Philippe Cohen Solal and Mike Lindsay talk about the creation of new EP inspired by outsider artist Henry Darger

The EP is titled OUTSIDER, inspired by Outsider artist Henry Darger, and features songs from the upcoming album which will be released on 5th February 2021.

The EP is titled OUTSIDER, inspired by Outsider artist Henry Darger, and features songs from the upcoming album which will be released on 5th February 2021. The songs are ‘Who Will Follow Angelinia’, ‘Hark Hark’, and ‘Bring Them In’, each with a touch of 1950s / 1960s Americana. Philippe Cohen Solal, artist, producer and composer, has been given exclusive access to Henry Darger’s life and works and producer Mike Lindsay helped to write and produce the album.

LM: Tell us how the EP came about? (Philippe) (Mike)

P & M: Philippe and I have had a friendship for many years, based on a mutual admiration for each other’s music. So one day Philippe mentioned that he was obsessed with the outsider artist Henry Darger. This was the first time I had heard about him, but I was going to New York that year with Tunng and We stopped by the FOLK art museum there and saw his work in the flesh. I instantly understood why Philippe was captivated by the work and his story. So when he asked if I would like to be involved in making a record inspired by his life and work I was immediately excited and agreed to help in anyway I could.

This EP is a kind of appetiser before the main dish – the album, which will be out on the 5th of February. It’s also the first time that, together, we have unveiled the musical and visual extrapolation, that we have made from the life and work of Henry Darger.

LM: What was it about Henry Darger’s work that inspired you to create the music? (Philippe and Mike)

P & M: All of his artwork is so rich in textures, rough and very colourful but have an overpowering sense of darkness shrouded in innocence. They are  Full of narrative depictions of his invented universe.  They are so musical in their way,  you can almost see the melodies and crunchy sounds of days gone by.  We would have his artwork constantly revolving between each painting up on a screen in the studio whilst making the record.  It was the flavour of the art that inspired the arrangements and cross genre blending from the 50s 60’s and 70’s with collaged sound design recorded onto old tape. The main inspiration of course though,  were the lyrics which were written by Henry Darger himself and have been overlooked in his writing until now. These songs were shown to Philippe by Kiyoko Lerner (Darger’s Landlady) when they were looking through the hand typed pages of the huge novel that accompanies the artwork.  So our task was to set these lyrics to music that would be relevant to the time that Henry was writing and painting, but also to represent the wonder and magic of the world in which they are set.

From the beginning, I thought it would be interesting to create children’s music for adults, or adult’s music for children. Upon arrival, we were as inspired by his world as by his life, his obsession with the weather, his tormented Christian faith and of course his deceptively naive paintings and his lyrics to songs that were never set to music.

LM: What should people know about Henry Darger? (Philippe and Mike)

P & M: I suppose the definition of Outsider art as I understand it, is Art that is made by somebody just for themselves, as a form of personal catharsis  or therapy to help them deal with certain aspects of their life.  Henry,  born in 1892, had a terrible childhood, spent mostly in a mental institution, then worked his whole life as a janitor in a hospital in Chicago, He lived in the same apartment (rented to him by Philippes friend Kiyoko and Nathan Lerner) for 43 years.  He was, in his lifetime, considered to be a reclusive man suffering with some mental health problems but just getting on with life as best he could. He died in 1973 and on his hospital death bed, he said to Nathan and Kiyoko that anything you find in the flat you can do with as you wish. They discovered a lifetime’s work of hundreds of paintings and a 15,000 page hand bound, hand typed book call “In The Realms Of The Unreal”.   It depicted a parallel universe called Glandelania where children were enslaved by adults leading to a war between adults and children, led by the child rebel group called the Vivian Girls. This is how I understood his life story and it’s what I tell people who haven’t heard about him.  Then its up to them to discover the work.

As Mike said , it’s the story of a man who suffered a traumatic childhood, who without showing anyone, created a huge piece of work (more than 350 paintings and collages and more than 33 thousand written pages in total) in the confinement of his room in Chicago. It was all discovered by the owners of his room shortly before his death in 1973. Today Darger, with his influence on contemporary art, is the most famous outsider artist in the world.

LM: How would you describe its sound? (Phillipe and Mike)

P & M: It’s a mashup of very dusty flavours from the 50’s through to the 70’s, with a voice  (Adam Glover) who conjures up the crooning tones of Scott Walker Representing inner voice of Darger  The innocent powerful voice of Hannah peel represents the Vivian Girls. This is all glued together with Strings, brass, and a sonic collage of found sound,  vinyl and echo synths recorded onto old tape. The end result is like a joyfully dark and twisted musical.

The return journey between the past and the present – a sound of disturbed pop music, yet also generous in melodies.

LM: What was involved in the writing process? How did you all work together?

P & M: The initial writing was done separately. Both of us picked 6 songs each from the Lyrics that Philippe had picked from Darger’s work, and we went about setting them to melody and chordal structure. Then we came together in my Studio in London and produced them with all the flavours described above, really enjoying finding the right type of crunchy recording technique or instrument for the song. Hannah Peel worked in the studio next door and is an amazing multi instrumentalist and composer, so we kept asking her to come and try the Trombone and harpsichord and, obviously, sing. I think once we had her on a couple of songs we all realised that she was the sound of the Vivian girls. So we continued working together on the whole record. Which she then scored the otherworldly strings for at the end.  We Recorded a couple of demos with Adam Glover singing in London. He is incredible. He would listen with his eyes closed and then just get on the mic and embody those insanely talented voices from the 50s. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Scott Walker. It’s so rare to witness someone who can REALLY sing, really transport you. Suddenly the songs were a part of Henry’s world.  We eventually recorded all the vocals for the album in a studio in LA where Adam was living. All on an RCA ribbon mic from the 40’s through vintage compressors and preamps. It was magic.

I just have to add that our album was finally mixed by Andrew Scheps, who magnified our attempt to create a sort of sonic «art brut».

LM: Was it all done virtually? (Philippe and Mike) 

P & M: No it was done in real life way before the words Covid 19 had ever been heard.

Exactly, nothing in the process of this album was virtual.

Everything was organic and in the flesh, with a daily enthusiasm and

numerous pints of beer at the end of the day.

LM: How do you hope it inspires listeners? (Philippe and Mike)

P & M: Firstly I hope that the listener is transported somewhere else. Even for a moment just as an escape from their day to day lives. Then I hope they are inspired to discover the roots of the music and to delve into the ‘Realms of the unreal.’

We hope that listening this album will invite listeners to become interested in this awesome self-taught artist and other outsider destinies. As opposed to our time of incessant exhibition of our lives through social media, throughout his life this artist created a piece of work without ever showing it to anyone. Art as a necessity and not just to be « liked »

LM: How did you create the Bring Them In music video? (Philippe)

P: We worked with a young cartoon producer from the North of France, who we asked to ‘unlearn’ how to draw to match the limited technique of Henry Darger – just as we did for the music, which was inspired by his art brut to not distort his universe. The «Bring them in» video is directly inspired by a Darger diptych, whose original we see at the very end of the video.

Listen on Spotify

Watch the music video