2017 has been an exciting year for Irish music, no more so than for Dublin grunge-rock trio Fangclub. Having signed to Universal Music, played festivals like Electric Picnic and Indiependence, supported Pixies in Dublin, and released their self-titled debut to international acclaim, their much-anticipated UK/Ireland headline tour is currently underway. Ahead of their appearience at Cork’s Cyprus Avenue, I sit down with the band – drummer Dara Coleman, lead vocalist/guitarist Steven King, and bassist Kevin Keane – to discuss touring, film, new music, and more.
Backstage, we chat about how the tour is going thus far. “We spent the last two months in the UK, with two tours – kind of really intense tours – back to back. It was incredible, and it was intense, and it was tiring, and it was the most fun” Steven shares, “and it was worth it” Kevin adds, to nods of agreement all round. Their debut album was released on August 4th, meaning that by now fans are familiar with their updated discography. It must be nice playing to crowds now that people are more familiar with the tracks? “It’s really, really strange hearing people sing the songs back” Steven muses, while Kevin explains “especially the first day or two in this Irish tour as well, with people going nuts when the opening riff might start on a song, and it’s just like, what the hell? We never kind of got that before, so it’s just brilliant. With the UK stuff we’ve been doing, it’s just cool getting kids who might not have even heard of us into the music, that’s great.”
Touring with Californian punk-rock band SWMRS over the past month has added to Fangclubs ever-growing fanbase, but they’re no stranger to impressive support slots, having supported the legendary Pixies in Dublin over the summer. “I still get shivers about that” Kevin tells me. Steven recalls the disbelief he felt at the time “I remember the phone call getting asked to do that show … I just thought it was a lie. I was like, this is the wrong number obviously”. Is it intimidating playing to such big crowds, I wonder? Kevin thinks it’s the opposite. “When you can see faces in a small room it’s way more intimidating. In a crowd that big; it’s just a blur, so it’s not as bad.” Steven explains that he doesn’t get nervous at all for shows, “I can do the show, but it’s like days later when I have time off I’ll start falling apart”, wondering if he did the show alright, wondering if everything went okay.
When I ask what live bands they personally admire; Biffy Clyro is the immediate response. Playing support to SWMRS, seeing their tour and everything that goes on backstage – how strong SWMRS’ team is – has inspired them even more. The Regrettes, Nothing But Thieves, (both of whom Fangclub have recently played with) and FIDLAR are others who have made an impact on them.
In terms of their own song writing, film has proved a trusty source of inspiration. “It was one of these little cheats I had to start writing” Steven explains, “because I could never sit down and start writing, I had to have something to switch on that part of my brain. In terms of types of movies … it was every type of movie, from Titantic to Blade Runner and everything in between, it was whatever worked at the time. There was a lot of self-sacrifice movies as well” he laughs, “they worked really well. Scott Pilgrim as well! That really worked, it’s kind of a music film though.”
So is writing for a soundtrack something they’d ever be interested in? “Big time”, according to Steven. They always joke that – when they write a certain type of song – it could be in the trailer for a movie. “Whenever we’re writing songs there’s always that middle eight part where we’re like, ‘we have to make this good enough for a trailer’”. Kevin thinks they write their songs and melodies so that an orchestra could fit in anyway, “you’re like ‘it’s just missing something? Oh yeah a twenty piece orchestra!’”
We discuss how music is increasingly being consumed in a much more visual, and immediate way. Fangclub already have a selection of great music videos, ones they’ve enjoyed making. “I love doing the music videos” Steven explains, “I really love doing that visual representation of the song and the band. We’ve been lucky enough that we have most of the creative control over our videos, and then we’ve worked with directors that are hugely into collaborating with artists. I think a really good video can break a band, but ultimately, it’s all about the music”. For Fangclub, social media is one of the less interesting aspects of being a band in the digital age, “social media should be secondary, the band shouldn’t live online and then be struggling off” offers Dara. The band agree it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and they themselves prefer to just mess around with it all.
On the topic of social media, I remember one such light-hearted tweet of theirs recently mentioning new music. Steven tells me he has the second record half way done, “in your head!” Dara clarifies. “It kind of goes back to what you said earlier” Kevin expands, “about how we consume music so fast these days as well; you’ll get forgotten about if you don’t kind of stay on top of that too, even if it’s just a single or something like that”. They mention The Beatles, releasing an album or even two a year for the entirety of their career. Even more contemporary bands like Biffy Clyro released an album a year at the start of their career, with Weezer being known to do the same (and both being obvious influences on Fangclub’s own work). “It’s just kind of the way things are going”.
Fangclub will be recording new music with the backing of a major label, but this won’t hold them back creatively in any way. According to Steven “we got pretty lucky because we recorded the first album completely by ourselves, and we’re going to do that again for the second album. As far as being on the label, they help us get the album in shops and stuff or they’ll help us get a music video made or something, but I haven’t felt too much pressure from being a label band. I’m just noticing that every band is somehow attached to a label now”.
