Interview // Fred
Originally published in the Irish Sun on Friday, September 7.
Following the commercial success of their 2007 album ‘Go God Go,’ Cork four-piece Fred took the brave but ultimately justified decision to record a less radio-friendly follow-up in Montreal with producer Howard Bilerman.
The former Arcade Fire member was instrumental in persuading the band to change the ways that had brought them slowly to prominence as one of Ireland’s best pop rock groups, and to take a brave journey into the unknown for ‘Leaving my Empire,’ a sprawling set of 11 epic rock songs that ranks as one 2011’s best Irish albums.
Speaking to the Irish Sun, bassist Jamin O’Donovan (curiously, all four band members’ names begin with J) revealed that there was a lot of apprehension within the band before taking the decision to record as a live band for the first time, but ultimately he feels it was a huge success.
He explained: “The first albums two were done in someone’s house, and ‘Go God Go’ we pretty much made in our bedrooms on a laptop. With this last album, we decided we’d actually get a producer – we’d produced our own stuff up to then.
“We got Howard Bilerman, who did the Arcade Fire, and his approach is that when he’s recording he wants the whole band to play live. We had signed up to work with Howard and he wanted to do it that way, so we just said OK.
“We had to rehearse for a good ten months, so that when it came to go into the studio, we were able to do it. I’m glad we did it because it felt like a band experience – piecing it together on computer is kind of an individualistic approach to doing music, which is also very enjoyable too. It was just a different experience.”
In contrast to the quirky radio-friendly rock of ‘Go God Go,’ ‘Leaving my Empire’ sounds like it was written to be blasted at top volume, calling to mind the likes of Stars, Broken Social Scene and – yes – the Arcade Fire, although O’Donovan insists that is nothing more than coincidence, as Bilerman was particularly wary of being typecast.
“It’s not like we were listening to an Arcade Fire and said, ‘we need that.’ And actually, he didn’t want to make anything that sounded anything like Arcade Fire, for fear of reviews saying ‘Howard Bilerman making more Arcade Fire music.’
“It was very organic. Our manager was at some gathering and met him and he seemed genuinely interested in the project, like he actually liked the songs. You could definitely find people who would produce your stuff whether they liked it or not, but his energy towards the project was that he really liked the songs. It felt like it would be easier to work with him if his heart was in it.”
While undoubtedly it’s a different album from its predecessor in terms of how it sounds, O’Donovan is more proud of the fact that it’s their most coherent-sounding album to date, that it feels like one continuous thread of music rather than a mere collection of songs.
He said: “We thought that was one of our weaknesses before. When we started writing ‘Go God Go,’ we didn’t even consider writing an album. We had written one song, which was a good song, and we thought ‘oh, we can write pop songs!’ And then we wrote more songs but never with a mind to write an album that synced up. We were just writing songs.
“When we wrote ‘Leaving my Empire’ we were very aware of that. We thought that by recording all the songs together in the same space with similar instrumentation it would have a more fluid sound. We definitely worked more collaboratively on this album than previous albums. Even the placing of the songs – we put ‘Villains’ at number seven because we had considered if we put it onto vinyl or tape, it would be the start of the second side. It gives the second half of the album a more upbeat or rocky feel.”
The Canadian connection is interesting in that the band has built up an unexpected following across the water, where a sold out show at an industry showcase so impressed one local label – Sparks Music – that they signed a band whose showcase they hadn’t been able to get into!
O’Donovan said: “Four years ago, we were in Toronto playing Canadian Music Week. We weren’t really known there but for some reason our show was sold out. This label were coming to see us and they couldn’t get in, and it kind of sparked their interest that this unknown Irish band could sell out a show in Toronto.
“They put us on iTunes Canada and a lot of people got exposed to the music – one week they had ‘Skyscraper’ song of the week. In a country that size it means 80,000 people got to hear it in the space of seven days, whereas that wouldn’t happen here because there’s not as many people.”
At the moment, the band are finishing up the promotion for ‘Leaving my Empire’ after almost 18 months, and they plan to get together at the end of the summer to begin sketches for album number five.
“We’re always writing individually, and when we finish promoting this album we’ll get back together and share our ideas and develop the ideas. This time next year, we’d like to have the album recorded or at least demoed up.”
Fred play the Valentia Isle Festival on Sunday, September 16.