Kean Kavanagh invites both rebellion and the exploration of emotional turmoil with his heartfelt lyrics and a trouble-making alter-ego, Dog Person.
From studying law at the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin to working an unfulfilling 9 to 5 job, Kean Kavanagh has since found his rhythm in music.
Kean’s introduction to the music industry first took place behind the scenes; becoming an A&R and producer at the label he co-founded, Soft Boy Records. But since he stepped into the limelight himself, Kean quickly found a fanbase and supported the likes of Maverick Sabre and Vampire Weekend – which saw him revisiting his old stomping grounds at Trinity College – and graced the same stage as Lana Del Rey and Slow Thai. It wasn’t long before he subsequently claimed centre stage with his long term collaborator, Kojaque. Their song “Eviction Notice” has now surpassed 3 million streams on Spotify alone.
Kean Kavanagh’s first official solo release, “Coca Cola Sky”, sets the tone for an enigmatic smoke scene. A groovy saxophone intro followed by distorted vocals allow you to envision yourself on a late-night walk through a park; the light of the stars beaming down on you through a hazy cloud as Kean sings:
“I can hear the Earth, I can feel the stars/ I can hear a lot above us in the coca cola sky”
It’s hard to look at the night sky in the same way again.
Transitioning between himself and the menacing alter-ego, ‘Dog Person’, we embark upon a musical carousel of different anthems for each opposing persona and style. From the drunken antics of pinching rollies from his neighbour, James, on “Roll Over!” to the fast-paced, guitar and bass fuelled love letter of “EMMA”, Kean has been swiftly demonstrating his dynamism.
We managed to catch up with Kean Kavanagh before he unleashes his first full-length project, ‘Dog Person’, into the world. Remember to hide your baccy.
Having studied there, what was it like going back to Trinity College to perform?
Trinity Ball is a very very funny night so I’m glad to have snuck a 5th one in.
“Dog-Person” is an exaggerated version of your own personality. How far do you see yourself taking this character in future songs?
Like the mayfly, the Dog Person is born and dies upon release on September 25th; may he forever run in peace in Dog Heaven.
Music has clearly always been a huge part of who you are – where did this creative side of you come from?
I’ve just always loved songs and wanted to make my own. I spent a good few years there getting more into the production side of things and through that, you can see how many different ways you can express something; texture and tone can be as important as the lyrics and chords in a song, or a song can have no lyrics, a song can have no chords. Endless territory to explore.
A personal favourite track of mine, featuring you, is “Dean Street”. How did the collaboration with Gaptoof come about?
Me and Adam (Gaptoof) have been friends for a long time; his ‘Motorola’ mixtape was actually our first ever release on Soft Boy. He’s always been sending me beats and we’ve always talked about doing a track and I’ve tried and tried over several but never found anything that stuck.
Anyway, with Adam’s most recent release on Soft Boy (“Looks Like Rain”) we put out the call just before Christmas to all our artist friends to get their features in before the New Year if they wanted to be on the project, and he sent me on a batch of beats, one of which was called “Dean Street”, and the second I heard it I could hear myself in it, I had to keep it for myself. I asked Adam where and what Dean Street was, and he said it was just a street where he and his ex used to live, so I went off that as inspiration for writing the song. Usually, tunes take me ages but that was all done and dusted in a couple of hours and I felt so happy, even happier when I heard Adam’s reaction to the tune.
You started off producing for others when working for Soft Boy Records, would you say this experience helped gradually build your confidence up to what it is now?
I see the two as very separate things. As a producer for someone else it’s all about them and helping them get whatever sound it is they’re looking for, whereas with my own music, it’s my opportunity to indulge my inner control freak a bit and have the final say on every minute detail. But yeah, every day I work with someone I learn a new trick in ways that you sometimes don’t with solo work. You learn different things with each I suppose.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences? And is there a particular role model you had?
I’m in love with Curtis Mayfield’s sound and his lyrics. His words came to me at a very important point in my life so as an artist he means a lot to me.
You’ve done some warm-up acts and supporting slots as well as solo performances, are you planning more solo shows following the release of your project?
There’ll be a tour coming in 2021 god willing.
Your two most recent singles “Roll Over!” and “EMMA” demonstrate your ability to switch up your style, did producing for others push you to expand and experiment with different sounds?
I’m just into lots of different types of music and interested in seeing whether I can find something of myself in different styles and sounds. People are never just the one thing; we are so many many many different things at any one time in the day from morning to night so I’m trying to see how many things I can be. And if it sounds good and I can find myself in there it makes me happy.
Does the upcoming project stay consistent with the approach of versatility? Or is there a certain theme you are going for?
I think so yeah. This project kind of came about by me collecting lots of different scraps of instrumentals I had made, the ones that I still thought about and still liked, and from there trying to reverse engineer songs that stuck to an overall concept of a day in the life of this Dog Person. So for me, each one of them feels unique.
How would you describe your relationship with Kojaque? you featured on his song “Eviction Notice” which reached over 3 million streams on Spotify! Should we expect more collaborations from you both?
Brotherly! My physical brother Jimmy described me and Kev as “creative partners” which I think is a good description; he helps me with everything and I try and help him too. He has a big beautiful thing coming soon and I was happy to help with some of it. Eyes and ears peeled please.