I suggest that labels are largely just a way get your music out there, to be heard, to which Steven agrees, “I want everybody to be able to hear our music”. It’s why Dara never understood the “too cool for school” attitude of wanting to keep your music underground, and have the least amount of people hear it. Kevin further clarifies that their self-titled debut was written three years ago now and that they’ve been writing songs since, so even if their second release seems rushed – a year, a year and half – a lot more would have gone on behind the scenes. “We’ve recorded one!” adds Steven, “and we’ve a shown a few people, we’ve shown the label and stuff and they’re all blown away by it, so hopefully it’s a good sign”.
Fangclub’s initial recording session was done in Kerry in order to create the desired drum sound “it’s the hardest to get right” Dara explains “guitars you can manipulate anywhere to a certain extent”. A live-in studio between two remote towns, they spent two weeks there in July of 2014 recording the album. “The isolation, it all started to creep into the songs. That was the sound, that we haven’t been able to capture again yet. We’ve tried a few different studios, and we’ve been fighting really hard to get the sound that came easily in that studio. Unfortunately it’s closed down since as well, otherwise we would have just recorded everything there”.
Steven’s songwriting is sometimes subconscious – he’ll only figure out what it means later on – sometimes he’ll write down random lines he’ll hear while going about the course of his day, and sometimes, “it’s just nonsense. But for the most part, we always try to get the song to really feel like something, because then it meant like, you know, fans could listen to it and take something from it, and apply it to whatever is going on in their lives and stuff”. On tour, Dreamcatcher for example is a song that Steven noticed fans may have a whole different interpretation of. The band agree there’s a power in that subjectivity. Loner is an EP and LP track that the whole band thought would be a B side; turns out, it’s one of the songs people chant back to them when playing live.
Asking the band what they hope people take away from the Fangclub live experience, Dara explains that he “likes the idea of recreating whatever was there when grunge was at its height, where it was just smelly dirty rock shows and everyone is banging into each other and having a good time … those friendly mosh pits you know? Even on those SWMRS tours where everyone comes out and they just look like they’ve just run a marathon; they come out and they’re physically and mentally wrecked but have big smiles on their faces. Kind of just an outlet, whether that be aggression or emotion, because that’s what I love about gigs. I think the heavier gigs always have this extra catharsis – that’s what I like about gigs – so if people can get that from our shows that’s really cool”.
Has social media taken something away from live shows then, with people worrying about filming and instagramming etc? “Absolutely” Steven agrees, “It’s made everybody so self-conscious as well. At our shows and at the SWMRS tour and stuff though, you just saw all these kids and teens and people in their 20s and stuff just not really giving a fuck anymore, and that’s a really good sign you know?”.
On the topic of live shows I recall this summer’s Joshua Tree Tour and the seminal U2 albums 30th anniversary. Fangclub are involved in The Joshua Tree – New Roots, an 11 track studio collection released this Friday October 27th, which sees some of Ireland’s best musical talent cover songs from The Joshua Tree in aid of LauraLynn, Ireland’s only Children’s Hospice. “Recording the song was really fun, we just tried to make it the most like us – or like Queens of the Stone Age” Steven laughs. “We’d never pull off trying to recreate the U2 thing” adds Dara. We discuss their chosen track – Exit – it’s dark history, and their attraction to it; “that it’s a bit cinematic”, a dark horse of the album. Their main challenge was figuring out the atypical structure of the song, not being a standard intro/verse/chorus, but now (ironically) it’s even being picked up for movie trailers.
With the album released and this tour nearing its end, what are Fangclub looking forward to now, in the coming year? “Retirement!” they joke. “Getting over to Europe and America would be cool” says Steven (he keeps hearing that mainland Europe is a great place to tour). Dara says they’d like to tour the West Coast of America, and South America since they have such high listenership online in Brazil. “Australia would be cool … anywhere that’s warm”. For Kevin, Japan would be the big one, and luckily their album is doing really well there.
In terms of live aspirations, Fangclub love their (much-lauded) club shows, but they’d be delighted to fill out somewhere like Dublin’s The Olympia. “It’s the kind of level where it’s not too big, but you can still have enough people to have a really good energy” Dara explains. “Be the house band of The Olympia!” laughs Kevin, “do Elvis Costello covers”. If the opportunity were to present itself, they obviously wouldn’t turn down arenas, but Dara thinks it requires a certain type of band “you have to turn on the stadium rock dial when you do those kind of things, because it’s a different beast”. Despite playing Muse and Biffy Clyro shows, Stevens favourites are often the 100-200 cap rooms that are just sweat pits. Speaking from my own experience, if you ever get the opportunity to see one of these shows; go! You won’t regret it.