As anyone whose heard Fionn Regan‘s latest album can attest, he’s a real off-the-wall personality. The potent pictures of characters he paints track after track are disarmingly charming, much like the man himself, who even in real life seems to speak in a way that’s bordering on lyrical. When State catch up with Fionn, he’s three quarters of the way through a two day interview marathon aimed at promoting Shadow Of An Empire, and seems no less enthused or thoughtful for the experience. In the course of half an hour, he paints us a picture of his life and music that incorporates everything from Kerouac and tent metaphors to gusty tightrope walking and comparing himself to a lemonade stand…
Shadow Of An Empire‘s quite a change of pace from your last album, which you produced entirely on your own. What’s been different this time round?
I wrote a lot of this album on the road, and a lot of the ideas come from the page. When I came back from being on the road, I’d use the typewriter, and the lyric would give me an idea of where the song was going to go. I think that’s where the songs came from. This album’s lyrically quite fast, with lots of word changes and phrase changes, and it asked for a different kind of coat, you know?
You take a lot of your influences from areas outside of music – poetry, art, that kind of thing. How does that kind of idea convert into music?
Yeah, I’m big on spoken word at the moment. I listen to Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas, and I find a guy called Lord Buckley really interesting. I’ve always liked words, how they weave together, and the images that they conjure up. The process of doing that is when I feel I’m at my most potent. With everything else, the winds are blowing all over the place and I’m trying to walk the tightrope. On this record, the lead was definitely the writing on the page. That’s my memory of it. Touring is very different to sitting in a room with a piano, and that was a big part of it, and some of the tunes this time felt like I could move them. Like I could do them in a country way, and then in a straightforward kind of Velvet Underground way, and then put them on acoustic guitar. The results were just what felt like a good fit. There are lots of other versions, and that was different for me, I found that really interesting, that the tracks became kind of movable beasts. It’s something I’m working on live, too. Maybe I don’t always want to play a guitar, you know? The lyrics are the centre pole, and now I can swing whatever canopy I want over it.
Given that the new album is so notably different to The End Of History – and a lot of people talk about -the difficult second album’ – was it more awkward to make? Did it change your expectations?
Well, someone said to me that given the change in style it must have been hard work. I don’t really see it that way. I mean hard work is going down a mine with a shovel. It’s a different kind of work, but I am learning to focus on the writing desk more, even if the house is falling down around me. If the roof’s blowing off I’m still there as the thing’s stripping down. With the first album, it was a bit of a lemonade stand, no one really had any expectations, and then it took off. I never felt any commercial pressure with this one. I didn’t want to make a beautiful box with no contents in it. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful boxes with content in them that dance the line, but I just wanted this to document where I am now. Once I finish making the record and painting the artwork, it’s a mystery where it will go. In terms of success, I’m hopeful, but I don’t really have expectations. I don’t think I’m in a position to have expectations.
Your music’s taken on a much darker direction this time round. Is that a reflection of you, or the world?
Well a lot of them are kind of character driven. A character knocks on the door, he’s got a tweed suit on, what’s his background? A lot of the songs are like that, it’s more like it came to me. Of course, it can only come from the person who writes it. It’s like writers of books, sometimes the book builds in a dark fashion, sometimes it doesn’t, whether or not the person holding the pen is in a dark headspace doesn’t have a lot to do with it. When you go on the road, though, you feel like you have stories to tell, and I suppose that’s a part of it, too, though the majority of time on the road is a joy. There’s a mad contradiction going on.
You had a bit of commercial success with the American TV shows picking up tracks from the last album. Has that made much difference for you?
I don’t think so. It’s hard to work out if they have or they haven’t. If you’re a lemonade stand, and someone shines a light on you and helps bring you a few customers, its kind of like that. You can never see it in a very obvious kind of way.
You’re on a major label now, but you still choose to do almost everything yourself. Are you reluctant to give up any control?
In a way yeah, but sometimes it’s like being on a ship, the captain’s gone and you’ve got to grab the wheel. That’s generally what happens for me. I’ve tried to get people involved and doing stuff, but it’s never really happened. I’d love to be able to have people to ease the crossing, but for some reason it always seems to go back to me being in a room and saying -I know the things to do here’. If you work with a producer, it seems all the time is spent telling them what you want to do. I suppose until I meet someone with that Lennon and McCartney thing, who just gets it, I’ll do it myself. I haven’t found that person yet. If I do, maybe they’ll produce for me, or maybe I’ll take a break and form a band for a while.
As published by State.ie, February 2010