Ahead of Darling Arithmetic's forthcoming release on Domino, Ken Grande-Pierre caught up with Villagers' Conor O'Brien for an enlightening conversation and some rather beautiful photography. You can stream the album in full by heading here.

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What was it like coming back from touring for Awayland? Especially considering how an album changes from what it was from being released to the end of it's touring cycle, so I'd imagine you felt very particular after living with that album for so long?

Yeah totally. My memory is a bit terrible in that I can't remember the moments right after touring but I do remember thinking that I wanted to make something very different. After Awayland I very much felt like I was done with that, making music in that way and I really just wanted to make music that was simple with a bit more space in it. I just really wanted to approach songwriting in a simple way. But I really enjoyed touring Awayland.

Some of the highlights were definitely Glastonbury, this Irish festival we have called Longitude that we had a really great reaction at. It was particularly great getting to play very full stages because that album has so much going on, so to be on a stage that can accommodate all of that felt very powerful.

It's funny that you mentioned those festivals because I've seen video of you performing at those festivals and I can remember between songs how you'd seem overwhelmed with joy at people caring so much about the music.

[Laughs] oh wow.

Do you feel that after recording an album like Awayland that it just fully made sense for you to return to a simpler approach towards making music? For example, are any of the songs on Darling Arithmetic songs that were written on tour for Awayland?

The actual title song was written well before I even made Awayland. I couldn't ring myself to sing it because it was very intimate and... it's a song about losing someone so I didn't think I'd ever use it, I always thought I'd keep it to myself, and not release it. But then when I ended up having these songs it felt like that song ('Darling Arithmetic') finally had a home and then it became a centerpiece. So that was quite cool, because I thought that would be just my own little private song but now it's the name of the album and everything [Laughs].

That's amazing, so you've carried that song with you for years?

Yeah, I think I wrote it back in 2011 or 2012, around that time. But the rest of them were written back in Ireland. Apart from 'Hot Scary Summer', which was written in Kyoto, Japan. We were asking the crew how to say "thank you for your hard work." And in Japanese it sounded like 'Hot Scary Summer' so I went back to my hotel room and wrote down "Hot Scary Summer" and "Thank you for your hard work." And now "Thank you for your hard work" is actually the first line on the song.

That's one hell of a title for a song.

Yeah, it really made me think about the end of a relationship, and that bit "thank you for your hard work" being something that you might want to say but not know how, and that's really where the song grew from. And I guess that's when I started to write quite therapeutically or something, that was my first song that I felt that I was writing like a form of therapy for myself. And I honestly didn't know how I felt about that, it was like "oh wow...are we doing this then? Does it mean it's self indulgent or will it be helpful for other listeners?" so my main aim with the album was just to get that energy but also make something universal that people could put their own emotions into and their own memories into it.

That's quite a beautiful thing to hear, especially because what caught on to me whenever I'd listen to your music was how it was all story-based, yet the songs did feel strikingly personal. When you look back on your old songs now do you feel that maybe there was a subconscious element of therapeutic songwriting?

Yeah definitely, because some of the old songs... I think it was me just releasing a lot of energy that I had stored within. You know I was never out in the public as a gay man, I mean I was in my private life but I used to get nervous about it at stuff like interviews and TV. But I definitely used the energy from that and incorporated it into my music. Especially on the first album, if you read the lyrics, they're very repressed and are about being repressed in society. So I was using that indignant anger, but with this album I found a new energy and it was something that was... it's interesting because I was actually quite worried.

I've used the energy that drove me with the first album for so long that I was afraid that I was going to lose it, you know?

What interests me with that is that I know quite a bit about Ireland, and I also know that it's still your home, and a place that you love. There's an interesting duality where Ireland has some of the friendliest people on the planet yet there's some things that you can't be open about there. I wonder if that contrast was something you feel like you've had to deal with in your music?

It is, yeah. In Ireland you have this leftovers of the Catholic Church controlling everything, and also with that control you also have the legacies of being a colonized nation. So you have hundreds of years of that and it all gets built into this strange pride for being... like religion was such a big part of our identity, and understandably so, but what it does is that it makes it difficult for people who are LGBT to grow up in that society. But over the last five years it has changed so much in Ireland.

It's become a massive hub of creativity hasn't it?

Yeah totally. And people are relaxing so much more and being so much more open-minded to things. Especially in the last year, so many crazy things have happened in Ireland in terms of that. We have a Gay Marriage referendum that's about to pass.

