Of all the artists to break through so far this year, Kirin J Callinan has arguably caused the most intrigue among music writers over the last few months (which is no mean feat).

Embracing a dizzying variety of influences to create an almost schizophrenic, yet deeply personal sound that spans the genres, the Australian native has managed to both confuse and amaze over the last few months, with moments of intense disparity filling his acclaimed debut LP Embracism which dropped back in June.

Last week saw Callinan over on British shores for a short run of performances around the capital, including East London's Visions Festival and a surprise show at The Old Blue Last. We caught up with him in Notting Hill to discuss spontaneity, break ups, and pushing people outside of their comfort zones.


Hi Kirin, so you recently completed a tour with Ariel Pink in the US (which I thought was a pretty perfect pairing), how was that for you?

It was great, the truth is our music has very little to do with each other, apart from the fact we both have a conceptual grounding, but he's a huge character and I loved playing those dates.

Coming from Australia, do you feel you have more to prove in front of foreign crowds?

It's more exciting for me at the moment, I wouldn't say there's something to prove though. If anything there's more pressure back home as there is a certain level of expectation because they're more familiar. Playing different places feels great though because everything's very new to these crowds, and I have something I've been cultivating and growing as an entity for a while now outside of any validation. This is exciting because it's fresh and I can look at these shows over here like they're my first gigs, so I can blow people's balls off basically.

I recently read an interview with Iggy Azalea, who said it was important for her to break out of Australia to avoid becoming a big fish in a small pond. Despite the fact you're obviously in different fields, would you say you feel the same?

I've always been involved in a lot of things, rather than just set on this one project, in fact the solo career was always something on the side whilst I was in other bands. With those reasons it just made more sense to stay in Australia until recently, but you can definitely get trapped in touring the island, as it's so far away from anything else. The truth of it is though, unless you're going to be a big pop act in Australia alone, you're going to have to make the jump to other countries. I'm happy to be here though, because if it was any longer I think I would have been trapped.

So was building up a fanbase at home first important to you?

Not really, if anything getting loads of attention at home before branching out is a hindrance, as people always want something new that speaks to them, and it's harder to feel that if a 'new' artist is already big somewhere else.

When I first heard Embracism, I got the feeling that it is a record built around your personality, and the incredibly broad range of influences that have over time made you who you are. Was it hard condensing so many ideas into one album?

A lot of songs on the album have been around for a while, whether I wrote them for other bands or they just sat there for ages, but either way they found a home on this album. Stylistically, the record isn't locked in to anything in particular, but it is about a character I guess, and I had a lot of songs to choose from. I was very aware of how it all came together though, and having the luxury of choice made it easier to weave a narrative. I don't know how much I believe in an 'outside force' or the subconscious, but I feel that every piece of art across any field is bigger than the individual, as they kind of take a life of their own at some point.

I think if you work on something for so long it's natural to want to separate yourself from it to gauge a new perspective...

Yeah definitely, you have to let go of any worries, as what you may perceive as a flaw may be someone else's favourite part. It's always interesting how other people see your songs, especially if they find new aspects you didn't see before.

That's definitely been the case in a few of the reviews I've read, and some people have felt almost pleasantly confused by your sound. Was it always your aim to push people out of their comfort zone?

I wasn't aiming for that in particular, the record is filled with what excites me, and I like concepts that are fairly out there, or even just in bad taste sometimes. For me it's a compliment when people are confused, or react in different ways because it means that they haven't come across anything like it before.

As a finished product, did Embracism sound how you planned before you went into the studio? As there's a definitely air of spontaneity throughout...

It came out completely different. I mean it's nice to get things off your chest with old material as they've been there for a while, but it's so much better if something comes out different to how you expected, as it just sounds a lot less intellectualized and considered. I've never been happy if something has turned out how I originally wanted to, it's almost disgusting and embarrassing if that happens.

Does that mean that you have to really push yourself to change everything when you're in the studio then?

It's actually the opposite of that, as you almost have to let go and just see what happens, such as recording improvised vocal takes and listening back, no matter how excruciatingly awkward it can be. That's why I wanted to work with Kim (Moyes) on this album, as he gave me the freedom to explore new things.

We should talk about your videos, as they played quite a big part in igniting the hype over here, how much influence do you have when it comes to visuals?

The visual representation is obviously important to me, but when it comes to influence I have various amounts of involvement. I like to be in control but it's also good when you can trust someone else to bring new ideas, and make a video the most interesting and provocative thing it could be.

Was it hard finding someone who was creatively on the same wavelength as you then?

Not really, it's just getting people to understand how it should look. For example on the 'Way to War' video, it took Chris (the director) to come up The Blue Mountains in Australia where I live to fully understand, and build the video around my world, my partner and child actually appeared in it as well.

Without wanting to pressure, is it tough coming over here and relentlessly touring with a family back home?

To be completely honest that relationship fell apart, but it was that isolating and emotional experience that formed a lot of the album's lyrics. Although a lot of the tracks don't sound like 'love songs', it's all deeply personal and relevant to me. 'Embracism' for example is about moving on from a spiritual mindset into more physical beliefs, and what is actually there, like I cant believe in love anymore, but I can believe in this table, to try and give myself some emotional grounding

As horrible as that situation was, would it be fair to say the album would have been very different without it?

There probably wouldn't be an album at all. The record came from this period of time when I wasn't living anywhere, just staying at Kim's making music as much as I could. I'm not saying people should break up with their long-term partners to make music, but it was definitely the catalyst for most of my material. She was my muse, but the lyrics aren't soppy and sentimental, it's all veiled in different imagery.

So what's the plan for the rest of the year then?

After some dates over here I'm going to head back to Australia for my last tour of the year, then just rounding off promotion on the record, hoping it will find its way into people's hearts, or at least onto their record players.


Embracismis out now on XL Recordings.