INTERVIEW: Kirin J Callinan

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BEHIND THE BRAVADO

Down the line from LA, where he’s between tours with Pond and Mac DeMarco, Kirin J. Callinan gives Chris Familton an insight into the creative process behind his new album Bravado and why it took four years to complete.

Kirin J. Callinan is something of a modern day renaissance man, a polymorphic pop provocateur who revels in stretching creative boundaries and treading a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. His debut album Embracism explored industrial tension and bittersweet balladry but Bravado takes a different kind of maximalist approach, combining brash, over-the-top EDM synths with Callinan’s trademark effect-laden guitar playing, answerphones, didgeridoos, whistling and that voice that recalls the orotund tones of Scott Walker, Matt Johnson (The The) and Alan Vega (Suicide). It’s a bold transition, yet it’s not a great departure from his core aesthetic.

“I wanted to make the same record again and explore the same ideas and the weirdness I’d created but push it further. In the past there was this moody, kind of violent, shadowy, industrial murkiness with all these spiritual ballads. I wanted those electronic sounds that were previously industrial and threatening to now be inclusive and fun. The ballads were previously more poetic and self-serious. I wanted the new ones to have a more heightened sentimentality and be more inclusive and accessible, rather than the idea of being elitist or cool. I wanted to do away with all that and make it fun,” he stresses.

“I kind of hated this record and didn’t feel motivated to finish it,” recalls Callinan, when asked why four years have passed since he released his debut solo album. “The truth is that the vast majority of this record was a made in 2014. The songs were written then and they haven’t changed much since mid-2015. I guess what did change was my perspective. I was able to flick a switch and love all the things I hated about it and see it for what it was and understand its beauty and humanity and the truth in its ugliness, bombast and bravado.”

Callinan was encouraged to finish the album when “a bunch of different guests, who made cameos on the record, heard what I had and wanted to be part of it. That definitely fills you with confidence when you have doubt over something.” Some collaborations were with friends while others such as Jimmy Barnes and the Finn family were happy accidents that he pursued. “I emailed Jimmy and told him I was a fan of his music and particularly his scream. I didn’t hear back for months and eventually I landed in LA and in my inbox he’d sent me a bunch of WAV files of him screaming and I worked it into the song which was cool!” enthuses Callinan.

When it comes to how Bravado will be received, Callinan is already looking ahead to the next album. “I already have a completely crystallised view of what I want the next album to be. I’m going to start work on it in Las Vegas where there is absurdity, amorality and the idea that there is no good or bad, just wanton desire. It’s a strange place with a mix of families, tourists, gambling, prostitution, extreme wealth and poverty, the desert and bright neon lights. I’ll be getting to work on that at the first opportunity.”

“No matter what people say about Bravado, it’s original and singular which is more than can be said for a lot of things. I’ve been and excited and validated by the response to it so far. It’s nothing new for me to be divisive. If they like it or hate it, who gives a fuck.”

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NEW MUSIC: Jep and Dep – Cruel Moon (video)

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Jep and Dep are back with ‘Cruel Moon’, the first single from their forthcoming second LP, due out this August. Over the last couple of years they’ve developed a cohesive and atmospheric style, built on strong monochromatic imagery in their photos and videos – the perfect marriage to their sparse, sometimes lush, always compelling folk-noir sound.

Jessica Cassar and Darren Cross take a strong conceptual approach to their craft and so we chatted with Cassar to find a bit more about the songwriting and video-making process.

SONGWRITING AND RECORDING

“Like all of our songs, ‘Cruel Moon’ was a collaborative effort between the two of us. We always write our songs together. The difference with ‘Cruel Moon’ is that I sung all vocals and Darren played the guitar unlike our other songs were we might sing separate parts or harmonise. We didn’t feel ‘Cruel Moon’ needed much more that as we felt the vocals and guitar were equally strong and spoke to each other beautifully. In terms of recording, Darren produced the whole album and composed most of the arrangements, adding his signature ambient sounds. The song (and the album) has a pretty creepy vibe as we recorded it between 12-5am as Darren’s studio was wedged between a years worth of constant renovations from the neighbours. Recording at that time fucking annoyed us at first, but it actually turned into a positive and contributed to the song (and albums) overall darkness.”

THE VIDEO

“We have not collaborated too many times with our clips, partly due to finances but mostly because we enjoy making our videos. As Jep and Dep’s aesthetic is pretty strong and signature it was important for us not to compromise on that and have people understand that. Having said that, collaborating with other artists is never just about you, it’s a joint effort with many ideas coming together, so it was just as important for us to be a bit more flexible. You can see that coming through with ‘Cruel Moon’ as it takes more of a narrative and traditional flow we had not experimented with before, which ended up working well for the film-noir inspired clip the team (Isabella Andronos, director) came up with.”

THE NEW ALBUM

“We plan to independently release our second album in August, much like we did with Word Got Out. We feel this album has solidified our “folk-noir” sound and pushed us much further into a Lynchian, noir-core realm. It’s far more minimal than Word Got Out and far more haunting.”

