A small quaint town in Ireland is the birthplace of one of indie-rock music’s finest up and coming bands, The Academic. Craig Fitzgerald, Dean Gavin and brothers Stephen and Matt Murtagh have been playing together since their school days - hence the name - and are creating the kind of music that just makes you want to let your hair down. Reminiscent feel-good beats of carefree days and young romances play on your mind, and first loves seem like only yesterday. They reckon it to be a ‘party’ album, something the indie-rock scene seems to be lacking and already released tunes that inspire timeless classics that deserve a cheer when they appear on shuffle.
Observers of the world and those who inhabit it, their lyrics are inspired by the people that surround them, translating these feelings, emotions, and experiences into their sound. Photographer Doreen Kilfeather manages to capture a moment with the boys during their recently hectic lifestyles and shoots them in a familiar rural Irish setting. Just a stone's throw from their own town, vibrant styling sits juxtaposed against the stunning countryside backdrop and wooden cabin. It’s an environment often encountered and one they feel at home in, sprinkled with a dash of modern vibes. Stylist Dean Nguyen add colorful flavored fashion, making the guys stand out from the natural backdrops.
Expect infectious lyrics and head-bopping beats this year, and throw yourself back to carefree youthful days with The Academic. We got the pleasure to catch up with the boys before they signed off at the end of last year, settling in Ireland for an indulgent Christmas after a final hop across to LA. The least that could be offered before the expected and much anticipated whirlwind that 2018 will undoubtedly be. It’s a bandwagon you may want to be quick to hop on - they’re prepped ready to take 2018 as their own.
The Academic’s debut album ‘Tales From the Backseat’ is now available.
How did you guys meet?
Craig: We met in school, we all went to the same school together. Matthew and Stephen are brothers. We’re all a similar age, Stephen is a couple of years younger, but Matt, Dean and I were all in the same class and started picking up instruments from an early age. Then by the end of school we all decided to get into a serious band and start writing some songs.
With feeling, how would you guys describe one another?
Craig: As in like romantically, gushy kind of feeling or…?
However you wanna do it, it’s fine.
Craig: Matthew is trustworthy.
Matthew: Hey, thanks!
Craig: Stephen is comforting. Dean… is honest.
Matthew: And you’re golden hearted.
What inspired your name?
Matthew: The name kind of had two inspirations. We all met in school, so it sort of made sense to call us The Academic. We were all also reading 'The Catcher in the Rye' around the age of 17, and Craig noticed the word ‘academic’ is mentioned a lot in the first two pages and at that age we thought it looked cool, sounded cool, and it described us pretty well. I think that’s how we came up with it.
What about your sound?
Stephen: Our sound is largely inspired by the music we grew up with and what we were listening to at the time. We’re all early to mid-nineties kids, so when we were around 15 and 16 it was coming to the end of that new-rock age, and that had a massive influence on us when we were first learning instruments. It was a mixture of that and then some of the older music we grew up listening to from our parents’ music collections. Me and Matt were raised on a lot of Beatles and U2.
What would you guys say are some of your favourite bands/musicians/artists?
Craig: Favourite overall?!
Stephan: I just did my Spotify recap over the whole year, Talking Heads were my number one band.
Matthew: My number one band, who won’t surprise anyone here, is Spoon, this rock band.
Craig: I think Vampire Weekend, I’ll say.
Dean: Mine changes every week, but I do love U2, they’re my favourite band.
You guys shot with Doreen and it wasn’t too far from your home town - how was it?
Craig: Oh, it was like the same county! It was really fun. All the clothes were really cool and the vision was really cool, we really enjoyed it.
Stephen: We’d never done a photoshoot like that, that close to home. It was really urban looking stuff, but worked really well with the old country home. It was nice to do it really rural.
Matthew: And Doreen as well, she really made it feel like it wasn’t too earthy and rural. And she said, this is your part of the world, ignore this look. She made it very easy, I like her.
What was it like growing up there?
