- Words Darcy Culverhouse
To celebrate his debut EP, Pub Therapy, we sit down with KiLLOWEN to chat about being a voice of comfort, making tracks within three days and finally quitting his job at Tesco.
It’s hard not to be struck by KiLLOWEN’s vivacious energy. His lively zest for life and child-like optimism are contagious as we settle into a Zoom call one October afternoon. Despite having a day packed with back-to-back interviews, it hasn’t affected his demeanour. He remains cheery, as he perches on his bed in his family home in Hayes Town situated far west of London, where he still resides to the day.
Bursting onto the scene in 2018, it wasn’t until this year that the rap polymath’s multifaceted sound really caught the ears of Gen Z. KiLLOWEN—a stage name inspired by his Irish heritage—released ‘Sober’ earlier this year which quickly went viral on TikTok, garnering over 20 million views. Featuring a sample of BADBADNOTGOOD’s ‘Time Moves Slow’, the track is the best representative of his punchy soundscapes and feel-good tracks that get your feet tapping.
As the saying goes, all things leads to Rome and KiLLOWEN believes that these roads are the singles that have culminated to his debut EP, Pub Therapy. Released last week, the 24-year-old wordsmith presents a nine-track EP that reads like pages torn from his personal diary. Delving into the concept of using vices as a means of expressing emotions, he takes us from naivety and innocence to the challenges of everyday life.
The album features hit single, ‘One Thing’, an effervescent garage spin on the iconic Amerie original, as well as ‘Break The Cycle’, a poignant anthem urging people to venture into self-discovery. Each song is meticulously placed, transitioning you from one sentiment to the next and creating a synergy like no other.
Following the lingering euphoria from his standout performance at Reading & Leeds Festival this year, KiLLOWEN embarks on his first UK headline tour next month. A promising feat for the wunderkind, it’s an opportunity that he’s relishing and sees it as an opportunity to reach new audiences. We catch up with him before he blows to discuss his passion for visuals, viewing performing as second nature and everything about his debut EP.
Pub Therapy is a huge success already. From listening to your album, it feels like we are seeing a different side of you. Tell me about your inspiration behind it.
Singles are singles, they’re big songs full of energy. They were intended to be that. But my EP is me opening up the book a little bit more, it’s still an introduction to me as it’s my first-ever project. You do see a different side to me, as it delves a little bit deeper, with different sonics and sounds and feelings all encapsulating the whole feeling of Pub Therapy.
I’ve been non-stop streaming ‘One Thing’ since it was released. Talk to me about how the track came to be. I’ve heard that you made the song within three days.
The song was actually made in one day but took three days to be mixed and mastered. I just started making the beat, I got so excited as it’s so energetic, so I was bouncing around the studio and having fun with it. I knew the original song from playing Grand Theft Auto when I was younger. Lots of people my age have the same attachment to the song. The lyrics of the song just flowed out. I did two verses on the hook and that was that. Some songs I go back and change, but with ‘One Thing’ it all happened so quickly.
Is that the quickest you’ve ever made a song before? Within a couple of days?
I think if you’re talking literally from start to finish, including mastering and recording, then yes. However, most of the songs I write tend to happen really quickly as I produce myself. A majority of the time it’ll be sitting at the computer making a beat, then doing the lyrics and recording them.
Is it always beats before lyrics for you?
Most of the time yes, as the beat usually dictates what I say. However, with my biggest song, ‘Sober’, I wrote the verses to a different beat initially. It was a beat that I made ages ago, that I never did anything with.
Does that link with your creative process for making a track?
On a normal day, I’ll either have an idea for a beat, or I won’t. If I don’t have an idea I’ll start making one and see what happens. If I’m feeling it and it’s good, I will start writing lyrics before I finish the beat, as I get excited. So, I’ll start spitting some bars and build the production from there until it’s done. Recently I’ve been working with producers, which makes the process a bit different, but it’s still a similar vibe. It’s not every day that I go to the studio knowing exactly what I want to do, which I think is a good thing.
In many of your music videos, there is a simplistic yet hedonistic feel to it, like we are living in your world, embarking on the same journey as you. How important are visuals to you as an artist?
They’re super important. Not everyone listens to music because of how it sounds. As a music lover or a musician, you can think that it’s all about the music, but it really isn’t. Anything creative I love to get involved with, especially my music videos. The mix of my videos having a hedonistic and indie vibe to them is a result of me wanting to be relatable and authentic showing what life is like for me and is like for many other people right now. It’s very far from Hollywood. All of my music videos so far have been leading up and contributing to the concept of Pub Therapy. Even though every video is different, and every song is different, they all have one end goal.
I love playing around with visuals on TikTok too. I make mood boards and cut-ups of films, which all inspires me. I think the visual side is as important as the music side.
Do you do all the editing on your TikTok as well? I followed some of your ‘One Thing’ edits with the movie ‘Human Traffic’ for the lead-up of your single drop.
Yes, I make all the edits myself. I go through YouTube and find movies that I like and will fit the vibe. That’s my way of TikToking. I would rather do that than dance in front of the camera.
You picked up your first instrument at age eight and started producing and writing by 13. It sounds like your life has been rooted in music since an early age. Can you tell me about when you knew you wanted to make music, is there any certain memories?
