Singer- songwriter Keelan X told David Hennessy about catching the bug for music again during lockdown and more than ten years after his band The Marigolds broke up and he shelved all musical ambitions.
Keelan X says he caught the bug during lockdown but thankfully he is not talking about Covid-19, he is talking about his love of creating music infecting him again.
When he decided to call it a day on his up and coming band The Marigolds back in the 2000s, Keelan Cunningham had given up on the dream of making it in music.
Although his love for music never died, he had fallen out of love with the industry and would spend 10+ years between Dublin and London.
But when the pandemic hit and he, like everyone, found himself with more time on his hands. When he dug out a dusty telecaster guitar from his parents’ attic, he had no lofty ambitions or plans.
But as he got the feel for playing once again, ideas for songs struck him and he started writing again.
Late last year Keelan would release his debut solo single, No Fall of Rome, under the moniker Keelan X. Aptly, the song is about not giving up on yourself. He has since followed this with the follow up, These Days.
Keelan X told The Irish World how he returned to writing music in the pandemic.
He says: “I pretty much shelved any musical ambition for want of a better word.
“But I did have an old Telecaster guitar and an old Roland keyboard in my parents’ attic.
“It happened during lockdown.
“You know, we had a bit of time on our hands.
“Music’s always been a passion.
“But it’s a bit of a Pandora’s box because I know if I get into it, I really get into it and I find it very all encompassing.
“So during lockdown, obviously I used to pop down and take care of my parents and bring them in groceries and all that kind of stuff.
“I had this idea of literally getting into the old attic space and unearthing what was there.
“I got my old Telecaster guitar out, old Roland synth and just started playing with them again but not to write songs, I have to say.
“It was to play cover versions of a Tears for Fears song or an old Depeche Mode song, and just have a bit of fun.
“But then before I knew it, little ideas started coming out, ‘’That sounds kind of cool. I’ll just write it’.
“And then I had dozens and dozens of ideas.
“So I just said, ‘Okay, just for the hell of it, just for the craic, let’s just go book a studio for one day and record a little tune’.
“But I suppose I got the bug again.
“I just caught the bug.
“I didn’t think I’d actually be writing an album or launching myself as an artist but one thing leads to another.
“I suppose I thought I was writing good material.
“I figured, ‘What the hell, let’s just put them out there’.”
The debut single No Fall of Rome, a catchy rock song, soon gained support from radio in Ireland and its video has been viewed over 20,000 times on YouTube.
“There’s a good message in the song, I suppose.
“A lot of people kind of give up on themselves in life.
“Sometimes you give up on yourself before anyone else does, and the song is kind of about that.
“It was actually based loosely around a conversation with a friend.
“And I was like, ‘I have your back’. Or, ‘There’s no fall of Rome gonna happen on my watch’.
“I’m also probably putting a bit of myself into that.
“It’s possibly a thinly veiled message about myself, but it was more about witnessing others in life.
“Sometimes people can forget who they really are, not so much give up on a dream, but give up on the essence of who they are as people.
“And get caught up in the matrix of life and jobs and the busyness, but underneath it all I think people secretly harbour ambitions or passions or notions about themselves that they don’t get to live out.
“They don’t always get the opportunity or the roads people take in lives can sometimes lead into a cul de sac, myself included.
“Maybe you have to put yourself into reverse gear and find another route, the song’s a little bit about that.”
In the 90s/ 2000s The Marigolds were considered an up and coming band. They had made Irish TV appearances such as Echo Island and were flown to CMJ Music Festival in New York as one of five promising Irish bands to showcase Ireland to the world.
But the absence of that big break and other responsibilities led to Keelan calling it a day.
“It’s a tough business and you’re very reliant on others to take up what you’re doing, ‘Is it flavour of the month? Is it going to capture the zeitgeist? Is it going to be relevant? Is it marketable?’a
“All those things come into play.
“Just that you’re producing good music or good art is not alone gonna break you, you know?
“There’s a lot more factors at play, a bit of luck as well and knowing the right people.
“But at that stage of my life I was, ‘Okay, I need to make a living as well’.
“I had a daughter so there’s practical matters as well about making ends meet and just putting food on the table.
“There’s only so much sleeping on floors you can do.
“That’s okay in your twenties but it gets a bit hard to put up with for much longer.
“I remember waking up in a bedsit in Blessington Street in Dublin one morning and saying to a guy, ‘You know what? I think I’m done’.
“And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. No, you’re not. You always say that’.
“I said, ‘No, this is it.
“I had a few songs written and recorded. I had the misfortune of my laptop and my hard drives being stolen from my place, so I kind of took that as a sign that ‘now’s not the time’.
“I was really sad on the day but then I was like, ‘Doesn’t matter, it was a shitty laptop anyway, and the songs will always be there’.
“A good song you will probably remember.
“But I never thought I’d be back doing music again.
“I never intended to.”
The current single starts with the lines, ‘These days no one thinks what they say, no one talks anyway’ and talks about the impersonal nature of today where so much communication is indirect.
“It is an observation. Apart from our good selves today, very few people want to talk on the phone, or have a conversation or meet up for a coffee.
“It’s all text messaging and instagramming and presenting your life in a certain way.
“I love the connection and I like talking to people on the phone.
“I just find I get inundated with WhatsApp messages and text messages and emails, I find it really hard to take it in and to respond to people.
“I always say, ‘Call me if you can and we’ll have a chat’.
“Also, you can probably get to the heart of the matter really quick whereas you could be backward and forwards with messages all day and you might not even know what the person is actually really on about.
“It was kind of an observation around that.”
Keelan will release another single Fever at the end of this month while an album can be expected in 2023.
How does Keelan feel the industry changed in the time he was out of it? “I think The X Factor and stuff like that, a lot of it is people wanting to be famous.
“And they just happen to be able to sing.
“Whereas certainly when I was doing it, there was more of a sense of purpose around music.
“It wasn’t that you had to have a big grandiose message that would change the world but you would really have a need for self expression, or to be part of the creation process.
“It wasn’t about the pursuit of fame whereas I do think there is more of a ‘I want to be famous’ thing going on at the moment, which is probably not the healthiest.
“There’s no guarantees if that’s your game.
“But if your goal is to create great music, express yourself and enjoy the journey, that’s healthy because the rest of it’s outside your control.
“If your goal is to be famous, to have 50,000, 100,000, a million Instagram followers… I don’t know, even if you got there, would you be happy?
“You’ve got to love the journey.
“I was reading there recently that one of the top five careers for teenagers is to be a YouTube influencer.
“You’d rather hear someone say, ‘I would love to impact people in this way, and I’m going to do that through YouTube’. Great.”
Keelan relocated to London during the recession. He has lived around the Fulham, Battersea and Wandsworth areas and is still over and back quite a lot.
“I left for London because of the economic crisis in Ireland in 2008.
“London got a little bit of a kicking, but not as much as Dublin.
“Honestly, it was like a ghost town here for a couple of years.
“There was a lot of job losses.
“It was a bit dull and a bit grim.
“So I just said, ‘I need to extricate myself from here and kind of go to New York or London’.
“I ended up choosing London and within three months, I was living in London.
“I do really like London.
“The sweet spot for me is a little bit of both (Dublin and London).
“Because I do have family and friends over here and reminds me of who I am and where I come from but at the same time, London can call to who you want to be and where you want to go with your life.
“I think there’s a lovely contrast between both places.
“People often say, ‘Where do you live?’
“And I’m like, ‘Well kind of in London and kind of in Dublin’.
“I wouldn’t like to leave either. It might be slightly unconventional but it works for me.”
These Days is out now.
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