Interview by Barry Egan
In a 2014 interview with Drowned In Sound entitled ‘The Undiscovered Genius of Kenneth Griffin’, the great man himself said: “I think ‘overlooked’ will probably be on my gravestone.”
The semi-legendary former front-man of Rollerskate Skinny lives in New York but is back home in Dublin to promote his band (with John Rauchenberger) August Wells’ new album Madness Is the Mercy (and to play The Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie )
His 1999 album Dead City Sunbeams under the name Kid Silver caused New York ‘zine Trouser Press to explode into a rhapsody of high praise thus: “[it] should have vaulted Griffin to the same level of adulation as Julian Cope and Wayne Coyne.”
It might feel at times that critically acclaimed Dubliner-in-exile Kenneth Griffin has been largely ignored by the music business establishment all his career. Be that as it may, Kenneth did have one major fan... possibly the coolest fan to have ever...
“John O’Mahony — he’s actually from Cork — engineered a Bowie album in the late 1990s. He played Bowie some of the album I did under the name Kid Silver,” Kenneth recalls, “and Bowie made him play him the whole album. He said he really liked it. That is my connection to the great David Bowie.”
So Mr Griffin may well have been overlooked on his tomb but he will be able to happily hang out in Heaven with his homie Mr Bowie. He says he never once saw him during the two decades he and Bowie shared the same city of New York.
“I did see him when he played The Baggot Inn in Dublin [16 August 1991]. I stood two feet from his face for about an hour and a half. I was right at the front. It was so strange just looking at him. The only song I remember from that night was his cover of The Pixies’ Wave Of Mutilation. Oh, no,” Kenneth says correcting himself, “it was Debaser..."
This charming man possesses possibly the most evocative, even beautiful, Irish singing voice ever recorded — equal parts Scott Walker and...oh, lots of cool icons from the past with vaguely baritone vocal styles like Leonard Cohen perchance.
Asked what goes through his head when he is walking around his adopted hometown of New York of an evening, aching existentialist Kenneth Griffin rubs his beard and says that he is usually “trying to work out whether I’m the human being or whether everyone else is the human being.”
And where is he currently in that process? “I’ve just decided to become comfortable with not knowing the answer to that. I think I’m protecting myself from some deep truth.”
How autobiographical is the new album Madness Is The Mercy?
“It’s like the Charles Bukowski thing of ‘the gods are protecting him from success.' It might just be a fancy excuse for rationalizing your own failures in life.”
“I always felt like I am looking at life through a window, even when I am walking down the street. There is a kind of terrifying amusement I find in everyday things that people do. I find it fascinating to sit in a diner and watch fifty people eat. It becomes almost pornographic to watch them stuffing things into their faces. I am very interested that people seem to stare to about two feet from their faces. I think ‘otherness’ begins about two feet from their faces. They all seem to be staring at this invisible thing. I was writing a song recently about the dark acceptance, you know, some kind of acceptance that people are in...”
That oblivion awaits everybody? “Or oblivion is here. And maybe you didn’t notice it happen and you are just in it.”
You can also watch the sessions on TG4.
Windmill Lane Sessions: Stephen Robinson