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

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Fran O’Hanlon’s work under the banner of Ajimal has long been enrapturing listeners in the North East and beyond. Over the last few years, the songs have become startling in their depth, and, as you might expect, O’Hanlon’s back story is something of an unusual one as far as musicians go. He’s spent a number of years splitting his time between producing his ethereal slivers of joy and training to be a doctor, something which goes at least some way to explain his singular perspective on the world. “Medicine has definitely given me a lot of experiences and opportunities to draw on for writing. I love the overlap between science and art and the personal. So far, my writing has developed in the direction of trying to reflect on those things, sometimes by externalising myself and writing about something I imagine or sometimes by drawing on personal ideas, fears, hopes.”

New single Nothing Touches Me builds on these ideas, taking the general concept of human growth and applying it to the artist. “It’s about the ‘self’ – there’s a childhood developmental stage where we begin to be able to understand that other people exist outside of our experience of them. So, before this time, if someone leaves your field of view, they essentially just vanish. In theory we grow out of that, but actually it dawned on me that I never truly have.”

If you’ve ever attended an Ajimal show, there’s a strong chance you’ll have been gripped by the sheer power of the songs and their delivery. The emotional nakedness of the situation, potentially crippling to a less assured artist, is something Fran tries to use to his advantage. “Most of my shows so far have been solo. I try to boil things down to be heavily based around delivery of lyrics and the ideas in my songs so I think it hits you harder when it’s more exposed.”

I want Ajimal to be this collaborative, amorphous thing which can change depending on the sound I want to explore

Of course, the danger of this approach is that for whatever reason, not everybody in the room might be willing to play ball and shut up to let others drink in the experience. We’ve seen Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek being quite outspoken on the subject recently, and it’s a difficulty O’Hanlon recognises too. “It’s a challenge to an extent. In the sense that it’s something you have to adapt to. It’s lovely to be able to win over a crowd and to know that people are listening to something they didn’t necessarily come to hear. The problem is that you can’t hear people listening, but you can hear people talking. It’s about developing tactics to cope with different crowds. You have to judge whether or not to say something. Hopefully people who want to listen speak up. I think, as a crowd, there should be a collective responsibility to tell people to shut the fuck up sometimes.”

Looking to the future, Ajimal is unlikely to remain a solo venture. We’ve already seen some gorgeous joint work with the likes of Trev Gibb and The Lake Poets on Generator Sessions last year, and partnership is something Fran is keen to explore further. “I want Ajimal to be this collaborative, amorphous thing which can change depending on the sound I want to explore and I’ve been really fortunate to work with some wonderful people on it so far.  I don’t want Ajimal to be my pseudonym and I don’t like it being called ‘he’.”

The Generator Sessions also featured a collaboration between O’Hanlon and Tessera Skies, a band whose work has been intertwined with Ajimal’s for some time. The two entities are now affirming their affinity by sharing the release of a split 12”, with Tessera Skies contributing the stunning Droplet to sit alongside Nothing Touches Me. “I love their songwriting, energy and their sound. We’ve become close friends and worked together quite a lot and they’re just an absolute joy to know. It just feels effortless when we play together. Musically, they have these beautiful, interesting songs – Mark is a wonderful lyricist – and it’s nice that we’re able to support and springboard off each other.”

For Fran, the release of this single hopefully represents something of an early start on a big year in which the long-mooted Ajimal opus should finally appear. “I’ve been working a lot with Mick Ross over the last couple of years to write and record a mini-album called Childhood. I’m really proud of what we’ve done and Nothing Touches Me is taken from it. It’s been promised for a while but will finally come out early next year. I can’t wait to get playing, writing, recording more and finding new things to think about and explore. I hope that this coming year will be an interesting and full one.

“I’m changing direction professionally to focus much more on music for a while and stepping back from medicine. I’ve been a doctor, and before that a medical student, for a while now so I have to reframe my ideas of who I am and why I get up in the morning, because I’m now predominantly a musician and I like that. I like leaps into the unknown and this is one.”

Ajimal plays Sage Gateshead on Sunday 7th December.

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