Matthew: Isolated… not super isolated, but I mean you’re not exactly growing up in an environment where there is tonnes of music activity or a music scene. I mean, we just went off what we saw on TV and picked up guitars and drums, and that’s where we went from. There was no real ‘scene’ where we were from, so we were kind of just doing it by ourselves a little bit, I guess.
I know you guys spent some time recently in LA, how did that differ?
Stephen: Chalk and cheese.
Matthew: We recorded our album there and it was cool and nice. Before that, all of our recordings had been done in Ireland, Dublin, very close to home, and this was like being completely pulled out from our studio and over the water. It was good I thought.
What sort of environment do you prefer? Quaint Ireland or the big LA city life?
Craig: I think we all love Ireland, we’d all come back to Ireland, but it’s good to see new places. It’s always like, before we started touring and stuff, I would always say that I just want to get out of Ireland and see the world, but then when you’re away for so long, you do start to miss it a lot.
Your album, ‘Tales from the Backseat’ is released in January, what can we expect from that?
Craig: It’s upbeat, it’s like a party album, I think. It’s got its moments, but overall, it’s got it. The album embraces the pop we all love to put into our music.
Matthew: I think, thematically as well, it’s just a record about growing up. We’ve simply put that sort of transitioning from being a teenager to being a young adult and that sort of loss of innocence - that kind of thing.
Stephen: Lyrically that’s where people between the age 17 and 18 will really be able to relate to the stories, even if it’s not exactly the same as what they’ve experienced, they’ll take something from it.
What sort of things did you draw from for inspiration for the album?
Craig: I think a lot of inspiration came from the people around us, and that’s where a lot of the stories stem from. Not exactly what was happening in our own personal lives, but I even drew a lot from my older sister and seeing her grow up. Stuff like that, and how things change and people going certain ways that you didn’t expect. Often I do all the words and the lyrics, but in terms of music and stuff, we jam together until it works.
What makes you guys cry?
Craig: Usually any film with an animal that dies.
Stephen: I cried on the plane a few days ago. I was watching a film, tearing up… and I was in the middle seat...
Matthew: Last movie I cried at was 'Rain Man' - sad movie.
Craig: Bad wifi makes me sad.
Matthew: Trying to get good tea in other countries other than here is just so hard. I just want good tea.
You guys have already supported some pretty big names in indie music, how has that been on your journey so far?
Craig: It’s been great and we’ve had some amazing opportunities where we’ve learned a lot. We weren’t just playing, we were watching while others were playing and taking notes every time we play with them as such. We’ve been lucky that we’ve got to see so many big acts and how they operate on their own - not just on stage - but as they do in life and on the road. That’s something that I feel that we’ve taken from, supporting these acts.
Your album release is soon approaching, but what’s your next goal?
Matthew: I guess after the album comes out we’re just going to tour until we can tour no more. I think our goal is to just to...
Stephen: Get through that alive.
Matthew: Yeah, get through that alive, and get our music out to as many people as possible.
What do you guys do to switch off from the craziness of touring?
Craig: Whenever I get asked that question I have to think what do I actually do - eat food and drink wine.
Stephen: And play tennis.
Craig: I’d like to play more tennis. These think that I’ll be getting notions of myself if I join a tennis club.
Stephen: When you’re on tour it’s important to get out. Sometimes it’s the four of you, sometimes five or six, and it’s kind of important to take yourself away from that. TV series and films help so much, it takes you out of the touring life for a couple hours.
Are there any TV shows you guys are watching at the moment?
Craig: ‘Bob Ross’.
Matthew: Yeah, if we’re hungover, we’ll watch the painter ‘Bob Ross’ to chill us out.
Dean: The new season of ‘Peaky Blinders’.
Matthew: I just watched ‘Mindhunter’, this new one on Netflix.
Stephen: I missed the whole ‘Breaking Bad’ thing when it first came out, so on our US tour I finished all five seasons of it. I did a journey with Walt.
My final question for you all is what mark would you like to leave on the world?
Stephen: I guess to have music that will stand the test of time.
Matthew: Yeah, there are certain records you hear from the seventies and eighties that when you hear them you can say; ‘that’s still relevant today’ and it still sounds as fresh today as it did then.