A FEW YEARS ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to walk the streets of Dublin without stumbling across four-piece pop-rockers Keywest, often found plying their trade around Grafton Street or Temple Bar. They’re following a well-trodden road: there have been a number of successful Irish acts that first unveiled their skills on the footpaths of Dublin, from The Hothouse Flowers to Ryan Sheridan, The Riptide Movement to Glen Hansard.
Keywest used to draw a substantial crowd to the main shopping streets as they struggled by in a shared house, perfecting their sound and living from meagre takings. These days, they’ve quit the streets, and find themselves propping up the charts instead.
Drummer Harry Sullivan, in fact, was a late arrival in the band. “It never felt that awkward,”, the late draft pick from the UK said. “It was a strange existence, but they were so welcoming. We were all crammed in this house and we had to go out and busk to make the money to get food in. We used to go over to the supermarket at the time they reduced the prices. But it was great fun”
“It always felt like it was going to work out to me, though,” Sullivan explains. Keywest were modestly established by the time he arrived, at least in terms of the local scene, he was leaving behind his native London to join an up and coming band, a move his family were surprisingly positive about. “They knew it was a dream, a good fit,” he explains. “They’ve always been supportive.”
While it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, Keywest’s rise to the top of the Irish charts has been swift. They hit the peak with 2015 release ‘Joyland’, with this year’s follow up ‘True North’ also hitting number three locally.
“We don’t really busk anymore,” Sullivan admits following the chart success, “but it taught us a lot about grabbing a crowd and connecting with people. You have the time it takes someone to walk by to get their attention. It’s a real learning process. Anything that didn’t work in that environment kind of feels like it wouldn’t work as a song to us, so I guess that’s a measure of what goes on the album.”
True North has solidified a bond with fans that first formed on the city’s streets. “The album is us moving on a little bit,” Sullivan says. “It’s a lot about our experiences, what’s happened in the last few years, and about reflecting on that. It’s about finding out what’s real.”
“We see a lot of stuff these days with social media and the internet, where people don’t really reveal their true selves, but what they think other people want to see. It can be really difficult, it’s a bit disconnected from reality. We wanted to look into that a little on this album, and also make it clear to people that it’s not always straightforward. Life can be hard. I don’t think we should be afraid to say that, and to talk about our problems and our challenges.”
The title track, ‘True North’, an exploration of mental health, delivers its message through the medium of accessible melodic pop rock, and does so with real heart. Keywest’s dedicated audience have followed them from the streets to sell outs at the Olympia Theatre, making them a poster-act for success in the harsh world of Irish music. Their voices highlighting the dark side as they enjoy the ride might just be their bravest and smartest move yet.