It’s possible that Irin J Callinan is under a curse. On a Friday afternoon in January, the 38-year-old musician and well-known instigator is relaxing on a rocky area near Bondi beach when a wave suddenly rises and rushes towards him at a frightening pace. He braces for the unavoidable collision. Bam! We are soaked with saltwater and sand.
“I have a belief,” he admits after a moment. “Every time I enter or approach water, it seems to swell. It’s as if Poseidon is angry with me, or acknowledging my presence – or it’s a sign of caution.”
The sound of rushing water persists. At times, it brings relief as the temperature rises sky high – we have gathered on a contentious holiday, where the mysterious powers of the universe have aligned to bring a chaotic mix of people to the beach. Crying infants, travelers and groups of young men off duty all add to the commotion in the air. Twice, our conversation is interrupted by a rescue boat pulling a struggling swimmer from the relentless ocean.
This provides a fitting setting for Callinan’s latest album If I Could Sing, which marks his first complete release since 2019’s cover album Return to Center and his first compilation of original songs since 2017’s Bravado.
If I Could Sing is a record of duplexity, bulging with rhapsodic highs that soar towards the firmament, only to be struck down into the pits of despair mere moments later. It buzzes with cosmic glitches and ascends with sudden gusts of strings. It is esoteric, operatic, oracular; figuring into its universe are references to super yachts, vehicular accidents and medieval torture devices. In its superlative melodrama, it is like everything else Callinan has ever released.
However, there is also a sense of growing fatigue here. The album is marked by a distinct feeling of heartache, intertwined with the effects of a drug-fueled fantasy – a ketamine overdose before a London performance in 2018 that Callinan recounts as a never-ending hallucination. This hallucination included an elevator to the gates of heaven and “eight-foot-tall turtles…manipulating the fabric of reality.”
He states, “My world wasn’t completely shaken, but looking back, I realize I have new desires in life.”
Callinan describes the new album as his most genuine work to date, a departure from his usual persona as a wild and eccentric performer who has often been criticized for his disregard of convention. Throughout his 20-year career, he has gained both admiration and notoriety for his unconventional antics both on and off stage.
Callinan explains that his earlier music, such as his popular 2017 song Big Enough which featured a surprise appearance from Jimmy Barnes, was inspired by a desire for unconventional and unappealing sounds and aesthetics. He wanted to be seen as an outsider artist and create without inhibition or regard for norms. However, he realized that when he intentionally tries to be this way, he loses the authenticity and spontaneity that comes from genuine inspiration. He is now actively working to remove his critical and calculating thoughts in order to create from a more raw and uninhibited place.
He frequently mentions his quest for truth as his “personal mission”: a grand statement demonstrated through the album’s not-quite-ballads – more like raw cries of pain. “The painful song somehow feels satisfying,” he sings breathlessly on the title track, a humble breakup song accompanied by lively synthesizers reminiscent of Enya. In one of his earlier singles titled …in Absolutes, he screams into the emptiness – “You shattered my heart!” – each word cutting like a knife.
The experience of love, which often includes acts of aggression, deeply hurt Callinan. It caused him to turn inward and evaluate the harm done. Similarly, his encounter with the legal system in 2017, when he lifted his kilt at the Arias red carpet to reveal himself to photographers nearby, was a reflection of his characteristic tendency to seek attention. This resulted in a 12-month probationary period and various setbacks in his career that still affect him today.
He expressed his confusion, saying he had made a spontaneous decision that resulted in a few laughs. However, those who were not present were the only ones upset about it.
He has not been featured on a prominent festival roster in Australia since; this caused a frenzy in the media, prompting him to rethink how he presents himself to the public. “I had been causing annoyance even before the Arias incident. It seemed like that was the final straw. My arrogant attitude and shameless self-promotion and eccentric behavior had been rubbing people the wrong way…the nudity had become a tedious task for me, and I had lost interest in it.”
He takes a moment to stop and reflect. A helicopter hums above, while the sea remains just as mysterious as always. “I’ve become much more introspective compared to my past days as a shameless extrovert. However,” he adds, “it could simply be a result of aging.”
Kirin J Callinan’s songs to live by
Every month, we request our featured performer to share the music that has been with them through moments of love, life, desire, and mortality.
The most recent song I performed while showering was.
I apologize, I spoke without thinking.
is “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.
The song I always choose for karaoke is “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.
Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” or INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart”. My friend and collaborator, Tex Crick, performed the CatDog theme song at karaoke. I wish I could take credit for it.
The best song to have sex to
Something average, nondescript, with an appropriate level of ambiance and allure, but not excessive. Otherwise, I become too easily sidetracked.
The song I clean the house to
Since I have been staying in hotels recently, I am not currently in possession of a residence. However, if I were to have one, it would embody qualities of determination, drive, intention, intense focus, and a merciless attitude. The Gatekeeper’s Giza comes to mind, or perhaps something more graceful and dynamic like Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Or, I might desire to be taken to another realm through a portal. Perhaps something serene, reflective, and eternal like Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas Soundtrack. Always instrumental.
The best year for music
This is a situation with a lot at stake. It reminds me of the book 1984. I believe it was the Smiths who sang the songs Ocean Rain and A Walk Across the Rooftops. However, I am not a fan of these types of games. I am just as likely to search on Google for when Mozart’s Requiem in D minor was released. The future holds even better things.
The beginning of my biographical film.
Amore Mio Aiutami by Piero Piccioni.
The music I desire for my funeral service.
Currently, “With God on Our Side” by the Neville Brothers is playing. This song would be a moving choice for a funeral. Ideally, I want the attendees to be crying, truly moved. However, there is one song that never fails to bring tears to my eyes – “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields. It evokes strong emotions in me every time I hear it. In all honesty, I wish the funeral song could be one that I wrote myself, with the focus on me. I have not yet written such a song, although I do have an unreleased piece titled “People I Love” that could be a contender. We shall see.
Kirin J Callinan’s record If I Could Sing will be released on Friday, February 2nd by Worse Records.