I played instruments as a kid, which was cool. But as a child, I was like everyone else and wanted to be a footballer. That’s all I ever did. I would play on the weekends and after school. Unfortunately, as I grew older, I realised that dream wouldn’t become a reality. After that, I started taking music more seriously. My brother was a DnB DJ, so he started teaching me how to DJ when I was around 12. As I was the younger sibling, I feel like you always want to follow in your older brothers’ footsteps. From then on, I started delving into a lot of different styles of music, because as a DJ you need to know a lot of tracks. You’d really look at every song you were downloading as you would have to burn it onto a CD.
One day, I started questioning why I was playing everyone else’s music. I wanted to make my own. I then started producing and got more into rap music, and merged the two. As soon as I figured out how to make songs, I loved it and I knew I wanted to do it forever.
What artists inspire you? Were there any artists you admired growing up which helped shape your sound?
I loved Example as a kid. He started rapping and then made dance music, he influenced my sound a lot. Skepta was always one of my favourite rappers, as well as Kanye West. I know he’s a controversial figure now, but I admired how he made music. Artists like MJ Cole, The Streets and Mike Skinner all inspire me too, especially now as I’m mixing dance and rap together.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Chilled. Open-minded. Optimistic.
Describe your sound in 3 words.
Uplifting. Introspective. A breath of fresh air (in one word).
You made your debut at Reading and Leeds this year on the BBC 1xtra Stage, saying on TikTok it was “one of the best moments of my life”. Talk me through what that performance meant to you. How did you prepare for it?
I prepared for it in the sense that I knew it was coming, and that the music had to be ready. However, as the music was already there, and I’d been playing shows for a while, I didn’t do much preparation. I got to the week of the show and said to my DJ, “Maybe we should rehearse a couple of times”. It wasn’t that I was unbothered or didn’t recognise the opportunity, I just felt that I was going to be alright. I think if you overthink it, you become more stressed. It’s more about me being there and being ready for the moment, making sure you’re not too stressed and you’ve got enough sleep.
To play the 1Xtra stage was insane. Everyone south of the country goes to Reading Festival when they’re 16, it’s a rite of passage. I spent a lot of time at that stage when I was younger. It was a massive moment to play there. I was gassed that people actually came to see me play, as it’s all about the fans, they’re the ones who make the performance.
Despite your emerging success, you manage to capture your humility, captioning tour posts, “Same old songs I made in my bedroom, taking me to the other side of the world”. Is your bedroom your favourite place to write?
I always made music in my bedroom aside from if I was working with other artists and we were together in the studio. All the songs that are helping me progress with my career are ones that I wrote and made in my bedroom. Six of the nine tracks on Pub Therapy were all written in my room. It’s a great place for me to write. I have just moved into a studio, but I’m still working out where I prefer to write. Right now, on my laptop, I’m making a beat, even though I have a decked studio where I could do that, I wouldn’t be surprised if I took everything out of my studio and moved it all back to my bedroom.
Tell me about your second Instagram account, @youlooklikeyouneedpubtherapy, what’s it for?
So, I made that account before the EP was originally announced. It was me building upon the Pub Therapy concept and taking it further. Fans who were interested enough could follow and check out the EP’s progress. I thought it was cool that when the EP got announced, the account name finally made sense. But in all of its essence, the account is just allowing fans to get involved with my music and see my day-to-day life.
It shows because you’ve built a cult following.
I think I’m definitely trying to build that following. If you get that type of loyalty you’re sweet for life because there’s always going to be people at your shows and buying merch.
How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music? What’s your message as an artist?
I just want people to wake up and see life differently. I’m not talking about stuff that’s out of the ordinary. Doing a 9-5 and knowing it’s shit, or going to the pub all day and feeling insecure. I want these people to feel different. Maybe you have to do this job, but maybe there’s a reason why you’re doing it. If you fuck things up, it’s okay, everyone is still figuring it out. Even the richest and most successful person, who looks happy all the time, is going to feel like their life is shit at times, and that’s fine.
We’re all just figuring it out as we go. Don’t stress, it’s never that bad even though at times it feels like it’s the end of the world. That’s not me demeaning people who are going through it, I’m trying to give them comfort, letting them know that everything’s okay and that they’re not alone.
You’re going on your first-ever tour this November. Looking back on your career, what do you think of your progression as an independent artist?
If you ask any artist in my industry, they’ll never say they’re where they want to be. That’s not me being ungrateful for what has happened so far in the past year, as I’ve literally gone from 0 to 100 in one year. I was working at Tesco until March. However, I’m still only doing 5-10% of what I want to be doing and how much I think I can do. I’m very happy with where I am at the moment. Everything happens for a reason and everything is happening in the right way. I’m happy with where I’m at but I’m not going to get comfortable at this level, I’ll keep aspiring to do more for sure.
Last day on earth, what does that day look like?
It sounds cliché but I would get all my family and friends together and have a massive piss up. Having a send-off by spending the day with the people I love. There are so many things you could do on your last day, but in seriousness, all you would want to do is spend time with your loved ones. Going down the pub, smashing a few drinks, having a good time, playing some music and getting emotional with your mates.
In five years where do you see yourself in life and in the music scene?
Making music, being an artist, but hopefully at a much higher level, bringing in a lot more money. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about the money, but it’s the only thing that I’m missing right now. I’m banking on music eventually taking me around the world. But for the future, I don’t always think that far ahead, I prefer living in the moment.