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“I think we push it to the edges, which is something that I’m quite proud of.”
In the midst of putting the final touches on a forthcoming album and preparing for headline shows everywhere from Dublin to Brooklyn, Eoin French picks up the phone from his West Cork base. It’s been a hectic half decade for him.
After doing the rounds and sporadically releasing music since 2014, Eoin eventually released his debut album as Talos in 2017. ‘Wild Alee’ was met with overwhelming praise from national and global platforms. The cross-section of institutions like The Irish Times and forward-thinking magazines like The FADER both dishing out the plaudits showed just how much crossover appeal Eoin has garnered.
The record now has more than 20 million streams on Spotify, and made the shortlist for the Choice Music Prize Irish Album of the Year category.
The birds singing on the other end of the line served as something of a foreshadowing to the conversation we were about to have. One about landscape, how humans interact with nature and how that synergy can lead to art as beautiful as Eoin’s music.
I wanted to chat about the idea of landscape. I know Talos is a Greek mythical figure who circled the shores as a protector, and I know you mentioned before that the name also represents themes of isolation, but how important to you is the concept of landscape and nature to your work, sonically and aesthetically?
It’s definitely something that really affects what I make, different spaces and different settings make me create differently. Does that make sense? I make a different thing in Iceland and I make a very different thing in West Cork. [Cork] is turning into the place where I’m finishing everything. Whatever that affect is, it calms the recording down. Which is good, especially for this next record… It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, it’s something that came about quicker than the last one. Not a lot quicker, but the last one took an enormous amount of time, not too much time… This one took a better amount of time.
If Cork calms it down, can you put your finger on what Iceland does to your sound?
In Iceland I work with the same people when I go there so maybe it’s the effect they have. I work with a lot of people in a really special recording space.
Everyone in Cork and everyone there are really brilliant musicians and producers and just being around them adds a bit of pressure or something… There’s a bit of that schoolyard thing where I have to make something impressive here. That slips away when you’re in the room with them, they’re all about finding something new or a new way of using an instrument… Using plug-ins to destroy or corrupt something… Using a plug-in to push something to a new limit, break a sound distance.
They’re just pretty forward-thinking, they think in a different way. When I bring my stuff there, which I call pop essentially, it becomes something charged in a totally different way.
I feel like the melding of the human and nature is so prevalent in your music. A line that stuck out to me was in ‘Kansas’, “A lung in the sea a heart in the snow”. So it’s interesting that you mention the combination of worlds – the new and old. Pop, but distorted pop.
That’s a cool way of putting it; I think we push it to the edges, which is something that I’m quite proud of. It’s something that I continue to do, it’s a line to tread. I’m not afraid of that word [pop], some people are but I’m not afraid of it at all. Once you can do pop but keep an honesty in it, once you stay… I’m trying not to sound like a fucking bumper sticker here, but once you stay honest in what you’ve made so far and you ask yourself am I really making something that I actually want to make and you try keep authenticity to it, that’s key. It’s an honesty thing, I think that’s the main thing.
You mentioned before that you once drew inspiration from a mountain climbing documentary called ‘Meru’.
Yeah inspiration comes from weird places. Like that one, I just like the idea of these people pushing a human body to the extreme for something that’s as banal as getting to the top of a hill. Obviously it’s not a hill, but why do we do it? I just like that sentiment of limits. It’s hard to put it into words I don’t know where I got the inspiration…Maybe it’s the struggle of it, you get a very clear sense of optimism from it, in that idea of actually getting there.
It’s essentially just getting from point A to point B, but it’s the struggle in between that’s the important part?
Yeah maybe and I think it just goes back to the idea of creating… You put yourself in a situation where it’s essentially just you in a bedroom talking about insignificant shit that’s going on in your life, or at least insignificant to other people, it might be super significant to you, and people finding a commonality to that. There’s kind of a weirdness in that as well, a weirdness in saying I’m going to climb to the top of a mountain.
