Merseyside-based multi-instrumentalist Kieran Callanan aka Bye Louis releases his evocative debut album, The Same Boy on September 7th. Available on the Emotion Wave imprint, the album is “about life, love, animals, friendship, and trying to find meaning in the mundane.”
Kieran spent the first half of the 2010’s exploring the outer-reaches of electronic dance music as producer Horus, spinning tunes for internet and pirate radio stations in both Liverpool and London. It was during these forays into techno, dubstep and beat-driven music that he realised how much he wanted to start writing songs again. Having always written songs from his days playing in bands at school, Kieran started experimenting with electronic music which ultimately brought him into contact with Emotion Wave head honcho Neil Grant (also electronic artist Lo Five). Initially contributing a track (the achingly beautiful “Capital“) to the 2017 Emotion Wave-released compilation Daffodils, Kieran followed this up playing his first slot as a singer/songwriter at Emotion Wave in 2018 and the seeds of The Same Boy were sown. Neil Grant and Sean Fearon (Foxen Cyn) suggested putting something out on the Emotion Wave label with Sean offering his services as producer and engineer.
Recorded over twelve months at Sean’s ‘Haunted Home Studio’ in North Liverpool, The Same Boy took shape. New versions of old songs came to the surface as well as newly-written tunes, and through some dark alchemy, the album was born. “Effectively, The Same Boy is a collection of songs that represents almost half of my life,” says Kieran. “The oldest song was written in about 2007, when I bought a sampler and started singing over my first perfectly-recorded loop. The newest was written in January 2019, having evolved from a tune I came up with in the car that I immediately recorded in nonsense, club singer style so that I wouldn’t forget it.”
“I moved away from just using samples and synths, and thanks to Sean’s ridiculous collection of instruments and oddities, I was able to play all of the non-sampled parts myself live. There are no sequenced elements aside from the use of an arpeggiator and one or two programmed drum machine patterns. The record features, among other things, a Moog theremin, a violin, a few weird effects pedals, vocals put through an old tape recorder, and a balalaika.”
Utilising field recordings accumulated over several years Kieran has imbued each track with a spatial reality, creating an organic and tangible connection for each song. It is this quality which is most striking; how each song resonates on a deep emotional level, drawing the listener in and enveloping them in its pastoral embrace. The ambience of a busy bar in Brussels, chickens in a friends’s garden, the fields of Glastonbury, and so many more, all help create the aural tapestry he has woven. Bye Louis is a pop confectioner, forging the poetic out of the mundane, infusing every song with bittersweet charm and with The Same Boy, he has conjured an album of winsome pop that aches with a timeless resonance.
Opener, “The Same Boy”, chimes with an 80’s pop melodicism, sounding almost sunny and upbeat, contrasting nicely with Kieran’s understated vocals. “2 Jump Farther” shimmers with an otherworldly glow, and the music-box melancholy of “In Your Parrots Eyes” chimes with tenderness. Lead single “Brosis” is dreamlike and not dissimilar to early 80’s OMD; formed around a haunting and swirling synth refrain it fades out with the atmospheric drone of roadside drills.
The core of the songs are vocals, guitar, bass and a collection of hard and soft synths, all underpinned with live and synthetic percussion. The result is an album of textured and tactile pop songs that move and shift with atmosphere and emotional intensity. “Raindrops And Fences” captures this essence; written about Kieran’s partner going away for a few months, it is chronicled in his matter-of-fact voice. Telling stories is what Bye Louis does so well.
The spacey ambience of “She Chose” is cloaked in reverb with a repeating piano riff cutting thorough the murkiness, and once again Kieran’s voice is ethereal, as if caught in the wind and whipped into gathering clouds. “Between The Hedges” closes the album, neatly book-ending what is, at times, an hypnotic and immersive experience. The sound of everyday mundanity never sounded so poetic, so vibrant, so personal.
The Same Boy is a collection of beautifully crafted homespun songs. Bye Louis has maintained the balance between easy accessibility and sentimental self-reflection, avoiding the clichés of both with understatement as the key to his songs and performance.
The future is looking bright and expansive for Bye Louis, having just played the Future Yard festival in Birkenhead, alongside the likes of Bill Ryder-Jones, Anna Calvi, Queen Zee, and Trudy and the Romance and with more dates being lined up and future projects coalescing on the horizon, The Same Boy is an assured first step into the beckoning sunshine.
As well as putting a mix together, Kieran kindly took time out to answer some questions:
What is your earliest musical memory?
Carefully playing my granddad’s piano, mimicking the way he played it as best I could.
What did you grow up listening to?
