Local music: MKAI

Ellen Desmond chats with Colm MacSweeny of the up-and-coming Cork band MKAI who trumped Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran in the iTunes charts last week.

MKAI exploded last week across Irish music media and mainstream news alike, asword broke of the debut EP Waiting which had done the seemingly impossible.

Waiting, which was released to a sold out Crane Lane on the 8th of November, quickly soared up the Irish iTunes Chart. MKAI was soon pulled into media frenzy, as the EP overtook Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Hozier on the charts, before ultimately knocking Taylor Swift’s 1989 out of of its third place seat.

There Waiting proudly held its own for a considerable time, and it now reigns at number 4.

MKAI, a group of four Cork brothers, have all been involved in different bands and musical projects before. However, following what has been called a “remarkably successful crowdsourcing campaign” the brothers finally came together in 2013 and had the platform they needed to begin work on recording the EP. I spoke with MKAI’s Colm MacSweeny about the overwhelmingly positive response to the debut and the journey so far.

For him and his brothers, the level of success was totally unexpected.

“I mean we didn’t know what to expect really, we were just hoping for it to do well but then out of nowhere it shot straight up to third place on the iTunes charts. Which was just amazing like, I mean you’re looking up at the top five and you’re in amongst people like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and One Direction, I mean that’s people that you wouldn’t even imagine having your name said in the same sentence with, you know?”

The climb to iTunes Chart success has been an extremely fast paced one for the four brothers, with the bulk of the buzz forming in a three week period. The group purposely released the video for their song Waiting about two weeks before the EP launch.

The video was shot and directed by Madra Mór, a London based production company, and the stunning video was responsible for kicking off much of the hype that was to follow.

“We had a good few thousand views before the EP even launched so that really helped us get a bit of a buzz going and then the EP launched!” explained MacSweeny.

“So for the EP launch itself we just wanted to make it something different. On the night we brought over three dancers from Kerfuffle Dance Studio, one was the dancer in our video for ‘Waiting’ and she brought over two other dancers as well, and there was a string quartet playing some of our songs before we came on and it was cool because it was just a completely different vibe. And because of that then, people were talking about it, a lot.”


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MKAI at their EP launch in Crane Lane



The buzz had been rapidly growing up until D-Day, which came with a Facebook post on the MKAI official Facebook page. Following the Facebook post, which informed fans that the EP was now available on iTunes, the band members found themselves “checking it every hour and seeing the numbers go up and up and up.”

MacSweeny admitted it was entirely unprecedented and added that “it really means something as well, like people are delighted to see an Irish band, an unsigned Irish band, up there doing so well. I mean we’re completely blown away by it, it’s just phenomenal.”

The hypnotic melodies and charming lyrics were composed by the brothers themselves, who grew up in a musical family with nine children and are no strangers to working or singing together. MacSweeny described working with his brothers as “great actually, I mean I’ve been in a few bands before and you have great fun and all that but I think when you’re with the brothers you just kind of understand each other a lot more, if you know what I mean, especially musically.” He described their household and childhood as always full of music, and believes that being a family definitely has a very positive impact on the band.

“Whether it was birthdays, Christmas or whatever, everyone would be hanging around the house playing music and singing together…. you just kind of understand, what the other person is doing, where they are coming from musically, it’s a lot easier to play together and to write together as well.”

The name of the band, along with the music, also finds its roots in a familial connection.

“Eoin, when he was younger, he couldn’t say the word music,” laughed MacSweeny, “and so when he was young and we were all at the house and he wanted some music put on he’d say ‘Mum, mum, put on some mkai!’ And it just grew from there; it’s really funny, it just became a running theme in the family that music just became mkai and then when the band formed it just seemed natural that that would be the name.”

Speaking of the brothers’ experiences in UCC, Motley discovered that none of them actually studied music here. With the eldest beginning in 1997, and their younger sister still a current student, it’s been a long and diverse relationship with the University for the MacSweeny family. The MKAI members themselves studied everything from Law, to Arts, to Economics and “things that may seem not-musically inclined but if you think about putting all those things together it does make sense for the band, you do have to be aware of what’s around you.”

MacSweeny also explained that the environment of UCC really benefitted them, telling Motley that “I think it was just the culture of UCC, really, that bred what we had. I mean, all of us have been in bands throughout the years, all throughout college, Cian was in a band called Carbon Copy who were quite a popular band at the time in college, you know, they did a load of college balls and different types of events around college as well. UCC really gave us a good platform for people to hear our music, back before all this obviously, so yeah, we’ve a good relationship with UCC – a very long relationship with UCC!” The graduates of MKAI are very interested in returning, and admitted that “we’d love to do gigs up in UCC, it would be great to get involved with the students, definitely.”


As part of MTV Crashes, MKAI perform at the Old Oak in Cork on the 26th of November at 1pm. Debut EP ‘Waiting’ is available on iTunes now.

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