Illustration: Eimear Kavanagh / eimear-art.co.uk Photography: Natalie Lissenden Photography: Connor O'Mara

Just before the months of lockdown, the multi-instrumentalist relinquished control of his 2019 EP The Same Boy for it to take on a new life through a series of open source remixes. With the remix EP now released, Kieran Callanan considers the importance of ownership and the unique characteristics of every piece of music.

The Same Boy started its life as an idea straight after my first gig, back in early 2018. I had sent Neil Grant (Lo Five) some songs a few months earlier, and he kindly gave me my first opportunity to perform them at a really welcoming and friendly Emotion Wave night at 81 Renshaw Street.

Some of the songs I played that night were really old, as was some of the equipment I was using. One song in particular I wrote when I first got my sampler in about 2006. It’s developed a little over time, but that song is basically just a looped piano phrase with me chanting about friendship over the top. I still triggered that same loop I made 12 years before, and still chanted the same words I came up with all those years ago.

After the show, a then very new friend, Sean Fearon (Foxen Cyn), asked if I’d like to record some songs and release them on what would become the Emotion Wave label. Eighteen months later, The Same Boy came out.

The record reflects the story of that aforementioned old song. Regardless of which song I’m thinking about, it’s the journey that song has taken that feels consistent. The songs more or less just appeared in my head at some point in time, and if they made it to the record it means that they didn’t disappear. They transitioned into the physical world through the recording process, I guess.

The Same Boy is personal on as many levels as I could make it. I played every recorded part you can hear (except for one bit on a balalaika that Sean insisted he had to play). I was there a lot when Sean was mixing the record and then another friend, Charlie Foy (produces as Lack – Cong Burn, Blank Mind, Livity Sound), mastered it all.

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(Photo: Natalie Lissenden)

I burned all 50 of the CDs in my then living room. My rabbit friend ate one of the disc burners I used. I wrote on all of the CD cases. Each CD case had a photo print and a negative of me inside. I cut and pasted all the little bits you can find inside the CD packs. I hand painted the posters for the launch event at the Kazimier Stockroom with my partner Natalie.

The promotional work for the The Same Boy was like a form of self-parody – I usually hate drawing attention to myself or sharing pictures. I guess the whole thing is supposed to be a piece of or a reflection of me – that was the only way any of this could feel normal. I felt I should have the music wear its deep personal feelings on its sleeve. To me, back then, it would feel inauthentic any other way.

A year on from its release, The Same Boy took on a new, open source form, allowing producers to remould and remix the recordings in whatever way they wanted to. The idea actually came about through a discussion with Chris (of Bido Lito! superfame). He mentioned a collection of remixes of Goat songs (Run To Your Mama Remixes), and I started thinking about what having my music remixed would feel like. Would I hate hearing my music repurposed and mixed up and moved around? What would it all mean to me?

I think, in a lot of ways, all songs never really exist in their truest form in the physical world, or beyond the confines of the songwriter’s (or songwriters’) head(s). All songs exist as an idea that will never actually come into physical existence. This perfect rendition of the song is never attainable. Whenever a song is performed or recorded, it’s always just a version.

This idea really clicked in my head a few years ago. The language I find that I use to describe it kind of comes from dub music, where there are lots of different versions of songs that are mixed by different producers. The songs are titled that way. So you have stuff like ‘King Tubby & Prince Jammy – Living Version’ and things like that. And so basically, to me, every song you’ve ever heard is a version.

“The remixes represent a comfortable loss of ownership”

I also latched onto the idea of trying to let the songs go completely, as an attempt to let the feelings that I have whenever I perform them or think about them change into something else. It’s a strange experience revisiting the emotions that you attach to a certain song every time you perform it, because you might have moved away from that part of your life or whatever it was that you were trying to better understand through writing the song.

With all of this in mind, I made it all as open as possible and decided to put every part of every song from The Same Boy into a publicly accessible Google Drive, and posted a link to it in messages to friends, and my Instagram and Twitter feeds. I really liked the idea that you could have a chain of reinterpretations as well, so you could get more distance between the original idea and a new piece of work. To get further than one stage removed from my idea as part of this project, I asked my friend Alice Lapworth (Wives’ Tales) if she’d be interested in creating something in response to one of the remixes.

When I asked her the question for the first time, I actually didn’t know what any of the remixes were going to sound like. In the end, Alice was really into Steve Amadeo’s strings-heavy re-imagining of Between The Hedges and she came up with this really singular, beautiful piece of visual work, Between The Walls. I stayed away from every element of it as it came together. It’s wholly the work of Alice, Jack Ehlen (filming and editing) and all of the performers on the day.

In many ways the remixes represent a comfortable loss of ownership. I think the most important idea sparks either come fully formed in one’s own head, or fully unexpectedly as part of a communal experience. I don’t think music should be ‘owned’ in a lot of ways, although I recognise the importance of ownership when it comes to trying to make a living from music. But really, these concepts aren’t where the beauty of and interest in music lie for me. I think it’s all about the joy of the idea, and then where that initial idea goes and how it changes and impacts differently on different people. In quite a literal way, the same song sounds different to different people. The idea of ownership seems so far from what makes all of this so special.

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(Photo: Connor O’Mara)

The strangest thing about this process was hearing Steve Amadeo’s remix of Between The Hedges, which ended up being the piece that was responded to by Alice. Every remix was totally unguided, and beyond asking people if they would like to be a part of this, I have had no hand in any of the production. But Steve’s version of Between The Hedges sounds closer to the idea of this song that I have in my head than the version that ended up on The Same Boy. It was initially written while on a very long cycle through the countryside. I realised I was surrounded by fields full of animals whose existence was predicated on their slaughter for meat. Almost as a way of working through how I felt about this fact that should be obvious to me more often, I started repeating phrases and thoughts in my head.

I heard very organic sounds in my head as well, and the words and tune felt like they should be bellowed out, in a very raw way. I kind of heard this idea as if it were in the style of The Incredible String Band. And so Steve’s reworking of the song for strings – even though it isn’t in the style of The Incredible String Band – gets much closer to this original idea than my own version.

The whole project, truly, is not my work. And that’s the point of it, really. It’s about what new things can be made from the old. Personally, I can’t imagine making work that isn’t personal. But this project has taught me a lot about the possibilities of new things appearing in unexpected ways. With the current situation where we can’t be physically present together in most settings, this way of working could become a lot more important.

The Same Boy and A Different Boy are available now via Emotion Wave

Issue 110 of Bido Lito! is out now in print. Sign up as a member to get the next issue delivered to your door or become a subscriber to our weekly newsletter.

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