Interview: Cian Ciarán
Published on August 21st, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Last year we enjoyed this in-depth chinwag with Cian Ciarán in the run-up to his beautiful Outside In LP, so we thought we’d do it all over again to mark the impending release of his quite-possibly-even-better followup They Are Nothing Without Us, out September 23rd and available via Pledge Music.
As if that’s not enough, They Are Nothing Without Us will be preceded on September 16th by an EP titled Sewn Up, which we were thrilled to discover shall be released on one of our very favourite labels: namely Cornershop’s Ample Play imprint.
We could bang on and on about how mind-blowingly fantastic They Are Nothing Without Us is, but we’ll save that for tomorrow’s review. In the meantime, please enjoy the fruits of our second conversation with Cian Ciarán, in which we discussed the album’s genesis, its motivations, what he’s got lined up next, and the current goings-on of his fellow Super Furry Animals…
What are the titles “5c Cotton 40c Beef”, “43,000,000” and “1/7/69” referring to? They’re all a bit cryptic…
“5c Cotton 40c Beef” is a reference to an old track from 1932, recorded by Bob’s Boys,( Bob Miller). The original title was “11 Cent Cotton 40 Cent Meat” but I changed it slightly ’cause I thought ‘beef’ sounded better in the track.
“43,000,000” got its title from a film I watched about the Gleiwitz incident, which is a town on the German-Polish border. It’s a story about how in the Second World War the SS attacked a German radio station to give Germany an excuse to invade Poland, and as a result they shot this farmer, Franz Honiok.
Forty-three million is one estimation of how many people died in the Second World War; it’s the figure they used in the film. It perplexed me to think how a single gunshot led to forty-three million deaths, and we’re still starting wars! No lessons learnt there, then.
As for the one with the date [“1/7/69”], that’s an anti-monarchy song and a remembrance of a bombing campaign in Wales during the ’60s. That was the date that two men in North Wales blew themselves up. One theory is that they were trying to blow up the railway track that was carrying the train to Prince Charles’s investiture.
I should stress that they weren’t trying to blow people up; it was more to do with disruption and the destruction of infrastructure such as water pipelines that took water from Wales to service Birmingham and Liverpool. The campaign was a direct result, amongst other things, of the flooding of a Welsh village, Capel Celyn. It’s a remembrance song to this period in Welsh history and an anti-monarchy song all in one.
That’s a much better back story than I was able to find out on my own. I googled the date and merely discovered that Pamela Anderson was born that day.
(Laughs) …and it’s all about Pamela Anderson. There you go. Love you, Pam!
Have you always been partial to a spot of doom metal?
Yeah, I’ve always liked all kinds of music, really. I love The Stooges, although I wouldn’t call them metal. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin…yeah, I like a bit of everything. There’s only good or bad music and that’s a matter of opinion.
That definitely comes across in your music. Do you tend to write songs in batches, one loose sort of ‘style’ at a time, or do you write them in no particular order then apportion them into groups afterwards based on what seems to belong together?
I sort of write everything all at once and when I think I’ve got enough of the same kind of material then I’ll put it into an album, as opposed to sitting down and saying, “Right, I’m going to write this type of album now.”
I started writing this new album when I was in California for three months; I only had a guitar with me so it was the only thing I could write on, and I couldn’t really play the guitar so I had to sort of teach myself.
The plan was to release it sooner so I could tour both albums at the same time, but I’ve been living and doing paid work, and also our baby boy was born in September so I put it on the back burner.
Also I just like being in the studio, and I found the prospect of going out on the road again a bit daunting. There was still a lot of stuff I needed to do in the studio, other projects I’d started, some of which have been in the pipeline for years. I’ve been trying my best to get through my back catalogue of ideas.
I might put another album out soon; I’ve got an electronic album, an orchestral album and a ‘party’ album, or whatever. They were all written before I wrote this guitar album, but then I went travelling with a guitar.
When I wrote it I was quite excited, so I just wanted to jump on that. Sometimes if you write songs and you leave it for too long then you lose the original reason behind doing it, the momentum and excitement.
The next things on the horizon are a couple of projects that I’ve started already but need to find funding and time to finish. They’re ideas that have been brewing for a while and I just need to finalise them, really. I won’t say when it might come out, because I did that last time and in the end it didn’t come out for nine months!
Your mention of having electronic and orchestra material in the works brings to mind the stuff you put out as Acid Casuals: the Omni album and the series of 2009 EPs. Was it written contemporaneously to any of that?
No. Some of the tracks on Omni were about five years old when they came out. The projects I’m working on after They Are Nothing Without Us are based on ideas from over the last five years or so, although one or two I’ve resurrected from ten years ago. Ideas are fine but they are a penny a piece; it’s what you do with them or how you execute them that’s important.
Saying that I try to box up everything I’ve done, even if it’s just me whistling an idea I’ve got in my head, because you never know when you might need them. In terms of getting it done, I guess it all depends on money and getting the right people on board.
In that sense, do you think it would make sense to go on tour, seeing as that seems to be where the money is these days?
Yeah but it’s a lot of time and a lot of effort. It takes the same amount of work to prepare for one show as it does to do fifty shows, and I know how much time it takes to get a band together and make it right. Do one, might as well do fifty.
For a start, I haven’t got a band, it’s a solo project, so we’d have to learn the songs and rehearse them before going out on the road. All of that might take five or six months out of the year, just to get it going.
Some of my ideas I’ve sat on for so long that it’s frustrating and I just want to get them finished. Maybe if I run out of ideas then I could take a break from writing and think about getting a band together.
