Kevin O’Brien is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Co. Kerry, Ireland. Having fallen in love with music at a young age, he spent his teens writing songs, playing chords and giving his all to the group gigs he played throughout Ireland. Now a presenter on UL FM radio, Kevin studies Music, Media and Performance Technology at the University of Limerick. He has performed with his alternative rock band, Sparkle Motion, at the internationally-renowned Rose of Tralee Festival and also at the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service. Kevin’s vocals and guitar combine with the skills of younger brother Thomas O’Brien on drums/percussion, and DD Foley on bass guitar and backing vocals, to create the “catchy melodies and ecstatic live shows” that Sparkle Motion is swiftly becoming known for.
O’Brien’s first taste of music composition came when he began second-level education. “I started writing songs on my own only a few months after learning guitar. I must have been about 14, I think. I started putting some chords together that just happened to work out here and there; [then] I would use my first band, QED, as a handy outlet to experiment with these ideas. I thought they were unreal at the time, but, looking back, I think very differently!”
He always found music to be “more than a hobby”, which led him to pursuing it at third level. “Studying music, and music theory, can only help by broadening new ideas. I’ve learned some valuable material from different modules at university and also I have [become accustomed to] a wide range of musical software and interfaces, that I can try and integrate into live performances with Sparkle Motion.”
He believes his songwriting has matured over the years and his music has only benefited from this. “When I first started writing lyrics, I think they were very ‘teenage’, about relationships, self-esteem and other similar subjects… the typical angry, hormonal, rock band, as such. But lately, I focus towards writing about more serious issues: death, forgiveness and life in general. I think the music goes hand in hand with this. The dynamics of a certain song can create an atmosphere, which amplifies the meaning of the lyrics.”
He says it is hard to find the time to compose new material with the distractions of work and university, but “writing at midnight always works, and many other musicians have agreed with me on this. I read somewhere that people are more creative when they reach a certain stage of tiredness because of the brain wave frequencies. I don’t always write in the same place either. It’s always handy to have a voice recorder on your phone! Anything can inspire me to create a song, anything that provokes thought.”
He co-writes “all the time” with the other two members of the band. Although he regularly alters lyrics, there are some that he feels must stay as they were written on the page. “You just can’t touch those lyrics even if you wanted to, because they meant something at the time you put them on paper and that [sentiment] is really important to get the message across.” He likes the fact that Sparkle Motion is very much a collaborative band. “More than ever, we all equally contribute in the melody side of things, but they tend to leave the theme and lyrics up to me. I haven’t really had the experience of fully writing everything to do with a song 50/50 with someone yet! It’s something I really want to get into doing as soon as possible.”
O#Brien finds the most difficult aspect of songwriting to be deciding on the theme. “When you want a song to be the best it can possibly be, you have to make it mean something,” he declares. “Also, if you plan on playing it on a regular basis, it can get very boring if it means nothing to you. Lately, I’m really trying to put a personal approach into every single song, so it really means something to me when it’s played with the band.”
He says the best lyric he’s ever heard is sung by Radiohead lead vocalist, Thom Yorke, in Videotape: “This is my way of saying goodbye / because I can’t do it face to face / so I’m talking to you before it’s too late // No matter what happens now / I shouldn’t be afraid / because I know today has been / the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.” He counts Muse among his musical influences – “I always thought they influenced me into rock and Radiohead taught me how to forget boundaries” – and says his favourite bands are “Interpol, Manic Street Preachers, Coldplay, White Lies, REM, The Smiths, Director, Joy Division…Too many to mention.”
Plenty of success is no doubt in store for O’Brien and Sparkle Motion. They are making a demo this month, as well as playing a series of gigs all over Ireland.
“There’ll be plenty more videos and recordings coming very soon…” promises O#Brien, so keep an eye out for this fantastic band.