(Editor’s Note: Kieran Leonard plays a free show at the Bootleg Bar THIS Sunday, August 4 at 10pm)
A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Rachel Reynolds, KCRW’s Music Publicist and the editor of this very blog. She began by saying “I have this wonderful artist and I’d love to introduce him to you. I want to send you some tracks from his new album.”
I checked out the tracks, and she was right. He is great. We set up a time and Kieran Leonard came down to my office.
Kieran, slightly wiry with long hair and a jacket embellished with NASA patches. I instantly gravitated towards his personality.
We sat down and I started asking him a few questions.
JK: Where are you from?
KL: Ireland (he said with an Irish lilt.)
Island? What Island?
The green one troubling England.
… …. Scotland?
It’s an island called Ireland.
Hence the name Kieran.
We talked about how he moved to London when he was 18 and went over his influences, including David Bowie and the Beatles.
“Rubber Soul” was important to me, up to the “White Album”.
When he was 15, his mom showed him Ziggy Stardust, the David Bowie documentary, and the Hammersmith Odeon live segments cemented his creative future.
One thing that really piqued my interest was his habit of referencing books.
He nearly ended up studying Literature at Cambridge, but claimed that he’s happy to have avoided it. He would have been bothered by the “standing pools of academic knowledge.”
By the time he was 16, he was in a band called Drugstore Romeos, a Streetcar Named Desire reference. After that he worked for a rapidly ascending Russell Brand, got noticed at a solo gig by The Libertines and joined them as the opener for a tour. During this time he released his first single, “Jerusalem”.
There was some controversy surrounding that single?
“Jerusalem” got me on the BNP red list, basically a hit list. I’ve had thugs waiting outside shows for my habit of pointing out conflicting pieces of their ideology. But if they come after me, I’m going to get up on my hind legs and give it right back. That’s the point of doing it.
The first song of his I played was called “Harold Pinter is Dead”.
Harold Pinter, the 50’s playwright?
The vanguard of political theater. He was allowed to criticize anyone and anything because the play format was protected by parliamentary actions.
Like Lenny Bruce, except you can’t let out a couple obscenities without getting arrested at The Troubadour.
Pinter was a Lenny-esque character, but as he grew older, Pinter was a real motherfucker. He would shout down the government on stage, and as he grew older he was a main player in the anti-Iraq War movement. When he died, I felt I had to write a song.
I wanted my generation to go back and read him and see what you can get done with a pen. His humor, his use of language.
Kieran has a new single called “Hipster Jesus”. Satirical, and I asked the question “Is religion open to satire?”
Religion is fascinating. It’s ancient, it’s somewhat out of fashion right now, but so responsible for art and cultural development. Everybody understands religious allusions, they’re universal. It’s in need of satire.
What is the satire?
It’s a comment on a couple disparate elements of our culture, where meaning in life is based on acquiring and aspiring to acquire stuff.
It’s a momentary meaning of cool. Redemption in the right pair of trousers.
For Jesus to grab any attention today, he’d have to be wearing the hippest clothes and walking across backyard pools at parties. It’d be nice to reclaim the word Hip. It’s important to avoid giving a shit really, to be less worried about people getting hung up on what you say.
I find there’s a loss of focus in the young hip generation, with no idea where they’re going to go.
I can speak from the UK. If you think about it, punk/new wave the kids got cool by listening to a band from a certain place, became a tribe, and earned their piece of the ideology. Now, a kid can walk into urban outfitters and look like he belongs in that tribe. Without earning it. The origins of trends were wearing clothes to be a part of THE tribe.
Belonging is now a valuable commodity.
Since you’ve been in LA, you’ve opened up for Wolfmother and Jenny-O. How did that happen?
As far as Wolfmother, I was sitting next to them and ended up having a conversation before I was even aware of who I was talking to. We were ranting about Folk. How Folk has become a bad word. How the style is mainstream.
For today’s music scene, Folk has become safe.
Folk was never supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to be protest music. Voices to the voiceless.
Things are picking up fast for you, at a surprising rate. This is your art/world/job, and I know you’re going somewhere fast and I guess what I’m trying to ask is, where are you going? Are you ready?
I’m ready. I’ve spent enough time worrying about what I have to say when I’ve got time to say it.
And so you shall.
We stood up, went next door to get a beer, and began our friendship.
– Jason Kramer