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  • Writer's pictureShenead Poroosotum

It's A London Thing: KiLLOWEN's Artistic Spin On The Revival of UK Garage [Interview]

In music, authenticity is often the linchpin that separates the exceptional from the ordinary. KiLLOWEN, a visionary artist hailing from West London, embodies this ethos with every note he strikes and every lyric he says.

His recent project, Pub Therapy, is an unapologetic exploration of openness and honesty, a sentiment that permeates not only his music but also his everyday life. Drawing from a wellspring of formative influences, KiLLOWEN crafts a unique brand of new wave garage music that speaks to the soul. The experimental 9-track EP showcases an unwavering commitment to craft as well as his dedication to being a triple threat of a writer, producer and performer. His journey began as a DJ under the watchful tutelage of his brother, a foundation that would later evolve into a fervent dedication to music production. However, it wasn't until 2022 that KiLLOWEN decided to take his craft seriously, a decision that has since yielded resounding success. Through his burgeoning presence on social media platforms, KiLLOWEN remains resolute in his commitment to authenticity, a quality that endears him to a rapidly growing audience. It's this genuine spirit that permeates his music, making KiLLOWEN not just an artist, but a person to truly admire.

Photography credit: Simon Wheatley

When did you first decide that making music was something you wanted to do?

I was always playing instruments when I was a kid, my parents got me into a lot and making sure me and my siblings learned something. Not to say that they were musical themselves, but I think it’s something that they thought was important and to widen a child’s mind. But I never really took it seriously. I was properly into football, to be honest. I always wanted to be a footballer; I think 95% of boys do! But as I got older, I started to move back into music and playing in bands with my mates at school but still not entirely seriously. My older brother was a drum and bass DJ and got me into DJing at home. I would just do whatever he did to be fair as a younger sibling you just kind of copy them a bit. He would DJ drum and bass and I was DJing dubstep and 140bpm grime at like 12 or 13 years old. I would make mixes and upload them to YouTube and then I thought about wanting to make my own music. That’s when I started producing and learning how to make beats and then the rap followed as I got into the genre when I got a bit older. I was 14 when I was writing songs and recording for the first time but for me when it started to get serious was around 2022 when I started to see the success in it and started to figure things out and who I was and what I wanted to say.

KiLLOWEN is quite an unusual stage name. Is there a story behind it?

It's basically just from my Irish heritage, I come from a place near Cork called Killorglin and my names Owen. I didn’t always know that, and I remember I visited Ireland when I was like 12 and seeing it and being like ‘Oh that’s my name!’ and I always thought it was cool because it represents who I am and it’s also close to my actual name, so it doesn’t feel like I’m being anyone but myself basically. So that’s how it came about.

So, it's like it is more of a personal thing as well.

Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of people mistake it for being something dark or edgy. But generally, a lot of places in Ireland have the word ‘kill’ before them so it’s just a homage to where my family are from. As I’ve grown up in England, I feel like I’m representing both sides.

Speaking of being personal, your project Pub Therapy is out now! It follows quite a personal journey but still remains to be fun and each track has its own identity. In terms of the lyricism, they touch on some deeper topics. Are there any processes in how you convey emotions when you write?

I produced seven out of nine songs on Pub Therapy and a lot of the time, the beat would dictate what I say. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I go to the studio and feel a certain type of way and I want to make something that represents that. But I’ll just start making the beat and then the chords will bring out certain sounds. It doesn’t always have to be something I’m dealing with at the moment, and sometimes it’s not actually that deep. With ‘One Thing’ for example, it was triggered by something that made me write those lyrics, but it’s a fun song. The premise of that song is that moment when you get annoyed with someone or you get the ick, there’s just that one thing that they do. But the whole time I wrote it, I was running around the studio like ‘this is sick’. With Pub Therapy for example, I had concepts and themes that were happening in life so that’s what makes it a project and a body of work. It still allowed me to not be too precious and make songs like ‘One Thing’ that were upbeat and fun but still representing a deeper meaning.

