“I’m a fan of beautifully made things,” architect-turned-electro-whizz Eoin French, aka Talos, tells Jim Carroll
Architects deal in straight lines, but it’s the twists and turns that one of their clan has taken on his musical career that are far more interesting. Over the past few years, Eoin French’s work as Talos has seen his fondness for gossamer electronic beats, tender emotional moods and falsetto-friendly phrasing take on a distinctive form and shape.
That slow and steady approach has now yielded a fine debut album in Wild Alee. It’s a record that is smartly calibrated to mirror the Corkman’s affection for current hues and shades, and it also fleshes out his own narrative.
The way French tells it, he sort of fell into both music and architecture. He remembers thinking he’d do philosophy or law in college before a last-minute change of mind led him down another path.
“I was absolutely terrible at architecture at first and then I just found an interest in it. I met some lads and started playing music with them [Hush War Cry], and I think that was the start of enjoying the design stuff. There were people around me that were actually interesting and that spurs you on.”
He learned piano at the Cork School of Music from age six to 12, but it was another couple of years before he got the songwriting bug. “I don’t think I began to write music until one or two of my friends did it and then I thought I’d like to do that.”
His musical tastes were shaped by family and friends. “In a weird way, I found what people around me were listening to for a long way to be really interesting, and I’d pick up stuff that way. My parents listened to Bob Dylan, The Cranberries, Van Morrison, that kind of stuff. If we were driving somewhere, my dad would insist that his stuff would go and so you didn’t have a choice.
“In my early teens, my younger brother was massively into hip-hop so that was there as well. When I was in college and started playing with Hush War Cry, it was always the others who were introducing bands to me and I’d get deeper in that rabbit-hole.”
When French starts talking about his own music, there’s a very subtle change in emphasis and he’s a lot more direct about what’s involved. Here’s a musician who knows music is often up there with life and death in the seriousness stakes.
French is fascinated by what he sees as the impulsiveness in many of the tracks on the finished album. “You work for years on a record or months on a song to get to that moment of impulse. You’ve a song written and you know it’s wrong and you spend all this time trying to fix it and it all leads up to this moment when it comes right. The moment when it comes together is like a splash of paint on a wall.
“The tracks on the album are really well-considered and intricate. But the tracks have these moments of impulsiveness in them and, for me, that was the biggest surprise, that it feels impulsive for all the time spent crafting it.
“I’m a fan of beautifully made things, I love the idea of people spending time crafting things. It does take time, there’s no avoiding it, you don’t arrive at that point in an hour or a minute. But with music, you spend all that time as well and then it’s down to that minute or 30 seconds when it all clicks.”
When the album was done, French remembers marvelling at how all the time spent on it was distilled down into one computer folder.
“All that work, all that time, and I ended up with all of it in a little folder on my computer. It was so strange. I remember sitting at home with Ross Dowling, who produced it, after weeks of recording and saying ‘Ross, what were we doing?’ In past times, you’d have it on tapes and stuff, but it was so strange to realise all that work was actually now intangible.”
The influences on the music come from far and wide. He mentions the impact of people like Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and German painter Anselm Kiefer, as well as how references from theatre, literature and film, things which have language, “bleed” their way into his songs. There was also the sea, which gave the album its title (an alee is the side of a ship sheltered by the wind).
“I always think that the music is Irish and it sounds Irish, I hope, but I borrow from the emotive ‘Probably the best song ever written’ “We played at Euro sonic about four years ago and an Icelandic friend of a friend of mine came in and watched the set and like ned me to Tim Buckley (above).
“I genuinely had no idea who he was–I though the meant Jeff–and he said‘ no, no his dad’ so I went straight off to listen to him. Song to the Siren was a light bulb moment, it’s probably the best song ever written.” qualities of other music that I come across. I definitely think the Icelandic ability to evoke a particular space in their music is really important .”
Now that the album is finished, French feels a lot more confident about the live shows to come.
“I don’t think I ever felt comfortable playing the songs to people before now and that reflected itself in the live show. That was a massive thing. I never felt right onstage until recently; I felt like, f*ck it, what is my right to be saying something here? What gives me the reason to be making noise?
“I also think I enjoyed moments in the shows with Hush War Cry more than I enjoyed the early shows with Talos. There was a realness to it, which I don’t think was there with Talos until recently.
“But it was more the fact that I felt the songs weren’t there and I didn’t think our set-up was right. From the very get-go, I never wanted to do this three-piece pads and electronics thing because it didn’t feel right, but that’s what we ended up being for a long time. I never bought into it. It was only recently when it came to recreating the songs on the album with as many people as we needed that I felt good. Now, it’ll be different.” ■
Wild Alee is out now and is reviewed on page 12. Talos plays Button Factory, Dublin on April 21; Dolan’s, Limerick (22); Róisín Dubh, Galway (27); Live at St Luke’s, Cork (28); St Patrick’s Gateway, Waterford (May 12); The Set, Kilkenny (13); Voodoo, Belfast (25) and Spirit Store, Dundalk (June 22)
You’ve a song written and you know it’s wrong and you spend all this time trying to fix it and it all leads up to this moment when it comes right ... like a splash of paint on a wall
“All that work, all that time, and I ended up with all of it in a little folder on my computer”