Interview :: Kirin J. Callinan
June 12th 2012
Max Quinn: I wanted to start by asking you about an adjective that appears all over the internet in articles or reviews of Kirin J Callinan. The adjective is ‘enigmatic’, and I wanted to ask you about that specifically because, for me, it seems like a strange word to use to describe the way that someone is having emotions. Do you agree with that?
Kirin J. Callinan: Totally. That makes sense. I’m not an enigma to myself, and I certainly don’t throw that term around. If people say that, I guess it’s a pretty easy way of saying nothing. Which is fine – I’m not having a dig at anybody – but if you don’t know what to say, that’s probably a way of summing it up.
Tell me about how you think that applies to your live show. It strikes me as an emotional experience.
I like playing live. It’s fun. There’s this great thing that happens when I’m playing live by myself where I have a microphone, so my voice is louder than anybody else’s in the room. And I have this guitar – this weapon of mass sonic weight – and it’s fucking loud. So at some stage it occurred to me that in some sort of primitive time, perhaps in a tribal community where there are only like two hundred people … and one of the people stood higher than everybody else, and wielded this power and had this voice with reverb and delay and volume, that they would be looked to for advice or wisdom or knowledge.
This person with this instrument would be held up as a shaman, or, dare I say it, even God. And I realised that I’m here in the present day on stage with this voice, and a microphone, and because of that, that people will listen. And sometimes I don’t know what to say, and sometimes I can say nothing and people will wait for me to say something. It’s an interesting power to hold.
Given that this happens as you say it does, do you feel like you’ve been fictionalised or even mythologised, to a certain extent?
Yeah, why not? I never set out for anything like that, but it helps not having had much output under my own name. I’ve been involved in lots of different things, and that leaves a lot to the imagination. Also, the material that I have put out isn’t easily categorised. When I talk to people like yourself, maybe I have a tendency to be quite theatrical or detached, which adds to these ideas. But they’re not my ideas necessarily – it’s a characterisation of that people cast onto me and onto my performance.
Is there an amount of acting inherent to your performance?
I don’t know if that’s the right word. Are you playing a version of yourself on stage?
Yeah. I guess the difference is that an actor is given a character to play and a script to learn, and a job to be done. Whereas my character is myself, but maybe blown out of proportion or explored to a level which is really confronting. Especially to myself. My mum doesn’t come to shows anymore for that reason. I’ve done live recordings that I can’t listen back to. I recorded a whole live album for release, which I went to mix and couldn’t. It was incredibly traumatic and terrifying to listen back to. So I guess that’s the difference between acting and whatever you would call my thing. I play under my own name – I’m not Captain Jack Sparrow.
Is performing a vulnerable experience in that sense?
Sometimes too much so. I’ve toyed with the idea of not playing under my own name and exploring another project which is essentially my music but performed under a different pseudonym. Maybe then I could play a character or decide that I want to make something more cinematic. I could be an industrial musician or a stargazer. I don’t know. But it would be something that is less heart-on-sleeve vulnerable.
The other thing that freaks me out is that people do assume these things about you. This collective idea happens that I’m perverted, perhaps, or that I’m other things. I don’t want these things attached to myself – I don’t want to become my stage persona. Because, while it is me, it’s also overblown. It’s not me when I’m hanging out with my sister. Sometimes that detachment is really healthy.
Given, do you feel pressure to live up to this billing of ‘Kirin the pervert’ or ‘Kirin the enigma’?
In the past there has been. I’m pretty good now at not playing up to that in my private life. But especially when I walk off stage, it’s sometimes hard to snap out of character. And if I do … is that even a good thing? I’m still performing. If people want to have a chat after the show, do I want them to know me? Or do I play up to this character, who, whilst it is me, is a morally questionable extension?
Do you find an amount of liberation in that?
Yes. That’s why I started doing it in the first place. I’m a white middle class guy who is oppressed as the next one. It’s certainly an outlet. Sexuality. The sexual side of it is definitely a liberating thing. That’s what I love about Prince – his message of sexual liberation. He’s a black man who is far more liberated, to make a complete sweeping generalisation. Hah.
