Q&A: Talos embraces the eccentricities of his Irish indietronica

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It’s been just under a week since Irish songwriter Eoin French dropped a video for the second half of the “Odyssey” story on his 2017 debut album, Wild Alee. While the song is spellbinding enough in its own right, French, who records and performs as Talos, was awestruck when he saw Icelandic director Máni Sigfússon’s visual contribution for the first time.

“It reflects the void and loneliness, but there’s also strength. I was speechless when I first saw it,” French said. “I couldn’t believe he pulled it off.”

Talos and Sigfússon’s collaborative vision enhances the song’s themes of finality and loss with a profound visual depiction of female empowerment, something the songwriter only had in mind subliminally until the filmmaker brought the message to the forefront with a dazzlingly delicate creation.

Though Talos fits in quite well alongside Sufjan Stevens, James Blake and Jonsi, he goes far beyond the tropes of post-rock and indietronica. The Irish musician blends proximal songwriting with huge arrangements, making for tremendously cathartic experiences. With a 13-track full-length debut and an EP under his belt, Talos made waves with his meticulously arranged opuses. His passion for architecture fuels his massive compositions, but his incorporation of otherworldly auras alongside his introspection makes every song both a presentation of himself and his imagination.

“I tend to make the lyrics in a fantastical form,” French said. “What it does is create a grand scene or landscape. … At the time I was obsessed with epic journeys, which is where “Odyssey” and “Odyssey, Pt. 2” came from.”

French’s humility creates the perfect foil for his larger-than-life creativity, allowing his songs to remain grounded in real emotion instead of lofty pretense. His singing voice may change as he refines it and pushes himself physically and artistically. With influences ranging from Dr. Dre to Bruce Springsteen, he credits the increased accessibility to streaming platforms.

“To be straight up, I don’t know if we would be having a conversation right now if Spotify hadn’t opened up a lot of doors for me to get my music out there,” he said. “It allows for further exploration into how we make music. There aren’t any rules anymore.”

Eoin French called from his hometown of Cork earlier this week to talk about creating the “Odyssey Pt. 2” video with Sigfússon, the joy he takes in crafting his enormous sonic ventures and his next album, which he will be going into the studio to record starting this week, with a planned release next year.

RIFF: Was there a music scene in Cork when you were coming up? What is the climate like for new musicians?

Talos: It’s a pretty small scene here, and I never actively got involved with it. There’s this amazing talent in Cork, and I know a lot of these very good musicians. We see each other a lot and are aware of what we do, but I haven’t gotten to the point of collaborating with a lot of them. I’m about to work with a composer named Peter Power, who will do some interesting stuff on the new record.

You spent three years perfecting your debut album. How do you feel about how quickly the new record has solidified?

This only became my full-time gig in the last seven or eight months. Before that, I was working at a university in Cork, lecturing about architecture and doing my own work in architecture. I’m really loving the pace of it. It hasn’t hampered quality. If anything, it’s done the opposite. It’s led me to make more interesting choices and explore more, but that’s also a result of not doing anything else. In all, it’s probably still going to take two years. I started writing the record within a week of releasing Wild Alee. It’s still been a long process, but the pace of recording and writing has really picked up over the past three months. In a way, this makes the process more concise. You’re operating in a capsule of time, and whatever’s there is what comes out. It comes down to how hard you worked and how much you did.

You started Talos after your significant other came down with tuberculosis. Do you see music as a way to stay busy and productive even in difficult circumstances?

It’s much more than that now. Everyone makes art partly for therapy, surprising oneself with what pain and happiness can lead to. At the time, I had just come out of college in the middle of a recession. There wasn’t really anything for me to do. I was going to America to study acting at the time because there’s no acting industry in Ireland in spite of the incredible fucking talent. I was left in a rut. By my nature, I make stuff. Whether it’s painting or architecture or music. The music was born out of that. I made this one song “Tethered Bones,” and that was how it started.

There is a parallel between your original plan to become an architect and the way you meticulously craft your songs. Do you enjoy the process of elaborating on ideas and charting out where your songs end up going?

The way I worked on the record was very similar to how I design when I was studying and the small practice experience I’ve had. It comes from layering tracing paper on top of a basic sketch. Eventually, the original sketch disappears and you’re left with something completely different. You’d have to take 20 sheets to get back to the original. I liken it to an excavation. I have these ideas, and I put the whole track through a plug-in on the master to give it a new atmosphere. It became about layering—it’s kind of sinful how many tracks we’d finally have by the end—and I find my arrangements like that. You kind of make a pool of atmosphere, and on top of that, you begin to place particular elements. The lyrics become really important, along with the melody, because those often become the top layer.

Your instrumentals balance grandiosity with intimate accessibility, often from a simple piano or guitar part. Do you have a vision of how a song will develop right away, or does that develop over time?

I really enjoy the payoff moments. I find a lot of pleasure in allowing something that sounds like you’re being whispered at change into a landscape. I like the idea of contrasting closeness with a sense of largeness. These counterpoints were something we had in mind when we were making Wild Alee, slingshotting small ideas into a vast world.

The video for “Odyssey Part II” has a unique visual style to go with its mysterious lyrics. Was there a specific point you wanted to get across?

The song centers around endings, the end of something personal in my own life. It reflects the void and loneliness, but there’s also strength when you see the scale of the thing in the warehouse, and you feel its ominous presence in the supermarket. … We had the idea of putting an organism that these tiny bodies would float around, almost in worship, but [director Máni Sigfússon] added—I don’t even know what it is—a floral anemone. That became about femininity. I love the fact it became a counterpoint to the deathly male existence. I began to read into that as the power of female existence in my life and the incredible women I’m surrounded by, work with and have in my life. I can’t take credit for that, Máni’s just such a special artist. I’m so excited about it.

Was the feminist angle something the song had from the beginning?

Whether they be friends, family, partners or acquaintances, women have been a massive source of inspiration for me. I was aware of that when I was writing the song. I think it’s very much about that. It’s about someone leaving my life—a departure song, or a final ending. I think Máni picked up on that subconsciously, and we had a dialogue about it. What he did made the song more important to me.

How did you develop your singing voice?

Bands like Sigur Rós helped give me the confidence to sing like that and made me aware that I could. It took me a very long time to find a voice I was comfortable with, and I’m still developing it. Most singer-songwriters reference Sigur Rós’ ability to shape the sound and create a setting. You can’t not take influence from that. At the moment, I’m practicing pushing my vocals to be more forceful; less high-pitched and using more of my chest. I’ve taken a liking to Bruce Springsteen’s visceral masculinity. He has a puffed-up strut to what he does. I like the idea of my new stuff being more stand-up-ish. The last record is very expansive, whispery and beautiful, but the new stuff feels more boisterous and anthemic while still creating atmosphere, tone and headspace.

Follow editor Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.

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