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k-os - Organised k-os

Author: Huwston
Friday, 25 January 2008
Kevin Brereton called himself ‘k-os’, an acronym of ‘Knowledge Of Self’. It’s pretty reasonable: 3D’s Huwston got the impression that this guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

If  k-os were a Hollywood actor, he might be Daniel Day Lewis or the late Heath Ledger: a malleable free spirit that captures your imagination so that you never forget how you’ve been touched by ‘that’ performance, song or body of work. Breaking through in Australia a few years ago with the single Crabbuckit, all who heard it were immediately stung by its combination of deft rhymes, crooner type singing and Lovecats-meets-hotstep rhythm section. His most recent album Atlantis: Hymns for Disco is by far his most ambitious work, encapsulating old school drum breaks over pop rock, reggae and rhythm and blues.

“I am the kind of person who freaks everyone out when I’m driving because I’m always changing the music every two seconds,” says  k-os (real name Kevin Brereton), who always quickly contextualises a trivial point with something a bit deeper. “This kinda thwarted me on an academic level as a kid, ’cause I was could never focus on anything except artist endeavours.”  How does this apply to his music- “In the past, in all of my younger records, people like The Roots would say to me, ‘Your records are all over the place’, which would sometimes have good and sometimes have bad connotations. I accepted later in my career that that was my state of mind, my personality.”

 k-os says that later in life he may want to make a straight-up jazz record or a record consisting entirely of reggae – but if he had to do it now, he’d go crazy. “It’s not like I wake up every day and say, ‘I’m going to be a chameleon’, I just think it’s the nature of my persona to switch between different types of feelings and understandings,” he says.

Surely, from an administrative point of view, this sort of thing has caused him or his career some kind of problems- With music in the state that it is in, it seems to be in the job description of today’s record label A & R men to box their artists in as much as possible. There are ring tones to sell, c’mon!

“I was a huge fan of Prince, and Prince was one of the first to use the term ‘creative control’…” ( k-os pauses to ask if readers will be familiar with the phrase before continuing:) “…when he got signed to Warner at 19. I didn’t put that in my contract but from my first record on the label didn’t bother me till I was ten songs in, which at that time in a record is a very hard time to A & R it.”

Agreeing that you might not be allowed that kind of creative freedom in other parts of the world – we all know what happened to the sound of the Black Eyed Peas when they were looking down the barrel of album number three –  k-os gets props from Wyclef, The Roots and Black Eyed Peas, who he thinks are happy that a guy like him can exist.

“I think Canada is a real melting pot – like Australia – people are open and the landscape affects the psychology of the place. In a big metropolis like London or Rome where it’s congested, perhaps only a certain type of mentality can penetrate… It’s different in America. To get put on in the ’game’ you have to fulfil certain types of radio ‘game’, whereas in Canada Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are the pantheon of what it is to be a Canadian artist.”

Again, going from something as trite as ‘game’ to something as deep as cultural identity and strength of self,  k-os digs deeper.

“We are a young country with a different history. I feel this especially as a black person, a first generation Canadian. In America there is four hundred years of history that creates a culture and an accent but it also creates some imprisoning things,” he suggests, “a way to be hip hop or a way to be black or a way to speak. Like being a black Australian if you’re not Aboriginal, if your parents came from Africa but live in Australia you really could have carte blanche on who you could be as a person because there is no rule right-” We discuss the possible identity issues that face a minority in any country.

“People always say Australia is like this or like that (as in white bread) but when I was a young kid listening to new wave and I heard that ‘How do we sleep when our beds are burning’ song and I figured out what the lyrics were, I never perceived Australia as just white. I always saw the mystical aspects of Aboriginal culture, so please know, from a Canadian who is sorta well read that I don’t see Australia like that at all – I see it more like Africa. You might be lonely as a black person in Australia but that’s how I feel in Canada sometimes.”

For someone who achieves chart success and critical acclaim, it would be easy to assume that  k-os has some deep battles with his spirituality and keeping it real when everyone knows he’s worth a bit of coin. Contrary to that belief,  k-os removes himself from his world of business and focuses on making music.

“I never look at my bank account – my brother is the opposite, he has a degree in finances,” he says happily. “I don’t know my ‘net worth’ is – that’s not a part of my consciousness. I always remember what I wanted when I was 18 or 19 and decided to be a (full-time) musician, which was a reasonable roof on my head, nothing too big, all of the musical equipment I need to keep making records and enough money to take a girl on a date at any time.”

After the suggestion that a child-like mentality keeps him fresh he leaves with a nod to hip hop’s greatest teacher. “KRS One says you should never bank your whole life on hip hop ’cause you’re going to have to sell out to do that. Never base your financial reality on using hip hop to make a living because hip hop is such a pure thing, you will have to sell it out to do it. That’s why it ended up going such a crazy route. How can you make a living out of something that was born out of revolution… the underdog… the streets… I mean you’re going to take this and become a millionaire off it-”

WHO:  k-os
WHAT: Plays the Gaelic with Watussi
WHEN: Thursday 14 February