The first CDs I bought with my own money were “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus, and “Do You Really Like It” by DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies. Both singles. Both great.
Once I started working my first job at the age of about 15 or 16, I used to spend my wages on the three for the price of two offer on used CDs at my local CD Warehouse (RIP). I got through so many classic albums in the space of three or four years. Particular highlights from the CD Warehouse days were Kid A by Radiohead, Mezzanine by Massive Attack and Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Each one was brand new to me at the time I bought it.
My friend James was also one of my biggest musical influences, and remains to be. He put me onto almost all of my favourite music over the years. James first got me listening to Animal Collective, who are probably still my favourite band to this day. He lent me Donuts by J Dilla and that blew my mind. Then he got me onto Hyperdub stuff a few years later, and I started buying records and we bought our first set of turntables together and learned how to mix in the student house we both lived in.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, musically and non-musically?
I am a sucker for a good, sad harmony or chord progression. I like small incremental changes to chords and playing with tiny movements from chord to chord – changing just one note, for example. It’s pretty hard not to be very influenced by whatever it is you’re listening to a lot of. For example, I’m finding myself really drawn to making lo-fi recordings straight from the idea in my head, and that’s clearly because I’ve been revisiting a lot of older Ariel Pink albums in the last few weeks.
Non-musically, I’m inspired by people and how we all relate to one another. What space we give each other and what is left unspoken and why. The possibility and experience of emotional changes. I’m also hugely inspired by animals, particularly when in close proximity with animals.
Recently, I’ve also been strangely curious about the colour blue. I’ve been looking at the sky a lot. It can be calming sometimes, and overwhelming at others. I don’t know what it is about blue, but it’s got me, and has had me for a couple of years now.
You record as Bye Louis, what is the sound and ethos behind this? Why did you call yourself ‘Bye Louis’?
The simple answer to the first part is that I write songs as Bye Louis. I’ve previously made beat-driven electronic music without words under a different name, but if I’m writing a *song*, it’s as Bye Louis. Beyond that, I don’t have an ethos. I came up with the name a little under two years ago I think, and my sound has changed a lot even in that relatively short time so it would be wrong to define the sound or ethos beyond just saying Bye Louis is about songwriting. Whether it’s using all live instrumentation, electronics, samples, or some combination of these things, the thing that ties it together is that it’s about writing songs. The reason behind the name is a pet parrot my partner and I live with. His name is Louis (pronounced ‘loo-wee’), and he often says goodbye to us as we leave the room or the house. “Bye Louis” is what he says.
Tell us about the visual aesthetic for Bye Louis.
In general, there isn’t any set visual aesthetic, but for the EP coming out on Emotion Wave in September, there are a few key visual elements that I’ve thought about.
First of all, there’s a specific blue that I love. It’s the colour of Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City. It’s a kind of cobalt blue I think. It’s beautiful and deep but somehow light. You can get lost in it. The artwork uses as close a colour to that as we could find. Also, the physical copies of the EP – it will be released as a CD as well as digitally – will come with a piece of film from a disposable camera mounted within a blue card. Each negative will be of a photo taken whilst the EP was being made. The idea is that you can hold it up to the light and see the image.
There will also be an actual photo from that same collection in each CD package, but the negative and the photo will not necessarily match. Each photo is titled on the reverse, and the only thing consistent across all the photos is that I am the subject of each of them. The EP is titled The Same Boy, so that’s the idea there. It’s the same boy in all the photos.
In the process of completing this project, I am now much less averse to having my photo taken, and I’m really happy about that. I usually/used to absolutely hate it.
Tell us about your studio setup. Do you use hardware, soft synths, DAW or a combination? Does this differ to your live rig?
I’m always chopping and changing, but currently I have an extremely simple setup at home. I have a cheap interface, a shotgun mic, a few guitars, a bass, a nice little digital synth (Teenage Engineering OP-1), and I run Logic 9 on my old computer just like it’s an almost infinite track recorder. Logic gives me a few really tweakable soft synths and I have a ton of samples particularly for percussion, and it expands the amount of effects and editing I can do after recording.
The main really good thing about this setup is the ease of getting ideas down very quickly, before they disappear out of my head.
Live, I currently mainly use my Roland SP-404 sampler to play a backing track, and then play a guitar and sing over the top. If a song is guitar-free, I have a few effects, the aforementioned OP-1 and an Elektron Octatrack that I use to play and tweak and meddle with the stems of recorded versions of the song.
I’d love to get a band together, but it’s hard.
Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
The best songs appear from nowhere in my head, take a really short amount of time to get down, and then react really badly to tweaking. I find I lose something that made it special when it appeared out of nowhere when I tweak too much.
