Interview with Fionn Regan
Words: John Balfe
Fionn Regan's third studio album 100 Days of Sycamore was released on Friday 12th August and it has already gathered a slew of great reviews, praising the Wicklow-man's earthy, soothing blend of intricate guitar and delicate vocals. 100 Days of Sycamore sees Regan return to the mood of his first album, 2006's The End of History, an album which was nominated for a Mercury Prize. His follow-up to that, The Shadow of an Empire, proved to be Regan's very own 'Dylan goes electric' moment, showcasing a more rock oriented side to Regan. While this it was acclaimed by critics, it led to a parting with label Lost Highway who seemed to be dissatisfied with this new approach. What was to be next? John Balfe met Fionn Regan in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dublin to talk about his new album, the reaction to his last and his recording technique.
You recorded this album on tape, didn't you? What's the benefit of that over digital?
It's a very widely debated subject but you can't tell me anything sounds better than tape, you know? I just love the sound of it, I love the process. I love the idea that there's a master tape. It's a very potent thing. When it comes to the way that I record, everything points toward doing things in a certain fashion. You learn a song, go and play it and everything happens in the room at the same time. We had seven days to record [the album] which, in the times we're living in, is very short. Some people could spend that time just getting a snare sound or to tune a bass or something, or whatever it is that people get up to.
In order to capture it the pre-production on my side was massive. I had to work really, really hard on it. As a songwriter and a producer I'm learning how to get the sort of thing in the windows that I'm offered, in the timeframe. The records that I make are about recording the feeling, not really about anything else.
Do you think that tape helps with that, in that it records the imperfections as well as everything else?
I'm fine with imperfections. A lot of records iron out and airbrush imperfections, they are sort of like a firework display. They're exciting but then someone has to sweep the rockets up the next day. I always feel that what I'm doing is a bit more like the northern lights. You have to travel and put the work in, but it'll be worth it.
100 Acres of Sycamore is more like your debut album than it is your second album.
Yeah, I think so.
Was it a conscious decision to revert back to the style of The End of History?
The last album was kind of like a chrysalis and this is the butterfly. I think sometimes that everyone has to remember that you don't get 'this' without 'that'. This album wouldn't have happened without the last record. The second one wouldn't have happened without the first one. I think sometimes after the first record there might have been a feeling that, because I was on to a good thing, to just repeat it but I wasn't interested in that. It's very important for me to do what feels right at the time.
With the last record...I had a nine month lead in to it. By the time I got to it, I only had so much wind in my sails. I do struggle with the lead in for records. This one was about five months, or something like that. Some people find it very easy, they can go off and do something else and say 'alright, give us a shout when we're off'. I can't, I feel too connected to it. I want to get on the road, I want to do it, I want people to hear it.
With regard to Lost Highway, do you think that this album is the album the wanted you to make as your follow-up to The End of History?
I do think that this record probably would have gone straight out. You have to realise that all these things need to happen for other things to happen. These days you do it on a record-by-record basis but the amount of shenanigans that go on in-between is amazing. People used to sign 6-record deals, where it was in everybody's interest to put our record after record after record. Now it's very different. At the end of each record cycle you have to go out and try and find a new dancing partner.
You made your first album yourself, presumably fuelled by a love of music. Were you aware of the expectations that would be placed upon you if it was a success?
No. But it's not like I was completely wide-eyed and bushy tailed. I had been through a few false starts, but I think the thing is the realisation of what are the tools that you have to work with and how do you turn over your work. That's the most important thing that I've learned. It just comes down to that.
You wrote most of this album in Spain. How much does an environment and atmosphere influence the songs that you write? How different would the album have been if you wrote the songs in Dublin?
I think that if you stand on a street for a whole day you'll start to learn when the streetlight turns on, you know? If you sit anywhere for long enough it becomes part of you.
When you listen back to album do you get brought back there in your mind?
I do, yeah. I think if you could bottle a bit of the atmosphere and put it into the record, it's there. In saying that, I think it's spliced with walking in the woods in Ireland.
There's a very organic feeling to the album.
A lot of people are saying that. It feels like it has its own calendar and its own time period. The thing for me is that it's still mysterious and for me that's one of the greatest feelings, when your own work is always new, even to you. I've been writing out the setlist for my shows and I've been putting almost all the songs from this record on. I think that's a good sign. The last record can't really be done on acoustic guitar. It kind of lends itself more to this record, to strip back to the bare bones. Hopefully it'll work when I build it up too, with a double-bass and then just add to it bit-by-bit. The thing about playing on your own is kind of like carrying a river on your shoulders sometimes. But at the moment it feels beautiful.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 12th August 2011 | Music
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