Talos, aka Eoin French, tells Mike McGrath-Bryan about the journey that led him to leaving architecture and releasing his acclaimed debut album Wild Alee.
Avid gig-goers in Cork may have spotted Eoin French in his first band, Hush War Cry, sometime in mid-2011, crammed into the corner of the short-lived Bourbon Street venue on Cork’s MacCurtain Street.
The band burned brightly but briefly, releasing a single extended-player, Voices, on Dublin’s Delphi Label, before disbanding shortly afterward.
A vision and ambition that would carry through to the cinematic scale of French’s later solo electronic compositions was evident.
On a gentle spring evening nine years later, French, speaking on the phone, amiably recalls a formative period for himself as a musician, and how the pursuit of his passion was driven by a downturn in fortunes in his life’s other work.
“I started in my second year of architecture college. The other singer, Jim (O’Donnell), wanted to come over to my place. I had this ZOOM H16, the large recorder with four mic inputs. Two other lads, (Eoin O’) Dwyer, the drummer, and Richie (Fenton), the bassist, said they’d tag along.
"We had a jam, wrote these two sh*tty songs we thought were great (laughs), and went from there.
“We gigged away doing covers for two years, but then in architecture, in fourth year, you take a year out, and most of the time, you go off and get experience, but it was the middle of the recession: there was f**k all work for us in Ireland.
“So we rented a farmhouse in Carrigaline for a year, and just made tunes. We had the bones of an album, and we could have pushed for a few more tunes and called it that.”
The band would run its course after the year elapsed, but this period would prove to be invaluable, as the band had a chance to make some of the connections that helped give the Talos project a foundation within Cork’s music community.
French recalls the relationships that helped keep the band ticking over at a trying time for artists young people in Ireland.
“The most important ones were Colm O’Herlihy (musician and publishing specialist), and Joe Kelly (venue booker/gig promoter), really. Stevie G as well.
"When they were running the Pavilion, they opened the doors at the beginning of Talos and said, ‘practice away, do whatever you want to do’, and we were given the run of the place for practice.
“Colm was the first guy that started booking us around Ireland, and we’re still best friends, he’s opened a bunch of doors for me in Iceland.
“Anything I’ve seen him get involved in something, it was always for the betterment of the project, and not a selfish endeavour. Between the two lads in that time, that’s what’s given this thing legs, really.”
French’s musical practice had given way to a career in his field of study, that would later include a period of tutoring in his alma mater, Cork College of Architectural Education.
In the meantime, the world beckoned, and French was offered an opportunity to move to Los Angeles in 2014 to pursue acting, before fate would intervene and keep him in Cork’s creative crucible.
“I was beginning to make progress with (what would become) Talos - I had ‘Bloom’ and ‘Tethered Bones’ as sketches. My girlfriend at the time got super-sick and had to stay, so we stayed, and music was all I had, then.
“Literally starting from scratch. A scary and weird time, but you create with whatever you have, I suppose.”
French acclimated to a solo creative process (“just a singular voice”), and began making headway under the moniker on a slow and steady basis.
Early singles released under the name via Brendan Canty’s Feel Good Lost marquee, like the aforementioned tunes, met a warm critical reception early on, and it was evident French had stumbled upon something. Not that he’d cop to it.
“I still don’t know am I on to something (laughs). It’s really great to think I can do this full-time, and people will latch onto it.
“It’s a really humbling thing, but you’re also always looking for the next thing. It’s an endless stress, where you’re trying to find what’s next, and making sure that it’s better than the last thing.”
When it came time to put together an album by 2016, songs like
‘Tethered Bones’ and ‘Your Love is an Island’ would be pillars of the final product, wrapping up French’s early body of work into a singular identity.
French talks about the process of conceptualising and assembling Wild Alee. the long-player that became his debut, released the following year.
“I was worried that it wouldn’t feel concise. I was worried that it would feel like a set of songs, as opposed to an album. It didn’t. It was about those three years, that period of time, reflecting on the music, putting it together with Ross Dowling [producer].
"Some songs I had recorded, a lot of them had three or four different versions. It was a really long process, as opposed to [second album] Far Out Dust, which was a really quick thing.”
The mechanics of recording and producing the album with Dowling alongside would be a further learning excursion for French, by now well-versed in solo production and in-studio collaboration. In the closing stages of a long labour of love, French knuckled down and put in the hard graft on the post-production process.
“I’d done some post-production in Kerry, picking apart some songs that didn’t get on the record, then we moved down to Ballydehob, set up a studio in a house there, and settled down for three weeks.
"Making the songs feel like they had a clear direction, settling on what they were going to be... we spent a long time on it. We’d meet up every week or two in addition to that and put down extra bits, and all in all, I’d say that process took eight to ten weeks.”
Once it was finished, the record received its initial digital and physical release in 2017 via Feel Good Lost, continuing that multimedia stable’s fine streak in unearthing electronic pop of Leeside origin.
It received a warm critical reaction. This newspaper’s review by Ed Power appraised it as “an impressive conjuring”, and “an outstanding debut”.
French speaks on the reception with which Wild Alee was met, and the changes its songs met on the subsequent gigging victory lap that led him to sealing a deal with Sony on publishing, and subsidiary BMG on a multi-album recording contract, beginning with an expanded reissue of his first.
“I was pretty taken aback. A lot of stuff I wanted to happen, did happen, a lot of people listened to it and got behind it. There was a different feeling about the live stuff, then, which was confusing, in that you have people coming up to you with their preferences.
“But it’s not the point to recreate the album: it should be something completely different, and the lads (French’s live collaborators) have put their stamp on it. It means a lot to me for these songs to be reimagined, and performed in these spaces.”
As Eoin French continues along his remarkable sonic journey, and his much-vaunted third long-player lies on the near horizon, he discusses his feelings on Wild Alee as a finished product, and the part it played in steering his body of work in a new direction.
“I think it’s similar to the new album: testing grounds. I tried a lot of stuff, I was probing for things, and they’re bodies of work that I’m proud of, and lead me on to what’s coming next, so… we’ll see.”