Photography Stephen Byrne

Irish music soft boy Kean Kavanagh does guitars, comedy and great accents

Here are 10 fun facts about the guy who just wrote his debut album about a ‘Dog Person’.

by Frankie Dunn
24 September 2020, 12:06pm

Photography Stephen Byrne

Kean Kavanagh is an artist, producer and co-founder of Soft Boy Records, the label he runs alongside his best friend and rapper, Kojaque. Kean grew up in a town in the middle of Ireland called Portlaoise, which is known for its Gaelic football and hurling community. Naturally, Kean spent a lot of time playing football, refusing to participate in hurling and channeling teen angst into his guitar. Portlaoise, it seems, is your typical small town -- one where everybody knows your business and a career in music seems far from possible. “I’d go with my da to the butchers and he’d have to stop and talk to seven different people on the way down the main street,” he tells us. “So in terms of music, I never felt there was much outlet for that. For years and years I mostly just played for myself.”

Skip to 2015, and Kean and best friend Kev (Kojaque) -- both still in college and working multiple jobs -- set up Soft Boy Records. “I always knew I wanted my life to be centred around music but it took me a long, long time to gather the confidence to ignore other people’s advice and make that decision for myself,” he says. “Kev really showed me it was possible through his own actions, so I owe a lot to him for that.” Since then, Kean has evolved from his role as in-house producer and A&R to that of an artist in his own right -- something he dabbled with when he lent his vocals to Richard Russell’s Everything Is Recorded project, Friday Forever in early 2020.

Tomorrow, Kean releases his debut project, Dog Person, a 10-track highlight reel of his brain that boasts sax solos one minute, melancholy musings the next; jazz next to indie rock and hazy half-dreamt memories of songs. As exemplified in lead single “Emma” -- a modern day love story filled with passion, danger and regret -- the whole thing is an emotionally unstable runaway train of a record inspired by a semi-fictional character. “When you detach ‘dog person’ from it’s usual meaning, I just start picturing this slobbering half-man, half-dog creature covered in Guinness and begging you for a rollie,” Kean explains. “It’s basically a day in the life of this dog person, from one morning to the next.”

Being the generous, talented and funny individual he is, Kean has made i-D a very special video starring his local Irish news anchor alter-ego, Cream Caviar. For real. Watch for the laughs, stay for the sneak preview of Dog Person. Then read on for 10 fun facts you really ought to know about the man more commonly known as Kean Kavanagh...

1. Kean was born in Houston, Texas 
“My mam and dad were both working over there and me and my sister were both born there but we moved home to Ireland after a couple of years. My da tells me we lived down the road from Neil Armstrong, but he also used to tell me that Hulk Hogan was his best mate and every summer I believed him when he said he would be coming to our estate to teach us all how to wrestle so…”

2. His earliest musical memory involves 80s pop band Prefab Sprout
“My dad was really into Prefab Sprout and the first song I remember being really obsessed with and dancing around to is “The King of Rock and Roll”. Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque. How could any child resist nonsense like that?”

3. He reckons Dog Person would soundtrack a certain 90s canine classic particularly well
All Dogs Go To Heaven... It still holds up.”

4. But if you’re a cat person, he won’t hold that against you
“I actually am a cat person now as well. Never let anyone tell you you can’t be both!”

5. Contrary to popular assumption, Kean’s only known the love of one dog
“Our family dog, Fern, was a terrier and died a long time ago. She was a great auld dog. I think since I’ve never had a dog of my own since then I get very excited about getting to spend any time at all with them. Meeting a nice dog immediately enhances your life.”

6. And if he was a dog, he would be a Red Setter
“On a good day, I’m gonna go with a Red Setter because they are such beautiful dogs and some days you’d be feeling generous with yourself. Personality wise, I would hope to be as charming and as loving as the French Bulldog; no dog can make me laugh like they do.”

7. He once built a whole song around his favourite dance anthem, “Toca's Miracle” and he has a lot of feelings about the original
“It’s more than physical, what I need to feel from you!” A transcendent song, best played from a Motorola Razr or the biggest car subwoofer you can access.”

8. When Kean was 17, he studied massage therapy for a year
“These hands still fucking heal.”

9. Things are really heating up over at Soft Boy Records HQ right now
“So much good stuff. We’re doing something with Yenkee which you’ll hear about in October; we’re working with Celia Tiab on some new music, she’s the best singer in the world; Kojaque has something gigantic almost ready to go. The Five to Two jazz boys are about to start recording something amazing too. Lots and lots of new music will be caressing your patient ears come 2021.”

10. Meanwhile, Kean is over here making miracles happen daily
“Musically, my plan is to do things that I once thought were impossible for myself and to learn every day. Life-wise, my plan is the same.”

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