Jep and Dep officially launch the single at Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Surry Hills, Sydney on May 25th.

INTERVIEW: Rickie Lee Jones

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RICKIE’S STILL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC

Rickie Lee Jones, she of the long and diverse career that began back in the late 70s with that single Chuck E’s In Love, is still passionate about music and her achievements, as she explains to Chris Familton.

Beginning at the start of her career in Hollywood, odd jobs, a chance encounter with Tom Waits and her demo tape brought her to the attention of Lenny Waronker, producer and executive at Warner Bros. Records, who beat out other labels to sign her and launch her career.

“It was a dream at the time because before that I was just trying to pay the rent. I had a boyfriend at the time who was in school and he encouraged me to go out and play and make money to pay the rent. That helped me get started. It was hard, I was homeless for a lot of the time and and I had nothing to fall back on. When it happened it happened very quickly. At the time I was 23 I wrote Chuck E’s In Love and The Last Chance Texaco and I was on an unemployment benefit. Then one year later I was in a studio and recording an album. Once I decided in my mind to do it, it took about a year to sixteen months,” recalls Jones. “To be able to devote oneself to it is really helpful in gaining early success,” she says, before adding “that success, who doesn’t want that? But it comes with a lot of baggage.”

Jones’ most recent album, The Other Side Of Desire, was her first in a decade and was released independently after a crowdfunding campaign; making it a world apart from her experiences with major labels in the 70s and 80s heyday.

“It feels good not to have any pressure from an outside person to meet their expectations. The thing I had going when I was first signed was they were the best label in the world, they had the best A&R and they just loved music. They dropped you if you didn’t sell records but they didn’t sign you and then drop you straight away, they tried to develop artists and they kept them on the label,” she explains. “I was spoilt by that and know what it’s like to be on a label run by a company that loves its business more than business, that loves music and artists and doesn’t try to make them act like business people. We live in a time where artists act like business people, they talk about the bottom line and their brand. They talk about the brand of Beyonce and the brand of Madonna, this is shameful in the arts. It shows the whole process is corrupted.” says Jones, a tone of disillusionment creeping into her voice.

Jones sounds like she’s in a great place musically and personally as she looks to the future and what it may hold for her. “I am writing and I’m finishing a book which should be out around Christmas. I’m having fun right now performing and I can feel people engaged in ways that I didn’t feel before. I’ve accepted my place in music and I like that I’ve lasted this long and I just want to keep working on it. When I stand in front of an audience I know exactly who I am and that is a great gift.”

INTERVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

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BALANCING INSTINCT AND REASON

Margaret Glaspy has had a career-high last 12 months that has seen her go from working long hours to pay New York rent to touring large venues with The Lumineers. She takes Chris Familton through the creation of her debut album and the changes it has brought her.

With so much work going into the writing, recording and producing of Emotions and Math, Glaspy had both high hopes and realistic expectations of how her album would be received by both critics and music fans. “When I was making the record the big success was that it would be finished and I’d get it to where I’d like it. Anything else was going to be the icing on the cake,’ she says humbly. “I take it with a grain of salt in terms of measuring success. I know I’ll probably make some records in my career that others will hate and hopefully they’ll like a few of them too. I can’t take it all too seriously but I’m certainly appreciative.”

Getting to this point, in her late 20s, has meant Glaspy has had plenty of time to develop and refine her songwriting and guitar playing since she first ventured into that world in her late teens.

“That’s evolved quite a bit and changed over time, slowly. I started to write songs when I was 16 or 17 and now I’m 28. I don’t know if that’s a success story or a failure story, but it’s my story,” she laughs. “My love for music has always been very consistent and I think my skill level has changed for sure but when I listen back to snippets of things I recorded back then, I can see what I was going for. I see what I was trying to accomplish. I’m glad I waited a bit longer until I was a more mature artist though.”

The album’s title refers to that conflict or healthy co-existence of emotional and reasoned responses and feelings that we all encounter daily. Glaspy found a way to draw that into her songwriting and it is an omnipresent part of her personality and one she has come to accept.

“It is in everything I do. There’s always some measure of discipline or logic or practice and then there’s the side that just happens. The skills you learn work alongside the natural flow and keep it on track. The reason why the record is called that is that I see it rise in my life a lot. I see both sides of that rage pretty hard all at the same time. I’m very analytical and very emotional and I think they complement each other but sometimes it’s difficult. I’ve always felt I wanted to be either a left or right brain person and label myself as one, but it’s not that simple. Everybody has their own chemistry that makes us special and unique and human.”

Glaspy already has one eye on plans for recording her next album, once this touring cycle concludes in September and it promises to be another stage of her journey as a songwriter. “I’ll never make this record again and I look forward to that and I’m happy about that. My DNA is to evolve and make new things. Our responsibility as artists is to take people someplace and not just leave them in the same place all the time. It’ll be an evolution all the time for me I hope. That’s the goal.”

INTERVIEW: The Bats

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LONG HAUL FLIGHT

Still with their original lineup, The Bats are the longest running band in New Zealand and after more than three decades they’re still finding fascinating new variations on their iconic sound. Frontman and songwriter Robert Scott talks to Chris Familton about how their new record came together and how they’ve maintained their longevity.

