Interview: Kiran Leonard on life, death, and Manchester Central Library

Kiran Leonard Derevaun SeraunKiran Leonard is an undiscovered diamond in the rough. The Manchester-based artist has tickled our fancy since the release of his debut album Bowler Hat Soup, in October 2013. Prolific to the point of insanity, he's now on his umpteenth studio release, with last year's Grapefruit proving a press highlight (though it's subsequently sold out on Bandcamp). Now, it's time for the captivating Derevaun Seraun, released 15th September 2017 through Moshi Moshi Records.

'What on earth does that mean?', I hear you say. Good question. A reference to a James Joyce story called Eveline, the piece influences more than just the full length's title. Kiran explains:

"The first song on the record ["Could She Still Draw Back?"] is about [the] short story. It’s based on a girl whose life you couldn’t exactly describe as tragic, but it’s not particularly inspiring — dull job sweeping up at the family shop, her dad constantly losing his rag… tedious. The bloke who lives across the road from her, he’s a sailor, and constantly telling her these stories about all the great places he’s visited on the job. And one day he says, I have a house waiting for you in Buenos Aires, come with me. She’s elated and accepts, but in the time that elapses between her suitor’s proposal and the day of departure, a sort of unease and anxiety about leaving creeps in. When the moment comes, he passes beyond the gates and she stays there, unable to abandon her home. She's inexplicably tied to it in a way to which we can relate, I think. And one of the memories that keeps her in Dublin is of her mother, delirious and bedridden and dying, repeating the same phrase over and over again, 'Derevaun seraun, derevaun seraun…'"


The translation of this Galic saying, as Leonard omits, is, 'At the end of pleasure, there is pain.' It's a tricky truth to navigate; no more so than it is to say: "I always pronounce the ‘aun’ like ‘thorn’ but I’ve only ever seen it written down. But I like how it lends itself to an open interpretation, and that it’s a phrase without rational coherence. This fits well with the theme of the record."

Besides James Joyce, the album was inspired by literature in general and written for "a series of concerts Manchester Central Library held to commemorate its reopening after a period of renovation."

Kiran explains: "I chose five authors and wrote some songs about why I like them. I tried to keep it as simple as that really. Frankly, there’s a lot of pseud0-nonsense talked about literature, when the appeal of great books is like anything really: it’s instinctive and personal. It doesn’t always have to be academised in a stilted and self-aggrandizing manner." 


There's no denying Kiran is a prolific writer. Derevaun Seraun has been released only a year after previous album, Grapefruit. He's not, however, releasing songs as he writes them. The Manchester Central Library concert was in 2014, and "so the material is three years old. But Grapefruit is older."

Of the tricks he's learned along the way, he admits "the string parts I wrote for [Grapefruit] were nightmarish. I thought a fifth was the easiest interval to play on a violin, because it’s so easy on other instruments. But I forgot that with violins, the neck is arced, which changes everything! I got my ass kicked for that one. I really screwed up. But the string writing on Derevaun Seraun I did a couple months afterward and it’s less primitive."

Now, this writer is a viola player to the point of being able to (god forbid) teach the instrument to others (if she ever dares to, which she won't). Even she had to stop and consider this proposition. Kiran Leonard is clearly consumed by music on every level and speaking to him about it is an eye-opening experience. Most musicians, one would assume, pick up their instrument, learn it, and play it. Leonard allows himself to be engulfed in theory and melody and structure, and that's one of the reasons his songs are so rich in sound and style.

Find out more about Kiran Leonard and order Derevaun Seraun via Facebook.


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