Interview: Bede Kennedy of Castlecomer
Sydney-bred band Castlecomer are turning up the heat in the US after their hit “Fire Alarm” landed the #6 spot on Spotify’s Global Viral Chart. The boys have broken their hectic American schedule to return home for the festive season and I was lucky enough to steal half an hour of lead singer Bede Kennedy’s time to delve into the band’s beginnings, making it in the industry, lock-out-laws, Christmas plans and what to expect in their busy future.
How are you Bede, how you doing?
I’m very well. I’m in a suburb called Oatlands which in in Sydney, and I was doing some song writing with two or three people at one of the singer’s houses and it is the nicest I have ever been in in my life. We went downstairs to this studio thing she’s got set up and there are two Ferraris underneath. It is insane. I’ve come out here from my share house with like my no air-con Honda Accord and rolling into this pimp mansion… I just can’t believe it. So good!
Love it! You sound like a busy man, so let’s just jump straight into it… Let’s start with “Fire Alarm”. I feel like that’s the song that launched everything for you. When you wrote “Fire Alarm”, did you know you were on the precipice of something big? Could you feel the change?
I certainly couldn’t feel a song any bigger than any song I’d written in the past, but I definitely wrote “Fire Alarm”… that was the first song where I started to write songs as not just a hobby. When I was doing uni, I was just writing songs kind of as like a joke and I’d write three songs in a year and then we’d record an EP with those songs on it and you’d go, ‘Oh, that’s good enough.’ Then “Fire Alarm” was the first one that I was like, oh, people are like really serious about the music industry. Maybe I should put more effort into this to actually give it a crack.
So that was the one that initiated the transition, I’d say.
That’s right. That was the one that I was like, ‘Okay this is good, maybe I should do more of these and actually put more than 20 minutes into writing music and put a couple of hours, a couple of days.’
Did you come to that realisation after you released it, or was it straight after you wrote it?
Well I wrote it with a bunch of other songs that I was like, wow, this is a real step up in song writing. However, when it came out and the streams started to flood in… I’ve said it before, you’re releasing music and you’re getting like 20,000 streams in six months. When you’re a band starting out, you’re like, ‘Oh man is that all it’s going to be or is that a reflection on how my songs are?’ I don’t know if the songs were hugely bad before that – we get a lot of crap in our band for not playing our old music from fans that keep coming to our stuff. People just want to hear our old music a lot. But once I got that response online…
Yeah, it has nearly seven million streams on Spotify now, I checked this morning. That’s insane! I mean, that’s such a great reflection. So how did you make that transition from music as a side-hobby into a full-time career?
I never thought that I’d be in a band that was working. I finished school and then went to uni and did the full uni, but during uni I was bored with what I was studying.
What’d you study?
I studied Law. I had all of these really hard assignments to do but I just wasn’t truly in the moment of that degree, and I wasn’t like ‘I want to be a lawyer for the next 60 years and then die.’ I was like, ‘Nah, I’ve got to do something else in the meantime,’ so I slowly picked up the guitar and started writing chord progressions, writing melodies. I was always singing melodies in my head as a kid. But I didn’t write my first song until I was probably like 19 or something – it was pretty late.
Did you realise that you needed that creative outlet?
Exactly, I kind of thought that I’d need something to fill my head with things other than soccer and these legal history assignments I have to do. And then I finished uni and went and started working as a lawyer and I was like, ‘This sucks. I’ve got to do something else.’ But the problem is, you need to be good at song writing and music in order to actually get a job out of it. So that took a little while.
You went to South By Southwest (SXSW) last year and pretty much swept it clean there. Tell me about that experience because you guys smashed it.
Yeah weirdly the South By people have been contacting us since last year and we’re going back this year because they’re like, ‘You guys are the poster boys of South By in that you are…’
The Success Story!
Well not a success story, but at least a model on how to go from having no-one – having nothing hot on you, like being actually a cold act – and then going in there and actually just taking it and coming out with stuff. Yeah it was good. I was just sitting at my desk job and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll just apply.’ I put 50 bucks of my own money in for the apply thing – didn’t even tell the boys. And two rounds of artists had been announced and we were in Australia, a bit confused because one of our songs, “Fire Alarm”, had been getting some streams and we’d been getting emails from people online, like labels and stuff, but nothing was biting, nothing was hot. I just applied for us online and I got an email, I was sitting at my desk probably like three months later – quite a while later – and it blew my mind. I was like, ‘Holy shit, let’s do it. It’s the green-light moment and we’ve got to take it. We did the Sydney-Dallas flight and picked up the RV which was an hour away from the airport, which sucked. Picked it up and went straight to Austin. I was emailing pubs in Austin being like, ‘If you have someone pull out, we’re in. We’ll play, whatever.’ We did eight shows in three days. It was great.
That’s crazy! See it’s that sort of entrepreneurial mindset as well that you need to have in that industry – it’s not just being able to make the music. You need to pimp yourself out there really!
Exactly, and you’ve just got to be positive. We went there and we were playing these eight shows and we’re friends with Alex Lahey – we just had Alex Lahey on one of our Aussie tours – and we went and saw her at this huge venue in Austin. She had heaps of heat on her and we went and saw her play and there was like 1200 people in the room and we were like, ‘Holy shit! Man we’ve got our session tomorrow.’ Then you arrive and there’s seven people in the room and you’re like ‘Oh my God, was this worth it?’ But you know, I realise that one of the people is like the GM of Universal or whatever and things, little miracles like that just happen.
