We think Kirin J Callinan’s just released the best video of the year… you know the one, Big Enough, with Jimmy Barnes sending a bone rattling scream out across mountains as Callinan duets with Alex Cameron. Like at his live shows, we gain a deeper insight into Callinan’s latest album Bravado with a visual set up like this, and LARA FOX spoke with him (along with Mac DeMarco, briefly) to get more insight into the record. He also seems to drop that he’s playing at Laneway with Mac next year…
Hey, what are you up to?
Hey, just left the label and am walking down the street with a coffee. I am actually with Mac DeMarco and he is saying that he would like to do the interview instead?
He can join in if he likes….
He might have to; he is a bit of a bully. No but seriously, what did you want to ask?
Could you tell me a bit about the process in putting Bravado together? It is a really intricate, unique and masterful album and I am keen to know how all the parts came together?
The process really was one of bravado. I had nothing prepared. I just went in, thinking I was going to make this masterpiece in a couple of weeks, maybe a few months. I was just going to be walking through saloon doors and it was going to be brilliant. And it did come together very quickly initially, songs were coming at me thick and fast. Pardon any innuendo there, I didn’t mean that.
The songs are all very strange; they didn’t have a template, so it was really hard to know what they were and to know how to finish them. Trying to get to know them was the biggest challenge. Often it was the genesis of an idea or a lyric and things would come really quickly and Aaron the producer – who is a genius – he was really good at making them sound amazing and helping me understand them and figuring out where they were going. But with all that there is also a whole heap of self-doubt that goes along with that. You hate it so much as you go along, so that it is an added challenge. I had to learn pretty early on that I couldn’t care about that self-doubt.
The presence of elder statesmen Jimmy Barnes and Neil Finn on the album is unexpected, and in particular Barnes’ starring role in your latest video for Big Enough. What inspired that collaboration?
I mean, there’s a certain irony to that. I’d be a bit hesitant to, you know… that’s certainly not the whole picture. With Jimmy, I’m a huge fan, and I wrote them this email, you know, saying what a big fan I am of his and him and his work, particularly his scream. It’s the greatest scream in rock and roll history. And that’s what I wanted, was simply his scream. For him to step into the light, inexplicably, and just scream, was the vision I had. And he didn’t get back to me for months and months and months; I didn’t hear anything. Didn’t think it was going to happen. And I then flew from Sydney to LA, landing in LA I got on the wifi and I had a reply from him, he hadn’t said a word, he just attached a bunch of screams that he must have done. I don’t even know if he listened to the song. He just screamed into the microphone a bunch of times and I kind of worked them into the track.
I thought it would also be interesting to have it spanning generations. The other side to that is simply because I thought it was possible. So I thought, why the hell not. And I asked Neil and Liam (Finn) if they’d do it, and I asked Jimmy, and they came through. I don’t know why that’s exciting, or why I even liked it, but I do, I really loved the idea of having them on there. And you know, it’s a privilege now that they’re on there, and it’s surreal, you know? I didn’t think I’d ever make a record with Jimmy Barnes screaming on it.
You shot music video Big Enough in Cuba with Danny Cohen – can you tell me a little bit about that experience? And how the idea of the video came about?
Ridiculous! Cuba is a ridiculous place. Everyone I spoke to said it was so good that I went now before the corporate vultures got in there – “lucky you get to see the real Cuba”. But quite frankly, I felt like they could use some corporate vultures. The place is riddled with poverty; the food is rotten – no fresh produce, but it is an incredibly beautiful place, incredibly colourful.
The whole idea for the clip came about from a dream I had of colours, when I woke up I called Danny and asked if he wanted to come to Cuba with me to make a clip. We had no other plan apart from that, we booked our flights, went to Cuba, we had a one day lay over in LA so we spent the day running around, we rented a camera and didn’t tell the guy we were taking it to Cuba, went to some Op Shops and bought some hot new threads, which were absolutely fabulous – and off we went! It was five days of getting up at the crack of dawn and shooting all day. It was really incredible.
**MAC DE MARCO TAKES THE PHONE**
Mac: Hi, who is this?
Lara: My name is Lara, from X-Press.
Mac: Hi Laura. How are you?
Lara: Lara. I’m well thanks. And you?
Mac: Sorry – Lara. I’m good. What do you need to know about Kirin?
Lara: I’m just wanting to talk to him about the new album…
Mac: What specifically? It’s a pretty in-depth piece of art… it’s the most amazing piece of art I’ve ever heard.
