With tours of the US and UK, and a new album out today, Talos is already ticking the boxes on so many of his ambitions, writes.
Eoin French is taking a little breathing space. It’s been a hectic year. The 31-year-old French, better known in musical circles as Talos, is back home in Cork for a few days.
But he doesn’t have long: he’s on the cusp of the launch of his second album and a whole new cycle of touring, so he’s taking stock of the whirlwind that was 2018 and preparing to launch himself once more into the maelstrom.
“This is my week off, well, my ‘kind-of’ week off,” French says, pouring himself a cup of tea and gazing out a café window at the river Lee, a springtime torrent of storm-churned brown.
“I haven’t really stopped since last February, so this is my first opportunity to go, ‘what the f**k just happened?!’”
Following the re-release of his Choice Music Award nominated debut album, Wild Alee, on the BMG label last year, French and his band found themselves touring extensively; a UK tour supporting Editors, slots at the revered SWSX music festival in Austin, Texas; a US tour with Peter, Bjorn and John, their own European tour plus gigs on home turf.
All that, plus a commitment to produce a second album within the strictures of a record deal: quite the year indeed.
The release of album number two, Far Out Dust, just eight months in the making, is imminent. Musically, it’s not a departure but rather a sequel to the first, a progression in French’s own life as well as on his musical journey.
Wild Alee was written in response to French’s decision to stay in Cork when his long-term girlfriend suffered an illness that put paid to their travel plans: it was album written, he has said, in isolation and uncertainty.
Now, that relationship has ended. Is Far Out Dust a break-up album?
“It is and it isn’t,” he says. “Definitely parts of it are: I came out of that long-term relationship just as I jumped into this and launched the EP.
"But there are other things there too. I think I was wrestling with all the new stuff.”
The “new stuff” included the self-confessed introvert adjusting to his new globe-trotting lifestyle and getting used to writing and making music on the road instead of locking himself away to write.
“I just had to adapt to being able to write in transit,” French says. “We also really opened the door to collaborating and it had to be that way: I benefited a lot.
"I probably learned 10 times the amount making this one as the last one, because there were so many people taking part.”
But the old cliché of the “difficult second album” wasn’t true for French once he’d wrapped his head around having to produce an album to deadline, he says: “I was riddled with terror after I agreed to it. But I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if I hadn’t thought it would make a better album than the last time.”
“The deadline just made me trust my decisions more. I think we were much freer with our dynamics this time: the last record is quite tentative, looking back.”
The goal was, French says, to make a pop album.
“But it’s going to be my kind of pop, with integrity. Nothing’s going to be throw-away and everything will be considered.”
The pop label is one that many musicians who want to be taken seriously would shy away from, but not so French, who points out the emotional depths and accessibility of his own favourite artists like Kate Bush, Talk Talk and Tears For Fears.
It’s not so much marketability, it’s that the idea of a brilliant pop song is that it allows you to access a very distinct feeling that resonates with you. I suppose it’s the emotional quality of it rather than any frills.
Even though the coming year will involve at least four months in the States, where he’s set to support otherworldly Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA, as well as a tour of Europe in May, French is certain that he wants to keep a base in Cork for the foreseeable future, both for the grounding influence of friends and family and for the creative connections he maintains in the second city; Far Out Dust collaborators include Cork-based composer Peter Power.
“The people I work with here are some of the best people in the world for what I do,” he says.
“I believe we’re surrounded by brilliant makers in this city, so I’d always like to create from here. You’re consistently surrounded by franticness and distractions if you live somewhere like LA.”
But French has forged strong connections in Iceland too; another collaborator on his second album has been Sigur Rós producer Valgeir Sigurdsson.
“Everything he does is surprising and satisfying,” French says. “I go to Iceland to be in a room with people that are far, far better than me.”
A little like Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, Talos is known for his distinctive voice in a high register, which French says it took him years to discover.
“It’s not something that I woke up and said, ‘oh, that’s how I sing.’” he says.
I was trying out different things. I think it’s just influenced by what I grew up on: things like The Cranberries and Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s a highly distinctive voice, and one which he’s had to learn to develop and protect with the aid of vocal coaching from Kerry-born singer Gemma Sugrue and theatrical vocal coach Irene O’Meara, both based in Cork.
“Lots of people actually think there’s a female singer,” he says. “But I like that it’s something of a surprise.
"I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t speak between songs because then it’s bizarre when I start singing.”
The Talos Instagram account sports images of what must make for some enviably memorable times over the past year: the enthusiastic young touring band swimming in beauty spots in far-flung places, and gigs in iconic venues including the Brixton Academy.
“It was intense and at times tough, but it’s been really good,” French says.
“We worked around the clock and didn’t take a break for a year, really.”
Even so, one of his favourite gigs so far has been the hometown gig they played in Cork Opera House during last October’s Jazz Festival.
“It just felt outrageous,” he says. “Even bringing the gear on stage and sound checking was amazing.
"It’s the biggest venue in your home town, so it’s just bizarre.”