It’s not every day you meet a musician who gets inspiration for a song from his knowledge of the sitcom “Boy Meets World.”
That “TGIF” sitcom from your youth was what Carrboro singer/songwriter XOXOK was thinking of when he composed “Mitt.” In fact, when you go to listen to the song on his SoundCloud page, it’s accompanied by a photo of the show’s two main characters, longtime lovebirds Cory and Topanga.
“So, in ‘Boy Meets World,’ which I used to watch every day after school – how do I say this?” says XOXOK, 26, while sitting and sipping at a Durham coffee shop. “I think when I wrote the song, I was thinking a lot about gender politics in relationships. I always remembered that Topanga asked Cory to marry her. It wasn’t the other way around. Topanga proposed to Cory in the series. I’ve never forgotten that. Even as a kid, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Can people do that?’ Now that I’m older, it’s more like, ‘Can people do that? Oh yes, of course they can. Why does that happen often?’”
“Mitt” is one of the few tunes the Rocky Mount-born, rock-and-soul musician (government name: Keenan Jenkins) has recorded for posterity. Even though he’s been performing since his high school days at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, where he first performed at an open-mic (“It was not great.”), he’s new to the professional music game after deciding to do this a year and a half ago. “I decided in summer of 2015 – I said, ‘OK, you know what? This is actually what I want to do with my life,’ ” he remembers.
He finished his last year of grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill as soon as he could in order to jump-start his musical career. “I got my Ph.D in psychology, but I was not enjoying the work that I was doing,” he says. “I was just waking up every day thinking, man, I really don’t wanna go do the work that I have to do today. And I decided that that was a horrible way to be waking up every day, and that I really loved making music. And if I wake up every day and have that to do, I would feel a lot happier.”
XOXOK, who brazenly admits he took his name from a friend of his (“She signed a note to me one day…And I thought, ooh, I’m gonna steal that!”), has performed in many venues in and around the Raleigh-Durham area. He also doesn’t mind performing at a person’s house, which he did when a friend put on a show featuring XOXOK at his place.
“He kind of charged people to come in, like a listening room-style event, and all the money went to charity. And he recorded me and another band giving a live performance.” (Those recordings can also be found on his SoundCloud page.)
You can see XOXOK perform Saturday night, as one of the many artists appearing at the annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza known as First Night Raleigh. This will be a good time to catch him, since he’s planning to lighten his performance schedule so he can concentrate more on writing and recording an album.
“After First Night, I’m only playing one more show (in Charlotte) until I kind of bunker down and record,” he says. (He is planning a small tour in the spring.)
If anything, XOXOK wants to create music that’ll make people understand that, even when he’s getting ideas from old sitcoms, he’s still coming from the heart.
“I think I want people to know that I’m singing my truth and performing my truth,” he says. “I wrote these songs. I wrote these lyrics. I wrote this music, not with the intention of, ooh, I’m gonna perform this song and it’s gonna be great. But I wrote it because I had to write it. It was waiting to be written.”
Who: First Night Raleigh, with XOXOK
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Visual Art Exchange, 309 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Cost: $10 ($50 VIP pass)
Info: 919-832-8699 or firstnightraleigh.com