Irish musician Ken Griffin has been living in New York for the best part of two decades now. During that time he has had a couple of periods playing with bands, such as Kid Silver and Favourite Sons, but he has been mostly getting by as a bar man.
“I’ve basically been owned by the New York night now for 20 years,” he quips.
Even so, the city sustains him and continues to excite him as much now as when he first arrived here “There was just an energy here,” he explains, “and in Dublin at the time it was pretty grey. There wasn’t really much of a music scene. It’s not like it is now at all. New York just excited me and it made me feel awake.
“There’s something about New York and its nightlife that just satisfies you. It’s almost like art in itself. I don’t know. I just kind of find it inspiring and satisfying.”
Griffin’s first forays to New York City were made while his band Rollerskate Skinny were beginning their implosion during the making of the ambitious Horsedrawn Wishes album.
“I think very few bands survive that kind of total commitment,” he says with a bone dry laugh, “and madness that we had at the time. When you get into the studio whoever pushes themselves harder kinda gets their say and I decided to push myself pretty hard on that album. So I ended up pretty isolated in the band. And it was clear we weren’t going to survive. I wanted to move to New York and the guys wanted to stay in Dublin, so… “
Taking their cue from the dense production methods of acts like Public Enemy, Rollerskate Skinny ran counter to the prevailing mid-90s orthodoxy of Britpop. The reputation of their albums Shoulder Voices and Horsedrawn Wishes has only grown and Griffin’s revelation that alternative takes exists of a handful of songs from the latter album will only serve to excite fans as the 20th anniversary of the album approaches next year.
Griffin is promising nothing. Right now he is immersed in his latest project August Wells, a two-piece comprising Griffin on guitar and pianist John Rauchenberger. Over songs that are stripped-down, wistful sounding and replete with strings and French horns, Griffin’s bruised vocals tell tales of heartbreak and regret.
Griffin initially planned for the album to be self-released but his friend and fellow New York resident Graham Finn, a former member of Cork bands Emperor of Ice Cream and Bass Odyssey, suggested he try Cork indie label FIFA Records.
Rauchenberger’s musical interests stem from experimental classical music and bebop jazz and Griffin takes delight from his total lack of interest in or knowledge of contemporary music from the last forty years.
“It’s kinda like playing with Thelonious Monk or something,” Griffin surmises. “I’m playing like three chords and singing and there’s this mad genius in the corner. It’s just a very exciting experience for me to feel pushed so I feel like I have to push my lyrics, push my voice. Push what I’m good at or what I think I’m good at and just leave the musicianship to him.”
It could be a winning combination.