special guests: Amble
You can tell immediately when a band has it. Maybe it’s down to the chemistry between band members, or the quality of the songwriting, or the anthemic nature of the music that gets you right in the gut. Maybe, in Kingfishr’s case, it’s all three.
Formed while members Eddie (vocals, guitar), McGoo (banjo), and Fitz (bass) were studying engineering at university in Limerick, Kingfishr are gathering momentum like few other bands in recent memory. “Since October last year, we’ve been caught up in this whirlwind,” says Eddie. “It’s only in the past few weeks that we’ve been able to get our feet back on the ground.”
Taking their name from the bird that frequents the river Boro in Eddie’s home county of Wexford, Kingfishr had limited experience in music when they first got together, making their success to date all the more impressive. “I only started playing when I came to college,” Eddie recalls. “I made friends with a gang of 10 or 15
lads, and at a house party a guitar was produced and maybe 10 of them could play it. And I thought that was insane, so I picked it up off them.” His audience had, until that point, been restricted to anyone who caught him singing in the shower at home: “I knew I liked singing, but I was petrified,” he admits. “The first time the band did an open mic night, I was so nervous I couldn’t actually rest the guitar on my legs, they were shaking so much!”
You wouldn’t think it, to hear him now. On debut single “Flowers Fire”, released last summer and already with over a quarter of a million streams, he sings in a low burr that builds with the steady picking of the acoustic guitar. The lyrics are strikingly poetic: “If I could only turn back time/ Take back all those things I said/ In the tempest of a moment/ But oh, my soul has gone and left me/ In the depths he begs for death.” As the banjo strikes up alongside a rousing, thunderous drumbeat, you sense the gravitas that comes with the band’s Irish heritage.
Both McGoo and Fitz got their start in traditional Irish music. “It was a big part of my family’s social life,” McGoo, who hails from Tipperary, explains. “And when I met the boys, I started bringing those references into our sound. There's a storied history to spoken word in Ireland that defines us as a culture – something of that authentic Celtic vibe that I think people are still hungry for. In some way that's what we're trying to get at, while keeping it fresh at the same time.” It can’t hurt that the trio are currently living together in their home/studio, which is situated on a dairy farm in Limerick. “The house is right next to a shed full of calves – sometimes they keep the boys up with their wailing.” Eddie grins. “And vice versa.”
They’re still coming to terms with the reaction to “Flowers Fire”, even as each new single brings greater recognition. “We’d just put that first song out, and the next day we woke up and it was on New Music Friday, and people were messaging us left right and centre,” Eddie says. A member of Hermitage Green, another prominent band out of Limerick, got in touch and invited them to a gig, then on tour playing to over 4,000 people. “And that was our first song,” McGoo says, still taken aback. “Everything is changing so quickly at the moment. When we started the band we had plans for six months, and those got blown out of the water not long after that.”
Fans have found plenty of meaning in Eddie’s songwriting, which is laced through with metaphors and analogies inspired by myth and legend. “I can’t attach myself to much of modern pop music,” he says with a shrug. “It’s almost as if an alien came down and watched a load of movies, then went to write a song. That’s an imitation of the human experience, not the real thing.” Eddie writes from the soul, delving into darker, more abstract imagery even if the themes remain universal.
Kingfishr’s second single “Eyes Don’t Lie” was recorded last summer, and treads over the painful ground of a relationship. “I’m not the best with relationships, so a lot of these songs are me working out [how I feel] as I’m writing it,” Eddie says. “Often you don’t really know what you’re writing about until you’ve written the song,” Fitz points out. Yet while Eddie writes with the assuredness of an artist twice his age, these songs never come across as bitter or jaded. Rather, they’re infused with an underlying, youthful sense of hope, of learning from your mistakes.
They celebrate the risks taken, too, on their latest song, the stirring “Heart in the Water”, which has racked up tens of thousands of streams in the weeks since its release. There’s a deep resonance and grit to Eddie’s voice as he hollers amid the banjo strums and pounding rhythm: “Heart in the water/ Blood in the fire/ Back when I loved you/ Fueled by desire.” The song is a paean to the fleeting nature of life, calling to that instinct in all of us to take a chance before it’s too late. “Am I enough?” Eddie asks. “Or am I petrified, still frozen to the stairs?/ I should have told you how I loved you/ I should have told you even though you didn't care.”
Listeners will notice the cinematic quality to Kingfishr’s sound, which can be credited in part to the trio’s love of film scores. “We enjoy exploring those grand moments in a song,” McGoo nods, while Fitz remarks: “There’s nothing like when a song starts big. It takes you on a wild ride; your heart is pounding by the end of it.” They encapsulate this feeling on forthcoming release “Anyway”, which opens with a dramatic burst of synths and layered vocals. Eddie’s vocals have a resolute quality here, matching the determined beat and the sharp pluck of the banjo.
“Caroline” a fan favourite at the band’s triumphant live shows, was written “almost on a whim”, when Eddie felt inspired by his love of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. “That was the first one that was written with a more guided, poetic intention,” he says. “Tapping into the marriage between the trouble you have in relationships, and also that fairytale Irish existence that people think of.” “Vancouver”, meanwhile, was borne out of a chance encounter with Eddie's ex-girlfriend at an airport. “That one’s probably a bit more direct, a stronger story to it,” Fitz suggests, adding with a chuckle: “And me and McGoo were standing in the background, like, ‘Aw jesus.’”
“Afterglow” is decidedly different in tone: a beautifully wrought composition over which Eddie sings in an affecting falsetto. “I love the ethereal nature of falsetto vocals,” he explains. “I grew up with Bon Iver, he definitely did play a huge role in developing my ear.” It is, perhaps, the song that best captures the enigmatic quality of Kingfishr’s sound. “I find music is one of those last places where there’s a bit of magic,” Eddie says. “Where things aren’t explained away. And I love the idea of not knowing how the magic trick is done.”