Interview with Cian Nugent – Part 1

Interview with Cian Nugent – Part 1
by Killian Laher

No More Workhorse met up with Cian Nugent for a chat about his new album, music and Dublin:

No More Workhorse: What were you listening to growing up?

Cian Nugent: I think there were a lot of phases for me. My first cassette tape I got was Oasis in about ‘96 (I was born in ’89), Definitely Maybe or something like that. I remember being into pop music, but in a social way rather than a personal way. It was what your friends were into at school. And then, I’m loath to admit it, but then nu-metal hit, there was a ‘rocker’ era. I was just the right age as a ten-year-old. It was all about not giving a fuck and being tough. And when you’re ten, that seems like, oh yeah, that’s what I’m into. I recently watched the Woodstock 99 documentary. It’s a weird moment in time. I was talking with a friend about it and he was saying it’s almost like what led to the Proud Boys or that kind of strand of disaffected young white people that think that they’re being revolutionary by being macho and aggressive.  It was really… what’s the word? Un-ideological? Just with no agenda. Don’t care about anything. Literally ‘fuck everything’! So I was just kind of like a mini rocker for a little while.

And then I remember there was the indie explosion with The Strokes and the White Stripes and stuff like that. That was when I thought, oh actually this feels a bit more like my thing than what I was previously into. Particularly the White Stripes, they were a big band, but to my teenage self, they felt very authentic. I have a lot of respect for the way Jack White’s gone about things over the years as well. You know, he’s still a big supporter of music.

I think everybody has a gateway band where there’s something that gets them into other stuff. For me, it was the White Stripes, in that they introduced me to older music that they were enthusiastic about. I read interviews with Jack White and he’d talk about Robert Johnson and Captain Beefheart and the Stooges and all these things that I’d never heard of, and I was like, I’ll go check it out. I remember buying Trout Max Replica when I was about 15 or something and not having any idea what was going on. I didn’t like it, but I kind of had to like it. I did eventually get into it, but it was only because I had bought the CD and I had to get into it. That is something I miss about the CD era, was that you could only hear something if you bought it, and if you bought it, you had to get into it.

NMW: Do you still buy physical music?

CN: I was into buying records for a while but I don’t have the money for buying records, to be honest. I love the records that I have, and I do have quite a few, but I lost interest in collecting, and I ended up getting into guitars and things that I could use, rather than buying records. I’d like to at some point have enough money to have an extensive record collection. But every time you move house, you’ve got to move a thousand records!

NMW: Do you think albums are still important?

CN: For me, definitely. The album is the art form, in the way that a 90-minute movie is the art form. The album, to me, feels like the novel, as a listener and as somebody making music as well. It’s the ultimate achievement or kind of body of work that you want to create.

NMW: It’s been a while since the last album, Night Fiction.

CN: The last one was in 2016. It was a while back, and at the time I told myself I’ll just bang out the next one quickly, get another ten songs written and do it fast. I ended up putting pressure on myself to be like, I want this one to be good. That started getting in on me, and I started freaking myself out a bit. I was making demos and slowly working on stuff.  Some of the songs that are on the album were written quite a long time ago, but it took a long time to put them together.

My mother got sick a few years ago, she had a stroke and so I ended up moving home to help her out.  She was in a rehab hospital for a long time, over a year. I was supporting her and going to appointments with her and helping her with things. My family is very small, just myself and her growing up.  I’m back living in the family home.  In the summer it’s nice being out by the sea.  Over the past couple of years, it’s been nice being surrounded by nature, but I am forever coming in and out of town.  The DART’s easy and quick.  It encourages me to listen to music, having a commute.

My mum’s got something called aphasia, which means that she understands language. She has a hard time verbalising her thoughts, so she’s got a very limited vocabulary.  There wasn’t siblings to help bear the brunt of it so it meant I was occupied by that.  But I think ultimately that kind of helped shape the way the record turned out. That gave me some space to think about the music a bit more and experiment and work on the arrangements. I got into recording on my own.  I did the initial recording with a friend in his studio but then got into doing all the overdubs and fleshing out the arrangements on my own. That was something that was possible because I was moving home and I had a bit of time and space to buy keyboards, get some recording equipment, and experiment. I did a lot of messing around and got a bit indulgent with things, thinking, maybe this song needs a keyboard on it, and then being like, I’ll buy a keyboard and figure it out and experiment with it for three weeks to do one part!

