Interview with Cathal Coughlan – Part 2 – by Killian Laher
We spoke to Cathal Coughlan on the eve of the release of his latest solo album Songs of Co-Aklan.
You can’t tour so how will you promote the album?
I wouldn’t rule out doing something live online. The logistics are tough and I’ve seen great ones and I’ve seen people who I really like come a cropper technically. Your heart goes out to them but the moment’s gone, that’s the way of it. I don’t have any fixed plans along those lines. There’s a duo project that I’m part of, releasing its first album in the summer, called Teilifis. It’s me and Jacknife Lee, the producer/musician. We’ve known each other for quite a long time. We reconnected last year and we collaborated on this album. Unlike my album, this is all remote cos he lives in California. It’s completely different from my album and people are going to be quite struck by all aspects of it. It’s quite rough in some aspects! That’s coming along and we’ll be making another one soon.
I’m involved in this multi-artist album called Bring Your Own Hammer which involves Adrian Crowley, Eileen Gogan, Mike Smalle (Cane 141), Linda Buckley… most people involved are Irish or have Irish connections. It’s a folkloric thing, it’s a live history set to music. I’ll keep on recording till it’s safe to go out again.
What’s Luke Haines like to work with?
Excellent! We’ve worked together a lot, we did North Sea Scrolls together 10 years ago. We’re quite friendly. It’s a combination of having a laugh and… absolutely no messing around. Which is very inspiring, it will always get results. It doesn’t follow that he’s po-faced about it either. It was a lot of fun, especially the more off-the-cuff effects, he’s got quite an interesting work room with a timpani in it, which he acquired in some strange transaction years ago! He’s got a new album coming out shortly which is really good, in about a month’s time.
Do you miss playing live?
Absolutely. It’s the yardstick by which you measure what you’ve done lately. I’m a bit old-fashioned, I’m a bit set in that way. It’s how I started, I didn’t make a record for the first two or three years until me and Sean (O’Hagan) started making stuff. It’s a thing you always go back to, even though it’s often kicking and screaming. The living isn’t particularly pleasant, long drives, late nights and fried vocal chords. In spite of all of that it is a yardstick. To have it taken away feels like wearing boxing gloves when you’re trying to play. With a bit of luck new instincts develop: is a song too slow or too fast? Those are the kind of boring things you should have a better grasp of without having to go out and subject the public to it. You just develop other techniques for doing stuff like that.
Do you look back on past live performances much?
To a degree, if I’m with other people who were there at the time there are a lot of laughs. The style and presentation? I wish that I had been a bit more focused but it was very much about presenting the moment as it was. There was no particular arthouse fabric surrounding it, it was very much about, what you see is what you get, and what I’m thinking is what you’re gonna get. But there was no light and shade. There were certainly times when my voice could have been in better nick, and physically I could have been in better nick. It probably would have made things easier in the long run but there’s no point in looking back too much on things that are long done.
Has music helped get you through the last year?
I listen to a lot of music by other artists. Really strange and unlikely things just crop up. For example there’s some individual called Patton… I think that’s his first name… and he does these crazy remixes. He took a Sade track and did this brain surgery thing on it. It’s brilliant, it sounds really wistful, not in a very cerebral way, but it’s also quite frenetic. Also a young artist Merlin Nova, a vocal improviser from London who’s made a really good first album, and today I was listening to that group The Internet, they’re an offshoot of Odd Future. Really mad stuff. Tasteful too but the way it’s put together is sort of mad. It’s melodic but it comes from a different side of the brain from me. There are things that I always go back to, the last couple of albums Daniel O’Sullivan made are brilliant, and stuff I always go back to like Bartók, Todd Rundgren, the Beach Boys, Four Seasons. The thing that causes me concern is keeping a mental picture as to what it is that you have been listening to. You can’t just turn around and see what’s stacked against the wall and say oh yeah I was listening to that. It’s just off in the ether someplace. I ran out of space for CDs a long time ago, they’re all in binders now, even that isn’t readily ‘pull-downable’. The very old co-existing with the brand new. In one way it’s great because it means you’re not listening with as much prejudice as I would have done in years gone by. But also it takes away the frame of reference, so everything appears to co-exist on a common plane, whether the person doing it is aged 17 or they died at 85.
I still make a point of at least trying to get the download of anything I like other than having everything as just a bucket of steam.
What do you do outside of music?
I like a good hike, especially around the Peak District. I am a filmgoer but in the last year, even streaming films are that bit too long which is bloody awful. I’d normally rush to see anything by Jacques Audiard, Andrea Arnold or Michael Haneke, but have turned into quite the slouch during lockdown. But I do manage to read, especially towards forthcoming projects.
I’ve really enjoyed growing my own food. I had to stop it for a while but it’s something I mean to go back to. You can’t get the culchie out of the culchie! There’s nothing quite like having a good deep dig, and see what happens. Even if half of it is weeds at least there’s a sense of being connected to the seasons in a way that isn’t malignant. Particularly as you get a bit older you can find yourself dreading the turning of the seasons, that it means. To be reminded of the fact that the planet goes on, hopefully, is a very valuable thing to have in your life.