Some of my close friends in Ireland have told me about that referendum. I remember that at first they spoke about it in a not-so-sure manner but now there seems to be a unanimous belief of "yes this is going to happen."

Yeah it's great. I'd say it is a sure thing but it's the type of thing you have to keep pushing for no matter what. It was different for me though, growing up in the '90s, I never really felt like I could be open about it and... I've dealt with a couple of homophobic instances, and being threatened with violence. So that all fed into me and just made me angry, and it got into the music. I kind of turned it inward and turned it into music, so it's very cathartic for me to write an album like this. I wouldn't have been able to do this years ago, not even five years ago.

Going to that...

Not to cut you off, but I really just want the able to be taken on a universal level. I don't want it to be too...I made so much effort to make sure that when you listen to these songs that you don't just think about my problems, I really want this to be something that everybody can relate to regardless of...

I definitely get it, and I'm sure listeners will as well. The songs you've released so far definitely hit that mark. Something that I've found very intriguing is how there's a stigma with musicians feeling too comfortable in their music, but when I listened to the songs off of Darling Arithmetic it felt like I was listening to someone who was very comfortable. It felt like a statement of "this is who I am, here is where I am" and I'm curious if any of this was brought about from your experience with James Ford and making the tune 'Occupy Your Mind'?

[Laughs]. It's funny because we've gone completely the opposite direction, soundwise. That's a song that was just very much a product of the time, you know. It was a song that just needed the energy that I was feeling at the time and it needed to sound like a punch in the face because of just the craziness of everything. I remember that I was reading about Russia every day and just really feeling angry about it all. But I don't know if I reacted to that to write Darling Arithmetic, I don't think that it was ever on my mind at all honestly. With Darling Arithmetic I just really wanted to make something more bare, more naked, and something a bit more... I don't know, because what you're hearing with Darling Arithmetic is just my home-recordings.

I thought I was going to go into a studio and make the songs a bit more beefier but these are just imperfect home-recordings with things like birds chirping and dogs barking in the background.

With Awayland being recorded in Attica was it ever an option to go back there for Darling Arithmetic? Especially seeing how that studio became a bit of a home for you when you made Awayland.

Yeah, it was pretty amazing being there and experiencing that but I just kept recording at home and found that to be the right approach.

Is the area you were in quite a secluded one?

Yeah, it's just a farmhouse. So it's kind of rural area where you can relax.

I remember reading in an interview between the gap of Becoming a Jackal and Awayland how you said that "you didn't want to be that guy who just writes sad songs."

Yep, I definitely failed in terms of that quote [Laughs].

Well I just wonder if you experienced something particular between Awayland to now that led you to feel more comfortable making songs like this, or was it the type of thing that just completely caught you by surprise?

It just happened very gradually. Everything slowly developed and... I never really sat down to write a theme for the album you know? It all just became an album about love and relationships. I think experiences like singing with John Grant, and watching Martha Reed and the Vandellas in Dublin. There was a film I saw called the Bicycle Thieves by an Italian director named Vittorio De Sica. It's such a simple and emotional film and I remember seeing that and thinking "Wait! I can do simple! I can do emotional!" and loads of little things made me realize that I have an untapped well of emotions that I could utilize, and I just knew that it had to be as bare as possible, as naked as possible.

What I love about that is some people might hear a song or two and think "oh he's going back to the old sound" but when you listen back to your debut album it really does remind you how much of new territory this is for you. It's like you said, the first album has bits of being angry and repressed. That inwardness, it comes across, as with this album there's a sense of...

Release.

Yeah... actually... yeah absolutely that. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't imagine acts like Glen Hansard or even Damien Rice releasing a song as open as 'Courage'.

[Laughs] that's nice to hear. 'Courage' is a bit of a strange country song, but it's nice that it can be received that way.

Lastly, we touched upon this a bit before but I'm curious to know if you feel that there's a particular thing that keeps bringing you back to Ireland to make music?

I'll always be open-minded to everything and I'm sure they're some listeners who would like me to record elsewhere to avoid the music from sounding similar [Laughs].

Do you feel that that's an important element to songwriting: the location?

Absolutely. I feel that all songs are just a snapshot of a place and a time, rather than the template for the song. What I loved about making this album is that I'm getting more into the idea that songs are recordings of your feelings and emotions at a particular moment in time.



Darling Arithmetic is released on April 13th via Domino.
Words and photography by Ken Grande-Pierre