Even when he’s just woken up, KIRIN J. CALLINAN maintains his “most singular modern Australian artist” status sans any effort. DENIS SEMCHENKO phones the Sydney-based singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer ahead of his much-anticipated BigSound shows.
Hello again Kirin — when you played Brisbane in June, you had a backing band. Will you be bringing a band with you for BigSound?
Yeah, I reckon I’ll bring a band — but maybe a different band. Both shows I’m playing, I approach them very much from a sonic point of view. I want a certain sound, so we use lots of gear — keyboards, drum machines — to get this sound and apply it to certain songs. For these shows, I want to make it about the songs — to be beautiful, graceful and classic. I’ll be playing them straight-up: bass, drums, guitar.
W II W/Thighs is a remarkable single — possibly the most remarkable Australian single of 2012…
That’s nice, Denis.
Is there a possibility of you releasing another radical 7” — killer, rocking A-side and a subdued, gorgeous B-side — in the future?
I think it is highly likely — maybe before the year’s end. Otherwise, definitely next year.
On the same note, how far off do you think is the new Kirin J. Callinan LP?
In all honesty, I would say four or five months — I hope so, anyway. That’s the plan.
How many songs will be on it?
We’ve recorded a lot [laughs]. It will have between eight and 12. If I go with the really long songs, it might only have eight songs, but it could be 10-12. I like eight-song records — they’re my favourite: four songs a side, a sense of journey and balance. Maybe I’ll want to cram more on this one because I’ve recorded a lot of songs and it’s going to be hard to cut that many.
Back in June, you played an uncharacteristically upbeat electro-pop number — is that also going on the record?
Absolutely. I’ve recorded that song many different ways, including electro-pop, ballad, and a big wall of noise; there’s a Phil Spector wall-of-sound version as well… The song — it’s called Victoria Ram — will definitely be on the record, but what version, I don’t know. I think all of the different versions will come out in some capacity as an experiment.
Do you have any distinct memories from the Black Bear Lodge gig?
I loved the beginning of the show — it was the first show I played with a band. I’ve been playing solo for a long time and I’ve played as the guitarist in other bands, but the first moment of opening a show with a band behind me was really memorable; I was having so much fun during the first song.
You had a fascinating-looking “department store” guitar with you at that show — being a hopeless guitar nerd, I was going to wonder what make it was.
I had two guitars with me: one was a Duesenberg and the other one was a baritone guitar. It’s actually totally unmarked; I think it’s a Japanese Teisco from the ‘60s that has been converted into a baritone. I picked it up really cheap — I just walked into, saw it hanging on the wall and asked about it. They said it was a piece of art and it wasn’t for sale; I said, “well, how much is it? I’ll buy it” and the guy was like “$400”. I was very lucky — it’s a cool guitar. It doesn’t have any markings, but I reckon it’s a ‘60s Teisco.
Last time we spoke, you said you only used Boss effects pedals. Would you consider incorporating other brands into your “half-circle” rig?
I did have the Electro Harmonix Holiest Grail in there for a bit, as well as a tremolo pedal made by someone else — I was borrowing both of these pedals off Jack Ladder. The Holiest Grail is amazing, and I would consider putting it back in there again — however I find that by having all of the pedals of the same brand, they speak the same language and the feeling and the sound are killer in the end. As soon as I introduce a pedal of another brand — even if it’s a great pedal on its own — it seems to compromise the purity for me. I don’t know if I’m superstitious, but I like the purity of the signal travelling through Boss pedals.
There’s a YouTube video titled Rocky Point 1996 where you’re layering multiple sounds to build a full composition — was there a story behind that particular track or did you jam it from scratch?
As a piece of music, I’ve done it a number of times as part of a series of improvised tracks under the banner of Afrika A To K, but there is a story behind that particular performance.
I was in Los Angeles — I played a really bizarre house party the night before, where the show got shut down by police after just two songs, and I met this Hispanic rocker guy who said he had a boutique in Hollywood and I should come in with the gear and we’d record. He had a setup upstairs at his store where sold lots of things — clothes, records, jewellery, art and the rest of it — and I took my gear there and we ended up just hanging out all day. We got really drunk and didn’t end up doing any recording, but he said, “set up on the street — let’s have a party!” He was a death metal guy: swastika tattoos, helmets, all leather. It was quite surreal. Then my friend from LA turned up with the guy from the house party the night before; he had his big albino dog called Falcor with him. Suddenly, there were two skinny white guys in grey suits and a bunch of Hispanic death metal guys — it looked like a meeting of gangs doing some sort of business. I showed up, played on the street, people gathered at the front and then the cops drove past and looked at us before driving off: it was so loud it was echoing off the buildings in the block. I played a number of songs; some guy came down and filmed it — that was one of the songs that got put up. I’d like to release some of those songs, maybe on their own record.
Lastly, how many times have you been asked “how do you get those sounds out of your guitar?”
Apart from the obvious combination of the guitar, the type of amplifier and the effects pedals, the guitar is a very expressive instrument — you can put the same guitar with the same setup and a number of different guitar players play, and you’ll be able to tell who’s playing what if they’re distinctive players. For me, I guess I really attack the guitar and it responds, but at the same time I use lots of reverb, chorus and delay. I use the tone knob a lot, but I think it’s most important to play passionately — attack the guitar.
I’ve had another guitarist with me on a few songs during the last tour. He had a very similar setup and used a bunch of the same pedals, but it felt incredibly different — he’s a really good guitarist, but it was interesting to hear that contrast. This time, Way To War [W II W] will be very different: it sounds really good in rehearsals.
Thanks, Kirin, and see you back in Brisbane!
KIRIN J. CALLINAN plays an instore gig at The Outpost (Winn St, Fortitude Valley) from 5.30–7.15pm on Thu Sep 13 as well as a BigSound Live showcase at Press Club the previous night (Wed Sep 12, 11.40pm–12.10am). W II W/Thighs is out now through Siberia Records. kirinjcallinan.bandcamp.com, bigsound.org.au.