Kirin J. Callinan at Walmart


Leading up to the release of his first long-player, Embracism, and a few Australian tour dates, has a conversation with Kirin J Callinan about music, the world and on-stage looks.  

So we’re talking to you all the way from The States. Exactly where are you at the moment?
I’m in a massive Walmart. I’m on tour, and myself and a couple of guys from Ariel’s band (Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) and a Kiwi girl actually – she plays in a band called Purple Pilgrims – we’re all on the road together, and we’ve just stopped off, the bus has pulled over and we’ve come into Walmart – just trying on some shoes and hanging-out. I’m not sure why I’m here.

Outside of Walmart, do you play “C’mon USA” when you’re over there? And how does that go down?
Yes I’ve been playing it every show. It’s been great actually, it’s been a favourite. I’ll open with it, or close with it. I think there’s a lot of anti-American sentiment over here within the States, probably more so than anywhere. Not that the song is necessarily straight-up-and-down anti-American. I love America. It’s kind of about being let down by the mythology of America – not ringing true when you’re actually here or whatever. And it’s thinly veiled as an American anthem, so I haven’t had any problems.

How does that compare to the homeland advantage, especially when you’re playing shows?
It’s a different thing; I get to take people by surprise here. Also no one really knows the material. Not that that’s particularly necessary, but it is fun. That’s been good.

But over there you don’t get Jack Mannix heckling you about getting out your junk.
-Laughs- No but I have had heckling here though. Not as clever as Jack. Really dumb ones actually. But it’s been fun, just fine.

To be fair I think like ten thousand people have now seen you in the shower so you may get more heckling along those lines. But you’ve been playing on some pretty big stages, here and in The States. But the last time I saw you was at St James Crypt, and that was just a really nice intimate show. Which do you tend to prefer?
I don’t prefer big venues to the small ones for shows. Or vice versa. Every show is different. Sometimes I really enjoy having a big sound system and the big architecture of a larger space. But of course there’s a great connection and a great communication you can have with an audience in a more intimate venue. It really depends show to show, you know. Every show is just a moment in time, in place. There are so many other variables involved as well that I couldn’t say which one I prefer. I’ve had some good shows and some bad shows and some terrible shows, in bigger venues and in smaller ones.

And how would you compare the two musical climates, if you could, between here and The States, is there a difference do you find?
Yeah, I reckon. Not sure what that difference is, I’m not sure if I could put my finger on it. But there is definitely a difference. I think it’s more noticeable between Europe and Australia, or Europe and The States. And here you’ve got English speaking audiences so you can have a more direct communication.

Does communicating with your audience play a big part in your shows?
Of course, not just in the lyrical content but just being able to talk to an audience. The audiences I play to in Australia are very interested in coming out to see my shows but here I’m being thrust onto unsuspecting audiences. Again there are so many variables I can’t really put my finger on why things are different. I can’t really say “oh Americans are this way and Australians are this way” when there’re other factors. But there’s definitely a difference, I’ll have to get back to you on what it is.

Because your album was made both here and over there in different processes and stages, did location influence the album and does place play a part in what you make?
Oh definitely, the album came directly from – (sigh) – well this is very much a breakup album, you know. I’d been through a pretty intense breakup and had a pretty intense relationship, and yeah, that certainly had a big influence on the album. And I’ve been living in the Blue Mountains [in New South Wales] for a couple of years and seeing what came out of being there. And it obviously sounds Australian. But I think you can get even more localised than that. There’s a quality to it that is distinctly relating to Sydney. I mean everyone involved with it, like Tim Rogers [of Jack Ladder] and myself are obviously both from Sydney, and between Dan Stricker [of Midnight Juggernauts] and Tim, who are the two other main guys that play on the record – everyone’s Aussie. I made it at Kim’s Moyes’ [of The Presets] place and I’d written the songs over however many years in various locations around Sydney.  I dunno, that seems very apparent to me, whether anyone else could pick up on it I’m not sure, but it doesn’t sound like a record that could come out of Melbourne, for example, or anywhere else. It is distinctly Australian. There’s something inherently New South Welsh with it.

I’ve actually seen you play with a band, in somebody else’s band and also as a solo musician. Is there any specific way you prefer playing? Or is it just different?
My guitar playing? Yeah. When I’m playing solo, my guitar playing is mainly geared towards either something distinctly expressive and creating a full mood. Or even simply a pitching for the vocals – a placeholder to pitch your vocals to. Whereas obviously in a band it’s like an expressive colour on top of numbers, played as foundation or something. That’s the key difference, whether I’ve got to hold something down more or fill up more space, whereas the key often with a band is to take up as little space as possible, to leave air to be filled by others.

