For some performers, the weird is not something they rinse off after the show. Their weirdness runs soul-deep. Such a performer is this week’s artiste, Australia’s Kirin J. Callinan. We first discovered Callinan through the Beggars Group, probably the closest thing us weirdos have to a major label. Among the Beggars Group’s many imprints is a newish label called Terrible Records, which also recently became home to rap provocateur and Weird List inductee Le1f. Who’da thunk our new favorite label would be co-founded by one of the guys from Grizzly Bear?
Anyway, Beggars sent out a press release a couple months back announcing Callinan as the opening act for fellow antipodean eccentric Connan Mockasin on an upcoming U.S. tour. So right away, we were intrigued. Then we read this, about a video he just shot in New York for YoursTru.ly: “Never one to bore, the video features Kirin getting interviewed whilst being massaged (a non-negotiable requirement of his interview policy).” So now we were really intrigued. Non-negotiable massages? Who is this guy?
Sure enough, in the YoursTru.ly video, there’s Callinan, getting worked over on a massage table as he talks about his childhood (“My parents would offer me two dollars for any report that didn’t say ‘easily distracted’; I don’t think they ever gave me any money”). Then he goes into an awkward yet oddly compelling solo piano performance of a song called “Victoria M.” Before you watch the YoursTru.ly video, I recommend starting with the original:
That’s the campiest of Callinan’s videos, but it’s far from the weirdest. That honor probably goes to “Way to War,” a flickering, mostly black-and-white video in which a series of disturbing tableaux appear to be seen through a broken View-Master. It won something called the J Award in Australia for Best Music Video in 2012.
As you can probably tell from those two tracks, Callinan’s style is pretty eclectic. But they really only hint at the range of his 2013 debut album, Embracism. Over the course of 10 tracks, he tackles everything from minimalist electronic noise to stately, Leonard Cohen-esque hymns to turgid, quasi-industrial freakouts like the amazing “Come On USA,” which somehow manages to name-check Springsteen while still sounding like Ministry. Vocally, his rubbery baritone owes a lot to avant-garde singer-songwriter Scott Walker; in an interview with V Magazine, he admitted that it wasn’t until he heard Walker that became confident in his own singing abilities. “It’s over the top and ridiculous,” he says of his own singing. But hearing Walker, he told V, “validated, in a sense, that vision I had of my own voice. I wasn’t ready for anyone to hear it before.”
Callinan’s music is so compelling he almost doesn’t need a backstory, but we’ll give you a brief one anyway: He got his start as the guitarist in a surprisingly conventional post-punk band called Mercy Arms, but quit over creative differences with the band’s singer. He briefly did improvisational tribal/ambient rock with a loose collective of musicians called Fashion Launches Rocket Launches, but apparently the collective was too loose to stay together long. In the same interview with V Magazine, he says his solo career started after the end of a long relationship, which might explain the raw-nerve quality of his music.
Most descriptions of Callinan’s live shows seem to focus on how he likes to get naked, or at least strip down to his skivvies. But based on the few good clips we’ve been able to find online, these descriptions seem to overstate Callinan’s nudist tendencies. Yes, there’s something overtly sexual about Callinan’s music and stage presence, but there’s also a lot of humor, goofy charm and a genuinely innocent quality, too. He might just be taking his clothes off because it gets hot up there. Or he wants to feel free. Anyone who finds his bare skin either confrontational or vulnerable might be projecting a bit.
We’ll leave you with Callinan’s most recent video, for one of Embracism‘s loveliest songs, “Landslide.” It’s actually an incredibly simple setup, but the effect, combined with Kirin’s aching baritone, is pretty disconcerting, no?
- Kirin J. Callinan official site
- Kirin J. Callinan on Facebook
- Kirin J. Callinan on Bandcamp
- Embracism on Amazon.com