INTERVIEW: AJIMAL | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx

Most bands take small steps when it comes to releases. Usually there will be a few singles, then an EP or two before a full album comes to fruition. Ajimal’s Fran O’Hanlon has skipped a step or two, thanks to the monumental nature of the themes he decided to write about. What was originally intended to be an EP has gradually morphed into his debut album, CHILDHOOD, a towering monument to one of life’s biggest and unavoidable challenges. “I was fascinated by the process of going from childhood into adulthood and that experience is different for each person depending on so many factors,” O’Hanlon says. “There are so many things which influence how we experience that transition.”

There’s perhaps no better way to capture this universal transition than through the power of sound. As such, between the intense electric guitar of Footnote To Love (Part One), the swooning brass on Apathy/Apatheia and the ever-present, quivering, emotional falsetto from O’Hanlon himself, there are a smattering of distinctive found sounds and a constant cavernous atmosphere that evokes a live performance. “When Mick Ross [Mono Records] and I were planning how to put the album together, we wanted to record in a way where we used actual spaces as much as possible to create the sound we were after, rather than just relying on toys in the studio.”.

Recording in these unique and disparate locations outside the studio meant that some of the album’s most charming moments came about by chance, including “noises at the coast in Tynemouth close to where I grew up, fairground noises, traffic, the playground.” As O’Hanlon recalls: “While I was recording piano for Footnote to Love (Part Two), right at the end we heard some kids outside shout, ‘It’s finished!’ as they ran past. It just fit really nicely together so we kept it.”

The whole point of what I want to create is not a solo project, but a big shifting collaborative thing which people come in and out of, depending on what we want to make

The most dramatic track on CHILDHOOD, Goudougoudou, was recorded live with a string section in a theatre in Gosforth where O’Hanlon used to attend a drama group as a child. The effect on the strings wasn’t the only reason he made the pilgrimage though. “I hadn’t been there in 15 years but remembered they had this rickety old piano,” he says. “I wanted something that sounded a bit battered on that track. There are different pianos on every track in fact – each one has a slightly different character.”

Around 50 different players contributed to CHILDHOOD, with many figures from the local music scene – including Martin Longstaff, Rob Coles of Little Comets, Tessera Skies, Minotaurs and Natasha Haws – all appearing on the album. “People were just willing to come and explore the idea and help out. That doesn’t even include the team of engineers,” O’Hanlon says. “The whole point of what I want to create is not a solo project, but a big shifting collaborative thing which people come in and out of, depending on what we want to make. It’s a lot of work but there are so many brilliant people on this album and I’m really proud of that.” The result of these collaborations is an album which feels like more than just a collection of songs but a community-based project to be cherished. CHILDHOOD’s music is already moving, but the story behind it is just as beautiful.

Ajimal releases CHILDHOOD on 6th November via Mono. He plays The Lit & Phil, Newcastle on Friday 13th November.

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