Interview - Kevin Walsh

Cork singer, songwriter, and musician, Kevin Walsh released his debut single, Embrace the World, on the 13th of April.

- Welcome to this interview. Tell us about your latest release Embrace the World.
Embrace the World is my first ever release, it’s been out since Wednesday (13th April). It’s in a “supergroup” arrangement where I’m joined by some of Ireland’s best talented artists at the moment, all of different genres; Emma Langford (nu-folk), Ger (R’n’B), Lisa Curran (Pop). Molly Lynch (Musical Theatre), B.E.X - Rebecca Houlihan (Jazz / Soul), Stephen Gormley from Moon Looks On (rock folk), Caroline Kay (Musical Theatre) and Mark Daly (Rock).

The single is in aid of AsIAm, Ireland’s leading Autism charity. A cause that means a lot to me because I was identified as autistic when I was a child, and this charity has given me the courage to be more forthcoming about my experiences as an autistic person, because they are so self-advocating with their CEO and a majority of the board members also being autistic. They focus on a holistic social model, as opposed to the autism services and charities of the past who have only based it on a clinical, medical model.

And because Autism is a spectrum with a range of social and communication abilities, I wanted to reflect that sonically by having all these different genres of music and vocal timbres in there.

I’ve been up and down to Dublin several times to promote the single, on television and at Autism conferences, and it’s been an absolute joy to perform the song for key figures from Irish media. So far it seems to be paying off, the song went straight to #1 on the Irish iTunes Singles Charts and the Irish iTunes Rock Charts on release day!

- How would you describe your sound?
I love to mix and match from different styles and genres. As a child, I was very taken in by rock, metal and video game music. Everything was very big, melodic and driven. Then I got into Disney and the classic musicals like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and West Side Story as a teenager, those are borderline-classical and then as an adult, I studied for a classical music degree for six years, that exposed me to Baroque, Classical, Romantic Art Song, Twelve Tone Music and everything else in between, whilst also majoring in Popular Songwriting for my final year.

If I were to sum it up, everything I do falls somewhere into the middle of that rock / pop / classical music hybrid. I like to leave room to explore, but that’s what my ideal is and that’s the sound I love to aim for – Welcome to the Black Parade (My Chemical Romance) with added strings and orchestral instruments. Even the reviews I’ve gotten for the track already have compared it to Disney and have compared it to We are the World (Michael Jackson). 

- What do you write about?
I construct my songs much like you would construct a film script or an academic thesis. I always start a song by asking the question “What is the central argument or message that this song is trying to convey”. Let’s take the classic trope of Boy Meets Girl And Wants To Love Her and suppose that is the story I want to take for the song. Then I explore, “Who is he? Who is she? Why does he want to love her? What is he going to do to get her to love him? What’s at stake? Does something happen during the song that changes them? How does it make them feel? Where is he at the start of the song and where does he finish at the end of the song?”

Thematically, I like to play with tropes like that, and ones that resonate with me on an emotional level. I could write that love song by using the feelings of adoration I have for my cat as the starting point, like how a method actor might take pieces of himself when preparing for a role on stage or in a film. However, by the time it is finished, the world created stands on its own. It’s not necessarily about the cat anymore, and when that love song is there, there is that room for you to explore and project your own feelings onto it.

- What do you listen to when you are home?
Anything ranging from Meat Loaf, The Offspring, Gloria Estefan, Phantom of The Opera, Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack, the Tekken 2 soundtrack, Classical Music and Early Music.

- Your favourite live performance so far?
In 2018, I had the opportunity to sing on the card at a benefit for people with intellectual disabilities called UCC Rocks, held at the largest college in Cork, University College Cork. Keith Hanley (Winner of The Voice of Ireland) and Liv Gregorio (Ireland’s Got Talent Finalist) were also on the card. I especially love those kinds of concerts because I used to go to those all the time when I was in a special needs school on field trips, and always dreamed of being at the other side of the room, being on stage. I sang Out There from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of my favourite songs of all time because it powerfully reflects the feeling of being an outsider wishing to belong. “All my life I memorise their faces, knowing them as they will never know me. All my life I wonder how it feels to pass a day, not above them, but part of them and out there living in the sun”. 

- Tell us a funny story that happened in studio or on stage.
I was playing the eldest brother Reuben in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Everyman Theatre in Cork, for a run of eight shows. As the first matinee finished, I was not even halfway back to the dressing room and somebody set off the fire alarm. So we had to go out to the assembly area on the middle of the street, in our stage clothes (so think, light robes), in the middle of October so it’s quite cold. And we’re just standing there watching the people pass by on the street, and here we are in these strange clothes. 

- Your favourite albums?
Welcome to the Neighbourhood (Meat Loaf)
It was the first ever album I connected with, and really highlighted for me how you can tell a story through music. The theme is about a man going through the stages of a relationship in his life; from first date, to marriage, infidelity, reconciliation, separation and making peace with it all at the very end of his life. The two singles from that album, I’d Lie For You (And That’s The Truth) and Not A Dry Eye In The House are very powerful songs with extremely moving music videos. Which really impressed on me the power of video as an artform, because you see Meat Loaf chasing his lover in a burning truck to save her and you see Meat Loaf crying in the middle of the movie theatre as he grieves her loss. 

Cuts Both Ways (Gloria Estefan)
An album that similarly captures the lighter and darker shades of love, and Gloria’s voice is stunning throughout. And it has some fabulous song writing too, Oye Mi Canto and Get On Your Feet make you want to get up and salsa dance. Don’t Wanna Lose You Now and Here We Are take you on an emotional journey that really provoke the mental image of palm trees in the setting Floridian sun, and Gloria looking out into the ocean in all her beautiful melancholic glory. 

The Joshua Tree (U2)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one Irish artist! This album is U2 at the height of their powers. It really highlights the ethereal guitar sounds of The Edge, which you can especially hear on With Or Without You. And you can also find Bono’s rock tenor on full display on Where The Streets Have No Name and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. I was very blessed to have launched my own single Embrace The World in the same building and in the same room where U2 recorded this outstanding album.

- A musician you would like to meet for a beer?
If we’re talking beer, then I would say Gavin James. My manager met him after a show recently and I’ve been told he’s very humourous and is great “craic” (it’s what we say in Ireland when we say somebody is a lot of fun). Gavin seems like great craic! 

- What would you ask for backstage, if you were the most important band on earth?
A dedicated room of retro video game arcade cabinets. Those old games are really good and inspire competition and camaraderie in equal measure. Get that six player X-Men (1992, Konami) arcade cabinet in there and much bonding as a band would ensue. We might start calling each other “X-Chickens!” on stage though and that could go either way, “You were… flat on that note, X-Chicken!” Add the Donkey Kong cabinet (1982, Nintendo) to the equation then I’d start missing my call times in pursuit of the Kill Screen, Level 22. I got halfway to it once, Level 11 with 500,000 points. I need to work on my Donkey Kong! 

- What are your plans for the near future?
I’m aiming towards an EP in Christmas 2022. It’s going to have this version of Embrace the World that was released this week, and we’re going to explore some other arrangements as well. Kind of like how in a Disney movie, you get the theatrical version of the song then you get the pop version in the credits. Really want to do a duet with an established name, and to do a choral multi-lingual version (inspired by the encore performance of Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert). And my second single will also feature as a track on this EP. The support has been amazing, especially as Embrace The World was an independent project achieved through crowdfunding, so if we keep supporting it, keep downloading and buying the song, and we can make this happen together.

Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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