Keywest are one of Ireland’s leading bands, with some 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and over 164,000 followers across social media channels. In fact, they are officially Ireland’s biggest independent act, having decided not to join a record label, but rather set their own one up instead. Though their rise to the spotlight is relatively recent, Keywest have been busking, supporting other acts and working hard for years to get to the level they currently reside at. I had a chat with frontman Andrew Kavanagh about the band, and got some pretty interesting stories along the way.
The first point of interest for me was the name of the band. In my mind, it evokes a small, rural, coastal village, with a pub or two and not much else. Turns out, my intuition isn’t too bad; Key West is an island located in Florida, with just under 25,000 inhabitants. So how did this little, far-off place come to be the name of an Irish band? Andrew recalls the story well; when busking around America a few years back, they landed in Key West, where ‘there was a festival or something that made it impossible to gig. We went to a pub and lied about being a band called ‘Keywest’ from Ireland. They let us play and it turned out really well. We decided to continue to use it and the name stuck’.
As someone who is passionate about music, but has no musical bone in his body to speak of, I’m always curious to know what motivates people to steer themselves into the music industry. I posited this to Andrew. Turns out his family is steeped in musical history, so it wasn’t one bit surprising that he chose the path he did. Since he can recall, Andrew has been ‘surrounded by people always singing; my granny and her sisters always sang’. He ‘saw the esteem [from others] that was there when my granny sang’ and respected it and, moreover, was motivated by it. His dad used to play guitar, ‘mainly as a hobby’. For Andrew, doing into music was a natural move.
As the interview progressed, Andrew delighted me with one of the most interesting Keywest stories he could recall. It was on the set for their ‘Messages from God’ song, which was ‘shot in the Mexican desert’. The video, which can be found on YouTube, depicts American soldiers walking around the desert, fully equipped and carrying M16 rifles. ‘On the way back home, we crossed the border into Mexico by accident’, recalls Andrew, where they were greeted by a squad of armed, angry-looking Mexican officials. The crew then had to prove that they were simply shooting a music video, and not, as it appeared, some sort of covert US Army convoy. Safe to say they haven’t been back in Mexico since that incident.
At this stage, the interview was coming to a close, and I still hadn’t asked Andrew about the upcoming Keywest album, ‘Ordinary Superhero’, and subsequent international tour. I got a sneak preview of the album, and I must say I like it. Their blend of folk, rock and pop is not something I would find myself regularly listening to, but a few of the tracks kept me coming back. I was intrigued by the title of the album, and asked Andrew if related to someone specific. ‘I wrote it for my aunties; they’re more like sisters to me’. Andrew has many, many aunties, so many that I can’t recall the exact amount. When he was younger ‘two of them were single mothers. As I got older, I started to notice and understand and admire their composure, and how well they managed the situation’. The title, then, is a homage to the people who do their best, day in and day out, to provide for their loved ones and shelter them from the negativity that exists in this world. If you listen to the album, you may notice that it is full of passion, as is often the case with talented musicians. ‘I always [try] to draw on feelings; that’s why I got into music in the first place, [I try] to empathise and draw on things [I] went through’. This certainly comes across, and the result is a soulful, emotional album. ‘Ordinary Superhero’ is out on 11th October, with the tour beginning in Belfast on the 17th October and coming to Dublin on the 18th. Look them up if you have a minute; they might just be your next go-to on your morning commutes.
Alex Lohier – Deputy Editor