The orchestral project will probably be performance-based, so that would be a live thing that I could tour. I don’t know if it will ever get a release or be realised, it might just be a one-off performance. That’s what I’m working on at the moment. It’s fun.
I remember last time we spoke you were talking about learning the drums again. Did you perform most, perhaps even all, of the instrumentation on They Are Nothing Without Us? Obviously there’s a female vocalist on “No More”…
Yeah, she’s called Vanity. Other than that, I ended up playing everything in the end. Daf’s shoulder was out so he couldn’t play anything for six months, and I’d already been offered studio time by Michael Brennan, who was the front-of-house engineer for SFA and who has a studio up in Scotland called Sub Station.
We spent six days up there recording drums and half the guitars, then I did the rest in Cardiff. It was a long process, I guess, but a good learning curve. It makes you appreciate all the different elements that go into a song, and enjoy other people’s playing more.
The enthusiasm really shines through on your drumming: lots of fills, a loose sort of energy…it sounds like you’re having fun.
I started off playing the drums when I was about 14 and haven’t recorded myself playing them since then, so I guess I was making up for lost time. I played it to someone and they said, “The drums are a bit loud, aren’t they?” It might have been a subconscious decision I made while mixing, I guess; I wanted to hear all the drums. It’s too late to turn them down now!
I love the title “Bee My Baby”. Is it a reference to the reported depletion in numbers of our stripy friends, and what that might entail for the world as a whole?
Yeah. It’s about the enormity of it, and the lack of responsibility and concern shown by various bodies of government. One pharmaceutical company said that they knew about this danger but considered it to be collateral damage. The UK government voted against a ban.
So yeah, it’s a protest song, to raise awareness for anyone who doesn’t know already. There’s a line at the end of the track: “You might think I’m crazy, but with only four years to go…”. I think Einstein said that if the bees were to go, we’d only have four years left on the planet.
It just goes to show how interdependent we are and how closely we’ve all evolved to share this planet. We shouldn’t be so detached from nature, we are all connected. We should work with nature, the sun, wind and tides etc. Stop wasting time and money on nuclear for example, tampering with nature without knowing what to do with the waste is just one argument why not to go there.
Even the argument that we need new nuclear build programmes for jobs doesn’t hold water for me. The best estimates show that a like-for-like investment in wind power will create at least twelve times as many jobs as that same investment in nuclear; a like-for-like investment in solar power will create at least 360 times as many jobs as that same investment in nuclear.
Investing in energy efficiency creates more jobs than investments in any form of generation. (Rocksucker says: Cian later sent us an article that expounds upon this, which you can read by clicking here.)
I mixed the Gulp album, so I’ve been working closely with Guto on that. He recorded it all and then I came in to mix it. That should be out by the end of the year.
The Earth have started recording a new album already. Daf and I share the same studio so we’re in each other’s company all the time and get to hear each other’s stuff.
Bunf I only see maybe a few times a year now because he’s still living in London. He’s been up and down in recent weeks trying to finish his album. I think Guto might be going in tomorrow to do some bass. It’s nice that we can all still collaborate in a kind of way.
There isn’t really much information about Bunf’s album out there yet. Have you heard it?
Yeah, I’ve heard all the stuff he’s recorded. He’s got probably about two albums’ worth of songs so he’s trying to decide which ones he wants to put out first. He’s been working on it with his mate down in London, and he’s on Bunf time so I couldn’t say when it’s going to come out!
What I’ve heard of it so far has been quality psychedelic pop, weird and wonderful. The only thing I’ve seen publicly that’s out there is on SoundCloud under the name The Pale Blue Dots. That’ll give you some idea of what he’s up to.
Is The Pale Blue Dots just him or is it a band?
I think it’s him and a friend, but some of the stuff that’s not on there he’s written and done himself. It’s in a similar vein, though.
I spoke to Daf recently about The Earth and he mentioned that he hasn’t run into Gruff much of late. Are you in touch with him, and if so do you know what he’s up to?
I’m kind of the same, really. He’s so busy, although I bump into him occasionally when I’m out in town.
Our previous interview was one of our most popular articles last year in terms of hits, which reflects how many people are taking an interest in what you’re doing. Did Outside In sell well, and if not does it annoy you to think how many people might have downloaded it for free?
I broke even, so I’m happy in that respect.
That’s virtually a win these days.
Yeah, I suppose, but breaking even isn’t making a living so I need to do other stuff to do that. Which is fine; everyone has to. Downloading, streaming, Spotify: it’s just the times we’re living in. The only thing I would say is that it’s quite weird how music has been sort of devalued; people expect to have music for free now, don’t understand why they should have to pay.
It’s a weird one, isn’t it? Musicians are always going to do stuff and do whatever it takes to get it out there. That’s why you make music, you want to share it. But I guess there’s so much music out there that if people can get theirs heard by giving it away for free then that’s what they’ll do.
Thom Yorke has been very vocal in denouncing Spotify of late. However, do you feel that Radiohead may have contributed to the devaluing of music by putting an album out and declaring that people could pay whatever they want for it? Have those sorts of moves backfired on the whole industry?
Who knows? I reckon it’s a whole combination of things. It’s evolved to the point that playing live seems to be the only way bands have any potential to make money these days, which is bad news if you’re a studio artist. But it’s a different experience, anyway, seeing a band live rather than listening to their album.
I used to tape stuff off the radio. It’s no different, is it?
Cian Ciarán, thank you.
They Are Nothing Without Us will be released on September 23rd and is available via Pledge Music.
The Sewn Up EP will be released on September 16th via Ample Play.