Photography // AJIMAL by Fraser Taylor.
Words by Pankhuri Bhutani
Hailing from Newcastle, Fran O’ Hanlon is a doctor by day and a phenomenal artist by night. (Saving lives by day and blessing ears by night, this guy deserves an award!) Gaining the likes of Kathryn Joseph, Lucy Rose, Loney Dear, James Vincent McMorrow, The 1975 and Nadine Shah, Fran who goes professionally by the name AJIMAL, recently released his second album, ”As It Grows Dark/ Light” which was produced with Grammy Award winning Guy Massey.
Marking his debut with his first album, ”Childhood”, AJIMAL has been going up the stairs to fame. With more than 83,000 active monthly listeners on his Spotify channel, AJIMAL is already on the path to success by releasing some outstanding tracks. Fran was kind enough to take out some of his precious time to talk to Peachy Magazine about his music journey and give us insights about his recent album!
Hello! Thank you for joining us at Peachy magazine. Kindly tell us something about yourself.
Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Fran, I make music as AJIMAL and have done so for about the past ten years! (It’s gone by quick). I have a second life in that I also work as a doctor in hospital. So that’s a bit of a juggling act at times…
When was the moment you decided to start your journey as a musician?
I played classical piano as a kid but never really got on with it. I would find various ways to avoid practicing (vaulting off the piano stool as a 4-year-old during my weekly hour-long lessons with a very sweet 90-year-old piano teacher, whom I suspect I terrorized…) I was always atrocious at the regimented, classical stuff and abandoned the piano in my early teenage years. I then came back to it at about 18 when I moved to Paris and just rediscovered playing much more by ear and through songwriting. That was the start of understanding what I actually loved about the instrument.
Listen to AJIMAL while reading the interview
What were the challenges that you faced during this journey and how did you cope up with them?
As previously mentioned, I suspect it was actually my 90-year old piano teacher who faced the most significant challenges! But I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn musical instruments, play in bands, make shit music, make slightly less shit music and finally find my way to a place where I feel good about what I’m making. I’m also extremely lucky that my family have only ever been supportive of what I do and have encouraged me and stood beside me, so I’m very grateful for that.
Who do you consider to be the biggest source of inspiration?
I love hearing people’s stories and, working in hospital, you get to hear a lot of them every day. Quite regularly I encounter people who are really remarkable – patients and colleagues alike.
If you could choose one word to describe your music, what might it be and why?
That’s really difficult. Genre-wise, I’ve been describing it as Ambient Folk, though that’s definitely two words (Ambient-Folk?) I can think of lots of cheesy words but want to avoid them if I can… I love soundscaping and I try to build in elements that are both really beautiful and also at times quite uncomfortable. I hope to continue to get better at that as I go. I think flow is really important and that’s a big challenge when you’re creating a long-form work like an album. I’ll go with ‘soundscape’.
What can the fans expect from your music in the future?
I’m trying to delve a bit more into composing and soundtrack work, because I love how music can transform a visual experience – it’s something you often barely notice in a film / TV programme etc but it totally shapes your experience. Also, I’m gathering ideas for the next album. Not entirely sure where it’ll end up sonically yet, but I think that’s a good thing! Hoping to be (pleasantly) surprised myself…!
What are the things that you put into your mind before creating your music?
I think often it’s actually just making yourself sit down and try. Life is busy and a lot of the time other things seem more immediately important than sitting down to write or make something. It’s also a daunting thing to do because there’s the chance of failure and losing confidence. As much as possible, I guess just not being afraid of making something that’s not immediately as good as you want it to be (or indeed totally shit). But that’s quite difficult to do consciously. Very occasionally, songs just flow out pretty much fully realised in a wave of inspiration, but those are pretty rare, I find.
You’re about to release your new album “As It Grows Dark/ Light” Congratulations on that! What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
Yes, it’s just come out on 26th June! Thank you! It’s been a while in the pipeline and has been a collaboration with Guy Massey (who has an amazing CV with The Beatles, Spiritualized, Bill Fay, Ray Davies etc on it). I was fortunate to start working with Guy through a competition about 5 years ago and we slowly made the album in little bits of spare time. That was actually really healthy for the album in hindsight, as it meant we had time to step away for quite long periods of time and then come back to it fresh. The album evolved quite a lot over that time, starting out very organic and warm, then ending up with a lot more electronic and dark elements that crept in. Each track on the album is an exploration of the ideas of terror and wonderment, and where they sometimes overlap.
Lastly, is there any message that you would like to give listeners?
Thank you for listening to my music! It means I can keep going and I really love that, so thank you.