BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Alt.folk maverick Seamus Fogarty explains how hooking up with super-producer Leo Abramson – whose credits include Brian Eno, Wild Beasts and Paul Simon – allowed him to make his utterly stunning album, The Curious Hand. Plus the singer talks about his fas
Alt.folk maverick Seamus Fogarty on how his utterly stunning album The Curious
Hand proved to be a major breakthrough.
Sitting opposite me in Brooks Hotel, Dublin, folk singer Seamus Fogarty is relating just some of the things he’s been doing these past five years, between the release of his debut album
God Damn You Mountain in 2012, and his newest LP The Curious Hand, which came out in October. To put it mildly, it’s been a hell of a lot.
“I did an EP in 2015,” he reflects. “That was about one song away from being a full album. Then there was a project for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and I toured around Europe just playing by myself in cafes and bars. I also played with Lisa O’Neill and helped her record her last album… What else? Oh, I worked with a Swiss director for about a year on the music for a short film he was doing.”
Blimey! Clearly, Fogarty is a man who likes to keep himself busy, but he shrugs off his impressive CV as if it was nothing.
Based in London (for the time being anyway), Seamus Fogarty appears to be the living embodiment of the term ‘gig economy’.
Later in our conversation, he lists off some of the other places he’s lived in – cities as farreaching as Chicago and Berlin – as if they were neighbouring towns in his native County Mayo. He’s certainly not a person to brag about things, but it’s evident that moving from one project/ place to the next has informed his writing.
“It’s been really good to step back from my own songwriting for a while, in order to work with other people,” he notes. “A lot of these songs cover the period from my early twenties to my mid-thirties, when I was able to do so much. They’ve not just been written these last five years, some of these songs go back over a decade. These are songs which reflect on where I am at the moment and where I have been.”
The narratives in The Curious Hand take place deep in central London, in lonely Chicago, in ditches somewhere along the Irish countryside, abandoned churches in Carlow, and in psychedelic dreamscapes. The settings are as diverse as the music itself, but they all seem to be harkening back to a frustrated idea of what it means to be at home.
“I do think there is an element of exile in it all,” says Seamus. “I remember thinking that when I was sampling the conversations I’d recorded of two my neighbours in Mayo talking to each other – which I used for the title track on the album. I just thought to myself, why would any Irish person go on the internet to find samples when we’ve got some of the best chat in the world just down the road? (laughs)
“When I go back to Mayo and breathe in the air, I feel relaxed and at home again.”
“I’ve lived in a lot of cities, but I always see them as being bases rather than a new place to call home. Even though I’ve lived in London for a long time, I still just see it as another place. When I go back to Mayo and breathe in the air, my shoulders drop. I feel relaxed and at home again.”
Despite this assertion, nostalgia doesn’t rank high in Seamus’ mindset. While he admits that London can be a restricting place for a person to catch their breath, it’s helped him cultivate significant musical friendships over the years, and it’s also allowed him to embrace new styles.
Though it’s an over-used term in the world of music journalism these days, ‘alt-folk’ seems to be the perfect piece of nomenclature to describe Seamus’ music. The Curious Hand mixes pensive, vice-soaked ballads (“I burn through bridges like cigarettes/We sat around, a momentary family, raising a glass to our asylum”) with soundscapes that can be either densely layered or disarmingly sparse.
The real push to get the album finished came about when Seamus got in contact with acclaimed producer Leo Abramson (Brian Eno, Wild Beasts, Paul Simon), and the pair agreed to work together.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, I had all these songs together in my head and I wrote to Leo asking for advice,” Seamus explains. “He’d worked with Wild Beasts and I really liked what he’d done for them. I liked his style. So I wrote to him first just looking for advice on producers that he could recommend. You know, because on and off for five years, I’d been looking to nail down a producer so that I could get these songs on an album. And then Leo wrote back saying, ‘I might be free for a few days on such-and-such a date.’ That was that settled then. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to work with him, so I booked a studio in an old converted church, and we just went for it.”
It must’ve been a kick up the ass to have set down a date after all these years…
“Yeah,” Seamus laughs. “Even if Leo hadn’t said he’d work with me, the real driving force was that I’d said to myself, ‘Right I’ve booked a studio now. I’m making an album from this date to this date.’”
Was he happy with the final product?
“You’re always nervous when you finish,” says Seamus. “I mean, when I was making it, I thought to myself, ‘Ah, this sounds really really good.’ Then after a year of mixing and mastering, you’re left with this thing, and you wonder if it’s really as good as you initially thought. But then when the reviews start rolling in, it helped confirm that initial reaction.”
The Curious Hand was an overwhelming coup, and helped put Seamus firmly back on the map in contemporary Irish music. The next step, for him, is staying there.
“I missed the circuit last summer,” he says.
“So I’m going to get stuck into that this year, just in order to make sure I play as much as
I can. Then I suppose after that, it’s back to writing. I feel like I’ve wiped the slate clean with what I’ve written for this latest album. A lot of these songs were hanging around forever. Now I’m nervously staring at a blank page!”
The Curious Hand is out now.