Jinx Lennon: ‘Dundalk was never a town that felt good about itself’
The troublesome troubadour of truth explains why we take certain parts of Ireland for granted and how he is drawn to the energy of "giving these wilder places a chance"
Mega star: Jinx Lennon. “I felt I was becoming a caricature or a big cartoon, like how Donald Trump is a cartoon, and there was a bit of stupidity in that.”
You take the road to Dundalk with Jinx Lennon’s two new albums for company blaring loud and bright. There are different licks to Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift the Grief Magnets and Past Pupil Stay Sane, but both could only be the work of one man. While the musical space Lennon is exploring on the former may be new to some extent, the laser-guided precision of the penmanship on both remains as acute as ever.
In a hotel on the edge of the town, Lennon is sitting in roughly the same spot as he did seven years ago when he chewed the cud over 2009’s Trauma Themes, Idiot Times album. Much has changed between times, both for himself (there’s now a six-month-old child in the house to play records to) and the place that has given him the guts of so much material down the years.
The town, where he can tag “every smell from sewer pipes to the chip shops”, to quote I Know My Town, is enjoying a fillip thanks to the exploits of the local footballers. Even someone who’s not a sports head like Lennon can appreciate the change in tenor around the streets of Dundalk.
“There’s a great feeling here because of the football; it’s almost like a movie how it turned around with Oriel Park. I love to see anything that makes people feel good about their own place.
“This was never a town that felt good about itself. I can see the beauty and ugliness at the same thing and I can write about that love/hate relationship. I would come from nowhere else; I love writing about this place because it makes me who I am and I’ll never forget that.”
Creative bindWhen he came to write songs for the new album, Lennon realised he was in a bit of a creative bind. “I hated the characters in the songs on the last album,” he says bluntly. “I loathed them, there was nobody coming out good at all. I always wanted to make sure there was some hope, but things were getting really hopeless.”
He felt he’d strayed from the original manifesto. “When I started off, I wanted it to be like an Al Green or James Brown show. I wanted people to come out of the show with a bit of light and realise that life wasn’t too bad.
“But with the way the country was during those years, I started letting it get in on me and I was really compressed and depressed and that started coming out in the music.”
Then, there was an unease about perception. “I felt I was becoming a caricature or a big cartoon, like how Donald Trump is a cartoon, and there was a bit of stupidity in that. I was becoming that sort of character because I felt subconsciously that’s what people wanted to see.
“It felt like I was going down a hill in a runaway car and was not able to stop. I was getting fed up of it because I was playing a lot of places I didn’t want to play. It was masochism – I was working hard to play those places and I was getting fed up of playing them.
“After the last album, I did a show for the Galway Theatre Festival. It wasn’t a bad show, but I was thinking what was I going to do now. Then I got involved with Pat McCabe and Kevin Allen and they were making a sort of Irish horror movie and I was doing the music for it. I was thinking, Jesus Christ, Jinx, this is going the wrong way, I need to pull it back and make a good album.”
Switching gearsLennon came to his senses by switching gears. “I bought a bit of equipment – samplers and stuff – to give the thing a kick up the arse and that helped me work out why I wanted to do this in the first place.”
He met English rock band Clinic at the Liverpool Irish Festival and thought it would be good to work with someone different for a change to get things rolling. They said yes, the ensemble winged it and that became Magic Bullets.
Then, he played a few dates in America and found himself depending on other people’s acoustic guitars because he couldn’t bring his equipment with him. “I was like, ‘this is it, this is where I’m coming from in the first place.’ I started to feel it again and that’s all over the Past Pupil album. I was enjoying it again and I wanted to write songs that loved people again.”
He took the decision to fire out both albums at the same time. “I just realised they were two totally different sounds. I could have thrown one on the shelf, but it makes a lot of sense when you have the two albums together. A double album? A desperate idea. Blonde On Blonde is grand, but there’s only one Blonde On Blonde.”
The plan now is to play shows wherever will have him and kick the truth to whoever will listen. “I’d love to play Europe a lot more . . . This is folk music, modern folk music. I want to have enough track to go round and get to genuine people who are into this kind of stuff and meet more musicians.”
Good energyIn Ireland, he keeps going towards the heat to be found in places he finds possess good energy. “They might be in the arsehole of nowhere like Buncrana or Ballinamore, which is like the Wild West. I go to these places because you’re more likely to get interesting characters there. I can walk into a venue and know straight away if people are going to be into it or not by the expression on the barman’s face. If the barman looks a certain way, I know it’s going to be shit. You have to keep away from the places with the black Guinness T-shirts.
“It’s all about the energy and giving these wilder places a chance. It’s all about making your own mythology. I love it because I don’t know what’s going to happen next in the Jinx Lennon mythology. It’s like Brian Boru and that’s what keeps me going.”
Magic Bullets Of Madness To Uplift The Grief Magnets and Past Pupil Stay Sane are released on October 21. See jinxlennon.com for live dates