Do you have any memorable moments or experiences that have influenced any part of your song writing at all?

It depends. With Pub Therapy, I remember when we all had a bit more time and when we were a bit younger, me and my friends would go to the pub on Sundays. And we did that every Sunday for a while. And with me and my friends, being a group of guys, it wasn’t a super deep thing, but you just don’t really talk about stuff. Not even about saying ‘oh I’m struggling with my mental health’ but just the little things like having an argument at work or falling out with your girlfriend that you wouldn’t really talk about because it’s like, whatever. You kind of have this bravado about you then you go to the pub, have a few pints then just start talking about stuff and then you feel a lot better when you wouldn’t really do that in a different environment. I think that’s a worldwide thing but especially a British thing that you have a couple of pints and start talking about how you’re feeling when you wouldn’t do that sober. We all used to say, ‘who needs therapy when you can go to the pub?’ and that kind of sparked the phrase ‘pub therapy’.

I’m quite introspective and thought that this was so much more than just being with my mates, having a few drinks and talking about what has pissed us off. This is something everyone does in their own way, and it’s wired into us one way or another. Even the most perfect person who doesn’t drink and goes to the gym every day for example has bad habits and ways to express themselves. That inspired the whole song writing process but apart from that, I feel like I’m inspired by things every day. In quite a few songs, it’s just about mundane British life but I’m hoping that people will wake up and be on their way to work, looking at the trees and just see life a bit differently. Try not to be so closeminded. That’s how I try and approach life and it’s not easy but it’s good to try.

You did touch on it earlier, but I did want to delve a little bit more into the creation of ‘One Thing’ and ‘Sober’. Are you going to continue to do garage flips?

I try not to overdo it. This whole idea of when I did ‘Sober’ was that everyone loves dubplates where the DJ plays a song everyone knows and when it drops, it’s not the original but you know it from somewhere, and then they slap a Central Cee or Skepta acapella over it. That will be some of the best stuff that you’ll hear at a festival or at a rave. And I was thinking why aren’t people making music like this? People are just making dubplates, but no rappers are actually making garage songs like they did back in the day. I started thinking about all the music I grew up on like Kanye West, Jay-Z, even some Skepta and everything is a sample, all the time. There’s so much of it and it’s like what PinkPantheress did a lot of times. I just wanted to put my spin on it and give it that dubplate energy without it being a dubplate. I don’t want to fall in the trap of always sampling popular records and making it seem like all I can do is sample someone else’s song, making it seem like I’m good. And that’s the thing with Pub Therapy, when you listen to the whole thing, it’s got the big singles in there, but you can still hear the palette and how deep we can get in the artistry. So, I’m trying to be careful not letting people only see one side of me.

That's exactly how I felt when I listened to the EP as well. I thought it had just the right mix of having those songs that had those memorable tracks, and then more of what you can actually do, and the kind of music that you want to make that shows your versatility and your personality. It kind of reminded me of The Streets.

They’re definitely an influence and I appreciate it! We were trying to do that for a while. If I’m counting from all the times when I thought I had an EP to the moment when I actually had it, it was probably a year and a half. I went through so many moments of having songs that were too samey, so I just had to live life a bit to be able to give that scope. I’m glad it’s being translated in that way.

Do you have any memorable moments with people where you learnt something during the process?

I don’t do a lot of collaborations in terms of features as much. Maybe here and there, but in terms of collaboration, I can’t speak on it too much because I produce my own stuff. Seven out of nine tracks on Pub Therapy I made on my own in my bedroom. I have a little studio in Wembley and since being able to do music full time, I have a lot more time to work in the week so I’m working with a lot of producers. It gives me a lot more time to sit back and write and give my opinion. Sometimes when working with producers, within the first minute I already decide that I don’t like it, but I’ve been stopping myself from telling them that and just letting them do their thing. It’s quite hard when you’re invested in every aspect of the song. Often, you come out of the other side of it, and it sounds great because you’ve given the person time to do their thing. So, I guess I’ve learnt to collaborate in that sense. Just being more openminded and a bit more out of your bubble is inspirational to the sound. Two of the songs I’m most proud of on the project weren’t produced by me because these different people take inspiration from different things and their own lives.

