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June 29, 2018Feature

With the release of his new album 'Gardenia', Eric Davidson sits down with J Colleran for a conversation about starting fresh, featuring a shoot by Cáit Fahey for the cover of our June Guide to Dublin City magazine.

“I’m aware that naming this project after my own name means there’s nowhere else to go after this. There’s a finality to it.”

 

‘Destruction’ isn’t a word that comes to mind when you think of Jack Colleran and his work. Music journalists have peppered the words ‘ethereal’, ‘dreamlike’ and ‘melancholic’ around when referring to his sound, but it seems there’s more abrasion in his process than you’d imagine.

He received widespread acclaim for his MMOTHS project, tracks like ‘Heart’ garnering nearly three million listens on Spotify alone and being used for a series of television adverts along with ‘Summer’. In a short period of time Jack went from performing at underground electronica shows in Dublin in the early 2010s to flying out to SXSW in Texas, playing at Electric Picnic and touring with The xx.

In late 2016, however, with an album and a pair of EPs under his belt, he released the final track under the moniker saying, “Now feels like the right time more than ever”.

He’s scorched the earth under MMOTHS and has embarked on a quest to carve out a place for himself under an alias closer to his given name, J Colleran.

Today his debut album under his new album ‘Gardenia’ was released via Because Music. Jack and I discuss letting go of his vision, putting trust in other artists and finding his narrative. Click here to listen and buy the new record.

J Colleran also plays All Together Now Festival, August 3-5.

The aesthetic that compliments your sound has always been so specific, it’s something you pay a lot of attention to, but it seems it’s been taken to the next level with your J Colleran project?

For a long time I wanted to write music for strings, for a quartet. I’m not in anyway trained to be equipped to do something like that, so it was always a little bit scary but I wanted to take that step. Also, ending the MMOTHS stuff and moving to this thing… When you feel like something has reached a point it’s always invigorating to just delete it. I guess it is cinematic in a sense, because it does have those strings. Visually, I got really lucky to work with a bunch of people I really wanted to work with, like Nic Hamilton, I’m doing work with Daniel Swan at the minute, Christopher Gray…

 

How did you come to work with someone like Nic Hamilton?

With the sound, I was always very aware of it being overly organic. When you’re using strings it can get very romantic and cliché very quickly. I wanted to combat that sonically with having digital and metallic textures that ride with it.

Nic’s work is like that too. He has these beautiful, organic, nature scenes but everything is done inside of a computer. I felt that balance lent itself perfectly to how it sounded sonically. He’s amazing; I don’t know how he does those things.

There’s an almost uncanny valley to it; there’s something not quite right about it, in a beautiful way.

Yeah, it’s tricking your mind. He’s insanely good.

You were always quite hands on with the visual aspect?

I did one other video before, but with working with Christopher Gray with the video for ‘bERA’ I just wanted to do a video with a bodybuilder.

There was nothing really else to it. I was inspired by this photo of a Russian bodybuilder by Anton Polyakov in a big room with a curtain behind him. So I showed it to Christopher and he extended the narrative for it.

Do you get worried about trusting other artists with your vision, especially with your music being so purposeful?

Yes and no. With Christopher, you learn so much about someone from working with them, about their process. Sometimes originally you feel like you don’t want to let go because it’s your baby. I’m always collecting images and I know exactly how I want something to look from very early on in the process of writing. When you work with these people you already know you want them to put their own mark on the project. You don’t want to force yourself too much onto it. You want them to have their voice too.

That was the same with working with Liam Morrow on the design of the album cover [‘Gardenia’]. He did a masters in design in RCA in London, so his approach is that we talk more about the record itself than how it looks and draw parallels between design and the music, which sometimes don’t connect very easily. I feel privileged to work with such amazing people.

Tracks like ‘THNX’, ‘Summer’, ‘Heart’, they’re so distinct and instantly recognisable at this stage, so nostalgic to a lot of people. You said in an interview in 2013 that there’d be things you’d change about some tracks if you could go back now.

They wouldn’t exist if I could go back now; they were very of a moment. Looking back I don’t have any regrets, it’s all progression. As a musician or whatever you’re doing, everyone looks back on their early stuff differently. After doing ‘Luneworks’ I said, ‘That’s all that there is in this’. It’s really empowering to destroy something and start again.

Do you feel like you’ve really found your narrative as an artist?

If I work on something and I don’t like it I will just delete it and start again. I’m aware of that becoming… Not an issue, but I’m aware that naming this project after my own name means there’s nowhere else to go after this. There’s a finality to it. But there’s always progression, I don’t know if I’ve found exactly what it is, I now want to make something better again. There’s always that hunger to make something better than the last.

So do you feel like this moniker, or direction, is pretty final?

You can’t just keep deleting work… I was quite young when I started and I had built this box for myself to exist in. I was 17, so it’s difficult to continue in that space when you’re 25.

You’re based full time in Dublin at the moment. How has that affected your creativity?

Yeah, I’ve got a studio around the corner from here, which is great. But I can work from anywhere really.

I’d imagine there’s a pretty hectic tour and media schedule ahead of you with the release of ‘Gardenia’. Is it nice to reset in a city that’s traditionally a little more lowkey?

Yeah, definitely. I do see myself moving soon, but it is nice being home, especially in a hectic campaign of setting things up. It’s nice to be somewhere comfortable. Dublin is amazing, it’s the best city ever, but I think it’s necessary to just go for a while.

You use your social media platforms to nail your colours to the mast when it comes to social issues, like the Belfast verdict, Repeal the 8th. Do you think it’s important for artists to be vocal about things outside of their art?

I think be vocal about anything you feel is important. There’s so much injustice that it’s wrong to sit quiet. I don’t like getting overly political, but I think everything is political so it’s difficult not to. I like the idea of making music that doesn’t have a narrative or… I don’t like when things are over intellectualised, in the sense where I like listening to something or experiencing something where you build that narrative or idea yourself. I like watching films or listening to records that are open for you to make what you want of it and I want to do that in my music.

I don’t feel it’s necessary to tell someone every nook and cranny of what the song is about, what the song is meant for. There’s a beauty in making up your own idea of what’s behind it.

You were pretty young starting out. How has work as an artist changed for you?

With the other project there was a pressure to continue on as this thing and not stray too far from what you were doing, but the freedom of doing this record was that I could do whatever I wanted to.

Especially working with the players and writing for the quartet. It was something I wouldn’t have done before. There’s a freedom in starting fresh.

You’ve said before that while you wouldn’t have changed a thing, signing a record deal so young meant spells of loneliness when touring. Was that an active reason as to why you incorporated things like the quartet and the band elements?

Not anymore, during that time from 17 to 20 you’re not supposed to be away from your friends and your home that much. You’re supposed to be part of a community. So when I look back now, I did kind of think, ‘If I bring other people on board it will fill that void’, but the void is because you’re not in Dublin or you’re not in your house. With this, it was sonically what I wanted to do, and also to challenge myself in some way.

Final question. Congratulations on the Red Bull Music Academy induction. Yourself and lullahush are representing Ireland in Berlin. How do you think being a part of this will progress you as an artist?

I want to go there and be a sponge. It’s two weeks I think, so there are so many good opportunities to learn in that environment with people you’ve watched videos of 1,000 times.

Say with Brian Eno, that lecture that he did in 2011, I’ve watched it countless times. He has such an insane way of speaking about music. Even though he has a very intellectual mind, the way he talks is about a feeling rather than anything else. Taking that into mind, I want to just learn as much as possible while I’m there. It’s an amazing opportunity.

J Colleran plays All Together Now Festival, August 3-5. ‘Gardenia’ is out now.

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