Quick & Dirty - Fred
By: Jen Reid
One of the great mysteries of the pop/rock world will remain how the Cork City Irish band Fred got its name. It was with a kind of sardonic sneer that Jamin O'Donovan anticipated the question, even before the interview had started.
To my embarrassment, there on my hotsheet was the lame probe. And it didn't stop there. I quickly realized I was in an Irish vortex, where "taking the piss" is all in a day's work, and that "Fred," wherefore ever they were, would hold me there for the duration. Fact and fiction are hard to figure at the best of times, but three of Fred's members, Jamie Hanrahan, Jamin O'Donovan, and Joseph O'Leary – oh really! – kept me on high satire alert. I laughed. A lot. It is exactly that quick wit and intelligence that comes through on Fred's latest album, Go God Go.
The album was released to critical acclaim in Ireland earlier in 2008. They've received kudos from every major Irish news outlet, including the legendary Hot Press, and UK's NME. New York is hot for them too, after their appearance at the CMJ Festival in 2007. Toronto's Sparks Music got connected with the band at NXNE in June of last year, and since then they've appeared at Pop Montreal, and Halifax Pop Explosion.
How did Fred go about cracking the market outside Ireland? O'Leary: "we made a conscious decision, two, three, four years ago that we'd prefer to go west than east, and we thought we might go down better in North America than in the UK. Because every band, traditionally in the '80s, definitely out of where we're from in Cork, or even Ireland itself either had to go to London or New York, and London was the obvious place to go." The U2 path, I suggested. "Yeah, exactly. We just said, ‘you know what, we'll maybe skip London.' Now in retrospect . . . we're starting to dabble a bit in London now and again, but initially we went over to New York first for CMJ and then the following year we . . . did NXNE, Indie Week Canada, Pop Montreal."
The real kick in the pants came in New York City. They were advised that they wouldn't make any dent on the North American market unless they had something to come with. They were told, "go back to Ireland and get your shit together, become incredibly successful there, and that will carry. That's your insurance," recalls Hanrahan. "And that's what we did." Go God Go is the result. The album has had tons of airplay in Ireland, now the UK, and the rest has followed. "We did the work at home, and it carried over." Fred is right to be proud of their efforts.
Go God Go is a rollercoaster that dives, sweeps, loops, and corkscrews through every conceivable form of pop/rock from the '60s forward, with deep plunges into '70s and '80s sounds. It's exciting. The band aimed for a natural sound. It is definitely not overproduced, and not gimmicky. O'Leary has a voice that you want to compare to some established greats, but suddenly it becomes that bit unique and worth listening to on its own terms. The same could be said for the well-crafted songs on the album, rich and resplendent as they are. Yes, resplendent. Write that down.
With a title like Go God Go, I wanted to know – was there a theme? Nope. According to Hanrahan, "there wasn't any kind of specific theme. Maybe in hindsight you look back and think ‘oh, yeah, that fits together,' but a lot of the time it's just about making the best possible song, and then marrying it into an album. That's how we seem to do it." O'Leary agrees. They did consider the artwork, and had the movie-poster idea in mind. O'Donovan declared they were, therefore, pioneers of the soundtrack-style album. Hmm. I declared they were, instead, masters of parody. Lots of laughter. O'Donovan deadpans: "If we knew what parody meant we'd lay claim to that too."
O'Leary notes that "each song had different inspirations." Hanrahan adds, "We all have massively different influences." And although O'Donovan says they can't reveal their "studio secrets," Hanrahan did give SoundProof some insight into their craft. "Most of the time it's getting the biggest idea we can into a pop song, trimming off all the fat, and making it as good as it's possible a four or five minute song can be; not too experimental but not too formulaic either, trying to get something in between that's, I suppose, accessible, but incredibly interesting. That's our musical aim anyway."
O'Leary picks up the thread. "We don't know what each other is thinking. The overall theme thing, we don't go mad on it because we actually don't like to talk to each other outside of [Hanrahan: "Sports!"], what did you do yesterday, did you go for a coffee yesterday, that kind of crap, cuz like, themes – they tie you down". Hanrahan suddenly becomes thoughtful: "I was looking retrospectively and noticed there were themes – they seemed to be just about existing, struggling to just get by – but they're very poppy and uplifting."
Being signed has its privileges. Their previous albums, while clearly important to them, did not have the sound they truly wanted, mostly due to high costs of recording and production. But with Go God Go they were able to achieve the sound they wanted "through necessity and through choice." Having a label helped them to learn the trade. It gave them time and space; but not too much time. So how long did it take them to make the album? O'Donovan responds. "Quite a while, but most of that was not making the album." Again, laughter. Then seriousness: "Not to mean that we were doing anything silly." They were clipping along at a rate ranging from six months between songs, to ten songs in six months. But that was only once business got involved and their manager started "breaking their balls" with deadlines. "We're great with deadlines, we just don't like setting them ourselves," says O'Leary.
By the end of the interview, somewhere along the line we had decided there were only two genres of music (good and bad), that Canada Dry was the way to go, and that there should be a U2 scholarship (spearheaded by Fred, of course). There was also something about Bono being taller than Tom Cruise, and a report from Bono's housekeeper that he thinks the band is great. As their huge success at home and abroad, their iTunes Canada Single of the Week, and the thousands of downloads and records they've sold suggest, he's probably spot on.
Video: "The Lights" by Fred