Going back to how you mentioned in your early years that you would play a lot of instruments, is there any instrument or piece of gear that is your favourite to use these days?

Probably the guitar. If you listen to ‘Sober’ and break down all the parts to it, they all gave guitar parts in them, which is kind of weird for garage music or dance music in general. But it’s something I’ve been playing since I was ten years old and I always use that in the studio like, if I wanted to figure out the key to a song I’m way quicker going on guitar and figuring out the notes.

I also wanted to talk about your online presence as well. Judging by your social media channels, you’ve built a really strong online presence, and you engage a lot with your fans. How do you utilise platforms such as TikTok to connect with people and what sort of role do you think they play in shaping your career?

First off, the fans play a massive part. It always stood out to me because when I did Reading Festival, it was the biggest crowd I’d ever played to, and I couldn’t believe it. Even if five people came and I performed the same five songs, it doesn’t change. What makes the moment is the energy. We share an interest in the music and it’s the thing that’s allowing me to speak with you right now or why you wanted to reach out. I think the fans are the most important thing next to the music and it’s an equal 50/50. The music has to be a certain standard and the fans have to listen, and that’s the thing that makes success for an artist and allows them to keep going. When people use my sound on TikTok or make a video that I think is funny, I’ll try and repost it. After a show it’s quite overwhelming what you’ve just done so it’s hard to go out into a crowd. I did that in Leeds though and it was one of the first times everyone was like ‘oh nice to meet you’ and ‘your music is amazing’ and I’d never had that, and I thought they were taking the piss. But it was nice to have that moment and I think it’s important to give back because the fans are the ones who listen and buy the tickets to the shows and make all possible for me.

With social media, I never really thought I was good at it. With the whole TikTok thing, when it came out I was against it and I think it was just me being immature and that it didn’t align with my vision as an artist and I was ‘too cool’ or whatever. Now I think being too cool is the worst thing you can do, just be real. I’ve never been super extroverted in terms of wanting to go on camera to say 'I’ve just dropped a song' or to do a little dance. But I’ve always been good at making visuals and graphics or artwork to my music. So, I just started making moodboards to go with my music such as pictures of Oasis from the 90s, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell from the 2000s, Game Cube or PlayStation 2, just all these things that I grew up on and influenced what I’m making. Like you said, you mentioned The Streets and even though the sound I’m making is still current, it heavily references that from 20 years ago. So, I’m taking things from a time when I was five, six or seven years old that I was a fan of and thought, how can I get my personality across to people without feeling uncomfortable or anxious of what I put online? So, with these moodboards when they started to do quite well, they eventually graduated into little film clips. One of the first ones was for ‘Sober’ captioned ‘what if the sample was UK garage’ and boom. That got like a million views and now I’m here and it’s kind of crazy. I feel like a lot of people look at me and say, ‘you’re so good at making TikTok’s, its genius what you do’ But I was never sitting there calculating it and thinking about how I can make this thing look really cool. I was lucky enough to find a way to do it that was easy to me, and I would just go through Pinterest for half an hour and have content for five or six videos. I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along, and I was lucky enough to stumble across a format that works for me.

For sure! Creating natural and honest content always blows up and sometimes trying to make a popular post will fall flat.

So true and it’s easier said than done not to try hard. But everyone’s trying hard in a way. I think for example if we take someone like Caity Baser who’s a good friend of mine, she’s super extroverted and shows her personality so well and I could never do something like that. But because that’s her, it works really well. It sounds so cliché but it’s just about being yourself and finding a way to put that across to the people.

Listen to Pub Therapy here!


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