Jess Kavanagh is putting some real bite in her Barq

After singing with Hozier and becoming one of the faces of the Repeal campaign, Jess Kavanagh is now intent on making a of of her funky fourpiece, writes Eoghan O’Sullivan.

Jess Kavanagh is putting some real bite in her Barq

Not many bands, little over a year into their career, get to drop anecdotes about having a drink in LA with “one of the lads from Def Leppard” and Kiss’s tour manager — yet it isn’t that surprising when Jess Kavanagh, the singer from the agrosoul Dublin four-piece Barq, reveals just that.

Kavanagh, 31, has been in various soul/funk bands over the past ten years, loaned vocals to the likes of Lethal Dialect (“the Irish Nas”), Jape, and Le Galaxie, and toured the world as a backing singer for the likes of Hozier and Kodaline.

This melting pot of creative forces was the catalyst for Barq, who make “music to dance dangerously to”. There have been three singles so far, with their first national tour and a trip to Canadian Music Week upcoming.

“I just really want to go for it at this point,” says. “I’ve no time anymore to be fearful, to be worried about what people think of me, which is the beauty of turning 30 — I just don’t give a crap what people think of me anymore.”

Kavanagh says the opportunities that have presented themselves are the result of plugging away at music for ten years, making friends along the way, and “a part of being the same community”. “I think people forget that even though Hozier and Kodaline are incredibly famous and incredibly successful, they’re still a part of the Irish music scene and they obviously want to be.”

Pre-‘Take Me To Church’, Andrew Hozier-Byrne approached Kavanagh after a gig and asked if she’d be up for doing some backing vocals. At the time, he was hopeful they might get to play Electric Picnic.

“He was really like, ‘Don’t judge me too harshly’,” she recalls. “At the time, the idea was to have me on for a couple of promos, post-EP release, but when he blew up the way he did, we ended up going to SXSW, New York, and LA as well.”

Kavanagh adds: “To be on tour with somebody like that and to see there is an availability and an opportunity for my friend, for somebody that I know, to become so successful and so famous, that was just, yeah that’s the reality, this can happen to some people if you put the work in.”

The music scene, by the time Barq made their live debut in February 2016, had changed and diversified since her first attempts at a soul band a decade previous.

“A huge part of that, obviously, has been the fact we’re so much more multicultural now… We’re more open to having different flavours getting involved in our Irish music now, so it’s not just the usual traditional stuff — which I was never raised on either.”

Her mother was half-Nigerian and a feminist who played strong female vocalists like Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt in the house in north Dublin where Kavanagh grew up. Barq’s third single, ‘Bear’, is a tribute to her mother.

“Meeting other women now, like Farah Elle, who’s of Libyan descent, and Soule, and Jafaris, and people who I’m discussing what it’s like having these different cultures in the home and how it’s influenced your music — that’s what I think’s really helped it develop and become way more textural. I feel more at home in this community now.”

Jess Kavanagh on the cover of Hot Press.
Jess Kavanagh on the cover of Hot Press.

Kavanagh has been vocal in the Repeal the eighth amendment movement. She appeared topless on the cover of Hot Press last September, with the word MINE written across her chest.

“Anybody who knows me knows I’m just being myself. There’s nothing different. I haven’t suddenly become political or socially aware just because it’s gotten some level of a high profile or however you want to describe it. This is just me.”

  • Barq, HAWK, and Harbouring Oceans set out on the Big Giant Head tour this month. They play Cyprus Avenue in Cork on March 30, and Connolly’s of Leap on March 31

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