Kiran Leonard’s Grapefruit is one of the year’s most confounding and delightful records, a whirlwind of ideas and influences, taking the best bits of Captain Beefheart, Andrew Bird, both Jeff Buckley and Jeff Mangum… yet his voice is wildly, distinctively his own.
His recent live shows have been incendiary, stripping back the multi-instrumental form of his albums in favour of a four-piece band, led by his contorted and startling guitar.
Tom Clayton caught up with him before his show at The Lexington last week.
LTW: Grapefruit is your second ‘proper’ album, but you’ve also recorded lots more in between [last year’s Abandoning Noble Goals EP being the most notable] – do you see those interim recordings as a kind of ‘revving-up’ for Grapefruit, or do they exist as separate entities?
Well, everything’s accumulative – but they do tend to be recorded more primitively, largely on my own, and are perhaps less ambitious than what makes it on to a pressed record.
You make frequent use of field recordings in your music – how do you go about sourcing those? Is it literally just a case of walking around and leaving a microphone on?
There’s an old Sinclair car advert on the record which was taken from the source. But other than that it’s just things like my maths class, recordings from the television. A big influence was [Karlheinz] Stockhausen’s Kontakte, which I heard when I was 12 or 13 – him, and Zappa afterwards, making those kind of collages splicing tiny fragments of sound together.
Now that [16-minute lead single and centrepiece of Grapefruit] ‘Pink Fruit’ has been played a few times in full on the radio, do you think you’d be more comfortable releasing longer material in single form?
I don’t think it’s healthy to think in those terms as an artist – either ‘this is going to work really well on radio’ or ‘this is going to be 15 minutes long and everyone’s going to think I’m clever’. With ‘Pink Fruit’ it just made sense for it to be structured over a longer period of time.
Which leads to my next question about your writing process – presumably these songs aren’t written in one sitting?
It depends. ‘Pink Fruit’ was initially just one riff over about 12 minutes – the riff which is now towards the end of the song, in 7/8. Then I decided that sounded a bit shit by itself so I added some more to the beginning. It took about a year to write, on and off.
On Grapefruit’s Bandcamp page there’s a quote from Nancy Chodorow which seems to act as an epigraph to the album – could you talk about what it means to you?
It’s a quote I came across from an article, the name of which escapes me, which is actually more about the idea of the household. It’s from a lecture I went to about Clarice Lispector who writes a lot about gender roles – I think that quote is interesting in relation to ‘Pink Fruit’, which is about this kind of invasive, negative, very masculine environment that people of both genders go through at school – I mean a kind of masculine violence, it’s not specific to boys at school of course. Even if it’s not physically violent, it’s very primal in the way it it’s applied. I wrote the song a long time ago, and only recently came across the quote, but they seem to fit well together.
Let’s talk a bit about your live shows – obviously you play a lot of instruments on the records, and can’t take everything on the road… is it a fun thing for you to strip things back live, or do you see it as a compromise?
It’s just different – it’s not feasible to tour with a 15-piece band, that wouldn’t make any sense. It’s more fun to rearrange the songs for different groups of instruments, it means it’s not just a waxwork performance of the songs. So that’s interesting for me – it’s a nice process, and the songs tend to benefit too.
Finally, what about plans for the future? Is there a new record already in the pipeline?
Well, I’m at university at the moment so I’m mainly doing that, the degree’s taking up a large portion of my time – but yeah, I’m writing here and there.
Grapefruit is out now on Moshi Moshi Records.
Interview with Tom Clayton.