Lara: I want to know the themantics and process behind such a piece of art…
**KIRIN ASKS FOR PHONE**
Mac: oh well – fun over. Seeya Lara.
**KIRIN TAKES PHONE BACK**
Lead single Bravado strikes me as quite a heartfelt and serious song, especially when compared to many of the other songs on the album – was it hard for you to write something so vulnerable?
In some ways it was – it was probably the most uncomfortable song on the album. It was also the one that came together most quickly, the first vocal take that we did, is the vocal used for the song. I actually hadn’t written any lyrics down, I just hopped on the mic and those were the words that came out. We then re-worked the vocals and the pre-amps and did it a few times over, but it worked out that the first vocal was the best one, or the right one, you know?
It was a really deliberate decision to make Bravado the title track and the lead single. At the end of the day – I made it, I have to own it. So in some sense it was the hardest to write, but at the end of the day, we are all going to die, I am going to make another record. So I just had to let go – if people hate it, they hate it. If they love it – even better.
I love the song, I think it’s absolutely beautiful – it really strikes a chord…
Thank you so much. You know what – it has been an absolute joy – especially to play live and have people starting to know the song and sing along to it. Opening for Pond in Minneapolis and the crowd doesn’t know the song at all, but to have them all there and enjoying it by the end is such a wonderful feeling. So yeah – I am glad that I let go of the doubt and did it.
The sound and feel of the new album strikes me as really cohesive and uplifting, how did working with producer Aaron Cupples shape the sound?
It hasn’t been there before (cohesiveness). I have previously worked with Kim Moyes (Presets) on the first record, and he is a brilliant producer, sonically and in all ways he is really brilliant. But he is very different to Aaron. Kim and I drove each other absolutely mad at times, whereas Aaron and I, well we were living together at the time of making the record, so we would have breakfast together, ride our bikes together along St Regents Canal to the studio and we would work all day in the studio in central London until late at night then we would ride home through the back streets of London, we would get home and talk about the record more. Then we would go to bed and wake up and carry on the same conversations and ride our bikes into central London and do it all over again.
We definitely disagreed at times but there were never any arguments or animosity – Aaron is incredibly understanding and open, so whenever we did disagree instead of sitting there and arguing we would just keep working and eventually the good ideas would always rise to the top and the shit ones would fall away. It was a really positive experience. He is a really gentle sensitive and thoughtful guy and I think that complemented my brashness.
The album, although quite fringe poppy, is really intricate and complex if you like, with a wide range of influences, styles, sounds, instruments, and changes – what are your thoughts on pushing yourself creatively whilst also making something accessible?
I don’t want to make background music. I really wanted the album to be for the listener, so they could take anything from it. It is about the journey they go on and I really just wanted it to be fun for them. The first album was a lot more self-serious and self-indulgent. I was really trying to think of the listener more in this album, I still have a long way to go there though. The ideal music to make would be really open hearted and generous music, where you don’t have to be aware of me or my music to listen to it and enjoy it to be able to take something from it.
I would never call your music background music… far from it…
No, no I know. It’s just that I know that it is really demanding. I mean – the album is super demanding. I would like it to be provocative but I also want it to be enjoyed on a simpler level as well. I hope it can be.
It is out there, but it is definitely still accessible, all those pub rock references and electro hooks…
Awesome! That’s what I want to hear!
You have said it is your best work to do date. What makes it so good in your eyes?
Well – basically I have to tell myself that. Otherwise it’s time to start doing something else. You just have to keep going onwards and upwards. But really – it’s probably got largely to do with the experience in making it, as I talked about with Aaron and mine’s relationship. In saying that – I also absolutely hated the whole album for a long time, just with how bombastic it was. It took me to take some time away and re-program the way I saw it, to realise its ridiculousness is also its redeeming quality – that’s where its humanness is.
Bravado has a sense of old school Australian story-telling to it, how important is the literary and storytelling component to you?
Thank you! I love Australian music. Some of my all time favourite bands are Australian. It was a part of my growing up and my experience with music is from an Australian perspective. So that probably plays a large part in it.
But, I also just really love lyrics. For better or worse, I always put my lyrics right up the front. A lot of the time they are embarrassing, but again, I just have to tell myself, “look, you wrote that, you sung it, now you have to back it”. That’s the only way I can get up in front of an audience and feel good about belting those songs out.
What are you up to for the rest of the year? Any big shows?
I’d really love to do Laneway next year as well, so hopefully that happens – will keep you posted.