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Interview: Kirin J Callinan Talks Cuba, His Mum and Jimmy Barnes' Scream

Interview: Kirin J Callinan Talks Cuba, His Mum and Jimmy Barnes' Scream

Wednesday 12th July, 2017 12:08PM

Aussie pop weirdo Kirin J Callinan will be hitting our shores next weekend in support of his brilliant new 10-track album Bravado. The record is the second full-length offering from the Sydney musician and, in juxtaposition to the dark and angular songs on his first LP Escapism, it is a electronically driven collection of quirky and uplifting pop songs that see the likes of Connan Mockasin, Jimmy Barnes, Weyes Blood, Alex Cameron and James Chance join the fold. In anticipation of his visit, we picked Callinan's brains about the record, his recent trip to Cuba, his mum's cooking and the iconic Jimmy Barnes scream....

UTR: Hey Kirin, how are you?

KJC: I'm excellent, how are you doing?

I'm alright. So you're back on Australian time now after quite a lot of touring around?

I'm on Australian Eastern Standard Time. Well, at least the clock is. I just flew in from London yesterday, so I'm a bit out of whack.

Yeh I bet! Well I wanted to talk about your album a little bit today, but I first I need to ask you about video for 'S.A.D', which is awesome. You shot it in Cuba and it looks like you're having a blast. What made you choose Cuba as a shooting location?

Um, a few things..

Had you been there before?

No, I'd never been there before. And probably will never go again, to be perfectly honest, haha. I think it's beautiful. The food is absolutely rotten, stale bread, sweaty cheese and canned meat. Um, but it's an amazing place. There was a few reasons I went. One very straightforward reason, is why spend a video budget on building some set or some elaborate scheme when we can just get two tickets to some remote part of the world and make it up as we go over there. So that was part of the reason. I'd actually had a dream that was colourful, with all these pastel colours, just communist kinda colours, and I woke up thinking about that. And I gave my friend Danny Cohen, who's in Melbourne, a ring to see if he wanted to come to Cuba and shoot a music video. I think the reason I dreamt it was because my parents were going there on holiday. My dad was working in America and had a week off, so him and mum were going to Cuba, because... they could. And they said if I could get myself over there then I could sleep on the couch. So Danny and I went over and we crashed in the living room of the little Airbnb they had there, and were getting up at the crack of dawn and just going exploring basically, shooting all day every day.

Were there any issues with filming, like, one scene you're riding on top of a tractor down the middle of the street. Did you line that up? Or did that fall into place while you were wandering around?

That totally happened organically. There was a fella there who saw that we were shooting and he offered for us to climb up on his tractor and it just escalated. He couldn't speak English, and we couldn't speak Spanish but what started as me just sort of standing next to the tractor eventuated into me climbing on top of the tractor, and he started it up and just started driving down the street, hahaha, it's the glory shot. I mean, the whole thing kinda came about like that, we did have a bunch of issues with police and military and security. One time we were nearly taken to jail, the only way we avoided it was that we had a local guide, who had a German passport and he spoke English, but he was a local. So he was able to reason with the police. If he had of just been a local they probably would have arrested him, and maybe us as well, but the fact that we were all foreigners sort of made it less attractive. But we certainly got threatened with being thrown in jail. You do need a permit to shoot there, and we were very much just winging it on a shoestring budget. Yeah, but all's well that ends well.

So they say. Ah, my favourite part of 'S.A.D' is when you shout out to your mum. Does she follow your music career very much?

She is probably my biggest fan.

Awh that's adorable, hahaha.

Yeah, I think that song is a bit of a dedication to her. Um, I'm actually at her house right now. And I've got a show in Sydney on Saturday night and she'll be coming down with a bunch of her friends, no doubt. Yeh, she's good. She'll be the first to read and post this article, I'm sure.

Haha cute. I have to ask, what's your favourite thing that she cooks?

Oh. She's an exceptional cook. Um, [talking to his mum] “hey mum, we're just talking about your cooking”. She's a spectacular chef. [Talking to mum again] “Oh you managed to get the blood out of my shirt”.

And a great clothes washer from the sounds...

Um... I don't know. She made duck a l'orange last night. That's pretty fancy. But growing up I just liked blue cheese on pasta.

So do you ever think about taking your mum on the road, like your friend Mac DeMarco does?

Yeah, we've discussed it. [Hollering to mum] "You going to be my tour manager, mum?". She says she'd like to do it but I don't think she'd find it all that enjoyable. It might be a little confronting. Um, I think she’s happy here, [talking to mum] "I mean you're welcome to come, just let me know'". Ah, that'd be fun, I'm sure. I've hung out with Agnes, Mac's mum, quite a lot on the road. She's always having a good time. She loves it.

Speaking of Mac, he is on your album [in the track 'Friend Of Lindy Morrison' above]... along with a lot of other people. Was there anyone in particular that you reeled in especially, or were they all friends and people you knew?

Yeah, everyone on the record were friends and it all came together fairly organically. It wasn't a matter of forcing anything. There was a bunch of people that I reached out to that didn't come through, but I guess the strangest interaction was probably Jimmy Barnes.

Yeah his name definitely stands out on the credits...

Yeah, I'd had a vision of him sort of just stepping into the chorus and just delivering a career defining scream, unexplained as to where he came from or what he's doing there. But all of a sudden Jimmy Barnes just steps in and gives a career defining scream. That was my idea. So I wrote him this big long email, uh, pontificating about how big of a fan I am, of Chisel and his solo work and most importantly, his iconic scream. And I never heard back from him, and I didn't think it was going to happen, and months past. Then I flew to LA from Sydney, and landed at LAX and got on the free wifi, and I had an email from Jimmy Barnes. No subject matter, no words in the email. It simply had six WAVs attached of him screaming.

No! Hahaha...

And so I listened to them at LAX airport in my headphones, just hysterically laughing. Moved to tears. I got to work straightaway and sort of massaged them into the songs. And I haven't actually spoke to him since. I don't know if he's listened to the song. I don't even know if it's really Jimmy Barnes for that matter.

Yeah, just his manager "I'll take care of this Jimmy"...

Yeah yeah, haha, exactly. Or maybe they're just on file. Some outtakes of 'Working Class Man' or something. I don't know.

Haha, I guess we’ll never know but the song is amazing. We have to wrap it up now, but thanks so much for your time Kirin, looking forward to seeing you live!

See you soon!

Listen to Jimmy's iconic scream below in 'Big Enough', which also features Sydney-based musician Alex Cameron and champion whistler Molly Lewis...

Kirin J Callinan - Bravado Tour

Thursday 20th July, Kings Arms, Auckland
Friday 21st July, San Fran, Wellington 

Tickets available HERE at UTR and in-store at Flying Out (AKL) and RPM/Slow Boat (WGTN)


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Fri 21st Jul
San Fran, Wellington

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