You do a lot of improvising on stage in your solo performances don’t you?
Yeah definitely, and in bands as well. The band shows I improvise in too, especially when there’s more form, when there’s more form it gives you more freedom to improvise in a way, as a guitarist at least, when you can play on top of something solid but it can go anywhere – oh my god, there’re so many good shoes here at Walmart!

KirinStock up!
I think I’m going to buy these toes. Black toes.

What? Black toes? Or black brogues?
Toes. You know how they have like, individual toe kinda shoes?

Oh god! Like the running shoes?
All-terrain. They’re very sporty. You can wear them underwater and like on rocks and stuff.

Hopefully Walmart does them nice and cheap.
They’re only like ten bucks or something. Maybe I should get two.
Sorry, God, you were asking a question.

Oh, yeah (laughs) were you improvising a bit when making the songs on the album too?
Improvising? Albums are different, wherein it’s not simply a moment. So improvising is not the right word, but you’re definitely making it up as you go along. The only thing is you have more time to reflect and filter and be critical and get in your own head about it. It’s not so intuitive or of the moment. You have time to listen back to it and have mixed feelings about it. And also when the red light is on and things are recording it’s different than having an audience there in front of you as well, it’s easier to get stage fright, ironically, in a studio as opposed to on the stage. But it’s all made up, it’s not like I think “this is how it goes here.” I’m very open to change, but it’s not necessarily permanent, you can go back and reconsider. But the irony to that is then once you do commit it is totally, totally permanent. Whereas with the live show is merely a moment.

I’m actually a little bit miffed at the album actually. Because I’ve had to listen to it through the closed soundcloud release. And I think once I got it my data usage went from like 50% to 87% in two days and now it’s completely run-out and I’m totally screwed. So I blame you Kirin J Callinan.
(Laughs) I’m glad someone is listening to it.

I’m sure you’ll have more than just me.
Well I’m really looking forward to it coming out. For so long I’ve been the only person who knew these songs. And then working with Kim Moyes, he came to intimately know the songs too. I’m looking forward to it coming out and lots of people having an emotional connection and being able to be as close to [the songs] as I’ve been. I play live every other night to a new audience so people hear these songs maybe only a handful of times. Even if they’ve come to ten of my shows they’ve only heard these songs ten times. And that would be an extreme case whereas for me I’ve heard them hundreds of times so it’s nice to have them off my back, so to speak.

Do you still have new emotional reactions to your songs when you play them now? Or when you listen back to them now?
When I play live, of course! I haven’t listened to the album in a while. But when I play them live – I mean I’m a professional – I have to connect with them. But I feel like they also come from a very personal place so I still tend to connect with them.

I did just want to ask you something, just quickly before we wrap up. Is there a conscious reason behind you never wearing shirts? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen any footage or performance of yours where you are actually wearing one.
I’m wearing a shirt right now! And I’ve been looking at shirts to buy here in Walmart as well.

You’ll have to get some to match your new shoes.
Well I’m looking at tights right now. I can make a whole new outfit.

[in the background] No, those would be too big for me. Sorry, I’m still just trying to find a pair of tights. I need a clinging size, you know, as they should be. But the decision to not wear much, I mean it’s a physical representation, my music is meant to express something physical and masculine even – lyrically and thematically. And the live performance is meant to communicate that in a live setting, or in a video clip, and so of course my masculinity and my physicality are going to be represented … physically (laughs). It’s an extension of the ideas and themes in my music but that’s not to say it’s meticulously planned out, it just kind of made more sense, and it’s making more sense to me now why – it’s a manifestation of the bigger ideas at play in the music, the overarching ideas.

I thought it may have also been that you didn’t have room in your bags with all your pedals.
Yeah, that’s another whole thing. You could say that too. (Laughs)

Well thankyou for talking to me from Walmart, good luck buying your outfit, Kirin.
Thanks darl’n!

Hear songs from Embracism (out 28 June on Siberia Records & Terrible Records/XL Recordings) and potentially see Kirin sans shirt (woot, woo) at the following tour dates in Australia:

Wednesday 26 June – Yours & Owls, Wollongong

Thursday 27 June – Terrace Bar, Newcastle

Friday 28 June –The Standard, Sydney

bianca cornale
Interview by Bianca Cornale.