Bringin’ it Backwards: Interview with KIOL

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Prepare to be captivated by Kiol. The 22-year-old Italian’s DIY debut album, Techno Drug Store, is a sunshine-soaked joy. Breezy melodies, life-affirming lyrics, and a sense of adventure define instantly addictive songs which sound at once familiar and fresh.

With its earworm whistle and tales of life on leaving home, lead single Lonely shares DNA with carefree pop classics as diverse as Peter Bjorn and John’s Young Folks and Sheryl Crow’s All I Wanna Do. Released during lockdown, its lyrics are a timely ode to making mischief alone, packed with fictional friends, synthesised instruments and weed-addled nights watching porn.

One of Techno Drug Store’s oldest songs, Lonely was written after Kiol moved from Turin to London in 2018 to study songwriting at BIMM.

“I was sharing a house with people I didn’t know and feeling a little lost,” says the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born Alessandro Bossi. “It’s easy to be lonely in London, but I discovered that with a little effort and flair there are ways be cool and have fun by yourself.

“The song is me imagining having lots of friends round, but in fact they’re all me. Every instrument that I play on Logic – drums, piano, bass – is a different version of me. Rolled in to one, they’re a cliché of an average, 20 year old guy sat at a screen, waiting for fried chicken to be delivered.”

Discovered while still at school in Turin and signed to leading live agency ITB in his teens, Kiol has already toured Europe for years, performing over 150 gigs and supporting artists including Jack Savoretti, Joan Baez, Editors, Patti Smith and Placebo. His debut EP, I Come As I Am, released on Warner Music Benelux in 2017, spawned the million-plus streaming hits Broken Up Again and Wrinkless, which soundtracked a Fiat 500 ad.

A longtime Paolo Nutini fan, in 2018, Kiol collaborated with Nutini’s producer Dani Castelar on his second single Hard Things and worked in London last year with producer Dimitri Tikovoi (Placebo, Blondie) on the songs Mallow and No Peace. By the latter’s release in November, Kiol has been named a future festival headliner by ITB.

Techno Drug Store marks a sonic leap on for Kiol. His folk-rock influences of old – Nutini, Mumford & Sons and Ben Howard – still surface in his catchy choruses and use of acoustic guitar, but self-produced using Logic, the new songs are more electronic, with hip hop drums, dashes of disco and lashings of playful pop.

“I’ve become a bit of a nerd on Logic,” says Kiol. “It allowed me to create more complex arrangements and be more adventurous with textures. From playing so many shows, I’ve learnt what works live and realised there are more interesting ways of building an atmosphere than just starting a singalong.

“Every arrangement was written by me on computer. Every song I wrote alone. Every instrument I played either live or on Logic. My latest inspirations are Damon Albarn, Mac Miller and Moby, but being able to self-produce helped me to find my own sound.”

Recorded in just a few weeks in January at a small studio outside Turin, Kiol worked only with his regular guitarist Federico Puttilli, travelling every day from his parents’ house 40 minutes away, while being berated by his tutors at BIMM for failing to hand in his coursework.

“My studies have definitely suffered,” says Kiol, currently stuck in the south of France with his girlfriend, where he shot a lockdown video for Lonely. “Whether I finish the course I’m not sure – I still have one year left. I guess it depends how the album does.”

Due out in July, Techno Drug Store captures Kiol’s adventures since leaving home, chief among them falling in love. Kaleidoscopic second single Ciao relates the tale of an intense, cross-country fling, while the soaring, soulful Polly is about the girlfriend he met on a rare trip back to San Remo, where he spent his summers as a child.

Perhaps the song that sums up Kiol’s Vitamin C vibe best is future single Joy. A funky, shape-shifting fusion of multiple musical styles, Joy features a snippet of a speech by Matthew McConaughey.

“I’ve longed to use a speech on a song since hearing Palo Nutini’s Iron Sky,” says Kiol. “Joy was the final song I wrote for the album. For ages it was an instrumental. Trying to come up with the words, I searched the internet for something inspiring about happiness and came across a 50 minute speech that Matthew McConaughey gave to young people like me at Boston University.

“He talks about knowing not only what you want to achieve but how you want to get there. Do you look only at the final result or is it about enjoying the journey? I loved it, so I chopped bits out to use in the song and wrote my own lyrics around it. Essentially it’s about appreciating the little things in everyday life that bring you happiness.”

The son of Turin estate agents, Kiol was always destined to make music. From five, he was drumming on household appliances so often that his parents gave in and bought him a drum kit. He got in to punk-pop via Green Day and nu-metal thanks to Limp Bizit and Korn and in his first year of high school formed his first rock band and began writing songs.

Expelled from school, he was sent to a summer camp in Mallow in Ireland aged 17, where he worked in a computer shop to help him learn English and, missing his drums, took up acoustic guitar. Every night, he’d hang out in a park with local teens, who begged him to bring along his guitar and sing his newly-learnt covers of Paolo Nutini and Ben Howard hits. There, to his bemusement, he was called Ceol.

Only back in Italy did he look up Ceol, discovering it meant ‘music’ in Gaelic and, tweaked, it became his stage name. In his first term at a new high school, already playing solo gigs with an acoustic guitar and stomp box, Kiol persuaded his teacher to let him perform at the Christmas concert. In the audience were his future managers, who signed him straight away.

In Italy, Kiol was asked to appear on X Factor but turned it down, preferring to work on his own songs and start playing live abroad. At his first London gig he was spotted by live agents ITB and spent much of the next two years touring throughout Europe, often at the request of stars he admired.

In 2018, Kiol settled in London to study at BIMM and while his attendance record may be appalling, it marked the start of Techno Drug Store. The album’s title track neatly sums up Kiol’s past two years.

“Since my first EP, I feel like I’ve lived a whole new life,” says Kiol. “Constant travelling across Europe, facing the world by myself, choosing to leave home to live in a different country, with different costumes.“Techno Drug Store describes modern life, which is changing so fast due to technology. To me, the title sums up where I find myself now – in a gigantic supermarket of possibilities thanks to technology. I’ve been living in that drug store for the last years and, even in lockdown, it hasn’t stopped.”

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