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KIERAN J HENNESSY The X-Press Interview

Kieran J Hennessy
Hailing from Diamond Beach in regional NSW, Kieran J Hennessy has made a name for himself as a producer, singer, writer and DJ, working alongside the likes of Holly Rankin (Jack River) on festivals through agency The Hopeless Utopian. Now Hennessy has boiled down his years in the game with his debut solo release, Iso Therapy EP. Created during the first wave of the COVID pandemic, the songs were written as a means to push through the uncertainty of the times, while BRAYDEN EDWARDS learned they were also part of a tale of isolation, desperation, and ultimately redemption. 

While this is your debut EP you have actually been in the music game for some time. What kinds of shows have you been playing and how has that shaped your music?

I have predominantly been a DJ to this point. Lots of poolside cruisers, club bangers, doof heaters, emotional beats, dancing and acting mad. You know the go! In future I’d love to add my old musical theatre experience to a live show, and I love playing events in unique places. I appreciate the energy they can create.

My tracks are inspired by the house music I play but don’t always come out as such. The quirky beauty of dance music culture helped evolve my production and DJ sets over the years. But, because I joined the industry within a year of Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian’s lockout laws, my experience of dance music in NSW has been both stifled and propelled by this sense of surviving against authoritarian policy. Unable to play any shows in the new era of COVID, the lack of shows meant that I wanted this EP to suit your bedroom or your headphones, alone, as well as for whenever I’ll let it play out at a gig.

So what were the circumstances that made you want to write your first record at this particular time?

I was trying to figure out where to go from The Filthy Flamingo single I put out at the beginning of this year, but COVID just changed everything. Suddenly, you can’t apply the same strategy. Your emotions are flipped. Your struggles and perspectives are different. In the midst of rapidly losing my job and housing while a pandemic began to ravish the world, I was producing and writing. When I moved back to Diamond Beach, Worimi land, safe but extremely and suddenly isolated, I was producing and writing. The EP naturally arose from all that. My own iso-therapy.

George Floyd was murdered during the mastering sessions. This EP speaks to experiences of individual isolation and global anxiety, which we still feel vividly, so after much deliberation I decided to continue with the release. The impunity and immunity of our inept colonial governments, their cruel lack of compassion and logic, are not new. This is not my first time writing about it and it won’t be the last. I hope this movement continues to teach what the classrooms never did, to uproot the systemic issues that an apology never even began to solve.

The second track Crumbles in particular seems to deal with some challenges you were facing. What was the story behind that song?

This one was when I’d just come back up the coast, feeling like I was standing at the edge of a cliff and staring into the unknown, the ground below crumbling and crumbling. The lyrics ask, “Do you step back, or do you take the leap?” All the while it’s pondering the past life you had, your work now dashed, the good times seemingly distant. It was a shit time and still is, but we’re learning to deal with it as best we can together, to become better, to look forward proactively. We’ve all had to make decisions about how we proceed these days, how we take of ourselves and each other. This deep driving beat of dance floor melancholy was how it felt coming to terms with the new wilderness of our world.

It must be hard to make music both sad and danceable at the same time! Was there any particular music you were listening to that you felt inspired that aesthetic?

We had this huge shift in listening habits and settings. I was listening to more chilled, emotional, slightly darker electronic music. Sometimes I approached it like, “What if Channel Tres taught The Weeknd how to make house music?” But to focus on some Aussies, Teischa has been a great find for me, for that sad, emotive, cruisey feel.

Also Two People, Lastlings and HI MOTIVE, for the more electronic side of that, then the groove coming through with The Goods and Touch Sensitive, the deeper darker cuts of Cut Snake, Dena Amy and Golden Features, then just random heaters like Cocoon (Maya Jane Coles Remix), Phases by Howling, Dead and Gone by DRAMA, Yours Sincerely by Hessian, Nite Eye by Jimmy Whoo, Emily by Tourist. I wasn’t listening to Voyager by Paul Epworth because he just put that out but go listen to that absolute wonder as well. If you want some good insight, I do have the Sounds like Kieran J Hennessy playlist on Spotify.

How did you go about getting the songs in your head onto record? Did you bring anyone else on board to play instruments or produce or did you take matters entirely in your own hands?

All produced, written and recorded by myself. Very iso. The cover art is originally by Jacopo Lancioni. Any keyboard playing is usually me playing for a while and then chopped into MIDI loops from that. If I’m genuinely interested in something I try to know how it all works; how to get the sounds you want, or how to stumble upon those you didn’t even realise you wanted but still pull together a track that makes sense and slaps. I’m always learning!

I do a decent mixdown these days, with Alex Mader’s help on the final stages and master for the EP. I’d also give shout outs to Alex Preston and Tom Budin for past mixdown and master sessions, plus Daniel Chapman for going deep in some studio sessions, and plenty of other lovely lovers like Tise Jones and Chase Zera for advice.

I would like to collaborate more though. I’m slowly beginning to reach out, now that I’m more comfortable with my sound and my ability.

The final track Rainbows seems to end the EP on a more hopeful note than the songs before it. Does that mean you feel like your self-prescribed “iso-therapy” has had some positive effect? How is the future looking now compared to when you started writing the record?

It is very “light at the end of the tunnel” vibes. However, we are still colonial, and tomorrow still looks colonial. The EP has definitely been positive, or “therapeutic” for me and I hope it will be for many more now that it’s out in the world. The future looks strange and precarious, but at least we are better prepared, better equipped and more motivated than ever before to consciously and constructively navigate our way forward. There are important upheavals and transformations afoot. This is evolution, and it comes with struggle.

So does that future include any more new music or even live shows? What can we look out for from you in the future?

To be honest I wouldn’t be expecting too many shows unfortunately, other than private parties and any small gigs I can find. I had to exile myself away from the city, and it’s always been a struggle to host proper house music events in my area. With the uncertainties around the live music industry, and having previously derived almost all my income from managing or performing at live events, I’m moving towards financial management, with the hope that I can later apply that to the arts sector.

I’ll continue to release music, including a new beautiful track in a couple months; another sad yet danceable one for you. But if we’re unable to tour our music as early stage independent artists, investing in release after release becomes hard. So I honestly just don’t know what the future holds. But we never really do. Let’s just keep surviving, creating, improving, and listening to music.

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