By Shauna Golden
Dublin based Kevin Nolan has been incredibly busy over the last couple of years, writing and releasing his debut album ‘Fredrick & The Golden Dawn’, publishing his first volume of poetry ‘Vibrations Of The Soul’ with TC&FF which was illustrated by the Irish artist John Nolan and his most recent venture, a collection of poems entitled ‘Schizo-poetry – Fragments of Mind’, which is a collaboration with artist/poet Susanne Wawra and is published with Shine Arts. The multi-talented Dubliner is flying the flag for Irish Music and arts in general at the moment and I was lucky enough to ask him a number of questions to get an insight into his fast paced world.
So Kevin, you got your first album ‘Fredrick & The Golden Dawn’ out and it has been receiving great reviews so far. After all the hard work you put into it, were you expecting such a great response?
Hi Shauna, yes I got it out, finally – or rather kicked it out – as after eight years of working and composing each part, it became something of an unwanted lodger of sorts, and they say, all art is never finished but instead is abandoned. Fredrick & The Golden Dawn has been receiving good reviews and has been well accepted for sure. Although I must add more so in artistic circles than the mainstream, but that’s always been my experience, somewhat unfortunately. Was I expecting such a great response? Well when you put that much work into something, yes you expect a response, anyone who tells you any different is just fooling you, especially at the age I made the album, for me it was art-world-domination or nothing, ha! I’m friendly with an Artist named Susanne Wawra, when she was making pieces for a recent exhibition I could see the same intent in her process. Wasn’t it Lacan who said one of our main needs as humans is to be understood and acknowledged in some meaningful way. You delicately compose your prayer and then wait for an answer.
Perhaps one of the most successful songs from the album, ‘Aubade’, was a duet with Choice Music Award winner Julie Feeney which has received plenty of airtime. What was it like working with an already established artist with so much talent?
When I wrote Aubade I would never have dreamed I’d be working with Julie Feeney only months later. She added textures to the melodies, which haunt me every time I listen. ‘Aubade’ was written when I was in hospital, on the hospital piano. I wrote it and recorded it on a zoom recorder which I kept around with me at all times. That hospital piano was a real beauty; it was almost the curing of me. Then from hospital I emailed Julie the song and asked if she’d sing it with me. She thought it was beautiful. Then after some time I was discharged and began working on the song back in my studio. I recorded it again and worked out the different voices for Julie and myself. I emailed Julie the new better quality recording and wrote out her parts. Then much later I met a producer Anthony Gibney who was kind enough to record it so I immediately contacted Julie, we made a date and recorded it. It was amazing to work with her, you can learn a lot from Julie, even from just watching her tie her shoelaces.
On your first poetry collection ‘Vibrations Of The Soul’, your uncle John Nolan did some amazing art pieces for the design. How was it working with him and is the artistic flare something that runs throughout the family?
“John Nolan Sr. (Jon-Jon) 1921-1998 The arche, who painted the Sistine chapel ceiling on the ceiling of his studio in Phiborough and with that sparked a whole story of artists”. That’s the dedication to my first book, “Vibrations…”. John Sr. was my grandfather, he had a steady job but he was a great visual artist, a painter, playwright, essayist, aphoristic list-maker, stage constructor, actor among other things. As far as I can see he was the beginning. My Uncle John, his son, is a visual artist and my brother is a conceptual artist, although I’m not so sure he’d really like to be defined like that, however I’ll use that for want of a better description. My father has always played experimental piano in his spare time, just for his own enjoyment. My mother is very creative in her everyday, as is my sister also, so yes I guess there must have been a hex on the family in Aztec times years ago, damning us all to be artists in some form or fashion. Working with my Uncle John on “Vibrations…” was a fantastic experience artistically but also very integral to my own growth as an artist. It showed me as Bowie says “to know when to go out, and to know when to say in, and get stuff done” – Modern Love. He also taught me perseverance and the very action of being an artist. The book is a very special object to me as I designed myself and chose from John’s vast collection of abstract paintings.
