Kirin J Callinan on “Bravado”

Completely Exposed

Sep 25, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share


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If you have the inclination that you might have caught a quick glimpse of Kirin J Callinan's penis, you can assume you're correct. He does indeed flash his private parts in his music video for "S.A.D." He also conjures the spirits of Michael Bolton and George Michael as he shows off sultry dance moves all over Cuba.

"We wanted to explore the potential fine line between smut and art, beauty and vulgar, poser and provocateur," said Callinan in a press release. That mission statement refers to more than just "S.A.D." (which stands for "Song About Drugs"); it's a lifestyle that the Aussie artist says goes as far back as adolescence.

"Certainly as a teenager coming into adolescence, I always liked dressing up and being the center of attention. What teenager doesn't though? I think this record feels really honest in that sense in that it's pretty dorky and ugly and clumsy and bombastic at times, and I'm certainly capable of being all those things. I probably always have been. Maybe that's everyone to a certain extent. I don't know."

If you're new to Callinan's world, pretty much any adjective will apply. Musically, the former Mercy Arms guitarist throws everything including the kitchen sink into the mix on the aptly titled Bravado, his sophomore album. However, the songs are simply an extension of the man himself, an anything goes provocateur whose live shows are shocking and showy, brash and bold, and whose entire persona borders on parody à la Flight of the Conchords.

"I think in the Oxford Dictionary, bravado is 'a show of boldness intended to impress or intimidate, often without substance.' It's kicking down the saloon doors," says Callinan. "It's showy. There's a sort of vacuous side to that as well, which for me is the hardest thing to get over with the record. I was nearing its completion and insecure. I was like, 'Is this just a bit empty statement?' Then I realized that big empty statement is the statement.

"That's not the say the album is empty, because there's a lot of heart in the songs, too, but it certainly is over the top," he continues. "It's throwing every idea you can into one song. It's confusing and disorienting for me. Hopefully it's confusing and disorienting for everyone else. Oh, and exciting."

Callinan's solo debut, 2013's Embracism, was experimental, engaging, and exhausting. It was also universally acclaimed as brilliant musical ideas clashed and coalesced. Bravado turns up the heat on these ideas with further sonic exploration along with myriad guests for another overwhelming listen.

"You can throw so many flavors into a pot to where it almost starts to tastes like nothing. I don't think that's the case of this record," says Callinan. "However, there are definitely so many ideas in there that they compete with each other.

"For me, that's what's most exciting. If I can conceive of something and then make it exactly as I'd imagined it, where's the fun in that? There's no room for mystery or imagination there. Now what's happened is that I've said so much that the overarching statement has become really strange and absurd. It's become about bravado. It's become about the frantic complexity of it, which is cool."

Guests are almost as plentiful as the ideas themselves on Bravado, as Callinan's substantial friend base came out to appear on the album. Weyes Blood, Mac DeMarco, Owen Pallett, Connan Mockasin, Alex Cameron, Sean Nicholas Savage, James Chance, and Neil Finn's entire family all lend their talents to Bravado, but one of Callinan's favorite moments came unexpectedly, courtesy of Australian music legend Jimmy Barnes, who has more No. 1 albums in Australia than any other Australian artist in history. Callinan calls him, "Australia's version of Springsteen."

"I wrote him this big long email about how big of a fan I am of his work and, most importantly, his iconic scream," says Callinan. "It's the most iconic scream in rock and roll history for me. So I asked if he would scream on a song for me? That's what I wanted. Well, he never wrote back and maybe six months or so passed without reply.

"Then I was flying from Sidney to L.A. and what should be in my inbox but an email from Jimmy Barnes. It had no subject line, no text in the email. Nothing. It didn't say a word. All that was attached was six .wav files of him screaming.

"I'm in the airport just listening to Jimmy Barnes screaming with tears crying, because it was so hysterical. I got to work straight away to massage them into the songs. I don't know if he even listened to the song or just screamed into a microphone to send them to me. I don't even know if it's really Jimmy Barnes. But, yeah, that was pretty incredible."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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