"Some Stories Are Uniquely Irish" Clash Meets The Academic
Last week The Academic played their first gig in a hundred days. While it felt “weird” to have no audience when people were watching the stream from their homes, it represented a distinct, unforgettable moment. Demonstrating how much live shows mean to Westmeath’s foursome, the exact same passion left them heartbroken when COVID-19 necessitated the rearrangement of their gig calendar.
Celebrating the release of ‘Acting My Age’ via the live stream on Thursday night, the six track EP is fuelled by addictive hooks, mesmeric choruses and deeper, more emotive lyrics. Signifying the quartet’s most pioneering work, it solidifies their position as one of the most gifted young bands.
Having initially bonded over an enthusiasm for the early 2000s NYC guitar music scene, supported by an urge for growth and a reluctance to stand still, it is clear that The Academic have come a long way. Their ongoing desire to learn and move forward is reflected in a succinct application of fresh sounds and influences.
Delving into diverse territory, this release focuses on experimentation, other ways of working and the introduction of new technology and production techniques. Clash caught up with singer songwriter Craig Fitzgerald to uncover the group’s recent transition.
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The Academic embrace the live environment. Are you up for reliving some highlights?
Getting to tour the US for the first time was a massive moment, it lived up to our expectations as in how weird it was. We played a headline gig in Dublin to 4,000 people in one of our favourite venues called Iveagh Gardens.
We supported The Rolling Stones, which is something we’ll never forget. We had stopped in Paris, a toilet tour, small clubs and low ticket sales. We got the call to say that our next gig would be in Croke Park to 80,000. They had listened to our music, read some reviews and handpicked us to support them. Going from a small tour to playing a big stadium, we were shocked and mind-blown. We got to meet them, had a very brief chat.
An epic moment for sure, what did you learn from it?
My main memory was Mick Jagger jumping around saying all sorts of crazy stuff. He was already on stage in his mind. That was one thing we took away, they’re still so excited to do it. We got to watch their gig, the excitement within the band is so important, it completely fed off on people in the crowd. Everybody had a great time, because they were having a great time.
That was one thing that we said, no matter what gig we do, whether it’s the biggest or smallest show, we have to approach it with the same attitude.
The new EP explores different territory, what prompted the transition?
We were heavily influenced by the resurgence of 2000s guitar-pop when we got into rehearsal rooms, The Strokes were a band we jelled on. But now is an experimental time, we wanted to leave behind the indie-pop. We needed to grow, an EP was a clever way to push our boundaries. We never wanted to let ourselves be comfortable.
This EP has different sides that people haven’t heard, it jumps into different genres, is tender and punchy, shows more aggressive sides. It’s helped us realise what we can do and where we’ll go when we get into the studio.
How did the experimentation work in practice?
We changed our approach to songwriting. As a young band we just wrote songs and played them live. Once you pick up a following and people come to your gigs, you can’t road-test songs. We had to learn to write on laptops in soundchecks. We experimented with synthesisers, it made us think on our feet and push into new territories that we were excited about.
The song ‘Them’ is a labour of love, it’s a minimal production, we had to accept the unknown and let the song dictate where it goes, and not so much the band.
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What an awesome shift in approach. Is it fair to describe the sound as more mature?
The first album was songs from our teenage years. We wrote personal stories about what we went through. Over the last four years we’ve lived together in a van touring. We’ve grown up into young men. There’s focus on the emotion behind a lyric, we reflect on mental health. The impact of people’s actions are important, that’s led to it sounding more mature.
Some lyrics start with me, but the guys are not afraid to say when I can be better. They’re good at pushing so the emotion and message land. There’s no room for being sensitive, we know each other too well. It’s a job, but it’s also family based, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You collaborated with Nick Hodgson again, how did things work this time?
He really understands our music. When we decided to work on the EP we knew we would give him a shout, because we have a good working relationship. He’s like a fifth member. He has a wacky brain and pushes us out of our comfort zone. He produced ‘Anything Could Happen’ and ‘Acting My Age’.
On the first album I wrote songs with him, this time I went over to meet him. We fell into a position, we had these riffs, he ended up spontaneously becoming the producer.
What’s the best thing about experiencing success as a band?
It’s a great way to travel the world, you get many experiences that are out of the ordinary. We always wanted to see interesting places, meet people and we all love that greatly. It can be tough, because people’s personalities are different, sometimes it’s hard to be away from home.
I’m lucky to be in a band with my three best friends. I can be open, everybody’s able to open up when you’re feeling down or finding it difficult. We have an awareness of how crazy it can be. It’s a fast-paced life, you’re better to check in on others than not to.
There has been a resurgence in Irish music, how do you see your own place in that?
There’s a good surge happening. It’s great to be a part of and be recognised as more than Irish. It’s small country, and we’re super-proud.
We’re all home birds, we always dream of getting back to Ireland and having a good old pint of Guinness. Our music doesn’t sound Irish, but some stories are uniquely Irish. We always wanted to make sure it’s understandable for people in America and other countries, we got played in Serbia the other day.
What are The Academic’s plans, is a second album coming soon?
We’ll be back on the road when people can have live music the way they know it and love it. We’ll be in the studio aiming towards an album in the near future.
We’re listening to music, reading books, watching films, just extending our creative palette. Now is a good time to be thinking about it. When we get together in the studio, hopefully something weird and wonderful happens, we’ll have an album idea that we’re ready to make, and be proud of.
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The Academic's new EP 'Acting My Age' is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
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