Places Unfamiliar Yet Comfortable: The Cian Nugent Interview
If you haven’t heard Cian Nugent’s striking Doubles, you’re missing out on an incredible ride. The album is composed of just two pieces, but each piece holds a sonic journey let by Nugent’s meandering guitar. About to set out on tour, Nugent was kind enough to answer my copious questions.
ELM:When you’re writing, where does a song begin for you?
CN:I think I generally know I’ve got something if every time I stop playing it I want to hear it again, or if I do a recording and I can’t stop listening. That’s my general guide.
ELM: You and I are both fans of Charlemagne Palestine. How did you get exposed to his music?
CN: I first heard about Palestine a number of years ago, reading the sleeve notes Jim O’Rourke wrote for the John Fahey album Live in Tasmania. I remember he compared Fahey’s “The Approaching of the Disco Void” to Palestine’s endurance demanding ’70s piano work and talked about how Palestine left blood on the piano keys after some of these heavy shows. I guess that must have captured my imagination because the next thing I new I found myself buying Strumming Music in Oslo to see what it was all about. At first I didn’t really know what to make of it because I hadn’t been exposed to that kind of patience demanding, uncompromising repetition, but after I got over the initial discomfort I found I really enjoyed giving my patience over to it and letting it reward me after listening. I’m playing at a festival that he and Tony Conrad are also playing at in a few weeks, so I’m excited to see that!
ELM: Was it intuitive or more planned to make an album consisting just of two long pieces?
CN: It was pretty intuitive, I just kind of let the pieces develop over time and then when it looked like they were gonna take up a side of an LP I went with that because I felt that was a nice way to present them.
ELM: This is your debut record. What kind of music have you made before this?
CN: Over the years I’ve played a few different types of things, a few rock bands, one sort of ska band (it was better than that sounds) and then I started doing the solo guitar thing more and more until it was pretty much the only thing I was doing. Over the past year or two I’ve started playing with some bands again, for a while I was playing with an instrumental rock & roll group called Sea Dog and more recently I’ve started playing with a hardcore band called Loose Nut and then there’s a bunch more things cooking up. The solo thing and band things satisfy different areas I find so it’s cool to have a few things on the go at any one time.
ELM: In pieces that are so long, the listener is definitely forced to go on a journey throughout listening to each. Though that journey will be different for everyone, how do you see it playing out?
CN: It may sound odd, but I can’t really imagine what other people experience in listening to the album, perhaps it’s that I’m so close to it I can’t see it for what it is, or maybe I just don’t really think that way. My hope would be that it managed to capture the listeners interest and not just bore them, but everyone’s so different. I really like the idea that everyone experiences things so differently, when I was a child I used to love thinking about how we all agree that a colour, say brown is called brown, but we may all see a totally different colour to one and other. The same can be said for sound, we all agree on the signifier, but the signified may be different to all of us and probably, even just in a small way, is.
ELM: How do you see “Peaks and Troughs” and “Sixes and Sevens” related to
each other, insofar as why you put them on the same record?
CN: It was mostly just a feeling that they went together well, but also they were written at the same time and I felt that there was a lot of similarities between them, yet very different in many ways. I’d like to think the listener can come to their own conclusion on this though.
ELM: What places in the world inspire you most?
CN: Places that feel unfamiliar but comfortable
ELM: Do you feel connected to any particular tradition in Irish music? Or music in general?
CN: Not really any Irish tradition. Hmm, I think if anything the tradition that sort of sprung up in the 20th century of people making music inspired by listening to recordings of other people from different (or the same) places.
ELM: Were there any landscapes or visual art that inspired you?
CN: I don’t think anything specifically, but I’m certain that there have been things that have given me a feeling that I then would have liked to achieve through music.
ELM: In the portions of “Sixes and Sevens” where there’s a lot of dissonance, did any particular composer(s) inspire that?
CN: Hmm, I’m struggling to think of anyone in particular, I’m sure there were some references points along the way, but I can’t really think of who. If you thinking of the part that I think you are which is about half way through the piece, I think it was because it seemed like a good way to go in the development of it to make things more dissonant and take everything up a notch. Overall, I just really like the sound of two notes close together at certain pitches!
ELM: Do you write/play music every day?
CN: I’ll almost always play some music everyday, even if just for 20 minutes, it’s just a habit. Writing seems to just happen some times when the right situation comes together, sometimes when the wrong situation happens too!
ELM: Have you always wanted to be a musician?
CN: Yeah, I’d love to be a musician!
ELM: You have a lot of your career ahead of you. What are your hopes and goals for it, if you know yet?
CN: To not sound too much or too little like The Monkees.
ELM: Do you compose (or plan to compose) for other artists?
CN: It is something I would like to do, but I’ve not really done it yet other than thinking up arrangements having parts for people to play in a band. I would like to write something for a solo instrument, but I don’t know how that would happen, I think I would need the right player, but hopefully at some point it’ll happen.
ELM: How would you feel about scoring a film?
CN: If it was the right film and it worked it could be great.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
CN: I think it always changes, but the last three books that I’ve really enjoyed were by Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch and Kurt Vonnegut.