Nicholas Coyne spoke with Talos about approaching music like an architect, transforming a glitch into a pattern, feeling boxed into a canvas and being addicted to discovery.
My palette comes from an inquisitive place. How far do you push the boundaries of pop before it actually doesn’t become pop?
You just remastered your album Wild Alee. What did returning to the album present as to who you were and the world you were in when it first came out?
What was interesting about going back to Wild Alee was that it allowed us to make a response to it, which was Then There Was War. Was it a reaction to it? I’m not sure. It answered a question in the album, or something. It was also a way for us to explore a new palette of sounds. It allowed us to deconstruct the form of the album and do something totally new that we’d wanted to do for a long time. It’s been interesting revisiting that, because it allowed us to physically make something that was in contrast to the record.
How did you develop that new palette of sounds? Did it start in an awkward place, with music you didn’t feel comfortable making before? Does it go there, or does it start there?
I suppose it began at the conception of the project, in a sense. I went into the project not really knowing a lot about production. I decided to work directly with a producer and kind of sit in. It was kind of like an apprenticeship, essentially. Just a very steep learning curve for a year. In regard to my own palette, the actual formation of the songs, I suppose it comes from an inquisitive place. How far do you push the boundaries of pop before it actually doesn’t become pop?
That was something I’ve always held quite close to my process. Because I would always say that what I make is pop music, but others would see it quite differently, in a sense. I think the palette probably comes from a place of the destruction of song, as well. A lot of my work is essentially electric guitar run through however many plugins it takes to transform it into a texture, pad, or something glitchy that forms a pattern.
If you were to make a Venn diagram between music and architecture, I feel they would share a sense of geometry. You feel a canvas to it.
You mention construction and deconstruction. You’ve appreciated and studied architecture. How does that human still reside in the person who makes music, too?
I think the very boring element that came out of studying a design course is that you do understand how to be critical of your work. You understand how to be able to say when something’s working, or not working. You’re given a certain amount of space, and things are only so possible. Which is probably different than music in that there is a limitlessness of potential in what you can make. If you were to make a Venn diagram between music and architecture, I feel they would share a sense of geometry.
Also, harmony is a massive thing in space. I really do feel that. When you enter a well-made space in architecture, you feel a canvas to it. You do feel like it’s made right and that it fits. I think that’s the same with music, regardless of how you listen to it. When you listen to something that’s well-made and considered, I think you understand it as something that fits, has a ratio or something like that. It’s hard for me to put into words. 90% of me feels like it’s not tangible at all.
Does it feel like the two parts of you working together to achieve a balance between the physical and ephemeral?
What’s the extent of your architectural knowledge? Did you graduate with a degree?
Yes, I mastered in architecture. I kind of went straight out of college and this project began, but I also lectured for five years. Up until last September, I’ve taught at UCC, which was massively helpful with what I do. You’re constantly surrounded by students, especially Master’s students that are completely engaged in what they’re doing. You’re almost doing the course with them, because they’re presenting stuff that you just don’t fuckin’ know, right? That was a really helpful thing for me. Within that, I set up a small practice with a guy I still kind of work with. In basic terms, in helped in regard to graphics and giving the music a color. Also, being able to realize it in more visual terms.
What do you feel when you hear yourself sing your cryptic, emotive music? How do you react to hearing yourself express yourself?
I’m addicted to the element of surprise when I make something — like, where the fuck did that come from? Or a synth sound, where you’re like, what is that? It kind of puts the hairs up on the back of my head. That’s what I do it for, really. In a way, I think anybody who makes anything finds it to be therapeutic, in a way. You can be brutally fuckin’ honest. I can hear the inner workings of my thoughts.
Spatially, it feels like you’re on the edge, on the lip of something. The actual words begin to dissolve and you can feel what it’s intended to be.
Were there any specific songs on the record that gave you that feeling?
Yeah. There’s this weird kind of glitchy, droney thing in “Your Love Is an Island,” which was the first song that I produced on my own. Well, I shouldn’t say completely on my own; I had the help of this amazing producer in Iceland named Valgeir Sigurðsson who added these textural bits. But there’s this droney thing I made at the start that I made, just literally 2 or 3 notes on a guitar. That’s the first time I can remember when I was like, “That’s the sound,” and I knew I could do this myself.
Is there anything to correlate between that moment and something you would learn in architecture? Was there any function like that in both fields?
When you start an architectural project, it’s literally exactly the same way you would begin a song. You get a piece of paper, you forget about the brief, you forget about everything and you just make something. You either draw something and you find the thickest, biggest, chunkiest pencil you can, or you tear up a piece of card and stick it together. That’s the essence. From there, you can develop it.
For example, you work in layers of translucent paper, and as you go on, the bottom sketch begins to fade. Every so often, you’d have to pick 100 sheets off, come back and go, okay, where was I? There’s all these pathways, and it’s the exact same as when you’re making music. You find this kind of nugget, and you don’t even want to touch it. There will be these 35 seconds where I’m like, oh my god, that’s me! Can we just leave it?
That’s the thing. You actually have to let that go. That’s one thing I learned in music as opposed to architecture. You have to understand that first sketch is not the end. But if you can carry on with the spirit of it, you’ll see it in the final product.
You’re lucky enough to have a paying job in the music industry. What forced you to get creative and want to pursue it? Because a lot of people want to be musicians, but not a lot of people get to put out an album that has a concentrated sonic aesthetic. What motivated you to get through and get an album done? Was it fear? A need to express?
It could potentially come down to my stubbornness. But I kind of just love it. At the very start of these things, making an album, it’s everything. You go to the depths and you go to the highest highs. You break yourself numerous times before you get to the end of it. To do that kind of departure from doing what I know doing the last one, I had to go through that process. I genuinely, simply love what I do. I’m addicted to discovering.
That song was kind of borne from a big decision, really. I intended to move to Los Angeles at the time. I had a scholarship to an acting college. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, and she got sick with tuberculosis all of a sudden, which is kind of a medieval disease. That was the turning point; do I go, or do I stay? I guess the space of it is quite empty, but I think it’s quite comforting. It’s sort of attached to another. It was less about interiors and more about exteriors. It felt quite vast, because it was the beginning of something and I didn’t know where it would take me.
It’s borne from the idea of being a parent or partner. When you’re around someone who you’re that close with who’s going through an intense pain or suffering, I think you always come to the point where you wish you could carry that for them. Spatially, it feels like you’re on the edge, on the lip of something. You never get there, I think. The actual words begin to dissolve and you can feel what it’s intended to be.
Spatially, what does your next music look like?
I think it’s further-reaching, actually. It probably asks bigger questions. I think it pushes that idea of expanse. It’s kind of absolute oblivion at points. But it’s full of hope.
Curated by: Nicholas Coyne
Conducted by: In-person
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: June 27, 2018
Total questions: 12
Word count: 1559
Reading time: Six minutes
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About the guest curator
Nicholas Coyne is a music journalist and member of the editorial staff at TIDAL. He is also a sack of flesh whose primary source of pleasure from life is found when enveloped in sound. He is so very interested all of you and hopes you lead lives that make you happy to be you.
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