Interview with Cian Nugent – Part 2
by Killian Laher
No More Workhorse met up with Cian Nugent for a chat about his new album, music and Dublin:
NMW: Do you think the Irish music scene is healthy at the minute?
CN: I think Dublin is too expensive for it to be possible for there to be a healthy music scene here. Artists have always been poor, that’s kind of the nature of the game. And more than ever, Dublin is a place for people that earn a lot of money from tech companies. All things considered, Dublin is doing pretty well musically, but I don’t know any artist that’s doing well. You have to make concessions and you have to make sacrifices in order to try and do anything. I’ve always lived in Dublin. That said, it’s a good place to be based and it’s easy to get anywhere.
Life’s okay. I’m grateful for the life I have. But it’s hard not to think it’s leading to another financial collapse. I wouldn’t want to buy a house at the moment.
NMW: How do you feel about streaming, do you stream?
CN: I do. I felt a bit bad about it and I cancelled it for a while and then I was like, maybe I should get one of the other ones. Maybe they’re better than Spotify. But Spotify as a user is more convenient, I found.
I tried Apple Music. The Spotify AI is quite good and it might suggest things you like. Whereas Apple Music is just: you ask it to do something, it does it. It doesn’t make any suggestions. I don’t want to admit that I want it to make suggestions!
I was with some friends for a little while there. We had this thing going, a listening group, where a few of us got together and each person will pick a song and you play it and you all listen. At first, it was very intense. But it also means that when you’ve got a good one, everybody really pays attention. You sort of make your picks thinking, well, I think that they might like this. They might not have heard this before and they’ll probably be into it, but it was really nice to have that sort of personalised connection.
Even just going to record shops. There’s something about hearing a record playing in a record shop. It sounds better. I think it’s the same when you hear a song in a movie, it always sounds so good.
What I’ve been listening to recently, all though it’s not particularly new, is the High Llamas. They were pretty counter to what was going on at that time. In retrospect, that’s what’s cool about it is because in the mid-90s, when grunge was big they were doing very delicate, fully arranged orchestral pop music. It’s very Beach Boys style or Van Dyke Parks or something like that. The Beach Boys are so sad, so melancholy. Pet Sounds is phenomenally sad as an album. I actually find it painful to listen to how sad it is because some of the lyrics are just… I mean, there’s that song where he just over and over sings: “sometimes I feel very sad” (I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times). That’s the chorus of the song. I mean, ostensibly, yes, they’re a ‘California sunshine’ band, but Brian Wilson is clearly such a pained tortured person. The sentiment in the song is so pure, he’s not trying to be clever. He’s being phenomenally clever in the arrangements and then in the lyrics, he’s just saying things really directly. There’s something very refreshing and sort of disarming about that.
I knew the name (High Llamas) for years, but then last year, I went to London to mix the album with a friend of mine, Cooper Crain. He’s got a great band called the Bitching Bajas, a synthesiser band. He did this record about two years ago that was called Switched On Ra, Sun Ra covers on synthesisers, and it was much better than it should be. They did it really well. But he’s an engineer and producer as well as a musician. He’s friends with Andy (Ramsay) from Stereolab who has a studio in London, so we went over there to this studio and there was, like a lot of cool reverbs and echo machines and stuff like that. We went over there and mixed the record, but Andy was telling me, you know Sean O’Hagan from The High Llamas? And I knew the name, but I had never really listened to them.
They’ve got an album called Hawaii, that’s the one I really like. It’s got this very 60s, really well-arranged, beautiful kind of rock music, but it’s sort of… not really. I found it very impressive that it was a guy from Ireland that did something like this, doing it so well. I’d never heard about it, I guess I never had a way in. Sean O’Hagan was hired to produce The Beach Boys in the 90s. He went over and he met with Brian Wilson. Sean was going to get him in with an orchestra with strings and a rock band and I think Brian was all excited about it, but somebody was like, that isn’t what we want for Brian. I think somebody put the kibosh on it and was like, look, we don’t want Brian to make that type of music anymore. We want them to be an easy listening type of artist. It would have been really good. I think it was Jim O’Rourke and Sean O’Hagan.
I saw Jim O’Rourke last week, he was amazing. He was playing in a duo with Eiko Ishibashi, in the National Concert Hall, I think was the first time he’s been played here in 20 years. It was pretty amazing. It was not the singer-songwriter Jim O’Rourke, it was the experimental electronic Jim O’Rourke. But he’s so good at that as well. He was a big influence on me when I was mixing acoustic guitar stuff with more ambitious arrangements. (1997 album) Bad Timing is pretty twisted when the horns come in. Insignificance is a great one as well. It’s more him doing straightforward songs.
Bob Dylan is a big fan of Paul Brady. Brady was a trad guy and then he went pop. I guess people probably resented him for becoming a pop guy. I think that first solo pop record, Hard Station is pretty good.
NMW: Would you be accused of that yourself now?
CN: I think when I made the last record (Night Fiction), some people were a bit surprised. I don’t know if anybody was really paying that much attention anyway. It wasn’t like I was a trad legend! If anything, friends were like, you’ve written a proper song, it doesn’t just go on forever. There was probably some die-hard people that like the kind of music that I was making before, that were like ‘this is bollocks’. I got fed up of doing that type of music at that age. It’s something I’d like to come back to at some point, but I just didn’t feel like I could go any further with it at the time. I think you have to do what you’re excited about.
Sometimes I’ll go a while without playing any music, and I feel weird and then I’ll play music and I go, that feels good. I tend to kind of fall in and out of love with it. I’m a bit all or nothing somehow, I don’t know why. I might go through a while when I’m just not playing, not touching a guitar or anything and then I’ll get really into it and play a lot of the day. It’s not the ideal way to be. I like having a project to work on.
I played guitar for other people, learning other people’s songs. I was playing guitar with Steve Gunn for two tours, it was really interesting. I filled in for a guy called James Elkington who was a great guitar player and learning his stuff. There’s something interesting about seeing the way somebody else thinks when they play music and sort of being like, oh, I wouldn’t have thought to do it that way, but that’s quite a good idea. You learn a lot from figuring out somebody else’s parts and playing them. That doesn’t seem intuitive to me. But that’s a good idea because you can get very stuck in habits with music. So it’s great to kind of find ways to get out of your, not comfort zone, but habits or your ‘go tos’.
I played guitar with a band called Nap Eyes as well and a bit with Ryley Walker as well. They were all fun experiences because it was just like: learn the music and then show up at the first gig, no rehearsal, just hope for the best. It certainly made me a better musician having to deal with that. But scary as well. Ryley Walker is hilarious, he’s a sweetheart. I met him nearly ten years ago. He hadn’t put out any records yet, but he came to Dublin and we put on a gig for him in Anseo. His new stuff is obviously like a bit weirder than his older music but I think he needed to do that. I think he got a bit pigeonholed in what he was doing and I think that album (Course In Fable) feels more like him to me than previous ones. As a person, it suits him. I was glad to see him doing that, even though maybe some of the people that liked his more straight ahead music were: this is a bit weird.
But back then he stayed at my house for a couple of days and it instantly felt like somebody that we’d gone to school together. The same stupid sense of humour. He’s actually very funny, he’s talented enough to be a comedian or something. He’s very good at it.
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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