Cian Nugent released his new album ‘Doubles’ this week, and Ian Maleney spoke with him in the lead up to the launch gig in The Button Factory on Thursday.
Cian Nugent is a twenty-two year old musician from Dublin who is launching his debut album, Doubles, in the Button Factory on Thursday, with support from Wooden Wand and Peter Delaney. The album is a sprawling and ambitious set of two side-long songs; one a dark and sinewy solo piece, the other a grand statement filled with brass, strings, woodwinds and drums. Drawing on the finger-style tradition of Jack Rose and John Fahey, as well as the orchestrations of Burt Bacharach or Ryan Francesconi, Doubles adds a very personal tone the sounds created by Nugent’s forebears, representing the emergence of a real musical talent and a strong artistic voice.
Can you tell me a little about the ideas behind the album? How much did your approach differ from what you’ve done before?
Well, to me this is sort of the first proper album I have made, any recordings before that were made and released pretty quickly. So to make an album I wanted to spend some time and thought on it and make sure it was good. I wanted it to be more focused and cohesive as a whole that previous cuts. It ended up that this ambition spilled over into a kind of obsession and I really dwelled on things for quite a long time, I think that this gives it a strength but at the same time it caused it to take a long time and involved a lot of listening back and figuring out what was right or wrong. I suppose I also wanted to broaden the musical horizons of what I had done before and make something that wasn’t so easily pinned down, an attempt to bring together lots of different musical passions in a way that worked. I suppose in terms of tone the whole thing is kind of heavier and lighter than previous releases, wider on the whole and that is what I wanted to sprawl out in a few different directions, stretch the limbs — although if anything I’m more inane and immature than ever before.
Was the idea of two side-length songs daunting at any point or was the challenge of making pieces like that work an incentive?
The idea was one that only really developed when it was a possibility, when these two pieces had developed to the stage that they could be sidelong jams — I think when I saw that possibility I was pretty excited by it and definitely viewed it as a challenge that I wanted to take on, it was never really that scary as a result because I already had a lot of the material when that decision was made, it was a step by step process. I felt that in terms of shape and form of a release two long pieces, one per side of an LP is sort of a neat and tidy way to do it — long, yes, but I think twenty-ish minutes is a totally doable amount of time for someone to pay attention to some music. It seemed to be a nice, symmetrical way to do it.
What was the recording process for the album?
It took quite a few attempts to get the album as it is now, I started off making some demos of the pieces solo at home, listening back then recording again. Then eventually I got around to trying to record the album and we did so in a church. We only got Sixes & Sevens the band piece done and it was for guitar, drums, clarinet and viola, but that recording didn’t really cut it so we went for it again in Jimmy Eadie’s studio about a year later. Having a studio ended up being a totally necessary tool for doing what I wanted to do, being able to have isolation between instruments was the main thing, so David, the drummer and I could record live but not have the drums drown out the guitar. I then had some friends come down to the studio and overdub some different parts that I had in mind and I laid down some organ. We did this on a few different days and I was able to go home a listen to what we had done before in between and see what needed working on or whatever and that was a big help having the time to let things sit. Jimmy and his studio are both killer, a real perfect mix of great equipment and knowledge but musical and understanding. The record collection that they have in the studio made things clear that we were in the right place: listening to Robert Johnson, The Velvet Underground and electric Miles Davis for our many tea breaks.
Is there a significance to the album title?
There is. I liked the simplicity of the word, that it is fairly innocuous sounding but can be taken to mean a range of different things. There also seemed to be a lot of pairs coming up throughout making it, in lots of different ways. The title means one thing to me and something else to another person and I think that perhaps best explains the reason I chose it.
There’s a real mix of influences on the album, from eastern modal sounds to more straight American folk or blues. When did you find yourself being drawn to these kinds of sounds and how have you gone about exploring them?
