Kelan Browne, country singer from Donegal, told David Hennessy about his first original song, how it was inspired by generations of Irish people leaving home and how he had to choose between music and a promising soccer career.
Kelan Browne, still only 20, has been making waves on the Irish country music scene.
One of his first big performances was with Robert Mizzell on the Nashville Songbook Concert Tour.
Kelan has won an army of fans with his debut album released last year and his online social media videos which have amassed a staggering 15 million views.
He has been touring Ireland to packed houses with the Legends of American Country Show.
But Kelan’s most recent release was different in that it was his first original self-penned track, entitled Back Home to You.
Kelan took inspiration from Ireland’s tradition of emigration and wrote the song from the perspective of someone leaving home to start a new life far away.
Kelan told The Irish World: “I think it’s always harder to push your own song out there but in terms of the engagement and reaction so far, and radio play as well, it’s been absolutely amazing. I don’t think I could have asked for any better to be honest with you.
“The number one thing I wanted was for people to relate to the story of it, and for my own mam to like it. She cried the first time she heard it, so that was success for me.
“I’m already looking to hop into the studio again for my next original song which is going to be the Irish jive.”
What moved you to write such a heartfelt song?
“It’s been happening for years, there’s no hiding that.
“I mean people heading off to the likes of England for a better life.
“England’s only across the water, it’s not much difference, but there’s a lot of difference in terms of being away from your family.
“It’s like that song, England’s Motorway back in the day.
“I see all my friends heading off to Australia, America and different things.
“It makes you think.
“I do wish them all the best in terms of going making something of themselves, but it is an awful pity you can’t do that here.
“I do count my blessings every day to be able to do what I do.”
“It resonates with a lot of people who are away from home.
“I thought about a lot of Irish in Australia, Irish in America or England and further places abroad as well. Just thinking about those people who sacrificed a lot of hard work and hours and stuff to kind of give you that platform to go build off and often enough that’s your mam or your dad.
“In my case, my mam was always the one who kind of stepped up for our family, and kind of pushed everything on.
“So for my mum to kind of give me the opportunity to stand up on a stage and travel the world with my music, I can sit in a hotel room in Scotland or England and I’m very grateful for them opportunities.
“I’m always gonna be grateful for them, and that’s just kind of what the song talks about.
“I’m sure that all those people out there, no matter what job they’re working abroad, they’ll be thinking back to those people who sacrificed that time for them as well to go over there and do that.
“They’ll be thinking, ‘I want to make something of myself over here and take it back home to the people that I love’.”
You’ve amassed over 50 million views for your videos, is it mad to even say that?
“Yeah, it’s crazy to think about in fairness.
“But it wasn’t just one song hit 15 million, a lot of songs had a couple of million hits for me and some up there with half a million and different things.
“And when you add it up, it probably adds up to about 15/ 20 million views and things.
“But it’s not really that they’re the most important thing.
“For me, it’s the engagement and the enjoyment that I see in the comments and the people that view it have in terms of bringing back memories.
“As I say, with Back Home to You, this might resonate with people to bring back memories for them when they’re lying in their bed in Australia and America and different things.
“It’s crazy to think about.
“It’s a lot of work over the last couple of years in terms of putting out covers and different things on Facebook and stuff, and especially through COVID.
“COVID halted a lot of musicians whereas, I wasn’t really classed as a singer before COVID.
“So I would always be able to hide behind a camera when COVID hit, and throw out a few covers because I didn’t have to go and face anybody.
“So that fear that I’d be judged at school or different things that I had beforehand.
“I opened up a bit during COVID.
“Thankfully, it took off for me on Facebook and YouTube and all those different apps and stuff and I’ve been kind of growing on it ever since.
“And I suppose now since everything’s opened back up again, it’s just getting to know those people, you get to see them in person.
“Every time I meet somebody who supported me whenever I was starting, I’m always very, very grateful for them.
“And I tell them that once I meet them.
“I think face to face and word of mouth is a lot more influential than a text message or a comment. I still appreciate them of course, but that face to face interaction with someone is priceless.
“We took that for granted before but now we definitely don’t.
“It’s my first opportunity to get out there and meet these people that I never got to meet because of COVID and things and it’s really exciting to see those people smiling in the crowd and singing along to those songs.
“There is no real word that you can use to describe that.
“I’m doing exactly what I love and what I want to do in my life.
“Every night I stand on the stage.
“Whether it’s to 10 People, 20 People, 500 people, 900 people, it doesn’t matter to me.
“I’m still standing on the stage doing exactly what I love and what I know how to do and to see people enjoying it is amazing.