Down the line from his home on the coast just outside Dunedin, on the lower South Island of New Zealand, Robert Scott is enjoying the tranquility punctuated by the visiting cruise ships that grow exponentially in number over the summer months. Things are also about to get busy for The Bats after a five year gap since the album Free All Monsters came out, and though it’s taken a while to see the light of day, The Deep Set emerged from the same creative process as most of their records.

“I stockpile songs, I’m pretty much writing all the time,” explains Scott. “After a couple of years have gone by since the last album we’ll decide if we actually want to do another one. Then I say I have a bunch of songs, do some rough demos and the others choose the ones they like before we narrow it down to around 15 for the album. Then we’ll start working on them together as a band. In the studio the songs will be about 90% done but before we do the takes we might make a few changes. On the whole these have come out pretty much the way they were written though,” Scott reflects.

After so long together as a band, Scott reveals that their recording process is a simple and intuitive one that isn’t influenced to any great extent by the studio or producer they use. “It’s more just concentrating on getting a great version of the song. That’s what we’ve found over the years makes our stuff work best – getting a good flowing, natural sounding take – whether that’s urgent or laid-back. We’re attuned into that more than anything else.”

Looking back at the legacy of the band, Scott proudly claims the mantle of having “the longest continuous line-up of any band in NZ,” before revealing some of the key reasons why they’ve stayed together for so long. “Part of that might be down to having long breaks, there were nine years in the late 90s/early 2000s where we didn’t release any music. We pick and choose things we feel comfortable doing so we’re not putting ourselves in a position of too much pressure. We’re obviously very used to each other’s company so we’re aware of any weirdness that comes up and know how to deal with it. We’re all reasonably laid-back people as well so there aren’t any ego issues that you get often get in bands.”

The band will be launching The Deep Set at the 2017 Sydney Festival and they’re bring along the string players that appeared on the album. “It’s the first time we’ve taken a string section overseas. We thought we’d do that for a bit of a change, to spice things up and have a bit of fun,” enthuses Scott. “In Sydney we’ll probably do seven or eight songs from The Deep Set and then because the 30th anniversary of Daddy’s Highway is coming up we’ll be doing a set of mainly songs from that album too. The two ends of our career – which will be quite a different show for us!”

  • MELBOURNE: Sat Jan 28, Northcote Social Club. Tickets on sale now from Northcote Social Club.
  • SYDNEY: Sun Jan 29, Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival. Tickets on sale now from Sydney Festival.

INTERVIEW: The Laurels

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THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHEDELIA & BREAKBEATS

The Laurels have re-emerged from the studio with an adventurous take on their brand of psych rock that takes influence from both Primal Scream and Public Enemy. Singer and guitarist Luke O’Farrell takes Chris Familton inside the creation of Sonicology.

“I went a bit nuts, we all went a bit crazy in the studio working on these songs “ says O’Farrell, describing the long and intensive process of writing and recording Sonicology. They set up their own studio and “started getting samplers and experimenting with junk shop records, sampling them and making beats” before spending numerous hours recording and sampling themselves to avoid copyright issues. “It is very much a studio album. The guitar took a back seat on this album. If anything samplers were the main instrument. Even the guitars were fed into samplers and triggered and sequenced. It still sounds like us and is guitar heavy but the way we approached the recording was completely different to what we’d done before,” explains O’Farrell.

The genesis of the new album reaches right back to before the band started recording their previous record. “With Plains, we were playing those songs for six years before recording them and then you have to play them on the road for another two or three years. We really adjusted to that way of working as a live band. With this one we started getting into hip hop influences just before we started recording Plains – a lot of Public Enemy, a lot of funk and soul, stuff like James Brown. That was the headspace we were in after the Plains tour finished and then it was a matter of convincing the other guys to try something really different in the studio this time around.”

Between albums, drummer Kate Wilson (The Holy Soul) decided to leave the band and Jasper Fenton, who O’Farrell and Piers Cornelius had played with in other groups, was drafted in. “It wasn’t easy, it was very sad to see Kate go after that amount of time. We’re still mates and we still love her. With the new tracks and the way we wanted to approach them in the studio, that wasn’t what she wanted to do with the band. Jasper is also a multi-instrumentalist and a producer which really helped the recording,” says O’Farrell.

One hurdle to overcome after making an album steeped in studio production and different technology is how to present the songs live. O’Farrell explains that they’ve got their head around the songs now. “It’s taken us a few months going back and re-learning and adjusting songs. Their entire life has been in the studio, they weren’t really made for live performance but we’ve figured out a way to represent them live. There are three of us triggering samplers now but we’re not tethered to a click track, we want to still keep it loose and free and incorporate the samples from the album.”

“This album was more collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past,” says O’Farrell, when asked if the band is a collective vision or driven by one or two people. “There’s never really been a leader, we all have ideas bout how we want the band to sound and we try to incorporate everyone’s vision. It’s a mix of all of us and I guess that’s why we are still together after ten years.”