Tender, tough and beautifully in earnest: a New Yorker's '80s love affair revealed

Text by Charlie Jones

Tank _vol 7issue 136

Portrait by Sterling Taylor

Sean Kilfoyle is a strange fellow. As the brains behind Minks – essentially his solo project, though it also features vocals from the Danish singer-songwriter and ex-model Amalie Bruun – Kilfoyle conjures a skilful blend of minimal wave and the gloomier end of 1980s British indie. The Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks brought out Minks’ debut 7, “Funeral Song, last April, and as with labelmates Wild Nothing and Dum Dum Girls, its basic formula was classic rock with a heartbreaking undertow. The band’s identity was initially kept secret, but it seems that such reticence was more the result of Kilfoyle’s fierce stoicism than an attempt to create mystery or, heaven forbid, attract press attention.

In conversation, he’s an odd blend of surly and heart-on-sleeve. “I’m at a point in my life where I don’t feel a need to be cool, he says, in a gruff-before-his-time Boston brogue. “I think some people play music because they like the aesthetic, and they like what comes with playing rock’n’roll, but I don’t feel that being a ‘musician’ is important to me as a person. The answers are there on the record.

The record in question, their new full-length By the Hedge, is steeped in the grey tones of 1980s England, but also lit up by flashes of radiance. It channels the empty space of Trevor Horn’s and Martin Hannett’s productions, the crisp swoon of the Cocteau Twins and the spidery guitar lines of the Cure. Though it harks back to a lineage that became canonical, and then perhaps cliché, long ago, Kilfoyle digs deep and passionately, with darkly gorgeous results.

Kilfoyle is very serious – songs have titles such as “Bruises, “Ophelia and “funeral Song – and very, very private. “Music allows me express myself and exist in a different place, he says. “I like to respect that. Music is an escape, a private place I like to go. He is far happier talking about emotions in the abstract, especially nostalgia and love, two feelings around which By the Hedge is tightly wound. “Of course they’re love songs, he agrees. “Everything is about love. Falling in love is the greatest thing you can do.

“The mood [during recording] was super nostalgic, he continues. “You have these moments thinking about people you meet and have all these special moments with, and you wonder where they all are now. People who change your life in such a profound way and then disappear. Your life is made up of moments like that, and you’re only aware of them, and what they mean, years later.

The image he evokes, of the romantic young poet, seems to be entirely genuine. “Whenever I go anywhere beautiful, he says at one point, “I’ll take an easel and paint a picture. It’s a slightly comical thought, but the feeling persists that, however far Kilfoyle’s earnestness might tip him towards absurdity, it’s precisely those qualities that lend his music its peculiar magic. §