Were it not for a mystery illness striking down Eoin French’s girlfriend several years ago, he probably wouldn’t have a career in music. The Cork-born artist, who records haunting alternative rock as Talos, was on the verge of moving to Los Angeles and taking a dream job as an architect.
Out of the blue, his significant other was diagnosed with an ailment later revealed to be tuberculosis.
Should he stay or should he go?
“I was left in no-man’s land,” he recalls, half sighing, half wincing.
“I stayed in Cork. I suddenly had nothing to do — so I decided to start something.”
He was inspired to write ‘Tethered Bones’, an eerie piece brimming with pain and pathos, that won an overnight following on social media (the initials a nod towards the ailment which kept him in Ireland).
Growing up, French had studied at Cork School of Music and, at UCC, played in a Wild Beasts-esque indie band. As Talos, he at last found his voice as an artist.
“I recorded two songs — ‘Tethered Bones’ and ‘Bloom’. They were very much into a dub electronica style. They seemed to get a response.”
There is a tendency in Ireland to acclaim an up and coming artist as the hot new thing, even where the public has little genuine interest. In the case of Talos, the groundswell was authentic, with ‘Tethered Bones’ racking up over half a million views (and counting) on YouTube.
“Suddenly there was pressure to make those songs again,” says French. “That isn’t what I wanted to do. I was forcing a square peg into a round hole.”
No artist exists in a vacuum and Talos is part of a wider conversation between confessional rock and electronica. The influence, especially, of minimalist folkie Bon Iver, looms in his work, along with that of Ireland’s James Vincent McMorrow and more dissonant artists such as producer Oneohtrix Point Never.
What sets Talos apart is the meticulousness of his writing, which combines experimentation with a commitment to swelling melodies and artful choruses. With a job lecturing in architecture at UCC to support him, French decided to step back and allow his latest project to develop at a natural pace. Three-and-a half years later, he is about to put out his hugely impressive debut album, Wild Alee.
Though he could have cobbled together a release in half that time, he was determined to grow at a pace at which he was comfortable.
“I went back to old school stuff. Tim Buckley was someone I was introduced to just two years ago. Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon… I was getting into that. At the same time, I always had an ear for very modern references — These New Puritans, Alt-J, and the like.”
“After ‘Tethered Bones’ I took a step away and started writing in isolation. The stuff I really wanted to write came out of that process. I’ve tried to draw on as wide a range of influences as possible, rather than going back to the same old thing, which runs the risk of boring people.”
After putting out one-off singles, a full length record was a step up. He feels he rose to the challenge. “You don’t take it for granted that things will come together quickly. But I was confident in what I made. Throughout I had a clear idea of what I was going for.”
French is not a natural showman and used to suffer stage fright. With a five piece band backing him, he feels there is safety in numbers. “I’d get very nervous. Sometimes it would be just me and a cello player. However, there are six of us now and I draw strength from the camaraderie.”