It’s not enough to just be good at your craft. You need to learn about the mechanics and business side of how the entertainment industry operates. I got nowhere in music or comics until I started investigating the mechanics of how these industries worked.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kev Sherry, lead singer for the cult, critically acclaimed Scottish indie-rock four-piece Attic Lights (Island Records, Elefant Records).
Kev makes a welcome return with his politically charged debut solo album ‘Foxy Orthodoxy’.
After enjoying great success with three highly esteemed studio albums with Attic Lights: Friday Night Lights (2008),Super De Luxe (2013) and Love In The Time Of Shark Attacks (2019), frontman Kev Sherry is now enjoying on a solo career. Kev’s songs have previously been featured on BBC’s The Culture Show, HBO’s Divorce, Netflix’s Elite, MTV’s Teen Mom, The One Show and many others. He has also collaborated with international artists including Bjorn Yttling, Cerys Matthews, La Casa Azul- and his songs have been remixed by names such as Mogwai, Camera Obscura, Jim Noir and The Vaselines.
Thematically Foxy Orthodoxy is reflective of the current zeitgeist and is an extension of the themes Kev explores in his written work for New Statesman and The Alternative UK — anarchism, feminism, gender politics, the ideological culture wars, the cult of personality and the hypocrisy of the human heart. These are subjects Kev also explores in his forthcoming feminist graphic novel Warpaint which is due to be published by a legendary Franco/American company in early 2021. Musically, Foxy Orthodoxy reconnects with shambolic, loose guitars, catchy melodies, bare production and raw recordings and is inspired by acts like Courtney Barnett, Alvvays, The Lemonheads, Surfer Blood and Best Coast.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/14d37013002455d12fae22643f53c674
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kev! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland in a house full of music from the 60s, 70s and 80s so I had a quite broad musical upbringing. The house (as befits parents who were teachers) was also full of books and comics. I learned piano as a kid while also making my own homemade comics. Then, when I discovered guitar music, I asked for a guitar for my birthday. I formed a band after leaving university called Attic Lights. We signed to Island Records but never quite broke through to a big audience. We became a sort of cult band for fans of power pop and Scottish indie music. The kind of band that only uber-music nerds (like me) probably know about.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have the sort of mind that assumes that if I can imagine doing something, then I can do it in real life. (Be that wise or foolish, I’ve never quite figured out). I remember a very clear moment when my mum told me about her cousin in New York who played in a successful band called Talking Heads. (David Byrne.) My mum would always play David’s records in the house so I grew up assuming that this was a viable career path and not something out of reach. When it became clear to me that the specific chemistry that made Attic Lights work, wasn’t really matching my own ambitions I decided to just go for it under my own name. You know that thing in life where you say to yourself, “one day I will write a novel or do this or that”? Well, I just made a very conscious decision to do those things instead of talking about them. I wrote a graphic novel last year and it has been picked up by a major global publisher. Then I wrote a novel and I am now talking to publishing agents about representing it. I recorded my debut solo album and got signed up by a record label. I just decided to do it all, and was lucky enough that I managed to figure out how to get these things to a certain level of success. Now it all seems to be taking off.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve been able to meet and work with some heroes of mine. In the comic world I’m now working with Mark Waid, whose comics I have read all my life. That’s a real thrill. It’s a weird (and kinda cool) feeling to privately meet and chat to people whose names adorned the books that meant so much to you growing up. It turns out that he is now the editor for my comic Warpaint. I guess that is only interesting to comic book fans like me! But it’s a big deal for me!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s a very old and common mistake in the music business. Drinking before playing a show. My band got drunk before a festival show and were so out of tune and out of time and accidentally breaking things on stage that the festival organizer turned the power off on stage. At least the audience were laughing rather than booing! Looking back now it is kind of funny, though we learned our lesson after that. You wouldn’t go into your day job drunk… so don’t go into your dream job drunk.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a number of new projects at the minute. Obviously I’m still promoting my solo album in any way I can think of that doesn’t involve live gigs. (Damn you, Coronovirus!) I’m also working on 2 new graphic novels and recording my second solo album. I also have a special secret musical project that I’m currently working on with my music publisher. I can’t say too much at the moment other than it is kind of soul and dance based with great grooves and some amazing singers confirmed.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
1) I grew up seeing white men dominate every aspect of the entertainment industry. Being a white man myself I never had the experience of not being able to recognize myself in these positions. It must be horrible to live in a world where no-one who looks like you occupies positions of power and success.