Maybe you should clarify what you mean by that.
I guess that what I mean is that my ‘character’ – I’m not sure that’s the word to use, though …
Your stage persona?
Right. What I mean is that my stage persona is sexual but maybe a bit unpredictable. You don’t know what he’s thinking. That’s where the ‘perverted’ thing comes in. probably.
Can you retain that state of I guess freedom and of persona when you introduce a band to that mix?
It’s going to be an interesting experience. I was getting a bit bored of playing solo, especially because that was initially the outlet for playing in a band. There hasn’t been much band stuff happening lately with Jack Ladder or Lost Animals. With this said, I don’t want to compromise the vulnerability or the power in being a lone performer. I have a few ideas of how to get around that while having a wider sonic palette.
What are the ideas?
I have a bunch. If I was playing bigger rooms [on this tour], then I would have loved the band to have been dressed in black down in a pit – like a theatrical accompaniment. I would have been the theatre, and they would have been the orchestra. However, of course, they’d be playing their actual instruments rather than orchestral ones, and maybe they would be dressed more like a fascist militia than a band in blacks. But the idea is that I would be under lights.
But I’m playing these grotty, little venues for the most part of this tour. There are other ways around it. Again, I think it’s about the band having a purpose. It’s about them being efficient and still rather than rocking out, or something. And so the two parts of the performance – them and me – will still be separate. It will be like instruments. I can be the band leader.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the music video for ‘Way II War’. What were your intentions with that video?
Well, Kris Moyes [Director] and I have known each other for a while. We had been chatting for some time about making a video or a whole string. He lives in Melbourne and I lived in the Blue Mountains, so there were a lot of phone conversations for a long time. We got hooked on the idea of 3D, as has been the trend in film in the last little while. That seemingly irrelevant use of 3D.
So that’s where the GIF idea comes in. It gives a sense of space and dimension with a flat image. We threw around these narrative ideas – the idea of the Child, the idea of being totally deluded – loose things we thought we could express within the framework of GIF. So Kris came up for two days last year, and we went around to a bunch of places in the mountains. We took a lot of pictures. It was a very normal day out with my partner and her son in our underpants or nude. Very boring. We went to a bunch of pretty places and got our pictures taken.
The editing process was much longer. We had to decide what materials to use and that took a couple of months on no budget. There were shots that we chose not to use that were far more graphic. Well, maybe not graphic, but certainly questionable or just bad. There were shots of me in the shower, including with close-ups on my wang, and I was just wearing a belt and glasses and doing weights. We decided to take all of that stuff out. There’s nothing actually bad happening in the video as far as the subject matter itself is concerned. But for all of the uncomfortableness, people have been likening it to bestiality or child pornography, which I think is very unfair. As far as I can tell that has been projected on to it.
That’s kind of what I think as well. Without doubt, it’s a video that makes me uncomfortable, but I do agree that I think people are projecting their values on to it. Do you think that’s because there isn’t much of a narrative to follow?
It’s very loose. We didn’t piece it together with a story in mind as much as we had loose themes before shooting. It’s not meant to be understood, necessarily. I also think that the GIF format – jittering images – is fundamentally uncomfortable in the first place. To see something repeat like that, especially when the subject matter is what it is, is a bit sickening, even when there’s nothing particularly sickening going on. There’s a guy and a kid and a woman nude in the mountains. Surely in this day and age that’s not shocking on its own. It’s just the way it’s been pieced together. Because there is no narrative, what you make of it is largely what you project onto it.
So what does that say about all of these viewers who have attached all of these labels?
Maybe there’s a larger comment in this whole process that people are fucking sick. Humanity is sick. Maybe that’s valid.
What: Kirin J. Callinan “WIIW SINGLE TOUR” (Sydney leg)
When: Friday 22 June
Where: Goodgod Small Club, Sydney
Tickets available from Moshtix