An Interview with Kevan O’Reilly

This week we caught up with singer songwriter and producer Kevan O’Reilly to find out everything about his new EP titled Akrasia which consists of four incredible tracks featuring a range of different genres and instruments with themes relating to religion and mythology.

Cover of Akrasia in which Kevan painted

Make sure you check out this incredibly interesting read below…

1. When did you first discover your love for music and who were your musical influences growing up?  I’ve loved music since I was very young, I can’t think of a particular moment of realisation – it has always had a hold of me. As a young child I had my parents taste – Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, ABBA etc. No one in my family is musical so I didn’t have any idea how to even begin playing until I got to secondary school where after 6 weeks of Techy and then 6 weeks of Home Eckies I got six weeks of Music. The teacher – Mrs McGhee explained in about 20 minutes what a stave was, which lines corresponded with which note and basic notation. I don’t know how many other people that day took it in – but I definitely did. From that point on I was hooked – like a junkie. I asked for an instrument but being several months in to term the good instruments were gone. So keen was I, “I’ll play anything” I said and truly my commitment was tested when the woodwind instructor pulled me out of class a week later and after checking that I was indeed the boy willing to play anything she gave me a Bassoon. The Bassoon is a double reed instrument that sounds a bit like a drunken goose, they are therefor quite obscure except for orchestras and a concerto Mozart wrote when he was 6. They are also ridiculously expensive, a good one will set you back £20,000. For me, coming from a humble background attending a Catholic secondary in Glasgow’s east end it felt a bit of an unfair burden at times. Not least because when I left school having played with several youth orchestras and having reached quite a high standard of performance (could play the Mozart concerto) I had to give the instrument back and didn’t fancy asking my mum to remortgage her house to buy me one. What it did give me was an ability to read Bass clef fluently and so between Bassoon lessons and music classes (treble clef) I got to a stage I was ready to teach myself piano. I didn’t own a piano of course (just the bassoon!) so I went in to school early and stayed in late to practice on the pianos in the music department. Feels crazy now, but such was my passion to learn it didn’t seem strange at the time. 5 days a week I’d leave school at least an hour after everyone else. In a couple of years I’d caught the attention of the music teachers who agreed I could have piano lessons as long as I didn’t give up bassoon – they presumably felt they needed it for the band. I was probably grade 3 on the piano the day I took my first lesson and from that point on I began a love affair that still continues today. I spent as much time as I could in the music department practicing on their pianos and working my way through as much classical repertoire as I could. In my early teenage years, through listening to recordings of the pieces I was learning I fell in love with classical music. Pretty soon piano music wasn’t enough and gradually I expanded my classical tastes as wide as I could cast my net. Of course I still listened to other music, in those same teenage years I discovered pink floyd, Radiohead, led zeppelin, The Beatles, John Martyn, Joni Mitchell and so many more. At 15 I got accepted with a full scholarship to the Junior School of the RSAMD (now the RCS) and by that point I’d already begun to teach myself guitar. As my theoretical and practical knowledge grew my appetite for music became insatiable and when it was time to pick a profession I felt that Composition had picked me. I graduated with an honours degree in composition from the RSAMD in 2009. I spent the next year off shore performing (making money with which I bought my first piano and a place to live) and on returning to Glasgow I was being repeatedly disappointed by the complete lack of opportunity I was being offered as a composer. I spent a few years going back and forward about what the right course of action was but ultimately have resolved to be musically completely self reliant. After teaching myself how to produce I have finally made a record I feel is representative of me – Akrasia. 

2. You are due to release your new record, Akrasia next month – it consists of 4 tracks with a range of different themes and genres, described as ‘It’s held together by the theme of religion and mythology.” Could you go into more detail about this? Is there a particular message you wanted the record to represent? The word Akrasia is a philosophical concept dating from Ancient Greece. It describes the state of favouring pathos over reason, acting against your own self interest; against your better judgement. The Akratic man will experience passions that conflict with his rational choice and act upon them. In terms of the message I want the record to represent please make of that what you will.  It does span several contrasting musical genres but I don’t believe in limiting myself creatively to suit a pigeon hole. Each tune is arranged in the way I thought would best suit that track, whether it be a jazz quartet or a female chamber choir. They are related by what they are trying to express – my understanding of Akrasia. Mantra is a tune I’ve been kicking around on the piano since school. I’ve played it so many ways, in so many styles. I’m not sure why but I always return to it. That title picked itself. The saxophone solo on that track is my favourite thing on the record. James Steele the tenor sax player is a monster and nailed the vibe I was after – take 1. We did play 2 more, but the tenor solo on that first take has a bit of magic to it. I think it’s perfect.  Hymn 1 is another tune I’ve been kicking around for probably 6 or 7 years. For a long time it was a piano/voice song I sang myself. I wrote the lyrics for it by taking the Catholic Our Father as a template and changing words. That gave it a very religious feel for me and so i thought it best to do it as a choir piece, a bit like a very talented congregation. Claire Thompson – my wife – does an amazing job on that track singing every part herself.  For Eurydice is strange in that it has me singing from start to finish but not one word or lyrics of any kind. It’s a piece of music about a feeling. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one I’ve always enjoyed, like the word Akrasia it comes from the Ancient Greeks. It and track 4 were written this year for this record. ‘For Eurydice’ is the music I’d imagine Orpheus would have made when he mourned for the loss of Eurydice. 
Kesh was the first known city, it was in Ancient Sumer. The Temple of Kesh Hymn is the oldest written document in human history. Looking for a way to bring this record to an end I somehow found myself researching the beginning of civilisation. Kesh thrived for a while but it collapsed under its own weight which felt like the right concept to bring this ride to an end. Maybe in part because 2020 has at times felt like walking the path of Kesh. 