After reading a lot of your poetry, it seems to be quite dark but also quite romantic. Do you think that this also applies to your music and is there a way that you can keep both mediums separate while also having some similar themes present?
Love and death are the most vital two things to every single person on earth, in whatever guises each takes in their lives. They are the chief concerns of the human condition. So it’s hard not to be drawn to these motifs in my work as I am just as preoccupied with them as anyone else. For the most part music and poetry are separate mediums for all sorts of technical reasons but occasionally I’ve tried merge them. For example, for the lyrics to my song ‘Ballade to St. Dymphna’ I wrote the lyrics using an old poetic form known as the eight-line stanza French ballade. It’s a thirteenth century French poetic form and was believed to have magical properties associated with the number eight. Jean Cocteau once said that even though he worked with Film, Writing, Design, Art, among many others, all his work was really just poetry. For me all my works no matter what medium, are just kind of installations. For me, even though the two forms I work with don’t explicitly cross over, there’s an underlying quality which I’d like to think you can derive from both; a similar primordial theme. You can tell if a song or a poem is genuine or comes from a genuine place regardless of whether it’s dramatic or confessional, you can tell if it has Duende, you can tell if it’s an expression of something real, no matter what the medium or genre, and in this way I like to think there is a cross over with my poems and songs. Their cross over or relation in mediums is that they are both my very personal expression of Duende, of something genuine, something real, something guttural regardless of theme.
You have never been one to hide any of your past in regards to your mental health. How important has music/writing been to you and do you think that after opening up, a lot of people can realise the stigma around mental health should be removed and rather be thought of as something that can wield great artistic pieces of work?
I think it is a misconception that pain produces great art. A cry is as an expression that is valuable but only a perfected cry and the work that goes into that wields great art. T.S Eliot said in one of his essays, that you work and work every day tirelessly on your craft, the very nuts and bolts of being an artist, and then every once in awhile a moment happens, “the moment when you really have something to say”. Then all the work you put into your craft, day in day out gets distilled into this one piece where you really have something to say and all your hard work becomes the prism from which this cry can manifest as art. This is true for me in the case of ‘Schizo-Poetry’ I feel. To tell you the truth the finished art piece itself is less important to my mental predicament than the actual process which creates it. Working every day with a routine and a goal is more medicinal for me in some ways than the outlet of expression which art gifts you. So the process of creating is very important to me. I think when I opened up, regardless of the anecdotal value of what I said, the very act of opening up itself inspires others to do the same, regardless if they have seriousness mental difficulties or none at all.
One such piece is your most recent poetry collection ‘Schizo-poetry – Fragments of Mind’ which you wrote together with Susanne Wawra. How different was it to work in conjunction with another artist and do you think from reading this book people can get a greater understanding of what living with schizophrenia is really like?
Working with Susanne was a different experience in that we were both working with the same medium, poetry. However Susanne is also a visual artist and so she has a strong visual vocabulary when it comes to brainstorming and collaborating in general. In that way I found familiar ground as when I was working with my Uncle John. But also working with another artist in general is very different to working alone, like any relationship, including the relationship one has with oneself or the world in general, it’s all communication. Sometimes I think every invention ever made ever, be it the light bulb, or a stone age tool or Guernica; they are all rooted in the wish to communicate.
Lastly Kevin, do you have any more projects coming up and is there any gigs we can catch you at in the near future?
Yes Shauna, I’ve just finished another second book with my collaborator Susanne Wawra which I’m very excited about and I am quite a good ways into the making of my second album. This time I’m working with collaborators from Ireland and abroad. I’m recording most of it in Axis Ballymun Recording studios. I am currently the Artist in residency there. Also, I hope to do one more summer shows, and the place to find out where and when is my Facebook band page.
Thanks to Kevin for answering so honestly and best of luck with the new album!