Genres: Alterative Country
Instruments: Voice and Guitar
Kieran West is living the dream everyday by having the opportunity to play with his music with his favorite band. He talks about his strong connection with his band members and his go with the flow songwriting skills. He confides how lucky he is and how where is, it what he’s always dreamed of. Not playing for 80,000 people or playing for the queen. Playing to 150 people who are having fun and everybody it happy; that’s the dream for him.
Ashley: How long have you been playing?
Kieran: I’ve been playing music my whole life. I’ve been seriously playing for six or seven years. The buffalo band has been together for three and a half years.
Ashley: Why did you guys decide to start playing together?
Kieran: Well, I was working on writing a lot of songs and was just going to perform them by myself because I had had experience playing in bands that weren’t that great and kind of wanted to just do my own thing. But I started to really miss playing rock shows and having fun where people dance and single along. That doesn’t really happen when you’re playing mellow acoustic shows. Right at that time I met this band “Little House”, a girl that I was dating at that time introduced to me their music and I totally fell in love with their music and they became my favorite band in the entire world. I wanted really badly to just be in that band because I admired them all so much. It was a four-piece band and they all wrote songs together and I loved that. They really reminded me of the Beatles. We would hang out and I would show them all my songs and they all really liked the songs and stuff. They wanted to help me out so we started talking about doing a couple shows together called “Kieran West and Little House” or something else. It just turned into this whole thing and we decided that we wanted to be our own band. The line-up has changed, it’s not just little house, but that’s where it started. I wanted to play rock shows and they came in there.
Ashley: What is a practice or jam session like with the rest of the band?
Kieran: We are very informal. As Roger Miller once said, he’s a country singer, “We play a highly informal set. The higher we get, the more informal we are.” That kind of perfectly describes our practices. We practice in our basement, drinking and having fun really. There is such a cohesive bond between the guys and the band because they had been playing for four years before we started so they have been playing together for seven years so there is such tightness. The songs aren’t really that complicated so we just get together and have fun; that’s what we do when we play shows anyways to it just makes sense to practice how you play.
Ashley: So you primarily write the songs so how do you bring those to the band?
Kieran: I write the songs, the verses and the choruses and whatever else; but it comes back to the way that we started. Just hanging out and me showing them these songs that are completed but, like I said I’m just a huge fan of them as a band, and I just tell them to do what they want. It’s never the way I that I hear it in my head when I write it but it’s always better. They always have so many ideas. They are all so musically inclined and these musical brains and they’ll come up with these ideas that make the song more interesting or exciting. They’re always working to improve the song.
Ashley: So what is your songwriting process like, then?
Kieran: Well it’s always kind of different but most often I’ll come up with a line in my head like maybe it’s start with some words, or something I want to say. From that, I’ll put a melody to those words and those will become my chorus. I usually start with the chorus and the hook of the song. We have the song “Big black bug”:
“Big black bug living inside my brain, and the thoughts inside are horribly arranged.” That’s all one complete thought that will happen in my thought and I’ll have that chorus and then start from the stop down and write the verses. I’ll use rhyming dictionaries a lot too. Yeah, usually start with the chorus then work the verses around it.
Ashley: So you’re music is more lyrically driven?
Kieran: Yeah, the whole reason I play music is because it’s so emotional for me and my songs are all about stuff that I have experienced or things that I feel. It is lyrically driven but it’s also with the band; they make it so musical that it’s a nice mix of both.
Ashley: Who inspires your music? Who do you listen to that inspires your songwriting?
Kieran: That’s a big question for me. As a band we have many obvious country influences like “The Band” “Steve Earle” “Hayes Carll” “Hank Williams III” , bands like that that are not necessarily Nashville country bands or classic country bands; country music in their own style. As a songwriter and as a human being I have so many other influences that are all very apparent in my songwriting. Like when I’m at home I don’t listen country music, I listen to hardcore punk like “Minor Threat” “Bad Brains” “Comeback kid” I was just to this morning. Stuff like that. Or Nirvana. It’s such a wide range of stuff; I love rap, I love learning from rap because there are things that rappers use lyrically like devices that rappers use that are just totally brilliant and don’t really exist anywhere else in music and there are things that I’ve learned and used. It’s really all over the place for me.
Ashley: So what is the most stressful part about being in a band?
Kieran: For me I would say: keeping everyone happy. That’s not to say we’re divas or anything; but as a leader I find it really important that everyone feels heard and feels respected and honored and all that. There are five of us which is tough to make sure everyone feels heard because there are five different personalities and five different musical personalities that are coming together and sometimes they don’t always match. That’s really important, if we’re not having fun then there is no point.
Ashley: With you’re band what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Kieran: We’ve been really lucky. We’ve gotten a lot of really great opportunities. It’s tough to just pick out one. I would say if I had to pick one, it would be to be asked to do the Minstrels program for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. That was a huge honor. We were asked to do it by the festival, I got a call while I was at work and asked if I wanted to play with my band; that it something that I dreamed about. It was really cool. It’s just really nice to be recognized and to even be on the track to play a stage one day soon. That was really huge. I’ve been going to the folk festival since I Was 16 and the first second I saw that stage and heard music coming from it I was like “That’s what I want to do, that’s where I want to play.” It was amazing to hang out back stage, ten feet away from Dan Mangan. It was cool.
