Kenneth Griffin is the Irish man at the helm of August Wells who will feature on this Friday nights (August 28th) Other Voices. August Wells also have an upcoming nationwide tour along with some festival appearances. I spoke to Ken about that voice, being at home and finding the answers.

Having formed August Wells in New York with John Rauchenberger what or who is August Wells? “I wanted a name that sounded like a person and a place, so I chose August Wells. For some reason I have always been afraid to just use my own name. I think it’s because there is a distinct almost comical lack of mystery about the name Kenneth, maybe that’s exactly why I should use it. It could be that everything I have ever created is in response to being named that dull name Kenneth.” Previously, Griffin was involved in Rollerskate Skinny, Favourite Sons and Kid Silver. I asked him what were the differences between these different projects? “The difference between all the bands I have played with is hard for me to pinpoint. Obviously there are different people involved with each one. There has usually been a significant amount of time between each of the 6 albums. Once you write and record your first song, every song after that is in some way a reaction to the last song. The very first song I wrote and recorded with Rollerskate Skinny was a song called Complacency, which lyrically was all about having nothing to say, or whether it was worth saying anything. Maybe all my musical projects since have been somewhat an attempt to answer that question, a kind of attempt to create meaning in my own life, an effort to prove to myself that I exist.”
Griffin’s distinctive baritone has been compared to Sinatra, Lou Reed and Willy Nelson and I wondered if these comparisons had been sought, and how he felt about being compared to such singular and famous singers. “My natural voice is Baritone, some earlier records I stretched my voice out of its natural key, but I find to sing in your natural key gives you access to a truer emotional dynamic. What I was aiming for was my own voice. Comparisons? There are a few Baritone singers that I sometimes get lumped in with, and I get it, but, I have nothing in common with famous singers, I write from the perspective of a man outside all of that stuff.”

“What do you mean by ‘Songs to walk across your troubled heart with’”? “I don’t believe in the journey metaphor for life, but I do believe the heart to be the landscape of a lot of my work, the internal response to the outside world. A type of language of the senses mixed with very plain brutal observation”, explains Ken

What inspires him? “The twists and turns of my week to week life, struggling to make ends meet. The battle against giving up. The cruelty and beauty of people. The weakness and strength of love. Music itself, its humbling power to just mock and floor you. Forgiveness and forgiving. Everything I suppose. I try to write with a human reaction, and not as a student. As I get older I think I need to throw away that studious approach now, and finally respond as myself. That’s how I inch closer to my voice, letting go of perfection, and accepting that my own innate reactions will get me nearer that unreachable thing.”

Having spent the last two decades abroad how does Ken feel the Irish music scene has changed? “I have recorded 6 albums, one in London, one in Dublin, and 4 in New York. Writing in your home must give you a different foundation to stand on. I have been living and working in the States for 20 years now. I never feel secure, grounded, at home here. So I suppose the music has a more desperate edge to it. But the scene seems much more vibrant and broad. When I left in the early nineties it was small pockets of activity and very DIY, not lots of support, and there wasn’t many festivals, It seems better.” Speaking of, August Wells have recorded an episode for Other Voices which will air this Friday, an appearance at Electric Picnic is also lined up amongst a nationwide tour. What is like to be home? “Dingle is such a beautiful town. Leaving New York with a bunch of songs and then playing them in Dingle was definitely an experience. Songs have a life of their own, the songs certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and they acted like they were on holiday, they let their guard down a bit. It was all a little larger than life. We are very much looking forward to all the shows in Ireland, they will be a bit more stripped down, which I love. When you strip the songs down, there is nowhere to hide, and it’s a very good test for them. I will be at home of course, which is always lovely.”

After such an thought provoking interview I asked the seemingly bottomless Ken what’s the last thing he had listened to today? “I want to say Duke Ellington’s African Flower, the solo version, that’s my favourite piece of music. But in truth it was Hot Chocolate’s Emma, what a great song.”
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August Wells Play:
Sept 3rd – Roisin Dubh, Galway
Sept 6th – Electric Picnic, Laois
Sept 10th – DeBarras, Clonakilty
Sept 11th – Coughlans, Cork
Sept 12th – Dolans, Limerick
Sept 13th – The Workman’s Club, Dublin