“I do count my blessings every day to be able to do what I do.”
It was just last month that Kelan was honoured with the Keltic Country Male Vocalist of the Year award.
Were you delighted? “Yeah, of course.
“I mean to be nominated for an award is amazing let alone walking away with the win.
“There’s a lot of great singers and vocalists out there that could have very easily walked away with that award as well.
“But of course, it’s a nice wee feat for myself especially early on so I’m happy out with it.”
How did you get started? Did anyone encourage you to start singing? “I’ve always been able to sing since I was really young.
“I remember my granddad was a big part of me getting into country music specifically.
“He drove lorries around the country for years delivering tyres, collecting sheep wool. You name it, he’s done it.
“So he took me as a child all around with him and we used to listen to the likes of Big Tom, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, all those good names.
“That’s really where I learned my love for country music.”
But Kelan had another love aside from country music.
“I grew up in the town of Ballybofey on an estate and I learned a love for football.
“It was very, very close until 1 June there between football and music and I suppose with my opportunities in music so far, and seeing the people that it affects, I couldn’t really turn my back on the music.
“And in terms of a career and longevity, you can sing longer than you can play football for.
“But I had opportunities.
“I played over in Liverpool’s academy for two years.
“I also had around 20 scholarship offers to go play in America.
“When I weighed things up, it just felt right to me to kind of go with my path in music.
“I feel right with this decision now but a couple of months ago, I would have been constantly going over it in my head but I’ll always be a big football fan.
“That will always be in me.
“My cousin asked me to go and fill in for one of his five a side teams a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to go and play so it was like taking a kid to Disneyland.
“I was so ecstatic to go and play again.
“But music’s number one now.”
What was it like playing with Liverpool’s academy? I bet you played with some now familiar names…
“Yeah, Brendan Rodgers was the manager the first time I went over.
“I went over for the summer schools that they do over there and then they invited me over to play with the squad.
“So I played with the squad and I played with the likes of Curtis Jones, Ki-Jana Hoever.”
It would be surreal for young Kelan to see Firmino speed past on a segue.
“That was so cool.
“It’s wee things like that there that were amazing.
“In fairness to date in my life, it’s definitely the best experience that I’ve ever had.
“I’m a diehard Liverpool fan anyways.
“I’m the closest thing to Steven Gerrard in terms of loving Liverpool.
“It was amazing.
“But the pinnacle in terms of music would be the Grand Ole Opry, that’s my Liverpool of music.
“So hopefully now at some stage in my life, that would be something that I’d be looking towards.”
Playing for his local team, Kelan scored an incredible 50 goals in 21 games while racking up something like 30 assists.
He could have pursued the League of Ireland when Finn Harps approached him but he was already committed to music.
“I would have had to give up my music so it just wasn’t going to work for me.
“I never got the opportunity to consistently go back to football because of the music but I’d say the opportunity probably could have been there.
“As much as music is extremely hard and it’s a tough game as well I think I have more confidence in my ability to succeed in music rather than football.
“And, as I say, it affects more people too.”
Kelan has had support from another very big name in country music from Donegal, Daniel O’Donnell who has been singing his praises in his Sunday World column.
“Someone actually told me last week that Daniel O’Donnell sold out the Ryman Auditorium quicker than Alan Jackson did.
“I think here in Ireland we know how big Daniel is but again, we don’t know how big Daniel actually is.
“Worldwide, he is literally a superstar so to have his support onside is amazing.
“He always takes good time to talk to me whenever we meet in person and he texts me now and again, I text him now and again.
“It’s just good to have that relationship in terms of a wise man in the music business.
“The Ryman Auditorium, that’s crazy to me but it shows that you can achieve these things.
“It’s very stereotypical for people to say he’s an inspiration, but that he actually is.
“Where we come from it’s not often you see worldwide success or monumental success and Daniel’s achieved that and for him to still be as humble as he is and down to earth as he is, is just a credit to his parents, God rest them.”
What’s next? Will we see an album of your own songs down the line?
“I’m gonna go down the route of singer- songwriter.
“I’m co-writing songs as well to learn a bit more as well.
“But yeah, I have an album lined up for next year hopefully.
“I was going to head off to Nashville this month but since I started writing songs, I think I’m gonna leave it to next year now, to go over because I would like to have more original material than I currently do to go over there with.
“I’m just constantly trying to write songs.
“I’ve got two jives to come out now probably in the next couple of months.
“I’ll not look too far down the line.
“We’ll take it one song at a time.”
Back Home to You is out now.
Find out more about Kelan Browne by clicking here.