Soft boy: a term of endearment for a lad who’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. While some may see it as a jab, singer-songwriter Kean Kavanagh is proud to call himself one. In fact, he even named his record label – co-founded with rapper Kojaque, his best mate – after the phrase.
Now, after a five-year stint producing and A&R‑ing for the Dublin-based collective, whose hold on Ireland’s hip-hop scene was the subject of a hotly streamed Boiler Room documentary last year, Kavanagh is channeling his soft boy energy in his debut solo album, Dog Person.
The 10-track project is a heartfelt glimpse into his semi-fictional, love-struck alter ego Dog Person. “It was funny to think of this demented half-dog, half-person,” says Kavanagh. “But then that led me to this character, this shittier version of myself. The procrastinating side of me. The side of me out drinking to get away from that.”
The resulting set of songs sees the musician get all up in his feels. From crooning about late-night ciggies with his neighbour James on R&B‑inflected track Roll Over!, to falling head-over-heels on the galloping, guitar-twanging EMMA, it’s a captivating insight into this rising talent’s dynamically emotional mindset.
Watch, below, the spooky werewolf visuals that were aptly dropped on Halloween for his bop Street Lights before reading his 100% answers.
10%: Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in Houston, Texas. My parents are both Irish but had moved over to America for work. A couple of years later we moved back to Ireland and I grew up in Portlaoise, a town in the Midlands. I’ve lived in Dublin now for about eight years. Every miserable winter in Dublin I tell myself: “Never again.” Then the summer comes and it’s gorgeous and I think: “Ah, the winter probably wasn’t as bad as I made out.” And so the cycle continues.
20%: What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
Learning to meditate and doing it as regularly as I can remember has done wonders for me the last few years. I’m no expert now, but learning to separate your own identity from your thoughts has been so helpful.
30%: You rule the world for a day. What goes down?
Is there some way for me as this World Dictator to introduce and implement strict environmental laws? [Or] if I can just take my day to focus on Ireland: end homelessness and Direct Provision, which is the shameful way in which our country treats asylum seekers. And pay nurses properly. Let’s decriminalise drug use while we’re at it, too.
40%: What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
Social media, I’d say. I slip into periods where I just can’t look away from it, and it just puts you into a weird headspace that can be hard to exit. Because so much of being a modern artist today seems tied up in releases and announcements, you can start comparing yourself to other people. One of the biggest drains on your attention and energy is to be wondering what other people think of you, or trying to live up to some standard that you’ve set for yourself in your head.
50% When did you find your confidence as an artist?
This is always a work in progress. Some days you have it and some days it’s not there at all. Playing live in front of people helps so much in bringing you out of yourself, when the focus is on giving a performance or really committing to whatever it is that you’re playing, singing or saying. So these days, that can be a little harder to replicate in your room recording by yourself. I like the confidence that comes with performing as a band or a group – it comes from a shared kind of conspiratorial trust between each of you, [because] you know what’s going to happen and the audience doesn’t.
60%: Name something you love, something you like, and something you hate.
Love sleeping and dreaming. Like the feeling of watching live music and being inspired. Hate damp cold days where you can do fuck-all.
70%: Biggest pet peeve?
I’ve never liked being told what to do very much.
80%: No.1 holiday destination?
Tory Island off the coast of Donegal. It feels like you’re in another world up there. Never had so much craic or been with so many good people.
90%: What kind of emotions and experiences influence your work?
I just go off whatever emotions the music I’m making or hearing are giving me. And then when I start singing along to it, certain words end up coming up that might trigger an idea that directs the song. No rules, the song happens whatever way it happens.
100%: How did you celebrate your last birthday?
I think I kept things very quiet. My birthday is just after New Years so this year, if everyone’s home, I’d love to play trad with my cousins and friends in my house in Portlaoise. This winter’s gonna need a kick up the hole.