Tuesday 21 January 2020

'I get catharsis in every song that I play'

A self-described "emotional bag of meat", Jess Kav, singer with BARQ, tells our reporter about bloodbaths, rejection, pain - and how her late mother taught her the value of independence

Hotly tipped Irish band BARQ have an eponymous EP coming out in May.
Hotly tipped Irish band BARQ have an eponymous EP coming out in May.
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

You can tell a lot about a band by their favourite albums of all time. Hotly tipped Irish act BARQ's choices are nothing short of intriguing: Hiatus Kaiyote's Choose Your Weapon, Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, Radiohead's In Rainbows and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly.

BARQ's lead singer Jess Kav combines all of the above and none of the above, in that she has an individual style as a singer, and as a woman.

"The guys," she says (of bandmates Steve McHale and Tommy Gray) "possess the world's only known Bancello. It's an instrumental Frankenstein, a cello with a snare drum forced into its belly to form a beautiful but terrifying beast. It's an affront to God."

Jess - who is an affront to mundanity - adds that while at a party in a mansion in Bray, the band were perfecting a new dance move "and in the process someone fell and split their head open on a piano. It was a bloodbath. The dance is now called 'Danger dance.'"

Danger Dances notwithstanding, Jess grew up in Dublin listening to Erykah Badu, Motown and the aforementioned Lauryn Hill. "It has definitely influenced how I sing."

"While working together as a hip-hop covers band, we developed a unique approach to instrument sounds and arrangements. After having a light-bulb moment, we decided to apply this approach to our own songs and so BARQ was born," says Jess of their formation last year.

BARQ's new single Gentle Kind Of Lies, explains Jess, is about dealing with "rejection and the various states you go through when your ego has been bruised.

"Self-reflection, resentment, anger, self-denial, begrudging acceptance, etc. In the video, my make-up makes my face look split through the middle to emphasise the internal struggle between your emotions."

This sometimes epic inner battle is found on another new song, Bear - from the band's self-titled EP, out in May - in which Jess wrote about losing her mother Liz Kavanagh to cancer. "You were the bear that fought my corner," she sings.

Why was she the bear that fought your corner?

"She worked in The Purty Kitchen and Whelan's," Jess answers, "so she introduced me to music and the live music scene from a very early age. She taught me the importance of independence and having a fulfilling life, which is why pursued I music as my vocation.

"A mother's protection is an important thing. This is what I touch on when I discuss her in this song. Rejection, loss and coping mechanisms to deal with all of life's curveballs are the themes that run through the EP. All important parts of life that everyone can identify with."

What goes through your head when you sing Bear?

"Emotional catharsis through music is something I get in every song I play. Particular lyrics don't necessarily bowl me over, otherwise I would be unable to perform. The overall performance of a gig is what helps me with emotional release."

I ask Jess to describe what kind of person she is.

"What am I? Irish people hate saying nice things about themselves. But I also don't want to be annoyingly self-deprecating. So you have put in me in quite the pickle here. 'Emotional bag of meat' keeps coming to mind.

"Nice and simple. Or, as Tommy [BARQ's drummer] said of me: 'A human surrounded by humans for better or for worse, trying her best to be a human with varying degrees of success."

For the full-length interview, as well as two exclusive performances by BARQ, see the Windmill Lane Sessions at independent.ie. You can also watch the Sessions on TG4.

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