“The next thing always has to be 10 times better than the last or else what are we doing?” says Eoin French. You get the idea that he’s facing the ‘difficult second album’ cliche head-on.
The Corkman is talking about his new LP as Talos, Far Out Dust, but he’s expressed this restlessness and drive in interviews before. “I’m really happy with the way this record has landed,” he adds.
That’s not to say he’s sitting smugly in Lucky’s pub in Meath Street in Dublin, having a round of victory lap interviews for the album. He admits that self-doubt can seep in, halfway through an intense year-long writing and recording cycle.
“Like, the opening track is called ‘Boy was I Wrong’,” he says. “We did that on purpose, there were points in this whole process where we were like, ‘What the fuck are we doing here?’ I’ve always found whenever you’re making anything and you’re properly invested in it, you’re always gonna question what you’re doing, and if you don’t question it you’re doing something wrong.”
Even if French is fuelled by a personal drive and a pressure to evolve artistically, he’d be wise to ignore the outside anticipation and pressure on Far Out Dust.
Talos’s 2017 debut Wild Alee was roundly held up as one of the critics’ albums of the year, and a Choice Prize nominee. Written and recorded between Iceland, Dublin and West Cork, the album drew comparisons with James Blake and Bon Iver – an emotionally wrought falsetto, heavily-reverbed, skeletal electronics, with impressionistic acoustic guitar and piano subtly tying everything together. It also opened up festival slots at SXSW, Latitude and All Together Now, as well as support tours with Editors, Aurora and A Perfect Circle.
“I was never gonna make the same album twice, and I could’ve,” French says. “It would’ve been a very easy thing to do, and a lot less scary and stressful and taxing… but the payoff is a lot bigger.”
He adds that after the intense and largely solitary experience of writing Wild Alee, he wanted the new album to open new doors – literally as it involved much more collaboration, and was recorded between Dublin, Cork, London, New York, LA and Reykjavik.
“I had a headline… before we started, the first thing I wrote down and sent to Ross [longtime writing and production partner Ross Dowling] was, ‘Look, this is going to be a pop record’, but my kind of pop record, something with integrity. But also it has to be infectious and it had to be hooky.”
Before any Wild Alee fans wince at the thought of Talos going a bit Maroon 5, he counters by saying: “Sometimes people have the wrong references when they think of pop. Think of artists like Kate Bush, Mark Hollis, Talk Talk, Japan – these are pop acts that are really progressive as well.
“Pop for me means amazing songwriting, beautiful songs. I suppose historically speaking, people associate pop with a product. I think I’m more attracted to the craft of songwriting.”
While parts of Wild Alee are carried on transcendent, cinematic passages, Far Out Dust arrives at the sweet spot a lot quicker, with expansive synths and spectral arrangements that recall M83 or Sigur Ros.
In contrast, the lyrics veer away from typical pop tropes – for instance you might’ve heard lead single ‘See Me’ as an epic sunset festival synth banger, but it’s about serial killer Edmund Kemper, and French says ‘The Light Upon Us’ “isn’t typical positivity about the image of light… it’s not like spiritual, it was more about erasing, blinding, bleaching”.
These contrasts and contradictions are recurring themes in Talos’s work. He’s inspired by artistic impulses on the fly and riffing off musicians, while also needing three months in relative isolation to finish an album. He’s a qualified architect and designer with all the precision that entails, while he’s about to release a book, Terminus, of his on-the-fly sketches and lyrics. He’s also happy to let mistakes and glitches add weird edges to his music.
“The album is full of little smudges and things that shouldn’t be in there, but that feels like the impulse,” he says. “It’s not about anything pristine… you tell a story and evoke an image and whatever the palette that we’ve evoked at that time, maybe it feels right.
“Sometimes it’s about finding wrong ways to say the same thing, if that makes sense? If you listen to the record, some of it sounds really ‘expensive’, and some of it sounds like a phone recording – actually that’s because it is – I think that’s important to put those things next to each other. The way we take in art these days is through weird compressed mediums. If you listen to music nowadays it’s totally compressed, non-stop, instant. All art is, like an art piece on Instagram on your phone, it’s a shitty compressed image, that’s where we’re at.”
Aside from publishing the sketchbook, French doesn’t separate his music from its visual presentation – from his album artwork and the expansive landscape cinematography of Talos videos, to his impeccably curated Instagram account. One recent post is a photo of him composing on his laptop on an Alpine train journey, which he says caught him writing his first ever film score, for a friend’s film that “should be out relatively soon”. At one point in our chat he jokes that in order to keep moving artistically, “maybe I’ll just make a film”. This mightn’t be such a leap, as he also maintains that he devises music visually.
“I suppose I’ve always been influenced by film… when I’m writing I’ll always have visual references on the screen, the visuals and sound kind of bleed into each other. You know, I’ve probably been subconsciously trying to make a film, it’s a series of visual vignettes or stories that are simply stitched together, I think this album is a bit more widescreen.”
Even though Talos is built on Eoin French’s foundations, he’s quick to shout out collaborators including drummer Ian Chang of Sun Lux, Cork-based composer Peter Power, and producers Valgeir Sigurðsson (Sigur Ros) and Damian Taylor (Bjork, Arcade Fire).
“We opened up so many doors and invited more people in to do things we knew we couldn’t do,” he says. “We surrounded ourselves with people who were better than us at certain things.
“At the same time, we can be almost sadistic with the collaborations. Whatever people give us, they are samples – so me and Ross would tear them apart. Whatever they made, we stitched it in a different way or ran in through a tape machine or heavily compressed it… that was the only way it was gonna feel like our thing.”
This non-precious idea of an album evolving and in flux carries into the Talos live show, which is very much a band affair.
“When you’ve got other people involved and they’re playing your music, I’m much more interested in what their impression is of it as opposed to me being a dictator,” French says. “I don’t like the idea of me just being in a spotlight – the live show is a communal end to what the solitary process was, it’s us coming together and just playing the music.”
The success of Wild Alee and the live show has meant French was able last year to give up his day job as an architect and tutor for the late nights, as it was becoming impossible to carry on both.
“It’s been great to be honest,” he says. “But it’s weird too, you leave a 9 to 5 to start a 10am to 3am job, so it becomes that, it’s all-encompassing. It’s heavy and intense but I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I love architecture and I love design, but I can do that whenever, I can pick up a sketch pad… but this music, this is just what I do now.”
- Far Out Dust is out now. Talos play the Pepper Canister Church in Dublin tomorrow (Saturday)