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A true passion project: Phuket's Vicki Kiely talks about her music and animal rights activism

A true passion project: Phuket's Vicki Kiely talks about her music and animal rights activism

The Phuket News recently spoke to local singer-songwriter and animal rights activist Vicki Kiely whose new album Mercy is in consideration for next year's Grammy awards. We spoke to Vicki about here musical life and her passion for animal welfare which sees her regularly travelling to Japan to fight against the global captive dolphin industry.

By Mark Knowles

Sunday 27 November 2016, 11:00AM

First of all a little background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Toronto to Irish parents, and spent the first nine years of my life there. We moved to Saudi Arabia when I was nine years old, and lived in Riyadh for many years.

During this time I went to boarding school at the age of 13 in Loreto Abbey, Dublin, Ireland, and I continued my third-level education there in Theatre Studies and acting at the Gaiety School of Acting.

Then I did my Drama teaching Diploma at The Royal Irish Academy of Music. I then formed a band called The 42s with some of my guy friends, and we gigged all over Ireland for many years. It was a fun punk rock vibe. I also did solo singer-songwriter gigs.

Was your family musical? When did you first become interested in music and how did that interest evolve?

Yes my grandfather played the piano and was a great singer, and my Dad is also very musical... he plays guitar and sings, and was singing Irish Rebel songs to me since I was in the crib. I was always surrounded by music, and I started to write my own songs at the age of 13, if not younger.

How did studying both acting and music this help you hone your skills and develop as a performer?

Acting gave me the confidence to be on stage and nurtured my ability to express myself. Acting allows you to explore many different characters and writers, as well as styles... this inspired me in my writing, and broadened my mind, my vocabulary, and my imagination.

Are you mainly a vocalist and guitarist? What other instruments do you use?

I am mainly a singer. My guitar skills are basic, but I use the guitar to write my songs. I do play guitar on some of my songs, but I am far more comfortable with the mic and my voice, and to leave the playing of instruments to the experts.

I do dabble on the piano, but I am no great shakes. I am getting my children piano lessons, as I believe the piano is the most beautiful instrument of all, and I also take lessons myself whenever I can.

Who are some of you favourite musicians and how they have influenced you?

Wow tough question... So many! Growing up I was engrossed with Irish traditional music as I said, but my Dad also loved The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, just to name a few... all whom I just saw perform recently at Desert Trip outside Los Angeles. It's a three-day rock festival that blew my mind. I went with my dad and siblings last month and it was a very emotional and incredible experience to see these legends play live.

In my teens I was obsessed with Guns n Roses, The Pixies, The Ramones, The Clash, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, U2, Greenday, and of course Nirvana. I was a rock chick through and through...

What brought you to Phuket and how long have you been here?

I came to Phuket after living in Hong Kong for eight years. I got divorced there after having two children, and life is very expensive in that city. We had a family home here in Phuket, and I really love being around nature.

I am an animal welfare activist and work for the Ric O’Barry Dolphin Project as a Cove Monitor in Japan. I just want to be surrounded by nature and work to make the planet a better place.

I want to raise my kids where the air is clean, and they can swim in the ocean, and have a proper happy childhood... not the life we were living in a concrete jungle with no grass, only planned play dates, no freedom, and very little nature, unless you go looking far out of the city for it.

The cost of living of course played a huge factor too. I feel very connected to Thailand, we have been here almost three years now and love it.

Do you perform here in Phuket regularly and where else have you performed?

I do not perform here in Phuket unfortunately, it is very difficult for performers to get visas here. I did record my album here however with the abundantly talented Gary Crause at Legend Studios.

Gary did a stellar job producing my album, as did the outstanding musicians Mike Mitchell, Rob Cooke and Blaze Crause on all my tracks. Thank you so much guys! You made my dream a reality.

I understand that you are in consideration for four categories in the Grammy awards, it must be exciting news, what is the process?

Now I am just sending my album out to as many people who might be NARAS members (Grammy voters) as possible, and promoting myself on social media. My manager Don Lichterman in NYC, and my record label Sunset Records are also pushing me big time of course with their connections.

QSI International School Phuket

I am getting lots of radio play around the globe so that is awesome. I can't believe this is happening to be honest. I wrote this album to help raise money for Dolphin Project whom I volunteer for in Japan to end the brutal slaughter of 100s of dolphins there every year.