Ashley: What advice would you give to musicians who are nervous about starting out?
Kieran: I would say, two major things:
Play with your friends, don’t try to start a band with stranger, because you’re not going to have as much fun and the whole point of music is to have fun.
And, make friends with bar owners and managers. It’s really good to have people like that on your side. It’s not just a phony thing, most of the people who run bars in the city are really down to earth, awesome people who are really really interesting in fostering young talent. Put yourself out there, next time you’re at the bar try to figure out who the manager is and introduce yourself. It never hurts to put your name out there. You want to get good shows, it’s not a secret if the bar owner likes you personally they are going to pay you better than if they don’t like you. That’s just the way it is. Music is like any other business; it’s all about who you know. We’re met some really amazing people through bar owners just hanging out.
Ashley: Before a performance what do you do to deal with nerves?
Kieran: That’s a funny question for me because performing and pre-performance are the only times I don’t have trouble with anxiety. Anxiety is a huge problem in my life and performing is the one time that I am never anxious. I feel great. I feel on top of the world. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and it just feels right.
Ashley: What is your favorite song to perform live?
Kieran: This song Coming to Terms; It was one of the first songs that we ever learned, and we still play it. It’s a song I wrote about a conversation I had with Ben Figler, who was the singer of Little House who is now the singer for Somebody Language. It was just a conversation we had and I wrote the song Coming to Terms about that conversation. It’s a very simple song with two chords the whole way through, basically. At the end we have this end where we going into this jam section where everybody lets loose and it’s the same chords this song called “At least that’s what you said” by Wilco which also ends in a jam session so we ripped a lot of stuff from that but it’s cool because Wilco is one of our favorite songs in the world so it’s like we’re playing a Wilco song; but it’s also the same chords as “Don’t let me down” by the Beatles so a couple bars into the jam session, I go into the chorus of that song and sing it. But I can’t really hit the notes so I’m just screaming it. It works and it’s a lot of fun. We just totally rip at it; it’s awesome.
Ashley: How do you balance music with other obligation like work?
Kieran: It’s not easy. When you’re really serious about music and working full-time and recording yourself, you don’t find yourself with a lot of free time. Especially when you manage yourself. We do our own artwork for posters for promotions and talking with college radio sessions and publications. There is a lot of time that you put into it and that can get really stressful. People need free time. That’s just kind of a fact; people need time to relax. When I’m working, [we aren’t working as hard] with the music thing. When I’m working on music, I really feel like I’m working towards something and I love the work that I do in the schools. So, it’s really just a matter of focusing on the fact that I might be tired, I might be exhausted but I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed about doing. So that makes it okay. Luckily working in a school, I have good hours and I have summers off so I can focus on doing festivals and promotions and all that over the summer. I have my evenings and weekends off, which is very good. Other guys in the band, our bassist Corey works at the Handsome Daughter and they are quite accommodating for him with getting nights off. One way or another we make it work. It’s just so important to all of us that we just have to make it work.
Ashley: So when you finally get that time to songwriting, how to do get into the zone or find that inspiration?
Kieran: I only write when there is inspiration. Inspiration comes from everything. All my songs are about my own experiences. We have a song called “Kill myself today” and I was just walking and feeling depressed and thought about jumping in front of a car, no seriously of course. But that melody started to come into my head. It was this bouncy, blue grassy thing. I was like “I could kill myself OR I could write a song a turn this pain into something happy.” It takes away the power from that feeling and we play it at shows are people are dancing around and singing along and all of that. Its just things like that. I like to write about my family a lot. I have a really serious interest in family history and stuff like that. I like to write about stories from my family. I love hockey, I’ll write about hockey. It just comes from everything. I was thinking Red Green the other day, and was thinking about his catch phrase “Keep your stick on the ice.” So I wrote a song called “Keep your stick of the ice.” You get ideas from listening to music, that’s where I get a lot of my ideas.
Ashley: What’s the best advice you’ve heard since you started working in the music business?
Kieran: That’s another tough one because we really have been very fortunate to meet really successful people who have given us a lot of really helpful advice. I would say the best advice I’ve ever gotten from a musician from Bobby Desjarlais from Attica Riots. He has been a mentor of mine every since I was fifteen years old. He was working as an EA at Kelvin high school when I was there and he saw my band perform and he found me the next day at lunch and took me to this little office where he had been writing songs on his breaks, I guess. In that room, I Would go everyday, I was in the process of dropping out of school at this time so slowly and slowly I stopped going to class and just be in that little room with Bobby and his students and I would be hiding out from my classes but I’d be learning the things I Really wanted to be learning. The most important I learned from him while I was there was: When you’re writing a song, no matter what you’re writing about, even if it’s a meaningless pop song, always know what you’re writing about. Always have a point and always writes about something real. Even if it comes out as gibberish, just always have a point and always know why you’re writing the song and what it means to you. That’s something I’ve always carried with me.
Support Winnipeg Musician Kieran West and His Buffalo Band!