Describe your music in three words.
Soft, gentle, hard.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Right this second I am listening to Akira Kosemura’s album One Day.
What are you currently reading?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
Your new EP is called The Same Boy, can you tell us about it?
It’s a seven-track release, made up of songs and ideas that in some cases were written as far back as 2006. The majority was more recent, but there’s some old, old stuff in there.
It came about after I played my first gig as Bye Louis, which was at an Emotion Wave night at 81 Renshaw back in March of last year. Neil (Lo Five) asked if I’d be at all interested in putting out a solo release on what would be a sort of Emotion Wave label, and Sean (Foxen Cyn) suggested I could use his studio and he would engineer and mix the thing.
Over the course of about a year, I’d periodically go over to Orrell Park and spend the day at Sean’s (haunted) home studio, and I’d get down some ideas on different bits of kit to what I was used to in some cases, and the whole process was a relatively slow but fulfilling and organic one. It was about finding the time and making sure things weren’t done for the sake of it.
I recorded most of the vocals at home, and as such you can hear a lot of noise from my street and house in there. I’ve also used a lot of field recordings made over the last few years. My partner Natalie worked in Burkina Faso through the last three summers and I visited a couple of times and recorded some interesting bird noises, for example.
There’s also the sound of a swarm of bees that decided to make a stop at our friends’ house in Bebington, that same house’s back garden, which was often filled with chickens and dogs, the sound of Glastonbury Festival one morning, the noise in a particular bar in Brussels, a few Merseyrail trains… And plenty more. Each field recording is very deliberately positioned, and for me they trigger quite specific memories. Hopefully for everyone else listening it gives the release a bit of intrigue and uniqueness.
The songs themselves are about a few different things. The title track is fairly explicitly about emotional change and growth. But the whole EP has those themes at its core. It’s about how to deal with change in your life, whether that’s in work, love, living situation, or whatever. The act of writing each of these songs has been a way I have dealt with and grown through emotional changes in my life.
There’s a song for my sister in there, and also a couple of songs about animals and the relationships humans have with them. The final song is pretty much an animal rights song, I guess. I wrote it cycling from Glastonbury Festival to Bristol a few years ago. Cutting through the lanes between farmland, I couldn’t stop thinking about this quote I had read that weekend. “Glastonbury is the greatest place on earth for vegans.” This somewhat glaringly neglects the fact that Worthy Farm, on which Glastonbury is held, is a dairy farm. We are confronted by these really uncomfortable juxtapositions all the time I think.
What’s your favourite sound?
I can’t pick one.
Soft voices. Light breeze over long grass. The ‘p-tew!’ of rails as a train approaches. A page of a book being turned. Kate Bush’s voice. Jeff Goldblum’s rhythm and intonation. Rabbit honking. Absolute silence. Distant nighttime waves. “Runaway” by Kanye West. “Come Down To Us” by Burial. Vicarage Road when Watford are doing something against the odds. Skin being itched. A stomach gently settling. Clean low frequency sine waves through a big sound system. A whip cracking. Almost any organic echo.
Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
I had originally intended to do a mix on turntables, but I don’t have a stylus that I feel confident won’t destroy my records. So I’ve gone to an old computer and found some ageing favourites and put them together in an order that makes a little sense.
It’s not electronica-heavy, which feels a bit wrong on The Jupiter Room, but I wanted to put together something a bit unusual and more about my influences and what I keep coming back to over the years. There are a couple of non-musical excerpts in there too.
I think it works as a whole even though it covers a lot of different music ground. I hope it does anyway.
What’s next for Bye Louis?
The EP is released very soon and I’ve put together a small event at Kazimier Stockroom in Liverpool to mark the occasion. That’s on Saturday 7 September, and I’ll be joined by three fantastic artists: Ana Mae, News From Neptune, and Douglas Savage.
Beyond that, I’d just love to play more gigs. I’m going to get in touch with a few venues and promoters in Manchester as well as Liverpool and see what happens. It’s hard. I work a full-time job and feel like I don’t have the time that I wish I had to dedicate to certain more admin-heavy music related endeavours.
I’ve also got at least an album’s worth of new material that I need to do something with I think. I’ve been speaking to an old friend who seems keen to put a record out so that might be next, if not for a while.
One thing at a time though. The EP is almost out in the world, and I want to do that right.
If you could make music history, how would you do it?
I don’t know if I want to make music history in any grand sense. I hope people like what I’m doing, and if I am to make history in any sense I just hope my music might continue to be enjoyed after I’m gone.
Many thanks Kieran.
The Same Boy is out September 7th 2019 on Emotion Wave.