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Interview with Kirin J. Callinan

Kirin J. Callinan

Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers

“I loved high school.
I had no pressure because I knew
I was going to be a rock star.”

— Kirin J. Callinan

 

Kirin J. Callinan
Kirin J. Callinan is an Australian singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer known for his confrontational live performances. Callinan has opened for the likes of TV On the Radio and Tame Impala, toured with Mark Ronson and Kevin Parker, and has recorded with Ronson and Kim Moyes. Callinan’s recently released his second album, Bravado, to rave reviews. Guests on the album include Mac DeMarco, Connan Mockasin and Owen Pallet, among many others.

The Presets
Australian electronic music duo The Presets is comprised of musicians Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes. The duo formed in 2003, releasing two EPS before their well-received debut album, Beams (2005). Their album Apocalypso (2008) hit number one on the ARIA charts, winning six ARIA Awards including Album of the Year. The Presets are recognized for their contribution to Australia’s dance music explosion in the late 2000s.

Mark Ronson
English DJ, singer, songwriter and producer Mark Ronson is known for his successful solo career as much as his writing and producing for popular musicians including Bruno Mars, Adele and Amy Winehouse. He has received awards from multiple organizations including the American Music Awards, BBC, Billboard, BRIT Awards and the Grammys.

For someone who only just released his second album, singer and songwriter Kirin J. Callinan has covered a lot of ground creatively. He has been photographed by Hedi Slimane, recorded and toured for Mark Ronson’s album Uptown Special, opened for musicians including TV On the Radio and Tame Impala, and worked with producer Kim Moyes of The Presets. His newest album, Bravado, features guests including Mac DeMarco, Connan Mockasin, Owen Pallet and No Wave’s James Chance. As much a performer as a musician, Callinan’s shows are consistently shirtless with antics ranging from comic to charismatic to ugly realism. He discusses his early determination to become a rock star, his relationship with his sister and the sort of people he hopes to collaborate with.

Where are you from?
I’m from Sydney, Australia. Grew up in every corner of Sydney and now I’m here in sunny Los Angeles.

And when did you start making music?
I always made music. I’m from a family of musicians, so there was always music every Christmas and every other day, too. I played in lots of bands for a few years, but I started making solo music in 2007 just because I could, and it’s kept on going from there.

How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
It was pretty obvious to me. I loved high school. I had no pressure because I knew I was going to be a rock star. Since I wasn’t going to go to university, I didn’t have to do any work. I just got to hang out with my friends five days a week. Always knew. Either music or play cricket for Australia.

Grinspoon
Grinspoon is an Australian rock band formed in 1995. Members include vocalist and guitarist Phil Jamieson, guitarist Pat Davern, bassist Joe Jansen and drummer Kristian Hopes. The band is named after Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a Harvard psychiatry professor who supports medical marijuana. Their 2004 album, Thrills, Kills & Sunday Pills earned the 2005 Best Rock Album Award at the ARIA Music Awards, one of Grinspoon’s two ARIA awards and a total of 13 nominations.

Jebediah
Australian alternative rock band Jebediah formed in 1994 by guitarist Chris Daymond, vocalist and guitarist Kevin Mitchell (aka Bob Evans), bassist Vanessa Thornton and a year later, drummer Brett Mitchell. Jebediah released four studio albums before going on a hiatus in 2005. They reconvened in 2010 for their album Kosciuszko, which hit the top ten charts in Australia.

Who did you listen to growing up?
I wasn’t a good listener growing up. But I’m terrified of my old man, obviously, so I listened to him. Musically? The first record I bought was Grinspoon’s Guide to Better Living. I also liked Jebediah, but the first band that really hit me hard was NOFX. Big on NOFX.


“I most enjoy collaborating with contemporary artists, my friends, and people I connect with, not just out of reverence for what they’ve done.”
— Kirin J. Callinan

Where does your style, performance, dance, videos and all the creative textural elements that accompany your music come from?
The style and dance come from a place of fun. The music and textural elements are altogether different. They’re labored over and considered and thrown out and reimagined over and over again in the recording process. So one is intuitive, and one is scientific.