They eat the meat there, but the main issue is captivity, and Taiji in Japan is the biggest seller of captive trained dolphins in the world... so I go there to try to stop it. I wanted to raise awareness and thought I would use my music to do that.

I never in a million years thought I would get to be considered for the 59th Grammys. It is very overwhelming and humbling. I am so grateful that I am able to use my voice to raise awareness for the cause closest to my heart.

Please watch the award winning documentary The Cove if you have not already. Ric O’Barry who is the star of this film, has become one of my close dear friends, and my mentor, and I would do anything to help him in this fight.

When will you know if you have been nominated and when are the awards scheduled to take place?

Eek! I am not sure, I think soon though. It is going to be tough. I am in really hard categories and up against the greats. I am just so happy to be considered as this is getting both my music out there, and my message about the dolphins' tragic fate in Japan.

Is Mercy your first album? What would you say are some of the themes and influences of the album?

It is my first album yes, although I have been writing it for years! Some of the songs I wrote in my early 20s, and it has been a work in progress since then. About four of the songs I wrote this year, but the rest are over the last 15-20 years. My themes, without planning them to be this way, are fighting injustice, having faith in yourself, standing up for what is right, and a couple about love.

Where else has your passion for animal rights activism led you and how does it influence your music?

I don't just work for Dolphin Project, I also try to create awareness about all animals, and treating them compassionately. I was the one who started the campaign earlier this year to rescue the Orangutan “Milo” from Phuket Zoo.

I started a petition, and we created massive global awareness… the zoo dumped her in the jungle, and we got her to the rescue centre, where she lived three months free, but unfortunately died of a stroke after a while… too many underlying problems from her mistreatment at the zoo.

I feel that my music allows me to express my need to right the wrongs of the world. I am so passionate about justice being served, and I always root for the underdog. I see so much abuse here in Thailand unfortunately, with the elephants, the monkeys, the crocodiles, you name it! I wish I could do more. My music helps me release my frustrations, and I hope strikes a chord with people when they listen to it.

I try to create awareness, sharing on social media, creating adverts that I have posted in the local newspapers advising tourists not to go to the elephant trekking camps, not to visit the dolphinarium or the zoo, not to take photos with tigers, or gibbons and slow loris on the beach.

Education is the key. I take photos and document the cruelty and abuse and I share with the media, and with social media. It is very hard here, so many people don't care, or turn a blind eye. Yet if I reach two families, or two people a week, and open their eyes, then I am doing something right.

I also try to create awareness and conservation for our ocean, our coral reefs are in critical danger here in Thailand, especially around Phuket. In fact most of the coral is dead, it is like a graveyard down there. I wish I had more money so I could do billboard campaigns and also at the airport. Once people are aware of the cruelty hidden by these places, they generally do not want to go and support it.

What can people here do if they are concerned about animal rights and want to get involved?

It is so tricky here. You can contact me on FB and I am happy to talk to you. You can share any abuse you see on social media, and tell your visitors not to support the captive trade here, and to only go to sanctuaries, or see animals in the wild. Help us by cleaning the beaches of plastic.

Donate to the likes of Bodhi Dog Shelter, and Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, The Mai Khao Turtle Foundation, even offer to volunteer at these amazing organisations. There are so many people doing amazing work here on our island to help animals and our environment.

Where can people buy or listen to you music?

You can buy it on iTunes, hear it on Spotify, and please purchase it, as proceeds of the sales go directly to Ric O’Barry Dolphin Project, to help with our ongoing and crucial work at the cove in Japan, and the Solomon Islands, and where ever dolphins are in trouble in the world.

Are you working on anything right now? Can you tell me about it?

Right now I am studying Primatology online, as working with Milo and getting so close to her really made me realise how much I love working with primates. Being that close to an Orangutan changed my life, and I miss her and mourn her every day, as do my kids.

I am also starting to write an acoustic EP, but I am taking my time with it. On top of study and writing, I am a single mom so I am on the go non-stop! I am a cook, a taxi driver, a maid, a nanny, you name it, that's what a mom is! I go back to Japan to work as a Cove Monitor over Christmas and New Years at Taiji Cove to document and share with the world the atrocities that happen there.

My children are with their dad this year, so I figured I would go where I am needed instead of being home alone missing my kids and moping. Please follow the Dolphin Project Facebook page to see the work that we do there.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Vicki and good luck with the Grammy awards next year, I'm sure everyone in Phuket will be hoping you win.

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