You mentioned you’re heading back there for the 2019 Festival and then you’re also doing the Hang Out Festival which has Khalid, Vampire Weekend, Cardi B and that’s in May. Then you’re going to Firefly Festival with Panic! At The Disco, Post Malone… and that’s in June. That’s crazy! What’s it like to be on the same bill as all of those names and have this heat – you’ve got to call this heat right now, right?
Yeah, there’s something happening which is good. It’s exciting, it’s making me excited. It’s just like, we’ve worked hard. We went over in April and pretty much drove America all the way, back and forth, back and forth, five times. You just sort of work, work, work and then by the end of it, you finish the year and it’s like, ‘Oh man, we could go to any city in America and 500 people will show up and be our fans! That was great, that was awesome! Look at this, it’s happening!’ And then you get offered these festivals and it’s like, ‘Oh my God! This is great! We can’t sell 500 tickets in Darwin, but we can sell it in Minneapolis or Minnesota.’ It’s weird, but we’ve just worked hard.
Do you bill yourself as a Sydney-born American band now? Is that where you’ve pinned your audience?
No, we are just trying to keep the gas on. We are just Australian, born in Sydney – you’re not going to get any 5SOS-change-in-their-accent-bullshit. This is where we want to be the most loved, but right now, the Americans are kind of getting in first so we’re just going to feed that beast until who knows what happens.
I saw that you wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald about Sydney’s lock out laws. Was that another big factor in moving out of Sydney, just because of the repercussions of those laws here?
Playing shows in Australia for four years, and certainly the last four years, and that’s a small sample size of a longer period of time where venues have been closing. It’s certainly not easy to run a venue and certainly not easy to run a venue with live music even when it’s busy, but the Government doesn’t make it easy. And I honestly think that had it not been for this little bit of heat we’re getting in America right now, our band would just have to die. It wouldn’t die, it would just be like… It would just have to go from something you’re focusing on heavily to a hobby, because you literally just can’t. You can’t play a gig in your hometown once every six months because there are only three venues that’ll fit your needs. In Nashville you can play any night of the week, or in LA you can play any night of the week and you can play a fee-paying gig because the pub is open and able to hold the number of people and all that stuff. It’s a population thing and there’s all sorts of factors but it was tough. You can’t play The Beresford anymore, you can’t play Selena’s anymore, The Annandale anymore. There’s just a lot of babies dying.
What were the rest of the boys like when you were like, ‘We’re moving to America!’? Was everyone like, ‘Oh yep, okay, let me just pack up’?
We’re all very like one mind – everyone in the band has the same ambitions and priorities. And we’re all related so… It wasn’t like I was like, ‘We’re going.’ We got South By and we’re like, ‘Hopefully something happens’ – everyone was keen for that. When it started to heat up it was like of course we’re going. We’re not going to sit here and you know…
Can’t let that fly by, absolutely. But you guys are all back in Sydney for Christmas! What is your family Christmas like? Do you guys all sit around and sing tunes for your family when you’re together? What happens there?
We don’t do the singing. Everyone else in the family sings to show us that they taught us everything that we know. And there’s lots of rowdy drinking and singing. Everyone gets in the pool and does a weird volleyball game and ends up flipping each other. It’s just… it’s beautiful.
It’s just a classic Australian Christmas! I love it!
‘Classic Australian Christmas’ yeah – ham and prawns and that’s about it.
Oh prawn cocktails yeah! With a little mimosa in the morning.
Now you’re talking… Only a few more days, I can’t wait.
Okay let’s talk about next year! Next year you’ve got some North American dates lined up, so you’ll be heading back over there. I also noticed that you’re going to Toronto. I spent six months in Toronto last year and there’s a castle there called Casa Loma and think…
Oh my God, it’s a genius idea.
Castlecomer should get a photo at Casa Loma.
We’ll go change the sign. It’s a really good idea – I like that! Maybe we’ll bring a ‘C’ and just pop it over the ‘L’ and make it a real… That’s cool, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Toronto so we’re excited but also nervous that it’s going to be January so it’s going to be pretty cold. Or February.
It’s going to be COLD. I was there in February – make sure you bring lots of layers, but you’ll be fine. They have an underground system there, so you can just live under the city. Tomorrow, you’re playing at the Lansdowne Hotel home turf. Are you excited? Are you happy to be back in Sydney for a show?
Yeah we’re really excited. Whenever we come home, we just have to give away so many tickets to our families and friends that it’s like oh God, it’s just going to be a family fest. It’s only like a 400-cap and we had to stop the selling at 200 because we had to give away so many family and friends tickets. We were like God, this is going to be loose – it’ll be like a half-and-half.
Thursday night is going to be a big one!
Yeah, and it’s just before Christmas. We’re thinking of doing a Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas Is You” cover but we have to learn it tomorrow if we do it.
You should just release a Christmas album and then you can give that to your family as their Christmas presents. It would be super egotistical, but I think they’d really enjoy that.
Streaming only. No hard copies. Just download it, Mum.
Geez, Mum. Don’t you know how to use a computer, Mum?
I’m already using your Spotify account, Mum, c’mon.
I’m so on the same page! Alright, I will leave you to it, so you can get back to your session. Thank you so much for chatting with me Bede, it’s been an absolute pleasure and best of luck with the show tomorrow night!
Great to talk to you, cheers.
You can catch Castlecomer at the Lansdowne Hotel in Sydney, tonight December 20th. For tickets and more information about their North American tour, head HERE.
This article originally appeared in the AU review.