Having supported the likes of Noel Gallagher, Catfish And The Bottlemen, The Kooks and The Rolling Stones as well as becoming festival favourites around the world, indie upstarts The Academic are quickly becoming one of 2020’s bands most likely to succeed.
Add in a Number One debut album in their native Ireland (2018’s ‘Tales From The Backseat’) and a slew of chaotic headline shows, it seems to be a case of when, not if for this Mullingar four-piece.
And despite Coronavirus hitting pause on their upward trajectory, their new EP ‘Acting My Age’ (out today) sees the gang bundle their stadium-sized dreams into a smart, snappy collection of attitude-driven anthems. The scrappy opening horizon-reach of ‘Anything Can Happen’ takes Blossoms’ unifying sound and cuts it with ’80s cool, while the fiery ‘Unspoken’ is a blistering slice of synth pop where Pale Waves meets Britpop before the snarling ‘Happy Hour’ is the manifestation of their big festival stage ambition. Get your flares ready.
NME spoke to vocalist Craig Fitzgerald from a very rainy Dublin about their fearless drive, and how there’s always room for a little rock n’ roll.
What sets ‘Acting My Age’ apart from your debut album?
Craig: “It’s more experimental. The debut album was a labour of love, we spent three months in one room constantly recording but this EP was more scattered. We wanted to mess around with different producers, different rooms and different sounds. Rather than it being the traditional four-four-two indie band with drums, two guitars, bass and vocal, we messed around with synths and samples. It took us a while to get used to doing things differently but we never want to be comfortable or stuck in our ways.”
Is this a good place for people to get started with The Academic?
“It shows a lot of different sides to us and it captures what coming to see us live would be like. We’ve always wanted to be this band that’s had catchy songs so people can sing along with us. Naturally when we play, there is this excitement. We’re not cooler than anyone else and we want people to be involved. We want to spread joy, basically.”
You recently released the title track. What inspired that?
“We had a song called ‘Acting My Age’ when we were 16 and just playing in our hometown but we ended up scrapping it. When we wrote this song, we couldn’t get any lyrics to fit so I ended up skimming through an old notebook and found these lyrics that were all about accepting how you can do bad things but that doesn’t make you a bad person. That’s the atmosphere of the song – it’s about growing up and trying to go easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes.”
It isn’t your typical ‘boys will be boys’ type of song.
“We wanted to be more open to emotions in general on this EP. Our first album was very naïve and full of stories from our teenage years. Now we’re trying to hone in on the impact of your actions and how you deal with them mentally. I hope people will get their own stories out of these songs but for me, it’s about looking back at the last three years and watching myself and the guys in the band grow up. Our attitude to life has changed.”
Do you think talking more about emotions and how your actions impact others is important?
“We’ve always wanted to be a good night out, I don’t think we want to make people too emotional but we wanted to be more open to the mental health side of things and start a discussion rather than just singing ‘I did this, you did that’. It’s a therapeutic thing for us and hopefully fans will get the same kind of feeling from these songs.”
Musically, what were you drawing from?
“We’ve become massively obsessed with the new wave moment of the late 70’s & early 80’s, so it’s been a lot of Talking Heads, The Cars and Elvis Costello. I also wanted to push the vocals in more interesting ways, without doing too many tricks so they’re more raw. We wanted to have more attitude in the vocal and not worry about it being pop perfect.”
You played Dublin’s Croke Park with The Rolling Stones. How was that?
“The gig before that was playing to 50 people in Paris so we felt pretty out of our comfort zone – but we did get to watch how one of the greatest bands of all times do it. There’s a lot to learn if you keep your eyes open. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’d be happy playing small clubs for the rest of our lives, we have big ambitions. We want to play those type of shows and we want to make albums that reach that many people.”
Your music seems to have a certain ambition to it…
“The one thing we always said was, whatever opportunity the band was given, we would never go into something without learning. We’d walk away with an idea of how to do it better. We want to achieve great things with our music. The idea of us playing to 80,000 people in a stadium is where we would ideally go. We’re not shy about that at all. There’s always room for a bit of rock’n’roll.”
People keep saying how huge you’re going to be. Does that feel like pressure?
“Our gigs are full of young people going absolutely wild. People mosh, and I never thought we’d be a moshing band. We’ve been a band for so long now, we’ve played all these festivals and we’ve supported some of our heroes. We don’t let the idea of pressure set in because we’re so confident. We’re ready to take everything in our stride. We don’t feel any fear about this band becoming the biggest thing ever. It just doesn’t scare us.”
Former Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson produced ‘Acting Me Age’. How was that?
“The man completely baffles me. He’s such a character and has all these great ideas. He’s one of these wacky, wonderful brains that’s not afraid to push you out of our comfort zone. He always has so many good stories about being on the road but I haven’t actually asked him for advice. I probably should. The one great thing about him is that he doesn’t mind me singing ‘Ruby’ at him whenever something goes well in the studio. That’s my go to cheer and he’s totally cool with it, which is great.”
Your fellow countrymen Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital are doing huge things right now. Ever tempted to try a little post-punk?
“If Fontaines were happening when I was 16, I would have been influenced by it so much. I’m such a fan. Over the years, there are moments where you see something cool and want to be like it, but it never works out. They’ve got their vibe and we’ve got ours. You’ve got to be yourself. You can’t try and be somebody else.”
So what comes next?
“When touring starts up again, we have a lot of exciting plans to put a real show on and give people a great live experience. As for new music, I’ve been told to say we’ve no fixed plans – but a second album is definitely in the pipeline. We’re always working on music so when the day comes that we can get back in the studio, hopefully we’ll have a really strong idea around what we want the next thing to be. I’m definitely interested in the mixing of guitars and synths, like how New Order did it pushing on from Joy Division. I want to try that, but I want to keep it fun. That’ll always be the core attitude. It has got to make people want to dance and cry at the same time.”
‘Acting My Age’ by The Academic is out now.