The reality music of Jinx Lennon shows us that we can engage with everyday life and not go under. Influenced as much by post punk and hip hop the Dundalk man is a different breed of singer songwriter altogether. He released two albums in 2016 after a six year break. We packed Martin Leen off up to Dundalk for a chat with the lad.
So there has been a long hiatus of six years between National Cancer Strategy and you latest two albums. Is there any particular reason for that?
There were a few things; I suppose I wasn’t that inspired by anything. With the last album I thought I had gone as far as I could into a direction that was dystopian. There was a lot of darkness in it; it was getting beyond a parody of darkness at that stage. I just felt that I can’t do that anymore, the next thing needs to be more uplifting, but I had got myself into that mind-set for so long that it was hard to get my head out of that.
Why two albums?
I had a big bunch of songs. To take it somewhere else I was talking to two guys out of the Liverpool band Clinic who I met at the Liverpool Irish Festival in a club called Static and asked if they would be interested in doing something together and they were. So I recorded eight songs with them. Then when I started recording the other songs I realised that they sounded different because they were just done differently. So that’s why there are two albums. The original idea was to make it a double album.
One thing that comes across in your music is your love for Dundalk, especially in songs like I Know My Town, it’s kind of romantic but also realist.
Oh yeah I wouldn’t be doing music otherwise, it has to be realistic like that. It’s more of a sense of pride as well to be able to say things aren’t exactly utopia, let’s just be realistic about it. There is a sort of hardness in the music as well, because it’s sort of coming out of hardness. Wanting to uplift people you have to deal with the basic truths and cut through the bullshit. I think I nailed it with that song because there is a bit of romance in that song.
Your songs capture the beauty and the ugliness of the town at the same time and they are not necessarily opposite.
I suppose a lot of my inspiration comes from people like Patrick Kavanagh and Sean O Casey being able to do that in books, to capture the feeling of a certain time and a place, the whole geography of the head and capturing the nuances of the locality. This is very important to me putting my mark on where I come from.
You accent shines through in your music, this is quite refreshing.
This is very important. Every album has to have the accent. I don’t even have a typical Dundalk accent; it’s more of a rural border accent. A real Dundalk accent is a real kind of boisterous thing; some of them really ham it up.
Empathy seems to be a very important part of your music, even in songs such as 10 O Clock Tea-break Bollox when it is about someone who is not very likeable to say the least.
That’s very important to have the nuances. The thing that I find in a lot of political music is that you get the us and them thing. So it sort of puts you on a pedestal. This is something I don’t like about a lot of political music. It’s like we are the pure political class, we are the rebels and the politicians and the business men are all bastards.
But you have to get into those people’s heads as well because it’s important to understand that there is a bit of everybody in every situation where you could have taken this road. It’s important to understand that not everything is black and white; things get a bit greyer as you get older. So it’s important to have the empathy in the songs as well because it makes them more believable and its real life.
It also means you’re not preaching at people?
Exactly preaching is the enemy; there are a couple of songs that border on preaching. The songs that cut through that are the ones with the empathy. These are the ones I am proudest of myself.
Another thing that comes through in your songs is constantly reaffirming that people can uplift themselves and get out of whatever hole they are in.
It’s very important. I do a bit of healing myself. I think it’s great for people to have a bit of space in their lives because I work in the health service I come across a lot of people who do away with themselves. There is that thing that you can see people did not have that ability to see space around them, to give themselves a chance. Because there is nobody to look up to out there because there is so much fucking bullshit “why aren’t you being happy?”
And it’s moreish…I always say in my gigs “less-ish people you need “less-ish” in your life. But it’s moreish, you know you have your box-sets and you’re watching one season and they have the ads for the second season. Then you look at the second season you can’t see what Enda Kenny is doing, you look at the third season you can’t see what Denis O’Brien is doing.
So is it a conscious thing that your music is uplifting?
Yes definitely. That’s why I started the Jinx Lennon thing because I wanted to uplift people. I was after coming through a bit of a bad patch and I realised that I could to get the energy out in the songs and sing about something that was real.
This was better than taking the indie-band approach that I had been taking for years. It just sort of came out unexpectedly like that. It was like discovering some new soup that you had made which tasted all right, and people were coming up to me after gigs saying things like “that gave me a tingle up my spine Jinx.”
It was great to hear that because it was a total change in my life, I was always doing shitty jobs and giving them up but being able to have this in the background was great because no matter what I had I had this ability to sing my songs and reach people like that.
Christy Moore said about you that you are a man deeply in love with your country and at the same time deeply ashamed. How do you feel about that?
I am deeply ashamed of it. I went to a union meeting yesterday; I was looking at the walls it was almost like a town council building in space. I was saying to a friend of mine that there was no paraphernalia about trade unions, about people power, there was a James Connolly plaque in the corner and a big montage of James Larkin. It was so antiseptic it wasn’t about the people it was a pure neutral sterile building. It summed up where the people’s fight has gone into this very bureaucratic type of place that could be anywhere
I’m deeply ashamed of the country. It’s a pity the way people have been treated, the amount of people on waiting lists, the way disabled people and people with down syndrome are being neglected. There is so much waste and so much bullshit going on around. The people who have never been touched by the recession are doing even better now.
I was talking to Mannix Flynn in Dublin and he says that nobody wants anyone to get over the wall; they don’t want heroin addicts to get better, because there is that much money tied up on it. It’s like a big fish tank and they don’t want people getting out of it because they have a whole dependency of social services on each other and nobody wants to change it because they need these people to feed off so that they can all keep their good jobs. That’s what the song Sultans of Sickness is about.
What I like about Irish people is that people have their own idiosyncrasies, the oddness of people the madness of people, and the kind of strange friendliness you get in different places and the things they come out with. I love that. There is a sort of spirit in Ireland that is unbeatable apart from all the GAA and the rest.
You wrote The City of Styrofoam Cups in the early 2000s about homelessness in Dublin. It seems that things are still just as bad?
I got the idea around 1999 and when I used to go up to Dublin and go into the sex shops. At that time you’d see a lot of money around, it was just starting off, you’d see a lot of dark haired exotic looking women with expensive leather coats. I really noticed the contrast between these and the really young homeless people on the street. It used to frighten me at that time, now all this homelessness is taken for granted.
But it’s worse now, it’s like a Hogarth painting Dublin now, a Dickensian era painting. It’s something that really pisses me off is seeing these really expensively dressed tourists walking past people on places like the Halfpenny Bridge as if they were a sort of an art project for the council to show how people used to live 200 years ago.
People spaced out on the bridge as if the council put them there as an art project for tourists to look at. Because people just walk past them as if this is the way that things are meant to be, but it’s not the way things are supposed to be it’s a fucking disgrace.
While there is a lot of rage in your music there is also so much humour?
The humour is very important. There has to be humour because if you are too serious it’s like the emperor’s new clothes, you are waiting for someone to point out what a prick you are. In real life no matter how dark it is, it can always be broken up with humour
The new albums Past Pupils Stay Sane and Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift the Grief Magnets are out now on Septic Tiger Records and available at JinxLennon.com.