Our Kryton Son's Chris McConaghy Talks To AU Magazine
Following the demise of his band, psychobilly art-rockers Red Organ Serpent Sound, Derry singer-songwriter Chris McConaghy quickly gathered his thoughts and friends alike to form his effective solo project, Our Krypton Son. A natural descendent of Costello, Cave and McCartney, McConaghy’s subtly evocative brand of piano-led songwriting bursts with aching melodies and unforgettable turns of phrase, proving as much unforgettable as it is inimitable. Now, with his stellar self-titled debut album just released on Smalltown America Records, we catch up with the songwriter to delve into the past, present and very promising future of Our Krypton Son.
At what age can you recall wanting to write and perform music – and what artists influenced this decision?
Probably when I was 13. I desperately wanted to be a prog rock drummer! It wasn’t feasible so I got a guitar instead when I was 15 and began learning that and trying to write songs. I’d grown up listening to The Beatles thanks to my father’s love of them and at that time (the Anthologies had just been released). It was all about Lennon/McCartney then for me.
Your debut album has just been released. How long has it been in the making and what did you hope to achieve?
It’s been longer in the making than I’d ever intended. We began recording it about three years ago then I became a father and took about 8 months out to get to grips with that. Once we finished the recording, we were able to enlist Sam Williams to mix it which took about 6 months as he was working on The Go! Team album at the time. Once we started working with STA, they helped me realise that there’s no point rushing things and advised me to hold back a year or so before putting it out. I just wanted to make the best sounding album of the songs that I had at that time.
What are the main themes you hoped to capture or contain on the record?
I didn’t set out to capture any in particular, though there are a few across the tracks. The usual stuff really – time, love, loss, work, memory.
What was the recording process like – did you have all the material written beforehand?
We started out on a shoestring budget trying to do it as cheaply as possible – this changed of course once we go Sam involved – so we recorded when we weren’t at work in the evenings in a freezing cold roofing factory; a large warehouse full of insulating material and machinery. I had the majority of the songs written already but finished a couple during the sessions.
In regards to writing music generally – are there certain routines or practices you follow?
Not so much. I have a little black book full of words and phrases which I’m constantly pillaging from and I tend to rip my own songs to bits to finish others. I write on both guitar and piano and occasionally start with an idea for a drum pattern or a rhythm.
Nowadays, which musicians or bands do you think inform the way you go about writing music?
This changes quite a bit but I tend to dig singers that sing in the lower register – Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Mark Lanegan. In terms of stringing songs together or lyrics, I enjoy everyone from Brian & Dennis Wilson, Elvis Costello and Roy Orbison. I don’t listen to enough current stuff – there’s so much – though I’m enjoying Wilco, Kurt Vile and others at the minute. But as I say, ask me this a month from now and the answer might be totally different!
Even though Our Krypton Son is technically a five-piece, assuming you write the vast majority of the music and words, to what extent is it a solo project?
It started as a solo project to be honest. It was just a pseudonym for me and I’ll always do solo gigs under the same name. But it seems to function as a group as well which is good – I prefer performing with others really.
You’re part of the wonderful Smalltown American Records. How does it feel being part of such a close-knit, hugely talented family?
Terrific. I think even though they’ve been at it 10 years, they’re a label on the up. They seem to be getting more eclectic as time goes on – which I love – and they really accommodate what you wanna do. It’s a huge pleasure to be involved with them.
What are your ambitions for Our Krypton Son in terms of touring and recording in the long run?
After this, I wanna get album number 2 out as quickly as possible. Rob (guitarist in the band) has been banging on about this David Byrne book ('Remain In Light' is one of my favourite albums) and Byrne’s approach to recording and arranging some of the Talking Heads stuff. This has given me a few ideas in terms of a different structural approach. Also, I’ve a couple stripped down EPs on the go as we speak. I’m just keen to get stuff out quicker. We want to tour as much as possible too.
What are you thoughts on the Northern Irish music scene at present, compared to say, five years ago?
It’s incredibly healthy and confident at the moment. It’s fabulous. It hasn’t seemed as vital before – as far I can remember anyway. I really like a lot of Northern Irish stuff I’m hearing – Sea Pinks, More Than Conquerors, Lafaro, The Jane Bradfords, Robyn G Shiels, Katherine Phillipa.
In regards to Derry specifically, do you feel it has its own thing going on? It’s certainly produced a lot of impressive stuff recently.
Yeah, in Derry alone, you have the likes of Conor Mason, Little Bear, SOAK, Figure Of 8, Adam Leonard, Ryan Vail, The Wood Burning Savages, The Murder Balladeers, Strength, FWW, Best Boy Grip – the list goes on.
Finally, what does the future hold for Our Krypton Son in the coming months?
A busy wee tour of Ireland to promote the album throughout November and December. New material, more gigs, and some big, big plans for next year that I can’t yet disclose! Exciting stuff.
Our Krypton Son is now available on Smalltown America Records IM.com
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