Friday, 25 March 2016

Interview: Kevin Nolan

Kevin Nolan Interview Dublin Musician

Kevin Nolan - Last Days of Harry Carey

Ahead of the release of his new album, which is currently being recorded, I caught up with Dublin musician, poet and writer Kevin Nolan about what he's been up to since the huge success of 2014's Fredrick & The Golden Dawn. We also have a competition for you readers, Kevin has generously provided a copy of his E.P. Here's A Piece Of Ivan's Head, all you have to do is a leave a comment at the end of the interview and Kevin will pick his favourite.

Remy: It seems not that long ago since we chatted around the time of your last album, Fredrick & The Golden Dawn, but it has been well over a year! Alas, a new one is about to be born, what do you hope to achieve from a personal perspective from the next album that will differ from your expectations the last time round?

Kevin: Yes Remy, I remember fondly our interviews and conversations last year or thereabouts. I’m not really a hundred percent sure what I hope to achieve this time around but it appears to me from the material that there will be dramatic changes from the style I explored in my first album. My palette is different this time. Although artists like Don Van Vliet, Tom Waits, Steve Reich, Stereolab and Glen Branca and many others are still very important to me, they’ve pass the baton onto another family of artists which are becoming increasingly significant now in my formulations about this new album. 

I’ve returned to people like Jimmy Durante, Al Jolson, Roy Orbison; one of the best voices of the twentieth century also Van Morrison, The Ink Spots, Marlene Dietrich,  and lots more besides. So there’s a possibility these sorts of atmospheres might leak into my new stuff. I remember Nick Cave once said when asked a similar question, that with any new albums he makes he just wants to make one as good as his first. Also it’s different because I’m not doing it totally by myself this time. I have a few people composing parts on my new record, Vyvienne Long, Peter Murphy, Mick Pyro, Alabaster Deplume, Rob Doyle and a few others too.

R: I've heard that you are to be the subject of a piece of film, which will explore various themes and subjects, can you tell us more, sounds very interesting?

K: The film is a documentary directed by the award-winning documentarian Nathan Fagan. To tell you the truth, I’ve been kept in the dark about the essential narrative and overall sense of the film, for the creative reasons of the director. However I think it’s a documentary about me and my music and also something about what is called mental illness. Also over the last few months of filming I’ve found that it's about, ‘the self’, a kind of exploration into the various definitions of the self.  The transformative power of art and performance is also a very prominent theme throughout and something I have an interest in myself too. 

R: Can you expand a bit on what the 'transformative power of performance/art' means to you?

K: Sure, just one way of looking at it is this. There’s a German word Weltschmerz. My understanding of it is that, you are born and as you grow up you notice the world is asking you to fulfill a role within it, which is essentially to be a working part of the Leviathan in whatever way you choose, however you don’t have the choice not to choose.

With Weltschmerz  you try to be the person the world wants you to be instead of being who you actually are as a human being. The process of your endeavour to fulfill this task causes friction in the self. Friction, because you are repressing the your true self in a sort of martyrdom for the greater interest of the workings of society at large.

Shamanistic healing ceremonies are a good example. One way of looking at it is that the shaman is healing the tribe of the malady, Weltschmerz. He is stripping them of their tribal or in our case societal identity and thus freeing their true selves in as much as is possible. The ancient Greek word 'ekstasis' from which we get the word ecstasy means to be or stand outside oneself, a removal, or extraction. So essentially the feeling of ecstasy is a feeling of being outside of oneself.  How do you get outside of yourself? Well there is only one way and that is to die. My point being both the shaman and those at the ceremony seek to extract themselves from themselves. For me in this case the shamanistic experience is not death literally, but instead death of the self. The death of the unwanted repressing identities which are forced on us by society or the world, as posited in Weltschmerz. It was Freud who said at the end of his life, and I’m paraphrasing, he said that man will always be repressed by the conventions society and so will never be free and will never resolve his unconscious desire so will always be in a state of anxiety.

For me music and art in general is a transformative act, a kind of ekstasis, for like the shaman healing ceremonies it frees you from Weltschmerz. It is a release of the hidden genuine self into a safe place which will not try to  it contort it into something that fits in with the conventions of the world but instead commends it and celebrates its unique existence. Art is a safe place in which to be human, in a world where, what is is to be human in an invented definition persecuted upon us and this definition is rooted in a wish to control and control is one of the most basic reasons for the existence of The society.

And so the artistic act for me is ekstasis, extracting one’s self from one’s self. This transformation for me is in the creative act and also in performance.

One of my guitarists once said, ‘Kevin, when you perform, ten demons leave your body’. At first I thought this a funny statement and still do in fact. But Stephen my guitarist was kind of describing the shamanistic cathartic elements of my performance. There’s an old blues term called ‘real gone’. It’s hard to define but it means when you are really inside the song that you are performing, it’s when you lose yourself in the act of performing and almost forget yourself if you follow me. Real gone for me is another term for the transformative experience of art. Some painters say that when they are painting they lose all sense of time and are just completely lost in the experience of creating art. 

