- 27 Jul 20
Newly signed to one of the world’s most famous labels, The Academic have upped the pop-rock ante with new EP, Acting My Age. Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Normal People, Kerouac and hopes for the future all feature as singer Craig Fitzgerald talks to Stuart Clark.
Craig Fitzgerald has always been a cheery chap, but today you’d swear that Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Dimwali, Ede, Hanukkah, Cinque de Mayo, his birthday and The Rose of Tralee have all come together.
“Last night was our first time in the same room playing together for a hundred days,” The Academic singer beams. “It was in a rehearsal space in Mullingar that we’ve used for years. Shaking off the cobwebs was really fun. We hadn’t played the songs on the new EP live before. We just recorded it in the studio so we’ve never done the drum-stick count in like you would do at a gig.”
Their last gig prior to lockdown being March 13’s double-header in Dubai – they’ve clocked up serious air miles, these boys – with Picture This.
“We pretty much landed back in Dublin and everything had changed – it was like 28 Days Later or something; a whole new world,” Craig recalls still appearing shell-shocked by recent events. “It took me a while to wrap my head around. There was definitely a kind of fear and I couldn’t focus on music. I was like, ‘No, this is going to get so bad…’ It definitely strips away that sort of invincible feeling.”
Which makes being able to get back in the saddle now seem extra special for The Academic. When I enquire as to whether anyone was ring rusty at last night’s rehearsal, Craig winces a bit and admits: “Probably me to be honest – the lyrics just left my head. Everyone was playing really well, but I kept on singing different verses. I just needed to get my head in the game a little bit. We’re doing a lockup live gig the night before the EP comes out, so we were like, ‘Okay, we need to become a good band again, very quickly.”
Has he forgotten the words on stage?
“All the time,” he nods. “I’m genuinely really bad for it. Anytime I skip a lyric or sing verse two over verse one, our bass-player, Stephen, just gives me this look and I can’t keep it in – I start laughing and stuff. I try to be as professional as I can but sometimes you get distracted.”
Lest anyone start thinking that Craig really isn’t cut out for this frontman lark, he was word and note perfect at the EP lockup live gig, which – if any were needed – was a reminder of the alchemy that occurs when the lads are in close proximity to each other.
Poppier than some of their previous efforts – ‘Sunroof’, in particular is the missing link between Franz Ferdinand and Busted – the Acting My Age seven-tracker is The Academic’s first release since signing to Capitol, the legendary LA label which was home in the ‘50s and ‘60s to a certain Francis Albert Sinatra. Have they had a go yet at his microphone, which still takes pride of place in Studio One of the Capitol Building?
“No, we met Capitol UK in London,” Craig resumes. “We used to drive by the Capitol Building when we made our first album there. It’s such a standout landmark in LA. It’s surreal to think that we’re now part of that.”
While Los Angeles wasn’t necessarily his favourite place to record – “We’re just not used to the sunshine; shorts and a t-shirt didn’t seem right,” he ventures – Craig has had a ball gigging round the States with The Academic.
“We were given an early opportunity to test it out when we did 25 dates in like 30 days, straight across, east to west, with Judah And The Lion,” he enthuses. “They’ve got a tour bus and you don’t so you’re chasing them through the night. We got to see lots of different parts of America, which had a big effect on us.”
As befits a man of words, Craig had his reading list fully worked out.
“When we hit the road I wanted to start reading Jack Kerouac, Ginsburg and stuff like that. Musically, I fell into Bob Dylan – I’ve just finished watching Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue – and Willie Nelson and The Highwaymen.”
While they’d much rather have been out giving it socks live, lockdown was the first time The Academic have been able to stop and fully process some of the bananas things that have happened to them.
“We got to meet The Rolling Stones when we played with them at Croke Park,” Craig says with a genuine sense of wonderment. “I’m not sure it fully happened. It was like a total disassociation. We were on a European tour playing these sweaty, really dingy spots and got a call saying, ‘Oh, when it’s over you have to come home and it’s going to be announced that you’re opening for the Stones.’ We couldn’t make sense of it because we were squashed into this tiny dressing room. When we eventually got to Croke Park, it was great but very intense. I remember feeling so shocked at how far away people were.”
Quick pop quiz: who’s the coolest Rolling Stone?
“I just watched the Stones’ Exile On Main Street. It was when they left the UK and for tax reasons all moved to the South of France. They lived in these beautiful houses and made a record in Mick Jagger’s basement. There’s this one segment where I was, ‘Whoaaa, this is total rock ‘n’ roll behaviour.’ Keith Richards starts telling the craziest story. I think he might just be the coolest.”
Ah, no, sorry, it’s Charlie Watts, but thanks Craig for playing! The Academic’s celebrity hobnobbing doesn’t stop there.
“We were on the same Hyde Park bill as The Strokes and I got to say ‘hello’ to Albert Hammond Jr. I also got to have a really nice chat with Sam Herring from Future Islands at a gig we were opening. He was sitting on the bench outside our little caravan and we ended up shooting the breeze over coffee and a smoke for hours. It was amazing to hear his story and how much hard work they’ve put in for years.”
“Niall Horan tweeted us a couple of years ago and has come to a gig once or twice in a very low-key manner,” Craig says. “In the early days when we were a young band coming out of Mullingar and showing a bit of promise he gave us a shout out.”
Unlike the Fontaines D.C. boys, Craig was superglued to Normal People.
“I watched it after people lost their minds over it,” he grins. “It was an interesting show. Especially at the start, school life; that was captured perfectly. It’s always a good sign when people are saying, ‘I know that character, I’ve met them!’ They’re fantastic actors.”
Asked whether the sex scenes are as salacious as Joe Duffy listeners say they are, Craig pauses for a moment and then says dismissively: “If you’re a stubborn kind of religious person maybe.”
Like all good bands, The Academic have in former Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson found a producer who’s become their Epstein-ish fifth member. This, incidentally, being a man whose C.V. ranges from Mark Ronson and Shirley Bassey to Duran Duran and Shaun The Sheep.
“Nick’s a great guy,” Craig says. “He’s done so much wacky stuff – I don’t understand his brain and I find that really refreshing. We got to try lots of different types of approaches with the recording. Nick’s very good at getting me out of my comfort zone so I like him a lot.”
Is Craig hopeful that they’ll get to tour Acting My Age?
“I don’t want to say I’m pessimistic but I’m definitely not optimistic that touring is going to happen this year or anytime soon,” he concludes. “We’re very lucky that music is so easily made now with technology. If it’s just releases and you do a bit of online stuff, that’s great. So I’m still optimistic about making music and putting it out there.”
• Acting My Age is out now on Capitol Records