Benjamin Hardman shot the cover for ‘Wild Alee’, but you mentioned you wanted to collaborate with him to add your own “smudge”. That perhaps it was too perfect? Why did you not want the cover to be “too beautiful”?
In one way I didn’t feel that what I was making was perfect, so it didn’t make sense for something to be utterly pristine, the image anyway. Then I just think it felt that it was that thing that it wasn’t human enough… It felt too beautiful, I felt the idea of having the imperfection made it feel more real in a way.
I think it’s important to leave a mistake on a recording and leave things that are rough or impulsive. You get to a point with certain songs where everything is recorded really well, and it might feel too done. I think it’s important to have those moments of impulsiveness that are honest, that human touch, that kind of smudge, and then you can properly relate.
How do you find putting trust in collaborators, because you mention your work is so personal?
In a way I tend to gravitate towards people that are invested in what they do as much as I am invested in what I do. I think the other thing is that I find it very humbling when somebody enjoys what I do, and I think if somebody puts their hand up to be involved in what I do and is invested in what I do I’m totally open to it… In reality I find it quite hard to totally put full faith into someone, unless I love what they’re doing, then I open the doors for them. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
With the last album there wasn’t a crazy amount of collaborators; I worked directly with Ross Dowling who was my producer and was always my producer, and I don’t think that’ll change.
You bring people up as you go along and there are a lot more people contributing and that’s been a tricky thing. It’s something that I felt was needed, something that the record needed, and in places it just needed to move in a different way and sometimes the only way you can do that by learning from somebody else.
How important is isolation to your creative process? To be able to have the time to yourself then, as you said before, have a “communal end to a solitary process” in the form of a live show?
There are six or seven weeks towards the end of making a record that I just need nothing else going on. Beyond that, I actually found that I don’t really enjoy the whole disappearing into the woods shit. I did it before finishing the last album for four weeks and I kind of hated it. I think in regards to writing I need people around me, I need to be connected somehow. I tend to do a lot of writing in Cork and when I travel. A lot of the writing occurred around travel then is brought back to Cork to be reworked, so Cork becomes the centre of it.
The first time I saw you live was two years ago in The Academy; I was interviewing Angel Haze and came down early and caught your set. At the time I thought it was a bizarre but very fitting choice having you on as support. I really enjoyed it, having a completely different genre before a hip hop artist like her. Is hip hop a big influence on your work? I know you mentioned that ‘2001’ by Dre was an important record for you?
Yeah I think it is. I just think that production wise and sonically it’s always something I looked towards, I like the scale at which hip hop gets big and I think when you mix that with something like… I won’t say post-rock songs, but when something feels expansive and you mix that with tightness of a hip hop drum production, it becomes something that fills a larger space and that’s when it gets interesting. That’s something I’ve always leaned into.
I think it comes down to a groove thing as well, the way you move to a hip hop record there’s always a kind of swagger to it. There’s a sleekness to it rather than an intensity to say a James Holden track, and I gravitate towards that as well.
I think you mentioned ‘Yeezus’ before as an influence which so interesting because there’s definitely fragments of ‘Yeezus’ in your music – the abrasion in the midst of beauty. Are there any other records that you feel were game changers for you?
This year, Nils Frahm, it is one of my favourite records. I don’t think there has been a day when I haven’t listened to that album since January. We saw him in the Funkhaus in Berlin and it was just a really special thing. I mean there are the obvious influences too – Tame Impala’s record, the last one, was fucking incredible, sonically incredible; Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’; Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Spirit of Eden’ and ‘The Colour of Spring’ are up there too. Talk Talk and ‘Yeezus’ would probably be my largest influences.
At the start I was being asked, what do you want to do musically? And I think my answer was, “Let’s make something that’s a mixture between Talk Talk and ‘Yeezus’”, which had just come out at the time… I don’t think we’ve done that yet, but we will! [Laughs] I’m looking forward to that record! Yeah… We’ll get there!