There was a time, a few years ago, when you couldn’t switch on your radio without coming across a track by the band Fred. Their third album Go God Go seemed to be a hit machine, turning out a succession of tunes that saw them do battle in the charts. While the mainstream punters loved them, the serious critics (wrongly) less so. Matters were reversed by this year’s Leaving My Empire, recorded in Montreal with producer Howard Bilerman and a far tougher and weightier affair. With the album six months old and just produced another single in the shape of ‘We Are The City’, State asked frontman Joseph O’Leary how he thought it had gone down..
“On a mainstream level it hasn’t infiltrated yet but review wise, especially in terms of the indie press, it’s gone down very well. In Ireland it’s mainstream radio that gets you popularity and we haven’t matched the last one, not yet anyway. The current single is getting a nice bit of play compared to the ones before”.
Leaving My Empire and Go God Go feel like opposite sides of the same band…
“I wouldn’t disagree with that comment. When we set out to record this album we wanted to do something different, not necessarily to the previous record but we wanted to make us different. There was another side to us that maybe you couldn’t access as easily on Go God Go. Also the recording process was totally different this time, it was a complete band experience”.
In a way it reminds us more of your earlier albums, when you were more of an underground proposition..
“In fairness you’re always trying to reach for something more, even if you don’t know what it is. On the early records we definitely felt limited because we could barely express what we wanted to say. Maybe it took some of us longer than others to learn how to be songwriters. This time we wanted to make more of an indie album for ourselves. We love to songs off Go God Go but there was a huge difference between ‘Skyscrapers’ and ‘Running’. On Leaving My Empire we wanted to present the songs with an overall sound and vibe. We were very happy coming home from Montreal, we felt we’d achieved what we wanted. It’s only in Ireland that it hasn’t really upped the ante in my mind but I think it’s a slow burner. I hope I’m not delusional”.
Does it feel like a question of commercial success or critical respect? Why not both?
“There are bands that cross the divide and I think we can be there. ‘We Are The City’ is getting a good lot of regional radio play and they tend to be ahead of the nationals so that’s a good sign. They’ll take a chance on a song. Perhaps we shot ourselves in the foot by not replicating anything at all from the last album, having developed a brand of sorts. You have to be true to yourself, it’s not about the bobs. This time we felt that we expressed ourselves better than ever”.
Did you see a similarity in the relationships between Cork & Dublin and Montreal & Toronto?
“That old chesnut. To be honest I’m always intrigued by the social geography of countries and in Canada it’s almost the opposite. Even though Toronto is the bigger city and a lot of bands move there, Montreal is seen as the more important city. Some people see that Arcade Fire sold out by moving there, wanting to be cool”.
What attracted you about recording there?
“It came about strangely, it was Howard’s name that attracted us. We wanted to up the ante and his name was mentioned on a dream list and literally our manager bumped into him at a conference. He liked the demos and that was it, there was something very natural about it. He could have been in Toronto, New York or Dublin. I’ve always been very positive about the music scene in Canada though, they have a very positive approach. They have simple steps to promote their own acts, but that’s not why we went there. It was purely because of Howard. That was the gamble really, working with him, but he lets you find your way and documents it. It didn’t feel like work”.
Julie Feeney is playing keyboards for you on your upcoming Irish and New York gigs, how come?
“Fred can’t hold onto their women, every three years we lose one. It’s beyond a joke. Carolyn is venturing off into other styles of music so Julie is stepping in for a handful of gigs in the meantime. She’s some personality…”
Fred play Dolans Warehouse, Limerick (Friday), Whelan’s, Dublin (Saturday) and Roisin Dubh, Galway (Friday 14th).