Castlecomer pulls the ‘Fire Alarm,’ rides Australian cyclone to U.S. shores

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Castlecomer, Bede Kennedy

Castlecomer. Courtesy: Anna Webber.

Listening to the grandiose power pop of Castlecomer, it may be easy to presume the Australian rockers write songs only about chasing love and being young. The band is riding high off the success of three energetic blasts—“All of the Noise,” “Move” and “Fire Alarm”—that have drawn comparisons to another rising Aussie band, Gang of Youths.

Big Data, Castlecomer, Fitness
8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 7
The Chapel
Tickets: $18.

“The majority of our songs are either about girls and drinking and mucking around and having fun,” Castlecomer frontman Bede Kennedy acknowledged.

Then there’s “Favourite,” the ninth of 12 tracks on the band’s debut album, released in early October on Concord Records. The song has nothing to do with romantic love; instead it’s about fostering, adoption and abandonment.

“My parents, all through my childhood, were fostering babies,” said Kennedy, whose bandmates include three cousins and a friend from elementary school. “That was a real big part of my growing up. We had all these little babies coming in and out of our house the whole time. From the age of 12, I was thinking about how they’ve got no families. Their mothers are on drugs and not able to support them. Some of the babies, when they were born, would have drug withdrawals … because their mom’s on heroine and stuff. The doctors and my parents would have to give them little doses of morphine … to wean them off that stuff.”

The song also dives into parenting as a larger story; something Kennedy obviously feels passionate about. To the frontman, one of the core issues wrong with communities and societies is poor parenting by people who have children without realizing what it takes to raise a child.

“Children can be immediately affected by poor parenting, from birth,” he said. “That [song] I just wanted to tuck that onto the album to see if we could do a bit of it. It’s kind of a Gang of Youths song, really.”

From investigating corruption to SXSW

It’s early October and Bede Kennedy is in Cleveland, where Castlecomer has spent the last two weeks preparing for its current tour with Big Data, which kicks off two days later in Detroit. The band’s management is based in Cleveland, which made the city a brief home base. Kennedy has just finished shopping at his new favorite American supermarket: Super Wal-Mart. “It’s massive; the thing goes on forever,” he said.

This year has been a whirlwind for Castlecomer. In March Kennedy visited New York to get the lay of the land in America. The following month, the entire band moved from Sydney to Nashville. Three months later, the band went on its first lengthy tour. Afterward, the band returned not to Nashville, but Los Angeles. Six weeks after that they hit the road again and have been on the move ever since.

The whirlwind began around 2015. Kennedy and his bandmates—cousins Tommy Kennedy (guitar), Joe Kennedy (bass) and Patch Kennedy (drums), as well as keyboardist Joe Neely–played music since they were able to hold instruments.

“We were part of a very large Catholic Irish family, from Sydney Australia,” Kennedy said. “Everyone in the family lives within 3 kilometers of each other. Most of us lived within the same neighborhood block.”

The cousins and Neely would see each other several times a week and eventually started the band—named for their grandfather’s birth town in Ireland. By college, the music was more important to them than their studies. In 2015, the five all had day jobs. One was a carpenter; one a barman. Another was a chemical engineer at a brewery; a fourth was in retail. Bede Kennedy was a solicitor—a type of government prosecuting lawyer.

Every day, he and his team would investigate banks and accounting firms for corruption.

“So it was a nice spread of day jobs that we all wanted to get away from,” he said, without a hint of sarcasm or regret.

He acknowledged the job paid much better than being a musician; even a successful one in his home country. It was also mind numbing and stifled his creativity.

Castlecomer was signed to a label during this time, but the label routinely rejected the band’s quickly written and recorded—rushed—songs. That changed with “Fire Alarm.”

The song’s success wasn’t a fluke, Kennedy said. It happened right after he decided he and his bandmates needed to work harder and take more pride in the songs they were writing. The previous label still didn’t think so, so the band released the song to digital streaming services independently, and it took off almost instantly, climbing to the top of several charts at once. Before, Castlecomer would see no more than 20,000 streams per year—for all of its songs, combined. “Fire Alarm” got millions.

“For about three weeks to a month, we were getting about 20 emails a day from these record labels all around the world,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy had found the Castlecomer formula: “Spend a lot of time creating the music.”

In 2016, Kennedy decided his bandmates needed to focus more on quality lyricism and better, more intelligent melodies. So he quit his job.

Instead, he would wake up and immediately start writing for nine hours a day. This went on for a full year, during which he blew through the two years of savings that he had been able to build up as a lawyer.

On first glance, the Castlecomer album cover is a plant. To the band, it’s a nod to Australia:

CastlecomerInitially, our first pitch for our album cover was going to be just a black background with our white logo on it. Super simple. We didn’t want to distract people. … But as the songs were being mastered … there was so much color and life in our sound. … We wanted something beautiful. We wanted something Australian.

Australian [golden] wattle is the national flower of our country. There’s a whole lot of face value things … tying us to the country. We’ve been in America for eight months without going home, so we were a little nostalgic, a little homesick. We wanted to get an Australian thing in there. We ended up with the wattle, but we wanted it to be really pixelated and messed up. We asked the artist to cut it up because we thought our music is not so conventional and sort of messes with you. And also, the Australian wattle has the highest amount of DMT of any flower, so it’s got a sort of hallucinogenic nature to its chemical makeup. We thought it was a cool concept of the music messing with you, the image messing with you and it all getting into the heads of people.

“I’m really stingy with my money, and then in that year off, I cut all the way into my savings,” he said. “I pretty well spent everything on rent in Sydney, ’cause it’s so expensive.”

The sacrifice was necessary, he explained, because the band had done too little to improve its chances in the two preceding years.

“Life can pass you by quicker than you realize, and if you don’t grab these moments you’ll never get them,” he said.

Following the success of “Fire Alarm,” Castlecomer played SXSW in 2017, landed a management and label deal and was off to the races, joining a wave of Australian rock and power pop that includes Tash Sultana and Gang of Youths. Besides those acts, Kennedy credits Tame Impala for bringing Australian rock music to the mainstream in other countries like the U.S.

“We are 100-percent not in competition with [Gang of Youths],” Kennedy said.

Despite the similarities in their sound, the two bands have only shared the bill once or twice, in Australia. The similarities include an unashamed and earnest dramatic sound.

“Some of their songwriting is out-of-this-world good,” he said. “We would never say that we’re anywhere near as good as those guys. But we’re certainly trying.”

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