Before our recording started, we were in the midst of a major vintage geek-out. Here’s where we picked up once we regained our composure and started the tape.
Did you ever go through an awkward phase? Where you look back at photos of yourself and your clothes are so bad and embarrassing?
FR: Well I try not to look back in general.
In general? I wish I was that way. Tell me about the album.
FR: I'm trying to work out how many records I like that have been out in America. I have five records but some people are like, "So, this is like your second album."
Right, and you're like "Well, I don’t know – is it?"
FR: Yeah, so it’s officially the fifth record. The last one was called The Bunkhouse and that one was recorded with one microphone in my studio.
FR: Yeah, so in a way there's a contrast between the last thing and this.
And when did that one come out? I don't think that one came out in America.
FR: 2013? I think that only went out in the UK.
Is that strange? To have different things come out in different countries?
FR: Yeah, yeah. I actually think that the way that everything was fragmented, there's a kind of a – I don't know how to put it. It feels like there's a momentum in the madness. It feels like some people have heard this and some haven’t but this record feels in a way, it's like everything is moving towards one thing. Y'know what I mean? The dots are joining...
It kind of all comes together and everyone is on the same page.
FR: Right, that's what it feels like to me anyway, but whether or not that translates is a completely different thing. I think artistically, the last record felt like it was the end of a cycle. Y'know like the way how in music, there’s often a swell and a silence before you start again – that's what it felt like to me. It was like crossing over a bridge to find where the next thing was and it wasn't just making another record because you have to wait until things move and evolve.
No, that makes sense. It all comes to a crescendo and everything consolidates. There are two songs that have Japanese titles – why is that?
FR: Well, first there was no reason really. But then as people started asking, certainly the last one which goes on for a long time, I sort of feel it's like in a film when there's something a bit abstract. You can imagine at the end of the record, you're sitting in a chair, and you're in Japan and there's a sunrise or a sunset. Like in my head, it's like in an art installation and the songs are instrumental pieces to sound like what I imagine Japan would feel like.
Do you often write songs with cinematic scenarios in mind? Do they lend themselves to each other or do you write the song and then envision the scenario afterwards?
FR: I think it always starts with writing the songs, y'know. It's the thing where I don't know where it comes from and just sitting down to write wouldn't work for me. Songwriting might be easier if I could just go write and it'd work instantly but it doesn't. I mean, I could but it never results in anything that resonates properly – it could be a good piece of writing but it wouldn’t have soul. Everything else that happens is instinctual and mysterious, in a way. So then it's only really only afterwards when people are asking about it when I can start to see something in a certain way.
Does it make you kind of nervous that your writing is so instinctual and just comes to you? Do you feel an uneasiness that you don’t know the source of your inspiration?
FR: It's like a word game, y'know. It's a joyous thing for me.
This album definitely felt like a shift from the others in terms of being – not anti-lo-fi but it feels a little bit more robust than the last ones. Do you think it was just time to play around with different methods or...?
FR: Yeah, I think the songs, when they present themselves, they start to kind of ask you in a way. I felt like when I was recording it, it was in an expressionistic sort of way The songs seem to have more of a widescreen feel to them as a result. It took a little bit of time to find out how I was going to balance all those things but I don't know why. The main thing is that I was probably using the studio a little bit more than my other records.
When was the last time you were on tour?
FR: I've done one show in London but I haven't really played for a couple of years.
Are you excited about it?
FR: Yeah, it's so nomadic, y'know. Once you go on tour and you travel around, you always want to be doing it again. It feels like it's part of the way some people are – touring. You either have that nomadic thing or you don't.
Do you find that touring in America is quite different to touring in the UK?
FR: Well, it's been a long time since I toured here so I'm trying to remember it. I think that most of the time when trying to compare things, one thing is one thing and the other is just different.
So they’re just totally different experiences?
FR: Yeah, I think so. One thing I feel about America is that it certainly feels like there's a lot of respect for the craft which is really genuine and authentic. And I'm not saying that that isn't everywhere else, but I certainly remember being like, "Woah." People really respect the craft and sometimes when you're writing and you're doing things, you don't really have any expectations. I certainly don't anyway. I'm mostly just interested in the process and whatnot. I don't have an expectation whether anyone goes, 'Oh, wow!' So it's always a great feeling when people like what you’re doing.
What was growing up in Ireland like?
FR: What was growing up in Ireland like? I mean it was great.
Did your family live in the country or did they live in Dublin?
FR: Yeah, I would consider myself to be kind of countryside. But then that's one of the great things about touring and stuff like that – you have the countryside but you go through all these different environments. And I do like the city as well. I like to be in New York where all of a sudden everything is like woosh, y'know? You have to move with that and so the two balance each other out. I wrote a lot of this record in the countryside – there’s one song on the record where it feels like you're in the city and then the album pulls you back to the countryside. It's like driving up to the city and back – that wasn't the idea but that's sort of the way it feels. And then at the end, like I said you're in Japan for some reason. That's how I see the record but that didn't occur to me until afterwards when people were asking.
When you're in the middle of making a record, are you just so focused on it that it takes a second to step away and take a look at it as a whole?
FR: Yeah, I think so. I think you're just trying to enjoy it but also, you're so focused in a way. After everything stops, there's a stillness in a way. A paradox – a stillness and chaos.
Is there a song that you wish you had written?
FR: I really appreciate everybody's great songs so I don't think I've ever felt like that, y'know? No, I don't think I've ever felt like I wanted to write someone else's song. I would just go, "It's so good," and, "Thank you."
Do you have any major influences?
FR: The thing about influences – I think my main influence is just, everything. Rather than having specific artists in a certain genre, there are all these North Stars or Guiding Lights in the scope of everything.
So there's not like a reference point that you continuously go back to? Do you just kind of like take them all with you?
FR: Maybe that's what is interesting – I think it's all sort of fragmented with different things but I've never been the kind of person that's been like, "This is it." Everything that you hear and everywhere you go, it all somehow has words.
Do you watch a lot of films?
FR: I haven't been a lot but with some – like you said, I like to think cinematically. I’d love to make a film sometime – exploring visual language, space, and story. It'd be something amazing to do at some stage.
I think that artistic people are going to be artistic in whatever medium they decide to work within.
FR: Exactly. And I think that that world – it feels like being a songwriter is just one side of the wheel. But it just happens that it’s the one I've done the most.
It's just the most familiar. Are you ever discouraged by the record industry as a whole?
FR: I don't even think about it – I try not to. I just try to think about my music. The rest of it is like anything – you’ve got to try and cocoon the music, in a way. And your artistic spirit.
So you pro-actively try to protect your artistic spirit by not –
FR: Well, I don't even know if it's that. I just try to focus on the songs and those are my own. Keep focused on the songs and y'know, painting or working on a collaborative video with Cillian, that kind of thing so. Once it feels like it’s good, and I feel like this is good, then that's it. After that, well y'know.
Photographer: Laura McCluskey