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

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Kiran Leonard is a twenty-year-old musical polymath; the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist is currently spending half the year in Oxford at university and the other half in Manchester, but he’s also found time to unleash the follow up to his acclaimed 2013 release, Bowler Hat Soup. Grapefruit, released this month via Moshi Moshi, shows a huge leap forward in his sound; tracks like the twisting and turning Pink Fruit defies any notion of genre, with its initial jaunty vibe which is overtaken by abrupt chaos, urgency and manic vocals, and the beautifully orchestrated Caiaphas In Fetters which utilises delicate strings and tamed vocals to add a wonderful depth to the record. An unclassifiable album, which veers from delicate neo-classical arrangements to borderline free-jazz freakouts and almost everything in between, it’s Kiran Leonard at his most eclectic.

Grapefruit has been recorded for some time, written between January 2013 and September 2014, mainly whilst studying for his A Levels. While there have been a handful of other releases since 2013’s double record, it’s clear the album format is a different beast. “[There have been] a couple of EPs and internet records under pseudonyms, but they don’t really follow the same trajectory, whereas the LPs are larger projects.”

For Kiran, Grapefruit is a musical exploration and it builds on its predecessor, Bowler Hat Soup. “The fundamental difference is an interest in using these longer running times, using bits of music in different ways, the use of height and width, with an interest in doing longer improvisational things and arranging different pieces of music in different ways.” He explains, name-checking musical reference points including Swans, Death Grips, Deerhoof, The Enablers and Albert Ayler, which all have their place in the aural smorgasbord that is Grapefruit.

Kiran continues to showcase his impressive musical breadth on the new album: “With the exception of the strings, brass, woodwind and some of the voices it’s all me. I’ve narrowed it down to if you have to bow it or blow into it I can’t play it, but everything else is me! I’ve also worked with the Cassia String Quartet, who’ve recorded with Dutch Uncles and Daughter who are absolutely amazing.”

Hailed as something of a prodigy, there’s bound to be significant pressure on young Kiran’s shoulders, but he reveals that he takes a pragmatic approach to writing a record. “I tend to sequence the record before it’s written and plan the ebb and flow and then write within the constraints, as it tends to be more coherent rather than a set of jumbled up songs.”

With the exception of the strings, brass, woodwind and some of the voices it’s all me. I’ve narrowed it down to if you have to bow it or blow into it I can’t play it, but everything else is me!

The brilliant flow of Grapefruit is a testament to Kiran’s process, there are no ecstatic tempo changes or bewildering song choices, and he is also quick to dismiss the notion that the sixteen-minute epic Pink Fruit is the centrepiece of the album. “It’s more of the proper opening of the album, it was a conscious choice to have a short track then a huge track.” He’s keen to place emphasis on the coherence and careful positioning of the tracks. “Sequencing is underrated and an art form. The re-recording of Smile by Brian Wilson is wonderfully sequenced, and in fact it’s the sequencing that I nicked for Bowler Hat Soup, that record has an incredible flow to it, it’s amazing! I think you end up with better records if it’s written like that.”

There are obvious differences between Kiran’s two current records, not least how he’s able to recreate them live. “The tracks have had to change to suit the group I play with, but not evolve. That wasn’t the case for the previous record which doesn’t have any guitar, bass and drums tracks on it as such, as the instrumentation was more eccentric.” Some songs stand on their own easily though, like the epic Pink Fruit. “It’s an endurance test but it’s not like a sixteen minute jam, there’s enough information in the song.”

In spite of the beautifully textured songs on Grapefruit, Kiran’s not interested in recreating the orchestral sound live. “I’d feel like Metallica if I did that. I do odd bits of improvised music every once in a while, and it’s really nice to play in ensembles that aren’t guitar, bass and drums.” Having recently worked with Mancunian indie rockers Everything Everything at their Manchester Central Library residency, Kiran’s imagination was allowed to run wild, although it’s not something he’d consider for his own live show. “I wrote a thirty minute piece for voice, piano and a string trio for Everything Everything, but I don’t really care about big bombastic things for string and horn sections.”

Kiran will display Grapefruit in all its live glory at Stockton Calling festival (on the Georgian Theatre stage) on Saturday 26th and at Newcastle’s Cumberland Arms on Sunday 27th March, where he’ll be supported by Newcastle’s own avant-garde folk musician Richard Dawson; an artist who Kiran’s frankly more than a little in awe of, citing his Nothing Important album as his favourite record of the year. “It’s like when James Brown supported the Red Hot Chilli Peppers!”

Kiran Leonard plays The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Saturday 26th and The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle on Sunday 27th March.

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