Over the pandemic, there was a lot of time to be filled, and so it dragged on a lot. Eventually, I had to say to myself, I just need to finish this, put a deadline on it, and actually get it done. I think in general I need to be given a deadline to do it, otherwise, it won’t get done. There’s a certain pleasure in thinking that: if I don’t do it, I can’t ruin it. If I actually did it, it might not turn out as good as I wanted it to, so I can maintain the illusion that it would have been a masterpiece by not doing it. There are all sorts of games you play with yourself about not doing things!   But I have to say, now that it’s done, it’s a nice feeling to be able to look at it and go, yes, it’s finished. It’s a real relief after so long.

NMW: What are your plans to launch the album?

Releasing a record always feels like a weird anti-climax because you think it’s going to be an event, but it’s actually just the beginning of a process. I’ve got a couple of gigs coming up in London over the next while, a few more things in Dublin, putting together a band for the album launch gig with Sean Carpio who played on the record and a pedal steel player and a bass player. I’ve got this launch gig coming up (in the Workmans Cellar on May 25th), and a few other gigs. Putting out records you just have to see what happens. There’s a certain amount of planning and then there’s a certain amount of just being like: I made the record, hope people listen to it, people like it… and see what sort of reaction you get.

I’m looking forward to people being able to hear the whole thing.  I’m looking forward to playing the songs live, because the songs lived as just one version of them on the album for a long time and there was just one performance of the song to deal with. I always love how things can change in a live performance and how a song doesn’t just have one definitive version. I love live albums, I’m a big live album fan. There are some amazing ones. Curtis Mayfield’s live record. There’s also a Donny Hathaway live record, a soul singer in the 70s.  He’s kind of half Curtis Mayfield, half Stevie Wonder in his kind of sound. But he was a Wurlitzer player, and this record is the most amazing document of a gig going well. It’s just like, wow, they got that recorded! It’s such an amazing vibe in a room and hearing the live version of something. It’s such a different thing.

Some people were more live performers and some people were record makers. Sean Carpio, who played on the record is a jazz musician primarily, but he does a lot of different things. We were talking about the album being the ultimate art form but that’s not really the way he thinks. The live performance is the art form for him, and he’s like, you make a record, it’s just one version of the song. It’s more interesting to play in front of an audience and do that thing and do that well. Different people have different values when it comes to these things.

NMW: Any musical inspiration making the album?

CN: There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve always liked, like Neil Young records. In terms of specific things, I got quite into Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers, people who were doing, for want of a better word, pop music, but doing it in a strange way. They’re quite multi-genre in a way. There’s a lot of different influences in there, and there’s a lot of directness and honesty in what they’re doing, and obviously, they’re very different to each other. But there’s something about the shared aesthetics that they had. I love a lot of soul music like Al Green, Irma Thomas. Like that studio where Al Green recorded, Hi Records. When we were sort of recording the record, we would talk about the sounds of particular records more than the music of them.  Trying to capture an energy of certain session musicians from the 60s and the 70s that I love, people like The Wrecking Crew that played on a lot of L.A. recordings.  A lot of those people were jazz musicians that were playing pop music and they played it in a way that is different. Whatever you learn comes through in the way you play things.

There was an era where session musicians learned playing jazz, but played pop in a jazz-influenced way.  That is a long-term aim of mine in terms of the feel when you’re making a record or the sound of the band. That was definitely something that was influential.  Certain kinds of periods, musicians and recording techniques, without trying to get too retro with it. That’s always something I’m trying to balance.  I do love old music, but I try and not make the music overly referential.

The Interview continues in Part 2…

Cian Nugent’s album She Brings Me Back To The Land of the Living is out now, and the album launch is in the Workmans Cellar on May 25th.

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