fortunate to have so many great profs at VIU! One individual who stands out is my private guitar instructor Lee Ellefson. Lee not only taught me how to play and understand jazz guitar better, but he really encouraged me to find my own voice in guitar playing and composing. Sometimes during a music degree, it can be hard to focus on your own originality while you’re constantly doing assignments or practicing your exercises. But Lee was constantly supporting me to compose and play original music during my time at VIU. By the end of my degree, I felt like I truly found my own sound and a big part of that was thanks to Lee’s support.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I honestly can't remember a time when I thought I would be anything other than a musician. I started playing guitar when I was eight years old and from there music was my passion. Since then, I’ve really put everything I’ve had into learning as much about music as I can and continually growing. 

What was the inspiration for your debut album and how do you describe the sound or influences on the album?

My inspiration for the album was honestly just a culmination of my thoughts and emotions after graduating from university. The album explores themes of becoming who you want to be and dreaming big. After university I had to decide which direction I wanted my career to go and reflect upon who I want to be. So, Celestial Desire is just a manifestation of those thoughts and decisions. Musically I would describe the album as an instrumental rock record. While rock music is the most prominent sound you’ll hear on the record, jazz music and jazz sounds can be heard throughout the album both from a musical and compositional standpoint. Throughout the record you’ll also hear Indigenous influences such as the use of traditional rattles or drums. One of my tunes titled “Wovoka’s Dance” is named after the historical Native American Wovoka. For this track I listened to a lot of Indigenous traditional songs and tried to use some ideas from them in my music.


During your time here, you were supported by VIU’s Indigenous Education Navigators, which provide wrap-around services for Indigenous students. How did this impact you?

Rob Mahikwa was fantastic! He was always willing to talk and answer questions and he always had a calm, friendly demeanour in person. It was really awesome knowing I had someone to ask questions to during the business that is university. Just having someone to support you and having a place to go such as Shq’apthut (VIU’s Indigenous gathering place) makes all the difference while you’re constantly writing papers or staying up late to finish assignments.

What advice would you give a new student who wants to follow in your footsteps?

My advice to new students would be to go for it even if it seems challenging and know that VIU has support for you so you won’t ever be alone.

What’s next for you?

At the moment I am coming off of the release of my debut album Celestial Desire and am booking local live shows to promote the record. From there I have plans to do my first tour as restrictions lift. I’ll always be working on my next musical release and look forward to bringing my music to new audiences!


Tags: Indigenous | Jazz Studies | Our Alumni

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