2) Everything amazing that happens in the arts is the product of diversity, of cultures intermingling. Rock’n’Roll is the perfect example of white country music mixing with the African American blues. Cultural appropriation of course is a major issue when it comes to these things. But there is still a certain incredible magic that can happen when new cultures come into your own little world. For example, a bunch of white kids in Georgia, brought up in a racist household, who grow up seeing BAME faces in music videos they love, or in movies or TV shows, may start to think differently about people who look different to them. Exposure to difference challenges our perceptions of our own little world in powerful and subtle ways.
3) There is no truth in the world without representation of what and who the world is. Women, BAME people, trans people or any other variation of humanity — all these different ‘groups’ exist and power the world and the culture around us. (and often outnumber white men on this planet) Do we want to live in a lie? Or do we want art and culture to show us the truth about our world? I grew up in a household where the woman was boss. I have never had any problems looking up to, taking orders from, or being around strong women. White men have had their shot at building this modern world, and now I think it’s time to take a back seat and hand the reins over to others.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) It’s not enough to just be good at your craft. You need to learn about the mechanics and business side of how the entertainment industry operates. I got nowhere in music or comics until I started investigating the mechanics of how these industries worked.
2) It is ALL about personal relationships. You need to meet people, learn how to talk to people in the language of the industry, become friends with people in the industry. And the cool thing is, the more you operate in these industries, the more people you meet. If you are friendly and open, it just keeps getting better.
3) Breaking through is the hardest thing you will probably ever do. We missed weddings and family events, we gave up evenings and weekends and social lives. We gave it everything, and we still barely scratched the surface.
4) Breaking through actually isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is sustaining that career. Because we got dropped by our record label after our first album and had to work even harder to get a new record label.
5) Be Kind. Basic human decency goes a long way. We all rely on other people and no-one wants to work with an asshole. I’ve seen lots of talented people who let their own arrogance and sense of self-importance completely derail their careers. No-one wanted to work with them. And you can’t do it yourself.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s hard to talk about a work life balance as the music industry is not really kind to people who treat it like a hobby. It needs to be the first thing you think of when you wake up and the last thing you think of when you go to bed. That said, the most important thing is not to attach your sense of self-worth to your work. You and your work are separate. If your happiness depends on the success of your work… then that way madness and deep unhappiness lies.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-
I wouldn’t say I had enormous influence but all of my work is in one way or another concerned with change, be it personal, social or political. If I could inspire any movement, it would for all of us, to question the most basic aspects of our belief systems, to understand that none of us are necessarily correct, and that we should deal with global problems without strict adherence to pre-existing ideologies. I don’t know what you would call that movement? The Self-Questioners?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many people. But most of all my band Attic Lights. We all shared the same drive and vision and ambition. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I probably wouldn’t have gained the experience and self-belief to start making solo albums and comics and novels. We swore a bond to each other in the early days, that we would take it as far as we could and promised we would rely on one another. That promise, and the friendships behind it, led me to where I am today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is what we make it.” Our minds shape the world we live in. Some of us have been damaged by life and struggle to think that way. But most of the human stuff around us wouldn’t exist without humans to invent it. Banks, houses, money, philosophy, economics… And if we invented it, then we can sure as hell re-invent it all to make it better. Life is what we make it. And I say ‘we’, because none of us truly ‘make it’ by ourselves.
When people have told me, you’ll never get a record deal, you will never get published as a writer, you’ll never run a marathon… etc… You just need to remember that we make this world. We make our own lives.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
That’s such a tough question. There are so many fascinating and amazing people in the world. However, I would like to avoid self-indulgence in my answer. If I could sit down with anyone, it would probably be people who I would consider my ideological opposites. Billionaire funders of the right wing like Peter Thiel, climate change deniers like the Koch family or neo-fascists like Steve Bannon. I want to understand them and why they believe what they do. I’d also do my best to reach them, to ask them to question their deeply held convictions. It’s only through building rapport and understanding with our ‘perceived enemies’ that we can challenge and change the world for the better.
Failing that, I’d go for a drink with Bill Burr.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you for having me!