Kieran Leonards’ promotional film (which can be watched on the homepage of his website) for his new single Underwood Milk, is a perfect example of his offbeat individuality. The video follows him blundering along, out of a red brick building into the morning. He puts on a pair of plastic, heart shaped sunglasses, as the camera struggles to focus. The song is played in the background as he struts out, flicking his billowing yellow hair from his grinning face – with a hand covered in pirate rings. Distracting captions pop up on the screen ‘…yeah I always walk and smirk after drinking a pint of cats’ blood first thing. It’s an L.A thing’
He recently re-tweeted from Google Facts ‘Horses cannot vomit’. Amusing, given that the name he calls his accompanying four piece band, is The Horses. He also shared a dream that he had, about Brad Pitt stealing his cat. At first introduction, Leonard came across as a sharp but hubris, rock ‘n’ roll obsessed eccentric. But after listening to his songs and watching him in interviews, my fascination grew and deepened to admiration.
In an interview for Gin in Teacups, he expressed the importance of his music as an interactive tool, for him to have conversations with people. ‘A lot of what I’m writing about are things that I want answers for.’ ‘The secret is connecting on a grass roots level. We just try and offer people an experience in a room. Wherever the room is… I played bars, I played in barns, I played kitchens… none of this backstage, front stage nonsense.’ He recalls being able to finish a set, going to the bar for a pint and loving that he could ask someone. ‘What did you think of that or, what did you think that song was about?’
On his website he is described as having a ‘weird and restless childhood spent living between Ireland, the U.S and then London’ subsequently he has developed a talent that is ‘impassioned and politically galvanised.’ In a recent ask and answer by Artrocker Magazine, he said ‘Only the desperate want to consume, we rail against this with the impotent fury of addicts.’ This intensity floods into his lyrics, making them paroxysmal. ‘Bubbles of blood in your champagne glass.’ ‘And you've got tattoos, and Top Man shoes, twenty Marlboro Lights, and tragically nothing else to lose’ ‘When a full tank of petrol means eight pints of blood. When no one is looking they will burn all the books.’
Talking about his song Wooden Man in an interview in the woods with Ronnie Joice. He voices his concerns with consumerism. Especially the targeting of children – calling it a ‘treadmill of buying’ that ‘brainwashes’ us. When asked about the title of his debut album Out Of Work Astronaut he responded ‘It’s kind of a statement about thwarted ambition and the need for a frontier … These meltdowns were having, a lot of it has to do with the lack of these major frontiers or goals . .. Having a nice house, having a nice car, a Dior handbag is not the same as feeling like the world is moving forward as one.’
In a bid to empower young people, Leonard set up The Chance to Fail Foundation in 2012. It was ‘created to help young people develop an understanding of the relationship between music, literature and song-writing as a tool for comment and social change.’ And/or to just produce some really great songs. His music is not just a fashion, it is a canvas for his genuine thoughts and feelings. Because of this, to me he is not an exhibitionist but an inspiring artist. He has ‘An ambition to be a change merchant rather than trigger a revolution.’
Listening to him speak, his modesty about the success of his songs – depending on how people receive them – feels genuine and humbling. ‘It’s just seeing what happens when I put these strange thoughts out there. I think putting an album out is like sending dogs to the wilderness, it’s interesting to see which ones come back. Which ones will die of ringworm, which ones will come back rabid.’ My heart softens to this scuzzy indie whimsy, with his slack swagger, stooped woozy slant. He is somewhere between a stretched sloth and a neon white polar bear. His articulation and inventiveness, penetrates through the fuzziness of his awkward gangly limbs and limp couscous coloured, curtain hair.
With red ketchup beanie hat, untied lumberjack boots and sleepy eyelids, I wonder if it is all part of his approach. To show the unimportance of material things and how they can be misleading. A superficial resemblance of what we want to be, cannot compensate for what is really inside. His knowledge and artfulness makes him an adroit talker. Combined with his grungy Garfield appearance, at first he seems like an enigma. But his ideas are clear and defined, so I feel like I understand him. But his anomalous persona keeps me on the brink between curiosity and familiarity.
His music is an assortment of eerie whistles from an episode of Scooby doo. Rasping vocals, comatose prose. A drunk, trying to walk straight across an electronic keyboard line. Latino sounding guitar, strutting flamencos, an old cowboy in a rocking chair playing a harmonica. Husky plunks, galloping horses over open planes, snake charmer funk. Verses that ache in every sinew. Strung out lyrics layer with alertness, creating multi-coloured densities – a pousse-café. If Kieran Leonards’ music was a bag of sweets, it would be liquorish allsorts. Coconut rolls, soft jelly spogs covered in crunchy sugar balls, black and white sandwich mints. Retro fruit fondant and aniseed, that leaves a taste in your mouth long after eaten. All hail Kieran Leonard and his band of basset hounds…horses.