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Kirin J Callinan

Kirin J Callinan

Interviewed by
Matthew Davis
Monday 8th July, 2013 12:08PM

Australia’s Kirin J Callinan knows how to make an impact. His music is beautifully honest and brutally fun, while his onstage persona is as powerful and at times controversial. Having recently toured with the likes of Ariel Pink and Grizzly Bear, as well as being signed to the latter’s label Terrible Records, we caught up with him on the release of his debut album Embracism and upcoming New Zealand tour.

How was the tour through the USA?

The shows were good, it was a very different experience from what I have had lately. At every show - with the exception of New York and LA where I have played before - 90% of the audience had never heard my music, had never heard of me apart from being on the bill and were curious and open. I could kind of have fun with that, I had the element of surprise on my side.

Any particular surprise?

Just to be able to get on a bit of a ride through the set that wasn’t necessarily planned. I could make decisions on the go - what songs to do next, or how to perform - it was more communicative, an energy transfer, I would be able to give them something and get something in return. It would feed itself in a way that was different from when people have some sort of expectation. It was fun actually. Not only did they not know what I was about stylistically but what the performance nature of the shows would be or where the songs themselves were going. Does that make sense? It seems an intangible thing as well.

It does make some sense as I saw you play at Camp A Low Hum a few years ago.

Well that was a similar experience, where I had never played in New Zealand before. I think I talked for about ten minutes before I even played a song and the feeling I got was people were kind of wondering; who the fuck is this guy? What is he going on about? I understood that and would then take that somewhere, whether I was performing this big melodramatic ballad or whether it was an assaulting noise. That is kind of fun and exciting not just for me but for the audience as well.

Is it much different now?

The set now is completely different, different songs even. I am using a lot more drum machines and samples. Here in Australia, I have been playing with a live band - I am going to bring something that is kind of halfway between what I have been doing here and what I was doing [solo] on the Ariel Pink tour.

So, half a band?

Yeah, basically half a band. It is going to be a bit more of a skeletal, raw and free set up, which I actually think is going to be more fun. It is going to be exciting for me to see what they [the songs] are going to become when it is stripped back.

I recall a lot of pedals, and wondering how you remember them all?

There are a lot of pedals. They become an extension of myself - I know those things back to front. I grew up with pedals, I could play effects pedals before I could even play the guitar. My dad, since the early 1990s, has worked for Roland who make Boss pedals and so when I was a kid I would go in there and play with the gear.

You still use that brand?

I use exclusively Boss - it's a family business.

You mentioned before you feel like a lot of people stand back with a 'what the fuck is this' kind of thing reaction – is it something planned for or something you have adapted to each time?

I am not trying to sound like anyone. It comes from a personal place. It is not like I am really into this one style of music, or want to sound like anyone or anything in particular. It [music] comes from a very personal place and it can't help but be unique or individual in that sense. At the same time I guess I gravitate towards making decisions that people might not want to make. I like when things are weird, and bad even. I mean, when things might be considered on the wrong side of good taste. That is kind of fun. I like it when things are a mystery, when what I make is even a mystery to me. That is also the most interesting and exciting part of it, so it is both a deliberate decision and also kind of the way it is.

That comes across in the album as well, though while there is mystery it also feels very open as well.

Definitely, I didn't know exactly what I wanted the record to be - I definitely knew what I didn't want it to be, which was kind of this too cool for school, back against the wall, sunglasses on record that doesn't give anything. I wanted to offer something of worth - and that something is just being myself I guess. It is a dangerous place to put yourself in, the criticisms are very personal, but I try not to let that effect me. And it is also just music, you can't be too existential about it.

Do you think that brings about the sense of conflict within the album?

Definitely, there is conflict within myself all the time, so that is present as well.  Thematically, stylistically, lyrically there is a number of conflicts and conflicting characters and ideas. Some of the songs I guess are very spiritual in their content and context, and others are very physical. Some very masculine, a lot of bravado while others are very sensitive. I think there is conflicts in everybody and that is why I think it is an honest representation of myself, and also something that other people can hopefully take something from and relate to.

There is a lot of yourself throughout, from your cover art to your videos you feature prominently in them but are also very hidden.

That is a deliberate decision. I am putting myself out there, under my own name very nude and exposed but at the same time kind of hiding behind myself.

Was it quite hard to make?

Yes. But I don't know if anything that is worth anything isn't. I have been involved in a number of bands and all the good ones have had their fair share of difficulty and emotional trauma attached to them. The ones that were very easy, kind of fun and silly, they also seemed to have the least. It is a cliché, but it is probably a cliché for a reason, anything of worth comes with a struggle.

But do you have an escape, something for your fun and silly output?

Yeah, probably my everyday existence [he jokes]. The way I interact with people. I think a lot of the time people might meet me with a preconceived notion and very quickly either lose all respect for me or become very good friends.


Kirin J Callinan 'Embracism' Tour with support from Dear Time's Waste

Wednesday 10 July – Darkroom, Christchurch
Thursday 11 July – Queens, Dunedin
Friday 12 July – Whammy Bar, Auckland
Saturday 13 July – Puppies, Wellington

Tickets available online here at UTR and via our usual retailers.


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