Kirin J Callinan makes distinctly unsettling, brilliantly unique music. You may remember him resplendent in a sailor hat or tattered ball gown peeling off jagged guitar riffs in his last band, Mercy Arms. Or perhaps you’ve seen him lending that same guitar sound to critically acclaimed acts such as Lost Animal and Jack Ladder.
Recently, however, he has staked his place as one of Australia’s most exciting solo performers. Typically, a live set bristles with rusty stabs of guitar, thudding beats and bursts of electronica, with the man himself intoning over the top in a theatrical baritone, usually shirtless, staring unblinkingly into the eyes of his audience like some sort of feral heartthrob.
It's this sort of uncompromising stage present that has bagged him supports for a who's who of subversive thinkers and underground heroes: John Cale, Rowland S. Howard, Neu!, the Dirty Three, Pixies, HTRK, Acid Mothers Temple / Guru Guru, Beck, Rocky Erickson, Jon Spencer, Jarvis Cocker and the New York Dolls – as well as more commercial acts including the Strokes, the Pet Shop Boys, Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts. He's also scored a number of independent films, including Underground: The Julian Assange Story, alongside Francois Tetaz.
His first solo effort, Embracism, drops on June 28, and it’s a record that is very much a result of trial and error. Initially, Callinan presented the first version of the LP to Terrible Records label head and member of Grizzly Bear, Chris Taylor, who immediately advised him to rerecord the entire thing.
“It wasn’t like I was unhappy with the songs,” Callinan says, on tour in the States. “The bigger picture wasn’t complete. There are so many ideas on the album – conceptually, thematically, lyrically, I felt it was important to have a consistency, and I felt that was not working.”
The final result, rerecorded with longtime friend and collaborator, Kim Moyes (of dance-pop act, the Presets) is a brutally honest and confronting exploration of love, sexuality and modern masculinity.
“I like to explore the idea of the old-fashioned Australian male,” Callinan explains. “I’m comfortable with expressing my ugliness. I find that more interesting. I gravitate towards the ugly and demented parts of myself and being a man and that’s what I’m exploring at his point in time.”