I guess I’ve been picking the stuff I like up for a long time, slowly getting in to different things and seeing what I can take from them. I think a broad taste n music can work for and against you though, it can leave it a bit difficult to know which things to follow up on and how to go about combining different influences. I think with this record I was trying to balance things out, to not have too much of any one thing, but not pointlessly eclectic either. If there was a loud part then it was good to balance it with a quiet part, sometimes through linear development and sometimes through contrast. When I say it like this it sounds like it was quite a considered, post modern collage process, which it really wasn’t it all just sort of developed instinctively over time.
You’ve toured a lot, how has that influenced the music you make? Playing with people like Jack Rose or Glenn Jones must have been pretty extraordinary?
Yeah, touring is a wild ride! I don’t think I’ve ever been so exhausted as when touring — getting up early to sit in an airport after foolishly drinking until 4 am for the third day running can leave you feeling pretty wrecked and wondering why you’re doing it then you get to where you’re going and play a good gig and you’re back to loving it — the lows are low and the highs are high. Playing every day like that can really cause you to question what you are doing and examine the strengths and weaknesses of it too, to get up in front of people and play to them (especially alone) you want to feel like you’ve got something worthwhile to offer, it can be harsh but is ultimately really positive for development I think.
And yeah, I’ve had the pleasure of touring with some really great people, who I’ve learned a lot from. Playing your set each day to the same person is an interesting side challenge to playing to the audience, you always want to make sure you do it well for them and they know what you’re up to. Jack and Glenn were really great to travel and play with, each in different ways, Glenn is a real well of knowledge and enthusiasm, an amazing story teller and Jack was a real partier, drinking lots and loving arguing about music all night, both of them really encouraging and and a healthy test to play to.
Have you been influenced by Irish sounds or tradition in making this album?
There are some Irish albums that I do really like, but I don’t know if there’s any that I’ve ever been consumed by or really inspired by, save for maybe Astral Weeks or the Dinah Brand both of which I have only gotten into big time since making this album! I love Tommy Potts’ fiddle playing too but that just mystifies me. I think any influence is more likely to have been through seeing Irish music reflected back to me through some other type of music, something that has been influenced by Irish music. I think maybe some rhythms and phrasings of the melodies on the album, (I’m thinking of the main melody in Peaks & Troughs) probably have a kind of traditional vibe, but using a different mode. I think we pick up ideas from so many different sources it can be hard to single out what came from where and similarly how fluid traditions have been, influenced by other countries, the movement of people etc, trying to pinpoint these things can be impossible.
It seems, to me at least, that you have made quite an impact on foreign soil, maybe more so than at home. Do you find this to be true yourself? Does it matter to you at all?
Initially there was more of a reaction to what I’m doing from elsewhere than Ireland and I kind of just went with that. I’m more interested in “music from the world” than just “music from Ireland”. I think there is some good stuff going on in Ireland and a lot of great people but I find the division between local and international music a bit odd, it’s all just music from the world, but as a nation I think we’ve developed a strange cultural inferiority to other countries, which seems to manifest itself by fluctuating between talking Irish music up and not taking it seriously for coming from Ireland. I don’t really understand it and have no answers. I guess ideally there’d be people who like my music here in Ireland and people who like it elsewhere.
How do you plan to approach live performance in support of the album?
Over the past few years I’ve been playing with a percussionist called David Lacey and we’ve played quite a lot of shows together and developed a pretty good instinct for how the other plays and it was that that lead to this album turning out as it did. There’s a few other people that come in and out and play with us so now we’re kind of just drawing on the full set and have a few new people in as well to try and make it sound good live. At the moment there’s six people including myself and David playing: Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh playing viola, Ivan Pawle playing organ, Fergus Cullen playing bass clarinet and Keefe Murphy on bass, this will be the line up for Thursday. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to expand the line up a little more and will probably have to contract it too.
Cian Nugent plays The Button Factory on Thursday with Wooden Wand and Peter Delaney.