3. You wrote all tracks and lyrics yourself, do you have a particular place you go to write? 
I have a room in my house that’s just for me. It’s dimly lit, cosy, full of instruments and musical equipment. There’s an amazing Chesterfield arm chair in the corner that my wife gave me that’s very comfy. I spend a lot of time in that chair reading or looking at the instrument I’m not playing. 

4. Can you describe your creative process behind Akrasia? Do you have a particular process or is songwriting something that just comes naturally? 
I wouldn’t say songwriting comes naturally. Music yes, I could write you music in pretty much any style you like until the cows come home. But when it’s time to add lyrics the problems begin. I always considered myself a composer 1st and a poet maybe 5th or 6th. I have different ways of getting around it. Mantra is instrumental, Hymn 1 started as the Catholic Our Father and I just changed words, For Eurydice has no lyrics and Kesh I wrote the old fashioned way and edited it until I was happy. 
As for process – music I feel I have the tools I need to build whatever I want, so it’s very easy to respond to how I’m feeling. For lyrics I have to go fishing and hope for a catch, that makes it much harder to be truly expressive. It does make it more rewarding when a tune comes together though. When the words and music mesh properly. That’s a nice feeling. 


5. What was the production process behind the record? Was there a particular sound or genre you had in mind when you first started writing Akrasia? 
My intention for the release as a whole is to express the concept of Akrasia. I had two of the tracks already written when I settled on the title. Mantra I actually recorded around 2018 but hadn’t yet developed the ability to mix it properly and I liked it too much to do it badly. I felt it best to learn on material I’m less connected with – ie my first two records. I also have been working my way through covers I like the production on and putting them up on soundcloud. The bulk of my production ability has been developed I’d say by working on Flat 2 Right:
https://www.youtube.com/c/Flat2Right
It’s a YouTube channel I started to promote Scottish music, a mix of live performance and interview. If you look at season 1 you will see and hear it is pretty rough as I still had a lot to learn. The progression through to season 4 I think is an audible representation of my journey as an engineer/mixer. Of course I’m planning a season 5, 2020 had other ideas but it will happen in 2021! 
Having developed my production skills to an acceptable level (I am by no means the finished article as a mixer) I felt I could tackle something more sophisticated than I had dared to attempt on records 1 + 2 and I began to piece together what is now Akrasia at the end of 2019/ beginning of 2020. 


6. What advice would you give to new musicians within the music scene wanting to produce their own record?
Work with your friends on their records. Ask people who know more than you lots of questions. YouTube is a treasure trove of production tips. Some genres require more expensive equipment than others. Dubstep/dance/trance/hip hop/hardcore etc you can make that music with a cheap laptop and nothing else – no problem. If you love that Cool Jazz vibe you’re going to need good pre amps and microphones and excellent musicians as friends. Work within your capability and grow from there.

7. Instrumental music plays a significant part within the record, do you have plans to organise a live gig with all the musicians involved in the record when gigs return? 
I’m not saying never but as a self employed musician my first priority when restrictions ease will be to get back to earning – playing paying gigs. If this record takes off and there’s a way for me to perform it live that would actually be profitable to me and the other musicians then definitely it will happen. But we’re all skint just now and there’s money to be made playing weddings and piano bars! If you want to hear it live let me know. If demand gets high enough I’ll put the show on. 

8. What are your aims and ambitions as a musician for the future?
I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing. Of course there will come a 4th record. Maybe 2021/2. What it will sound like is anybody’s guess, it really depends on how I’m feeling. There will be a season 5 of Flat 2 Right. I’m going to continue painting (I painted the cover of the EP). I’ll play gigs with my friends. Walk my dog. Enjoy the company of my wife. I’ll take some time to think about what I want to do next then I’ll set about doing it. Whatever it is, there will be music. 



Make sure you check out the album here

Kevan and Claire – who performs Hymn 1

Keep up to date with Kevan’s music via the links below…

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KevanOReillyMusician

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kevanoreilly

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/kevan-oreilly

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4f4HJ22Tzpc4wLpY6ZXIVu

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjyxTQTiDBbzUjg0ZfyJ_6g

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