A specific persona and identity comes across in your work. To what extent is that part of your daily life?
It’s inescapable. It would be nice to escape for a bit, but the personality is why I do what I do and why the music is what it is. I’m just trying to be real. It’s not easy sometimes.

What life events have impacted you the most?
Growing up with a younger sister, the trauma I inflicted upon her and having to reconcile and recover from that. I love my sister. I spoke to her last night. I got a bunch of hate mail on the internet, and she was the first person to write to me, so we’re doing alright. When I was a teenager, there was a period of a lot of deaths in the family, and that was big too.

Team sports was very big—cricket, soccer and being good at something from an early age. Playing guitar might be the biggest factor that had to do with my confidence and being able to express myself and feeling unique or special. Everybody is special to someone, and everyone needs to feel like that. I was lucky that from a young age I felt special, and I carried that belief, no matter how deluded it might be, into my adult life.


“The style and dance come from a place of fun. The music and textural elements are altogether different. They’re labored over and considered and thrown out and reimagined over and over again.”
— Kirin J. Callinan

Dave Sitek
Musician and producer Dave Sitek is known for his band TV on the Radio, as well as working with bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and Foals. In 2008, Sitek was named number one in NME’s Future 50 list of the most forward thinking people in music. Under the moniker New Balloon, Sitek released an eponymous solo album in 2010 which included contributions by David Byrne, Tunde Adebimpe and Karen O.

Neil Finn
New Zealand musician Neil Finn is known as the former co-frontman of the rock band Split Enz and current frontman of the Australian rock band Crowded House. Flinn has been hailed as a prolific writer of great pop songs, and in addition to the success of Crowded House, he has released three solo albums including his most recent Dizzy Heights (2014).

You’ve had some pretty remarkable collaborations. How did those come about?
I’ve never had any desire to collaborate with anyone in particular. It’s all been very natural. I’ve been very lucky with the people that have come on board my recent record and who I’ve worked with in the past. The first person I ever recorded with in a studio, as a teenager, was Kim Moyes from The Presets. He produced my first album, years later. I also was young when I worked with Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio and Tony Cohen, and I got to play with people like Neil Finn and Mark Ronson. I’m just name-dropping now.

Is there anyone you hope to work with?
Actually, I most enjoy collaborating with contemporary artists, my friends, and people I connect with, not just out of reverence for what they’ve done. More because you’re excited for what they’re doing. That’s the best for me.

Some of your lyrics address social concerns. Which issues matter to you most?
At the moment, the big issue in Australia is gay marriage, which just seems so basic and dumb, and I’ve yet to see any argument that is valid for the “no” vote. I’ve been reading a lot about that lately, and it’s just obvious that people should be afforded the same rights as everyone else and marry the person they love no matter what their sexuality. What else matters to me? Love matters.

What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I love drinking, love dancing. Everything’s related to music. I love sport. It’s related to music. I like people making me laugh. Make me laugh, please, somebody.


“I was lucky that from a young age I felt special, and I carried that belief, no matter how deluded it might be, into my adult life.”
— Kirin J. Callinan

What are your favorite book, film and music right now?
I’ve got a book I’ve been taking around on tour. I just keep putting it next to the bed thinking I’ll pick it up. I started reading the first dozen pages or so a couple weeks ago, and I put a bookmark in there—I was very proud of that—and it hasn’t changed. I can’t even tell you the title.

I haven’t seen a film in a long time. I wanted to see It yesterday. My ex-girlfriend and I call each other “It,” so I thought it would be a nice wrap up to our relationship to see the horror film It. Maybe I’ll go later today. If not with her, then I’ll ask someone out on a date.

Music, I just keep going back. I’ve been listening to Crimson Red, Prefab Sprout’s latest record from about four years ago now. A lot of Divinyls, which is an old Australian band from the 80s and 90s. Chrissy Amphlett—rest in peace—incredible character, evocative, sultry singer, incredibly sexual and really gets me going. She has a song “Sleeping Beauty” and another song called “I’m Jealous,” and both of those keep hitting me. Also been listening to Billy Field, another Australian songwriter, made three records. He’s from Waka Waka in rural New South Wales, also just known as Waka. Not to be confused with Dubbo, another regional town where The Reels are from. I’ve been listening to them as well. Just my old favorites, really. I listened to Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” the other day, and that got me going…

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