With his debut album winning him a major-label deal, and another full-length on the way, Talos’ creative figurehead Eoin French stands on the precipice of mainstream success, ahead of being among the headliners of October Bank Holiday weekend’s Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with French about the process, the changes, and the hype.
The story of Talos, the nom-de-plume of Cork composer and singer Eoin French, is one that seldom happens anymore. While the post-rock-inflected electronic pop project slowly gathered pace on the local music scene at its outset following the demise of French’s old band, it soon became evident to gig-goers and those in the know that big things were on the way as a revelatory live show began coming together. That hunch soon turned out to be well-founded, and Talos’ debut full-length, ‘Wild Alee’ was picked up for reissue by SonyBMG in an expanded edition that marks the beginning of French’s stint on the label. And while it’s all excitement in camp Talos at present, the mundanities of sealing the deal over a period of months were as much to do with creative as with legal issues. “Signing with them took a while, to put pen to paper, as these things do. It was just one of those stories, where the guy that signed us had an intern that just played the album in the office on a daily basis, and he enjoyed it. He got onto us, and it went from there, it was a lot of back-and-forward. That’s all the boring stuff, I suppose. There were the conversations: were they open to me not being directed in any way, doing what I want, and it turns out they were (chuckles). It was super-straightforward. The reality of it was, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with anybody that had an input. It was quite easy, they’re quite an open group anyway, so that was handy. That was it, and then we signed it in the States. These things aren’t very interesting (laughs).”
You’d imagine moving from an independent distribution setup to signing with a major would be a sea-change, especially as the traditional industry continues to find a foothold amid constant demographic and technological changes. But for French, revisiting his debut to add new content for its release in the form of an entirely separate EP entitled ‘Then There Was War’, simply bolstered his existing work flow. “There’s been zero change, to be honest. The only thing that’s changed is deadlines, they’ve gotten tighter. The other big thing is, I don’t do anything else now. They were quite supportive of the EP coming out, it was quite a step away, quite weird, quite dark, and I wanted it to be accompanied by these four videos. It was important that they were supportive, and they were. My experience with revisiting the record was placing the EP as a full stop. Setting the thing on fire and seeing what came of it.”
Revisiting ‘Wild Alee’ to put the full stop to it brought out a better understanding in French of the storytelling ability he possesses in spades. With something of a Kierkegaardian take on subject matter, moods and emotional content, French recounts how he became able to draw a line under the record before proceeding. “I don’t really listen back to my work, once I have it mastered. I’d revisit it very, very rarely, but I’m very proud of it. It took a very long time to make. If anything, you’re probably always going to see gaps, which is the only way to make something better. Me revisiting it wasn’t sitting down and listening to it, it was talking about it, d’you know what I mean? You have to do all these interviews about the tracks, and I was looking back at what songs were about, and it was like ‘ah, fuck, that’s what that was actually about.’ In a way, they gained new meanings, which was really interesting.”
One of the great tropes of music in a post-CD age is that the playing field is even, that artists can go ahead and conquer the world on their own with no need for a label (decent PR people notwithstanding). For French, though, it’s been a little of the opposite, assembling as he has a team of collaborators, managers and visual artists working to convey the scope of French’s cinematic pop. In a time when conventional music-biz wisdom is being disregarded, it’s a big move. “It’s just that thing of, ‘many hands’. It was a great benefit, because before the album was released, there was this energy and belief in what I did. That was the best help of all – a support structure propping the whole thing up.” Among those in camp Talos are Feel Good Lost, the audiovisual studio headed up by cinematic wunderkind Brendan Canty, having sharpened his teeth with Scandipop-influenced duo Young Wonder. Canty’s preternatural technical and storytelling ability are a huge part of Talos’ visual identity, and for French, made for something of a sounding board for ideas. “It varies from song to song. I would have had a lot of input on a video, and maybe less so other times. It went that way, y’know? A lot of the time they told very different stories as well, they were kind of detached, and that was important too, they shone a new light on the stuff. They always came in post. The images I wrote from were my own, they didn’t really get transcribed onto the video, but they became something else, kind of tonal, or coloured. We worked together closely on some and maybe not so closely on others.”
One more stop for French, ahead of what lies next, is the release this past month of a live extended-player, recorded at St. Luke’s Cathedral on the city’s northside. Since falling into the capable hands of promoters Joe Kelly and Ed O’Leary (The Good Room), the now-deconsecrated church and its crypt have become a unique destination for culture lovers of all stripes in the city, with gig-goers lining the pews and taking in the stained-glass atmosphere of the building. “I’ve worked with Joe from the very conception of this, prior to that even the band I was in before it (post-rockers Hush War Cry). He’s an unbelievably generous guy, he’s always told me how he felt about the music, whether it was positive or negative. He’s always been really helpful, you’re always going to get an honest and truthful answer out of him. But beyond that, the two lads are amazing promoters, and they have the best stage in Ireland, which helps. The EP in itself is really important to me because that probably is my favourite place on the planet to play. To capture that was a really important thing, to be able to showcase the live show, the six-piece as it is, because that’s a key thread for this project, working with these guys.”
The full live line-up has its biggest gig to date on October Bank Holiday weekend, playing the Opera House as one of the Jazz festival’s non-jazz headliners. It’s not French’s first dalliance with the 800-capacity auditorium, but it is a massively important one. “The Opera House for any Cork musician is a hugely important thing. So that alone is an especially big thing for us. The fact that it’s on the Jazz Weekend as well, as musicians we’d always be aware of it, and growing up, with my parents it was always very much a thing in our house. I’m really, really excited about it. We’ve got a lot of new music that we’re going to play that I’ve been working on for the last six months. I’m intrigued to see how that goes down. It’s a big deal, like.” Talk of new music is the perfect segue to posing the typical ‘what next?’ question, but French isn’t one for hanging around while opportunity awaits. “Literally just finishing my second album. I’ve no dates, I’ve no release stuff yet. There will be something relatively soon, and I hope people hear it and enjoy it. That’s what I’ve been at, down in West Cork, holed up for the last month or two, finishing stuff off.”
Talos play the Cork Opera House on Sunday October 28th, as part of the Cork Jazz Festival. Kickoff is 7pm, tickets are €25.