Wood and Wire: Jinx Lennon


Posted 12 months ago in Music Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

It’s a rare thing to have a musician claim their music has has the power to stop a murder but then, Jinx Lennon is a rare and renegade star in the musical firmament. He discusses Junior Brother’s influence and immersing himself in guitar playing as he set about creating his new record.

 

“It’s all wood and wire.” That was Dundalk-based poet and musician Jinx Lennon’s message to the crowd at a Christmas-time gig in Dublin. On the night, his set included a number of songs from his latest album Walk Lightly When The Jug Is Full, which was four months away from its release date. One song, Tyrants of The Open Strings, gleefully recounts an Andy Irvine gig in the Workman’s Club. “These Cetic tunings are a mystery to me,” Lennon sings. This is followed by the equally spritely Sing What You Know About, a title that’s as much a reminder to himself as an offering of encouragement to aspiring songwriters.

“I get a bit nervous on stage but I do really enjoy performing,” Lennon tells me over the phone. He’s taking a break from rehearsing in his attic at home (“As my next door neighbour says, ‘It’s lucky I’m a patron of the arts,’ he laughs) for his upcoming Irish tour. We start with that December show and his relationship with the stage. “I finally got to a point where I really like the songs I’m doing in my sets. It used to be the case where I’d be like, ‘I’m a bit embarrassed about what I’m singing about,’ and I started to get a bit self-conscious. I believe every word I’m saying now. It’s great to finally have that because it took a long time to work up to that. And, with all the different things going on in the set, it keeps it all sort of well rounded. I find the whole night [of a gig] full of energy and I enjoy the whole thing. It wasn’t always that way but it is now.”

This admission makes the aforementioned Sing What You Know About all the more pertinent. Tonally, Walk Lightly takes on different characteristics to Lennon’s previous work. Here, the songs are guided by beautifully intricate and textured folk-inspired acoustic guitar melodies. It’s impossible not to think of the distinct musicianship of Junior Brother when listening to Lennon’s latest masterpiece. It’s not surprising to hear Lennon cite the Kerry musician as one of many inspirations. “When I heard Junior Brother’s first album, Pull The Right Rope. I’d been listening to a lot of English folk music and I think his album was the first thing that sounded like that sort of stuff; more Richard Thompson than Planxty. I loved the style of guitar playing, I was fascinated by it.” Furthermore, Lennon’s admiration of Junior Brother’s sound would, in 2019, produce a wonderful collaborative relationship with recording engineer Chris Barry in his Ailfionn Studio in Dublin, where Junior Brother made his aforementioned debut.

In some regards, Walk Lightly has been in the making for over a decade as Lennon became versed in this mode of expression. I went back to acoustic guitar because I was kind of getting into a rut around 2011, I came to a point where I was just really pissed off,” Lennon reveals. “At that time, I was going towards a sort of minimalism with the songs. My whole thing was ‘one chord will do the job’. Somewhere along the way, though, I think it was listening to too much music and buying too much music which was sucking out the energy that I should have been using for creativity.”

It’s not that Lennon succumbed to a creative dry spell in the decade that ensued. If anything, Jinx Lennon is one of the few songwriters in Ireland constantly releasing music. He’s so prolific that he released Pet Rent this time last year whilst putting the finishing touches on Walk Lightly and tells me that he’s already getting the demos ready for a sister album for his 2023 LP. The decade leading up to this LP was spent developing his artistry and truly immersing himself in guitar playing. “When I started going out with my wife Sophie, I was going to sing a lot of sing-songs. I would sing my own songs, but I kept thinking, ‘I can’t really sing any of these because I can’t play them on acoustic guitar.’ I went back to acoustic guitar and slowly got more and more into it. I started buying books about open tunings and I’d looked at Celtic folk sounds because I love melody. I come from the 1960, that was my thing when I was growing up. I can’t get away from that; I’m sort of a pop song man, really, at the end of it.”

His train of thought is uninterrupted, “I was listening to the Celtic tuning stuff and it was pulling me into it and people like the piper Turlough O’Carolan. I just loved the melodies; they were so fascinating and magical that I wanted to delve into that type of music. I took the long way into that because I was trying to learn guitar and then I started learning the notation. But when I tried to write my own songs, I couldn’t do it. There’s a guy called Tony McManus on YouTube, he’s a great Celtic guitar player, and he said, ‘you just have to get your hands dirty.’ You know, even if you don’t know what you’re doing, just get into it and stop trying to get so mathematical about it. That’s what I started to do and it really helped the songwriting. It didn’t come all of a sudden but say from about 2013 through 2016 was when I started getting back into it because I was feeling what I was saying again,” says Lennon.

Much of our conversation centres on the various events and inspirations that culminated in Walk Lightly; a record that’s equally captivating (particularly in the moments where subtle electronic motifs brighten the atmosphere of Atlantic Coast Woman and Crisis Of Hope) and challenging with stark accounts of sexual abuse, alcoholism and the murder of George Floyd. Of his ability to be so frank in his lyrics which shift between first-hand experiences and stories told to him by friends. Lennon describes how his outlook on life, and therefore his approach to the page, was enhanced by personal hardships. “I had a couple of really trying periods where I was up against it. It’s an awful thing to say, but you need hardship to be able to say something really honest. I think you develop more humanity when you’re struggling because you have that moment where you realise ‘hold on, I’m not better than anyone else.’ I found that helped me a lot.”

Over the years, his music has also helped a number of listeners who have confided with Lennon about the extraordinary effect his words have had. “People have said that my music has gotten them through dark times which is really nice to hear because I don’t always think that’s going to happen as I’m writing the songs. I had someone say that they were going to murder somebody except they’d listened to one of my songs a couple of times one night. Which, I mean, when someone says something like that as casually as if they’re going for their shopping, it does leave an impression on you.”

As our call draws to an end, Lennon thoughtfully considers what motivates his writing, “On the other side of things, I’ve fallen out with people over songs. I’ve had people approach me saying they know what a song is about and ask me why I would write about that situation. There’s a country singer called Tom T. Hall who said, ‘if a man’s not writing about what he’s seeing around him, he’s not writing.’ I always take that on board. But I’m also aware that you can destroy people by what you say and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hurt people.”

Walk Lightly When The Jug Is Full was released on April 13 via Septic Tiger. He plays The Workman’s Club on Saturday, April 22nd, €15.

Words: Zara Hedderman

Photos: Sean McMahon

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