INTERVIEW: KIRIN J CALLINAN
Written by Brodie Popple
Kirin J Callinan is an enigmatic human being with a look and personality that radiates positivity and freedom. But you don't need me to tell you that, chances are you've seen plenty of the man in the past year. After the release of his debut album 'Embracism' back in 2013, Mr. Callinan has been incredibly busy, travelling the world and making plenty of friends along the way. His latest release Bravado catapults the Woollongong based musician into the next echelon of pop music, working alongside the likes of; Connan Mockasin, Weyes Blood, Mac Demarco and Jimmy Barnes (!!) just to name a few.
I was lucky enough to have a chat with the man himself whilst he was in LA before arriving to Brisbane for the first show of his Australian tour of Bravado.
Hey Kirin! What's going on? Where are you at the moment?
I am standing on a balcony, in sunny Los Angeles California, it's gotta be pushing 6pm but the sun's still out and its bearing down on my pale, putrid, semi naked, post tour body. I've toured across Canada, North West and North East US for the past few weeks, so it's great to be back in Southern California and get some sunshine.
I've been following your touring on Instagram with the pictures of you and your beautiful band mates can you run me through who've you've got with you?
I most certainly can! Well the guy who's been with me for the longest time now, which is coming up five years, is Tex on synthesiser, my brother. He's amazing, like I said it's been 5 years playing together, we've created a strong bond as you might imagine. But he's only 22 years old and you know, he was always a genius, ever since he was real young. But he's only now coming into his own in terms of his confidence, charisma and ability to articulate himself. We've had a really great tour. My other Brother Mahne, he joined the band last year, initially playing as the backup drummer to Dave Jenkins who I had playing with me. Mahne's now taken on being the soul drummer on this tour and he's absolutely smashed it. Finally my other band mate who was part of this tour is a fella named Ellis Sam, who I didn't know, actually we ran into him. Quite literally, with the car, he was a pedestrian and we were driving our caravan and we ran into him. And he broke his arm (at this point we both start laughing so interpret this as you will) and he got a scar on his right eye but he turned out to be a good guy and he come on the road with us. We couldn't afford his medical bills so we had to bring him on tour.
You recently released your music video for a Song About Drugs which was all shot in Cuba, can you shed some light on this and the filming process?
Not exactly, I had this colourful kind of dream which wasn't necessarily anywhere. I called up Danny Cohen (CHECK), the mornign after my dream and asked if he'd like to come to Cuba with me. He said sure, so I booked two flights to Cuba for us. We went to L.A first en route from Australia, before we left for Cuba and we managed to rent a camera (V expensive). Then we went around to a bunch of good will stores and just started grabbing good things at will and it just worked out. We were really fucking on one with this. We got to Cuba, got up at the crack of dawn to shoot every day, got far too much footage and I now want to remix the song and cut another video for it. Danny did an exceptional job. HOWEVER, I wouldn't have gone there if it had not been for the fact, that my parents, this is why I had the dream in the first place, were going to Cuba. They'd never been, my Dad was working in LA, so mum and Dad offered me to get my ass to Cuba and sleep on their couch. They're standing in the back for some shots and yeah we got it done.
You wrote and produced much of this album across a few countries and it's such an eclectic release, where did you find yourself feeling most inspired or comfortable when you were writing?
That's an interesting one, umm well a vast majority of the record was done in London I was living in a house and sleeping on the living room floor. We'd get up in the morning, we'd have a coffee, we'd talk about the record, we'd jump on our bikes, ride down Regent's Canal, get to the studio in Central London, work all day, all night, eat the same thing every day. We'd get a number 14 from the Kebab shop across the road, around midnight, get a coffee, some chips, some salad. We'd work until the small hours of the morning and ride home through London, get home, talk about the record more, pass out and then get up and do it all again the next morning. That really consumed the two of us. But the genesis of S.A.D all went down in Wollongong with a little tape machine just sort of making this instrumental piece that was constantly modulating and key changing. I love the song telling you this, which was done in New York with my friend Jorge Elbrecht, from Ariel Pink's band, whilst I was madly in love with this girl from New Zealand. On skype calls to her everyday, masturbating furiously, but equal parts in love and that was a huge genesis of that. Lots of guests in America, Weyes Blood, Mac, Sean Nicholas Savage.
Well that brings me to my next question, you've had the privilege of collaborating with some of the biggest names in the music industry, what's been your penultimate in respect to this?
The fact that Jimmy Barnes Is on my record, if I never made another record again, no one can take that away from me. That's just absurd, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I had this sort of vision of Jimmy stepping into the room, unexplained (Where did he come from? Why is he there?) and screaming over the song. So I wrote him in email to tell him how much of a fan I am of his music and most importantly his scream, the most iconic scream in rock n roll history. He never replied, months passed, he still hadn't replied. I got to LAX one day from Australia, got on the LAX wifi, went onto my email, seemingly no reply still. But there was an email from an account, no subject line, no text, all it had was maybe half a dozen WAV's of Jimmy Barnes, screaming. Literally unbelievable, I just burst to tears. I was listening to em' one after the other just losing it over these isolated screams. I got straight into massaging them into the song.
You were also hand picked to play Crowded House's momentous four night return to the Sydney Opera House last year as well as being announced for Splendour this year. You're about to release only your second album, how has this meteoric rise affected you?
It's not easy let me tell ya (I'm just taking the piss), this whole thing is just absurd and it's only just beginning. I'm looking forward to Splendour. But the Crowded House shows were just joy you know, absolute profound joy. I cried every night, it was always a different song that bought it on. It was amazing playing and I told them after every show how much it meant to not only me but the whole country, it was a national event. An absolute privileged to be apart of and Neil is doing some backing vocals on Bravado as well. Also Neil's sons and wife are singing as well, which is on the song 'Family Home', which Is incredible. It's surreal and at the end of the day it's good fun.
It's 2017 and we've seen a lot of societal shift, especially in masculinity. You're obviously a man who endorses body positivity and expression through clothing, what inspires you to be so eccentric?
Well feminism is very important and it's rising up is more important than ever before. Being a straight middle class white man here in America or around the world shouldn't be approached with guilt or shame but more defined expectation I suppose. It's definitely a rich bank to tap into as an artist, whether I'm tapping into that much on my new record is another thing. Probably more so with my new band called 'The Night Game' which includes a bunch of American artists. Very provocative and fertile ground to explore. Gender as a whole is a ridiculous idea and one thing that does get my goat to be honest is the need for any gender, whether its binary or sub divided. The idea to have to define yourself it's kind of lame and divisive. We're all just people operating on a sliding scale.
You’re one of the few artists, I guess in your age bracket, that have been apart of a TED talk, how does one find themselves in that situation? And how did you recover from dropping your pick in your guitar for several minutes of that performance?
I got asked to perform and I didn’t want to just get up and sing a song, the whole point of TED is to present an idea or challenge an audience. To at least be provocative, THE LEAST you can do. The idea was to just go out there with an acoustic guitar and belt a song out. The idea was to go out there with an acoustic guitar, but then to drop the pick into the guitar and spend the rest of the performance fishing it out. I loved the idea of that.
In the end you know, that's what we did. I performed one of the opening songs from the new record and then tried to follow it up with the song 'Bravado'. I don't know if I've let the cat out of the bag with that one before, that dropping the pick wasn't an accident.
Well Kirin thanks for your time and all the best for your massive tour.