Less is more, as they say. But, sometimes, more is more when it comes to pushing boundaries.
Born in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester, Kiran Leonard is a young, talented eccentric whose approach to music is so eclectic and audacious that it's an enormous challenge to pin down. But, we must try...
Kiran is thoughtful, self-critical and manages to juggle a compulsion to execute complex, ambitious compositions whilst, at the same time, allowing himself the space and time to let things develop.
New album 'Grapefruit' is unapologetically indulgent, rising from a four year span that saw Kiran embarking on head-spinning experimentation. It's all here: elements of prog, psychedelia, chamber music, shanties, thunderous percussion, pastoral folk... 'Grapefruit' is a record that is expansive, ambitious, confident, and a real joy to delve into.
Taking time out, Kiran spoke to Clash from his home in Saddleworth, where he was spending some time during his break from studying at Oxford University, to chew the fat about the Manchester music scene, field recordings and Frank Zappa...
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Can you tell me about making the video for 'Pink Fruit'?
We made it over the course of four days. I was living in a suburb of Oxford and made it with a few friends. It was fun and I hadn't made a video before, so I just stood about and pointed at things and it was filmed by my friend Ruby, who deserves the credit for most of it. It was as faithful to the song as it could be without needing a ridiculous budget.
Do you think music videos are still important in today's music industry?
I didn't do it because I thought it would be important, I did it because I thought it would be a nice compliment to the song. I think the reason music videos came about wasn't because they were nice advertising ploys it was because people have a natural desire to see songs have a visual element to them, It's, you know, a natural thing that people like to have and I don't think that the attention grabbing element of it has gone just because nobody watches MTV any more, it still has a place and extends the effect and the reach of a song by offering more.
So you filmed the video in Oxford where you are studying, what's it like to study at such a prestigious institution?
It is a beguiling place, at least to study there, as it is really just a normal town.
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I think people pay too much attention to things that were done thirty years ago.
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Like myself, you're from near Manchester. What's it like being associated with a city that has such a strong musical history?
I like the music that is coming out of Manchester right now but I don't like the legacy of it and shit like Oasis. I think people pay too much attention to things that were done thirty years ago. This isn't the case with all the bands, but I hate that 'Madchester' stuff. I hate that more than anything in the world. There are some good bands but all the best music that has ever been made in Manchester is being made now but nobody's listening to it because they're too busy listening to bands that broke up or should have broken up twenty years ago. So basically I don't like or identify with it and have never been a part of it.
You mentioned the music coming out of Manchester now. Which artists are you referring to?
Well, we went on tour in March with Edwin Stevens who is originally from Pontefract in North Wales and writes good stuff. He records as Irma Vep. There's a band we are touring with in August as well, called Secret Admirer and there's Hotshorts, Heckler, Songs for Water, Plank.
Is the Manchester scene still really close and supportive then?
Yeah, we just listen to bands we do gigs with. From my point of view it seems very self-contained and insular but just really really amazing. It seems bizarre that not many people listen to these bands. It is a community and it is lovely. I have two brothers who live in London. I've never lived in London but can imagine it is a bit overwhelming and huge, although I know there are certain pockets because it is so big and spread out. In Manchester it is easier to know everyone.
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I firmly believe that the music that exists in Manchester at the moment is more experimental, moving and brilliant than it ever has been.
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I firmly believe that the music that exists in Manchester at the moment is more experimental, moving and brilliant than it ever has been. I am sure somebody says that every ten years but I think that sometimes you need someone to affirm it. Being a creative person who does gigs, works in Manchester, working with the people I know who write such amazing songs and within those circles makes me feel really proud and happy.
You mentioned your brothers, you come from a musical family right?
It would be hard to not take into account the number of privileges that were afforded to me, like growing up in the countryside and not having any neighbours to disturb whilst I record or being the fourth child in a musical family so there was loads of shit in the house that I could already use and didn't have to buy because my dad or brother's had bought it ten years before.
Where did you record the new album?
I recorded it at home quite a few years ago and finished it in late 2014. The process of getting it out took a long time, getting a label and a good deal. Then it also took a long time because it had to fit around my studies and when I am free to do interviews and tour, which is only half the year.
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You're touring again soon, do you like hitting the road?
I did a short tour in January and a bigger one in April. I enjoy touring with the people I tour with. Their best qualities are that they're not volatile people, they are very relaxed. I have lots of friends who are volatile and really good fun but I'd never tour with them, they'd constantly be having hissy fits and losing their minds and stuff. The longest I've done is two weeks though so it isn't too mentally taxing, not like a six month world tour or anything. The album feels very experimental, like you've set out to create an overall experience and enjoy the process.
There are fun parts, like the recording of your friend talking on the end of 'Caiaphas In Fetters'. Can you explain a bit about the process of making this record?
I did the initial string quartet with friends but the recording didn't come out well so I used a professional one in the end. I also used that recording of my friend Rachel talking about games. I found it amusing and totally absurd. I just though it was just funny. One thing I do try to think about is the gaps of silence between songs and I don't really like how that track flowed into the beginning of the next song and thought it sounded a bit rubbish. I wanted to separate them a bit so that's why I put that recording there.
What were your main influences when making 'Grapefruit'?
The thing about using spoken words stuff and recordings like that and also proggy stuff is probably the lasting influences of all the Frank Zappa stuff, which I don't really listen to very much any more because if I listen back now it sounds a bit annoying. The jokes about groupies aren't as funny as they were when you were twelve but I think that I absorbed it so much that it plays a sort of subconscious role in the way that I organise my music.
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I wish that it made more sense, to be honest...
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One thing I like a lot about him is that he uses field recordings and conversations between people, not even like skits. There's nothing coherent enough to be skits, it's just noises and things. The splicing of song fragments together and things like that, as pieces of sound collages in general, not just stand alone recordings. I like that general unrestricted attitude to genre in songs, just going with what you feel. I would say that's why his influence lingers over most of what I do even though I haven't really listened to him for a long time, his seventies stuff anyway. A lot of his sixties stuff is still amazing.
So you talk about splicing things together. When making 'Grapefruit' did you set out to create something abstract?
I wish that it made more sense, to be honest, so I am now moving away from that. Some of the songs are five years old so I am trying to move away from that and put more substance into what I create. The two newest songs on 'Grapefruit' - 'Don't Make Friends With Good People' and 'Half-Ruined Already' - have very tangible meanings whereas songs like 'Ondor Gongor' don't mean anything, it is just nonsense. Exeter Services has little bits of meaning but it is not thought out enough to be coherent.
Are you working on new music? A third album?
Yeah, in terms of numbering the music, it gets a bit complicated because the records I make operate for different purposes. 'Grapefruit' is technically the second because it was proceeded by my LP that came out in 2013 but there are also tour only CDs that have songs that don't make it onto records and songs that come out in between but aren't follow ups to LPs. I have two more records that will hopefully be out before the end of the year but neither of them are LPs. One of them is an improvised guitar cassette and the other is a CD with tracks that didn't get onto other records.
So the short answer is, I am working on a follow up to 'Grapefruit' but it won't be the next record that I put out. There will probably be another four or five before that.
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Words: Kerry Flint