There are many words to describe comedians, fun, hilarious, irreverent, and on top of these we can honestly say that The Kev is much more than that; A refined musician, he can be also described as a brilliant, creative, and extremely contemporary artist!
We had a blast chatting with him about his latest release and upcoming projects, so sit back and enjoy our conversation with one of the most interesting artists on the Music and Comedy scene!
The Kev, thanks for being with us today! The last time we spoke you just released your single “Cheap Hotel,” now you are back with some brand new exciting tracks like the deep yet hilarious “You Can’t Say Anything These Days.” Can you tell us more about this single?
Well, it’s not quite a single yet, because I haven’t released it on any of the streaming platforms. I wanted to write something that had a toe-tapping sing-along quality while also joking about some weighty issues.
I think the best satire addresses subjects from every angle, so while ostensibly it is mocking political correctness, it is attacking anti-PC culture even more.
Your music navigates between humor, sarcasm, and bare truth, sometimes being brutally honest by saying things that don’t follow the typical “Politically Correct.” This makes your music fun but also very relatable. Do you think this is becoming more and more rare in the “comic” world?
There is a culture of caution, for good reason. Most comedy writers would agree that it is wrong to punch down, for example, the way comedians in the 1970s would mock immigrants and ethnic minorities, while in the 80s and 90s, homosexuals might be the ones getting laughed at.
Recently I saw an aspiring comedian have a disastrous set in Manchester when he tried to open with some remarks about racism and homophobia. When something is a taboo subject, all the more reason to go there. A comedian’s job is not to be on the right side of history but to take on issues in fresh and exciting ways, but the guy was clearly inexperienced.
In today’s culture war issues, it is not always clear as to who the underdogs are or what constitutes punching down. My rule of thumb is, as long as you make yourself mostly the butt of the joke, people will appreciate that you are not a bully.
One of your latest tracks, the brilliant “Talking about The Kev” is simply fantastic. How did you come up with the idea of this song? What’s the story behind it?
When playing full-length gigs, I found that none of my material was a cast-iron set-opener, so last year I set about rectifying it.
The rhythm guitar work owes a bit to ‘Peace Frog’ by The Doors, but obviously, the song it is most heavily based on is ‘Shaft’ by Isaac Hayes. I thought I would spoof that.
When I debuted the song, it didn’t really work that well because the compere had to pull out the day before the gig so I couldn’t just walk on to it, but it is a set opener that I can keep using going forward, and will be able to tweak the lyrics to keep it fresh and surprising.
Are you planning any live gigs for 2024?
I haven’t scheduled any yet. For all the creative strides I have made in the past five years, and all the magical nights on stage, I am still an unknown, so am hesitant about booking venues larger than a barroom.
There is also no obvious way to go about ceasing to be an unknown, assuming that that’s what I even want. This year I plan to play some comedy nights, but it is hard to find ones for which musical comedy is the right fit.
In my second year in China, I lived in an inland backwater where the main form of entertainment was karaoke. I learned dozens of Mandopop songs, Mandopop tends to be schmaltzy with a few honorable exceptions.
So in the 2008/09 academic year, I started writing my own Chinese songs. Even my own friends didn’t seem that into them, and I realized I had to go back to basics to learn how to write decent songs. At the end of 2011, I had an epiphany when I realized that, while it’s very hard to be cool when speaking a foreign language, it is much easier to be funny, so in 2012 I wrote a bunch of comedy songs and started to build a fanbase.
Most of my gigs were in bars, and although my target audience was ordinary barflies, I found my biggest fans were intellectuals (academics, journalists, lawyers, even scientists), so started to get media attention. I didn’t become as famous as I initially hoped, which is probably for the best considering how controversial some of my songs are, and the illiberal direction China seems to be taking.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For some reason, I tend to draw from either the most high-brow or most low-brow sources.
There was an Irish poet called Dennis O’Driscoll who was widely published but I still consider to be underrated, and the premises of some of my songs have come from his poems. There is also a series of poetry anthologies edited by Neil Astley that I use a lot.
Aside from that, satirical publications like The Onion, The Daily Mash, and The Viz have lots of good ideas that I find I can run with.
And talking about songwriting, can you reveal what your creative process is? Do you start from the lyrics and create the music after or do they come to life simultaneously?
My songs’ most distinguishing feature is the lyrics, so I usually start by jotting down ideas in a notebook. When I feel an idea has legs, I focus on it and build it into something bigger before polishing it.
From conception to completion, a song probably takes about a month on average, but sometimes it happens faster than I can even keep on top of. My song ‘Someone Somewhere’ took a matter of minutes to complete.
You are an artist with multiple sides, among them, one is the rough-edged comic one, and the other one is soulful and inspired. Not many may know that, behind your wits, you are a very gifted guitar player. Morricone, Debussy, Albeniz, and many others. Do you think you will incorporate some more classical guitar in your shows?
Yes, I don’t think it is at all a contradiction to incorporate high culture into a product that is bawdy. Vintage-era Simpsons was full of references to the classics, even though many people saw it as a frivolous children’s show.
My last The Kev album contained a quote from WB Yeats, a biblical reference, and lots of other things that are secretly highbrow. Being rough-edged and soulful can easily live side-by-side.
What are your plans for the future?
Last summer, I read a book called ‘A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Social Media’ by Damien Keyes. Subsequently, I realized I need to radically overhaul my approach.
I set up three new YouTube channels, one for comedy, one for music, and one on which I give Mandarin lessons. I run them side-by-side and am quite disciplined about uploading regularly.
For a YouTube channel to build a decent audience, it needs to be easily categorizable. Hopefully, all three channels will grow successfully. The next step should probably be to improve my camera and microphone setup to look more professional because sadly style is more important than substance.
The Kev, it was such a pleasure having you with us today! Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Please follow my The Kev YouTube channel. It has been a wild journey and it promises to get even better.