“Slate The Disco, I’m gonna be straight with you: it’s ten to eleven at night, I’ve got an essay on helder macedo due for tomorrow morning, and I’m caffeinated and cranky and at the bottom of a big well with the inside faces of the stones all smoothed out so I can’t clamber into daylight, except they’re not stones of course.”
This is how Kiran Leonard responds when we ask him via email how 2016 has treated him so far. This hotly tipped 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Greater-Manchester with a sound that can be located somewhere in between Frank Zappa, Radiohead and the soundtrack for Monty Python’s Flying Circus oozes whimsical charm on his second album ‘Grapefruit’. Needless to say his somewhat eccentric music appears to extend into his interaction with bloggers, his responses to our questions are among the most entertaining we’ve ever received.
“I’m answering your questions to distract me from nervously anticipating the inevitable crash I’ll experience in about thirty minutes, as well as getting my nog round what Bernardim Ribeiro meant by all those dang impermanent oceans, but I’ll do my upmost to direct all my non-constructive ire at one of my housemates”, he writes.
Leonard is currently studying Spanish and Portuguese at Oxford University, but will be gracing the stage of its fierce varsity rival and Slate’s home in Cambridge at the Portland Arms on April 6 (tickets here). Wasn’t there a boat race recently, anyway…
How important is playing live for you?
“Last time I played in Brighton some dude, he wrote this message on the back of his ticket, gives it the sound guy, sound guy comes up to me he says, ‘this guy he’s written this message for you on the back of his ticket’, and it just said ‘weird; but listen to ‘circus from heaven’ by YES tomato’”.
Leonard had a bad experience in Cambridge last year with a bed and breakfast “full of false promises”, but this followed many good experiences he had in Cambridge as a boy he writes.
At the time of this email interview your album ‘Grapefruit’ is only a couple of weeks away from release, what is this pre-release time like for an artist?
“You do a lot of interviews, to be honest. That’s not even a smart-ass answer, that’s what you mostly do during the lead up to a record”.
“I guess you do a lot of waiting too but you know what they say man, ‘time has its order already known and the world does not’, jeez Louise.”
Tell us everything we need to know about ‘Grapefruit’…
“It has eight songs on it and about eighteen people and like its predecessor is a mixture of stories about what I was experiencing directly at the time, that is to say, the point in adolescence where you’re old enough to intellectualise what you’re going through but not biologically developed enough to stop it being a complete pain in the ass, as opposed to the middle-stage adolescence, where more fundamental sociobiological things remain totally alien and confounding, and there’s some made up stories, and also just total nonsense (lyrically speaking that is).”
“So I guess it’s a transitional record in a sense because it’s half substantiated and half unsubstantiated (I’m working on it). Seeing as, I don’t know if I mentioned, a lot of this material is quite old, the songs are two or three years old now, I’ve had time to reflect on some of the words on the record and subconsciously I’ve found there’s lots about gender, and not in terms of gender dysmorphia or fluidity or what have you, but the way that individuals, particularly but not limited to the young, behave, depending on what’s expected of their gender or social group. Musically, I don’t know I guess it’s like the last one but all the songs are longer and fatter (a bit less naïve too I guess, in every possible way).”
Most of ‘Grapefruit’ was recorded at home, with the rest of his recording time split between friends’ houses, Greenhead College Music department in Huddersfield where he went to sixth form, and a church committee room in Withington. It was written “in little blocks” over a two-year period, but Leonard hates the process of recording.
“I still just see it as a necessary evil, but I think that’s because I’m really bad at it so it’s total agony to get anything even partly right and even then the end result is always a bad approximation of the fidelity that’s circling my head. Luckily my mix masterin’ brother max is an expert turd polisher so the album that ends up being put out sounds top”, he writes.
It’s fair to say there are some lengthy tracks on the new album, so we asked Leonard how these came about. He writes bluntly: “The same way as the short ones except they felt unfinished when they were short so I just kept going”.
So how do you write a song?
“Not something you want to overthink. Or at first, at least, lead on instinct, and then if you want to make it all arty-farty (and hey sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t) then you can think about it. Or it can be the result of instinct derived from something you have thought about for a long time. In short: no one-way, in my opinion.”
At this point Leonard decides to go to bed. When he wakes up to address the rest of our questions he’s in “a bit less of a weird angst mood, and more of a dazed and lethargic one” the following morning.
What influences your song writing?
“I think sometimes it’s difficult for you to pin down exactly what motivates you to act on an instinct and write something. It can be a song you like or it can be a mood you’re in, or a piece of art from a completely different medium (no doubt there’s a fine tradition of that multidisciplinary oosage and aboosage).”
“You don’t always want to write a song in direct response to reference points that are just other songs, otherwise you risk ending up with a piece of music that’s derivative and pointless. But, for argument’s sake, the biggest musical influences on ‘Grapefruit’ were probably Swans, Albert Ayler, Deerhoof, Joanna Newsom, Thom Yorke, Death Grips, At The Drive-In, and Minutemen.”
What’s next for Kiran Leonard?
“I’m gonna finish this essay and have a cup of tea and watch South Park. Have mostly been rating season 3-6. ‘Bebe’s boobs destroy society’ is a great one. If you’re reading this and, I dunno, maybe you haven’t seen South Park for many years, or you’re a South Park sceptic, or, hey, maybe you’ve always been a big fan but, maybe you’re a bit younger, only really focused on the latest seasons, do yourself a favour, open a new tab (but keep this one open ’cause the interview’s not over), watch South Park season 6 episode… I don’t know man look it up ‘Bebe’s boobs destroy society’, quality television that.”
“(Self-ed: I later ended up watching the episode about Cartman’s skynet-esque trapper keeper [s4]. not the best one I’ve ever seen but still pretty good).”
Leonard seems critical of the view that there are no acts challenging the old guard, and when we ask him about which band/ act we should be excited about he has a long list of acts from the Manchester area.
“Lots of amazing stuff in Manchester – Irma Vep (who we’re touring with by the way!!), Cult Party, Songs For Walter (both of whom just put out new albums that are great), Nasdaq (forever), Hot Shorts (new album coming soon), Tekla Szerszynska, billions and billions more … I don’t want to talk down on the whole Madchester thing (well, I kinda do I guess but only for personal taste reasons rather than anything authoritative) but people spend too *clap* much *clap* time talking about the Happy Mondays and not enough time recognising that the best music Manchester’s ever produced is happening in Chorlton every day!!!!”
Hypothetically you’re going to DJ a disco for us – what’s your go to dance floor filler song?
“‘Steroids – Mr Oizo ft. Uffie’, that isn’t a joke answer, please embed that song at the bottom of this interview!!!! Mmmmm.”
You got it Kiran…
‘Grapefruit’ is out now
Kiran Leonard plays The Portland Arms on April 6th
Words by Zak Thomas