When I perform I become bewitched by the music and the narrative of the lyrics, it’s almost like a hypnotist has hypnotised me and I completely believe I’m a chicken, I believe in the essential nature of the song. It is true and real for me but I think it is very important to the enterprise that I am seen and my performance is perceived by the other. Because essentially on one level all art is an expression and when one expresses oneself the expression can only be truly completed or resolved when it has been witnessed by the other. That’s one of the reasons why therapy is so good for people and there are people who see art as self therapy. Sometimes though the witnessing other can be the self. Think of Narcissus staring into the water. Meaning when the creator/artist witnesses his or her own finished work of art then it can be resolved by the artist witnessing his or herself within the work.  This is well understood by those who write in diaries to sooth their mental state, I’m one of them. When they read back what they have written they witness their own expression, thus quantifying a type of resolution, think of the Augustine’s Confessions. There is a theorist who posits that every human endeavour from theoretical physics to art to philosophy to medical science to gardening, is all rooted in a urge to ‘express’ the self to the other, with the wish to attract a mate, cure loneliness thus propagating the race, going on towards going on, as is the object of our genes.

When I perform there’s an incantatory element, an attempt to evoke an almost ethereal sense or presence inside the music. Captain Beefheart once said, ‘I don’t write songs, I cast spells’ there those who see music as a type of magic, one note in a song can move a person profoundly to sadness or joy or even have a maddening effect, this is a type of magic to me. Performing is an exalted experience, Kerouac spoke of his ‘exalted exhaustion’ when explaining the term ‘Beat’. For me on one level it kind of means you are tired of having so much energy or weary of your in built genetic sometimes unwelcome will to exist.

Some insight into the album, Fredrick & The Golden Dawn

R: Aside from music, one of your most powerful passions and creative preoccupations has been poetry as well as performance art which is a mainstay of your live shows, have you had time to indulge in either lately?

K: Yeah both actually. I’m currently working on a few things writing-wise and I am also working on a new book with my collaborator Artist/Poet Susanne Wawra. It’s poetry, but also performance art. 

In my live shows, well, I’m just back from playing The Black Box Theatre in Galway. There I performed a rendition of my song 'Blood Wedding' for brick and hammer. Meaning, I sang the song solo, with a hammer in one hand and a butterly brick in the other. As I sang I crashed the hammer into the brick, in time. When I hit the brick bits of it shot out onto the stage and some of the audience, it created a kind of smokey effect coming from the brick as it was chipped away, debris flying everywhere by the force of the hammer. I have also experimented with symbolism and sounds when performing recently. For example, I used old cameras on stage. I’d take photos and mic up these old cameras so the sound of the lens and the click made it a percussion instrument, while they actually took photos of the audience also. In the same vein, when live on stage, I’ve wrapped up cutlery in a tablecloth and took a hammer to them. I’ve also used vacuum cleaners, electric razors, hair dryers, jigsaws, books slamming shut, dead cordyline tree leaves, clocks and electric fans. 

Also I performed the story which was printed in the liner notes of the vinyl version of my debut album “Fredrick & The Golden Dawn”. The story was written by author Rob Doyle and recounts (not without irony) a meeting he had with me during the making of the album. 

R: Do you ever become overwhelmed by all that is going on, despite the fact that these are all interests you hold dear to your heart, or are they in themselves, how you give your head space?    

K: I think there’s a part of me that constantly overwhelmed by all that’s going on. I don’t really have too many ways of giving my head space. I’m now reminded of that Iggy Pop quote of advice, "Always maintain a spiritual exit". However, as you say these things are in themselves a way of escaping so in that sense I’m really glad to be working on my new album. 

Kevin Nolan Interview Musician

R: You spent much of your time in the run up to releasing Fredrick in your flat in Rathmines, writing, making rough recordings for your own reference etc. have you done the same with the new album or opted for a different approach?

K: It’s a bit like Star Wars in the sense that a lot of the second album that I’m working on now was written before I wrote my debut album, Fredrick. But yes I have a lot of notes and rough recordings for references. The making of the new album is quite different. I didn’t opt for a different approach consciously, instead this new process has just presented itself to me. Arts & Disability Ireland The Arts Council and Axis Ballymun have awarded me a six month residence so this means I have an office where I can go to write also a recording studio in which to record the album, there’s also a performance space where we hope to film a music video and also a dance studio. This in itself alters the approach. 

R: Will you planning any live shows before and after the release and are you considering a different approach with regard to line-up etc.?

K: I hope to tour the new material. There’ll be a lunch for the new album and I hope to have a more substantial line up in order to be able to perform the music. I hope to play a few shows with an artist from the UK named Louis Barabbas, he’s just released an album and wants to come over to Ireland to do a little tour with me, sometime in September.  

R: Finally, where do you see Kevin Nolan, musician, poet, thespian and artist in 40 years time, and what will you hope you'll look back on as your greatest creative achievement in old age?!

K: Well If I make it that far I think I’d see that as a bit of an achievement. I remember a while ago I was sitting having a coffee with my friend. We were sitting at a table outside as the sun was shining, lost in conversation, when suddenly a middle aged man approached us. He was very obviously in bad shape and very likely was homeless. Myself and my friend were a little fearful as he said to me excitedly, "Ah would ya just kiss her!" Then he said "You know, I used to be a writer". Shortly after, he sped away still keeping up the conversation with himself as he bounded down the road. My friend in relief said "don’t mind him Kevin". I kinda took from the guy that he used to be an artist, a writer, who knows, maybe as a young man he was a frequenter of the coffee shops, a stringent debater of Balzac and Emmerson. Maybe forty years ago he was just like me, sitting outside in the sun by a coffee shop, lost in conversation with his friend. And so I took from that guy that, anything can happen, nobody know where they’ll be. But he did say also, "Ah would ya just kiss her!". As he was a writer, I kinda took that statement poetically, I felt he was saying to me, listen kid, I used to be a writer, now I’m old and homeless and this is what I’ve learnt, love, express love.  

For more on Kevin's poetry, music and happenings head over to his website here

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