August Wells: An Irishman in New York

by James Hendicott

It’s been half a lifetime since August Wells vocalist Ken Griffin left Ireland behind for a new life in the big apple, yet in many senses his music’s themes still reflect an immigrant tale: songs of hope and loss, false dawns and changing faces.

New record ‘No More Operators’ sees Griffin and musical partner John Rauchenberger, a pianist, build on their emotion-laden earlier records with stark, dark, fragile tones.

“All my songs are derived directly from my life, so maybe the theme [of the record] is simply me and my perspective,” Griffin says. “I am always simply trying to refine my ability as a songwriter. We are always working on a number of songs at the same time, I prefer to have a lot of ideas going, so I don’t get stuck on one idea.” 

“When we have 10 or 12 complete we just record an album. Because we are independent and have our own studio we can do that at any time. For a record, we just pick the songs we feel work cohesively together, and the ones that feel complete.”

“Although all the songs were written before the pandemic,” he continues, “it is strange how applicable a lot of the lyrics are to this moment. I have always used, or at least tried to use humour in my songs, even at the centre of what might be a tragic subject.” 

“We all live with senses of dread, and fear and worry. We all live with dreams and hopes and wonder, but sometimes I feel being overtly positive can actually be very sinister and lead us to naivety and delusion.” 

Life in New York impacts on Griffin, naturally, though he still feels his Dublin roots run through him, too. “I would say New York directly affects the sound, and Dublin affects it in a more subtle abstract way, he says.”

“New York is very different to the rest of America. It feels like New York is an immigrant city, so I am not conscious of being an immigrant per se. Although I am a little worried that my green card is up for renewal next year. It should be a very straightforward process, but if this buffoon gets in again anything is possible.”

Recent life, for Griffin, has in part involved abandoning the concept of music as an industry-led endeavour, and focusing instead on simply making something he loves.

“The music industry as we knew it is dead,” he says. “You used to tour to sell your record; now you record a record to tour. All we care about is the art, the next song, moving people, trying to find that great melody, that great line. Music has provided me with such joyful and deep experiences. The industry is secondary to us.”

“Usually you would release the record, get some press, then go on tour. Now we don’t know when we can play live again,” he continues, “so it feels strange to be getting a good response to the record and not be able to go and play for an audience. So I just occupy myself with writing and reading and waiting. Right now, like for everyone else, my plans are on hold, so I’m writing songs while I’m waiting for a vaccine.”

No More Operators is out on FIFA Records now.

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