Conversations with Artists: Cuchulain Kelly
Cuchulain Kelly is a Bay Area based musician & music teacher. We had the pleasure of hearing Cuchulain perform for us at a recent Optical Underground x Sofar Sounds concert and invited him to share his story on our blog.
Can you tell us about your background and how you ended up where you are?
For the longest time, I thought I’d be an engineer. I was the nerdy kid in school who sat in the front row and asked for extra math problems when I finished my work early. I even did the whole engineering thing for a few years. But then the world got confusing and polarized, and putting numbers in a line for someone else didn’t add up for me any more. Now the only thing that seems to make sense to me, in a tangible way, is music.
My roots are in rural South Carolina, where I grew up listening bluegrass, country, and gospel music. I started by singing in my family’s church choir as a kid. Since then, and many garage bands later, I’ve released three albums and toured many different regions of the country, performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, the Hotel Cafe in LA, and many venues small and large in between.
Why do you do what you do?
Maybe the best way for me to answer this question is to share an excerpt from the letter I wrote my mom and dad when I told them I had decided to quit my day job:
“I’ve realized that the mark I want to make on the world – the legacy I want to leave behind when I’m gone – is one of joy and warmth and positivity and happiness, and I want to make that mark on the world through music. In many ways I think I’m best equipped to make my mark through music. I may not be the best musician or singer or songwriter, but I am a musician, singer, and songwriter who loves doing it. And I think by sharing that love with the world, I’ll be able to make life better for myself and for those around me as I come in contact with them.”
Can you share some current projects or obsessions?
My two main music projects are my solo project, Cuchulain, and my band Handsome Hound (@handsomehoundband on Instagram). Both projects will be releasing a new album in 2020. Follow us to hear the new tunes!
What are some of your favorite Bay Area spots?
The Lost Church is my favorite music venue in SF. A small, 60-person venue that is homespun and hosts amazing intimate shows. Best tacos in the Bay are at Sol Food up in Mill Valley / San Rafael. Best guitar shop is Gryphon’s down in Palo Alto.
Least favorite thing about the Bay Area?
I’m sure nobody has EVER said this before, but the cost of living. That and the Teslas. (I’m actually a fan of Tesla’s big-picture goal to transition us away from a fossil fuel-based transportation system, but the Teslas here seem more like a status symbol. In fact I wrote a song about this, coming soon.)
3 adjectives to describe your style?
Quirky. Farmhouse. Bubba.
Timeless style pieces?
I’ve got these shoes that tend to get a good response. They’re these all white Stan Smith Adidas sneakers with rainbow swirly circles on them. I picked them up for $20 at a thrift shop in DC when I lived there. I tell people I only wear them when I want to “ruffle some feathers.”
Any causes you support?
I’ve been volunteering every week for the past month at Second Harvest helping them sort food. They do an incredibly impressive job getting hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to families in the Bay. If people can donate time or money to support them, I think it’ll make a big difference. This is a very professional organization and has earned my trust.
What can we be doing more of?
Being less productive. And being ok with being less productive. This is a really hard time. People feel like they need to use this time to write their own King Lear. I know I do. But maybe you just need to chill. And process.