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From 'Kids' to Musicians: How The Academic Made Music in Madness

Photo courtesy of The Academic.

The year 2020 showed us that “Anything Could Happen” and on May 26, 2021, The Academic returned to the music scene to show us everything they learned. After their year in quarantine, the four members — Craig Fitzgerald (vocalist), Dean Gavin (drummer) and brothers Matt (guitarist) and Stephen Murtagh (bassist) — came out with their brand new single: “Kids (Don’t End Up Like Me).”

Compared to their past releases, “Kids” teases a new rock-influenced sound tinged with heavier instrumentals and elements you’d likely find in The Strokes’ early 2000s work. Along with the single, the band announced their upcoming EP “Community Spirit” is due to release July 9. This EP was fully written, recorded and produced by the band while they were in lockdown.

Shifter Mag was lucky enough to chat with The Academic all about their new single, upcoming EP and how their musical and creative process has changed.

Shifter Mag: What inspired this transition in your sound?

Craig Fitzgerald: I don't actually know. I think it's probably because it’s the first self-produced thing we've ever done as a band. Because we've been in lockdown for the last year and a half, we haven't had the opportunities to collaborate with any producers and stuff. But life still goes on and you need to still release music. We were in a situation where we had to make a decision to make music. Luckily, I'd spent a lot of the last year and a half working on music production, so I had enough knowledge to be able to do it. I think now, there's this song and it's just this — the sound of the four of us in a room again, basically just trying to work it all out and kind of try and make something that we're really proud of without any outside help. I think it's just a natural thing. I don’t think we had, like, a full direction — we just kept on recording and writing until we landed in this situation.

SM: So, did the lockdown change up your process a bit?

Craig: Yeah, I think so. We're so used to being in the [touring] van together all the time that we're always consciously aware of what the ideas are that are floating around, so communication was so much easier. I think we took a little bit of time at the start to kind of relax and then there was a couple of initial instances where we were sending over songs via email and stuff. And then everyone has a recording set up and would send the parts back. So that's kind of like the beginnings of trying to make music in this situation.

SM: I’ve read that when actually writing the lyrics, it tends to start with Craig and then becomes a ‘The Academic’ song. Was that still true when writing this EP?

Craig: It's similar in the way where I'll have the skeleton of a song. And, obviously, with a laptop you have to try and get the point across a little bit quicker using some sample-based stuff, like for the drums. But, most of the time it's still I'll send it over and then everything gets pulled away and the guys do what they would do if we were all in person as well.

Stephen Murtagh: While Craig had the base idea of the song, a lot of the ideas didn't actually come or they weren't finalized until the very last moments, like before we started recording. So, we knew which songs we were going to record, but we didn't fully know what parts we’d individually be playing yet. It was really exciting to just get into a room and kind of do it on the fly and be like, “Oh, that could be the part for there.” And then a week later you have it on record. So, it was a really intuitive process.

Matt Murtagh: Yeah, it was exciting because you don't really know where the song is going to go. Like, the demo version of “Kids (Don't End Up Like Me)” that Craig sent to us is quite different to how it turned out. So, it was exciting to kind of not know sonically where they were going to go and kind of just seeing it happen in front of you.

SM: On your social media, you said “Kids (Don’t End Up Like Me)” was a song that was actually written a while ago. How long ago was it written and what made you bring it back?

Craig: So, it was written before we were The Academic. It was one of the first songs that I kind of fully wrote as a teenager. At the time, all the words came around easily. We have a video that I remember from when I had written it that was sent straight over to Matt and Stephen to show them and it was on a piano and, yeah, it just got forgotten about like so many songs. And then thanks to lockdown, we were kind of lacking in like lyrical places to go because we usually write about how our lives are and what we see and there’s not much to do when all you see is like the area where you live in and you're not allowed to go beyond that. So, we started just looking for all the songs in the archives and that was one of them.

SM: How do you feel like this song has evolved from its original sound to the sound you have now?

Craig: I mean, the lyrics never changed, but we never got the music right. Ever. And, I think that's what the problem was. I think the music probably lacked a bit of maturity. So, now almost 10 years later and all of our years of playing together as a band, I think that’s what created the change. But I don't think anybody wanted to sacrifice the kind of naivety of the lyrics because it was written from the place of a teenage mind in a small town that wanted to get out of it. And, it's just an interesting thing to kind of be singing it now that we've actually kind of gotten to get out there and like see the world and travel around, you know?

Matt: Yeah. It's like the lyrics didn't change, but our perspective and how we look at them has changed quite a lot.

SM: Do you think that this new mindset and this new view of the world that you have plays a big role in the other songs that we’ll hear on the EP as well?

Matt: Definitely, yeah. I mean, it's so strange to think that a song that was literally written when we were about 16 can fit in alongside a song that was written in January. I mean like perspectives are always changing and that's what's nice. That's why I think this latest batch of songs is going to be so different from the last EP because we’ve just all had a crazy year and everybody's perspective has changed.

SM: What do you think the message from this EP — or even just from this song — is that you want your fans to get from it?

Craig: That’s always a tough question. I think I was seeing Lee Reed in a documentary I watched like, “I'm not going to answer that. You'll just get what you want.” I think it's got a lot of different kinds of aspects to life going on and, obviously, it's kind of a mixed bag. There are two older songs on the EP. Obviously, “Kids” is a really old song and there's another extremely old song that's been recorded for the EP as well. It definitely has a kind of small-town community feel to it, for sure. That's definitely, I think, the kind of mindset we all put ourselves in for it because we were making it in the villages that we all grew up in where we're all like right near each other's houses and stuff. And that was what life was for us and then we were kind of smack bang in the middle of it again, which was a bit of a strange feeling.

Matt: I'd say as well that I think the new songs — maybe a lot of them — are a bit more melancholic. Like they're not Radiohead-level, it’s not super depressing. But, in comparison to maybe our first album or the last EP, I would say this is slightly more serious in tone.

Stephen: I think you'd also kind of like to think or hope that people would kind of buy into the ethos that we brought to record in the EP. That whole, like, coming back to our small hometowns, bringing everything back to basics — kind of like kind of stepping back and getting a bit more perspective. That's something that we put into the recording of it and if people could get that from actually listening to the finished songs, that would be really nice.

SM: Switching gears, it was announced that you’re on the lineup for the Reading and Leeds Festival later this year? How are you feeling about performing again?

Dean: It's been so long since we played properly to a full live crowd. It's going to be a bit surreal, I think, but it’s going to make it all the more special. Especially because there's a lot of songs, like, from the last EP and stuff that we haven't gotten to play live. So, it's going to be really fun.

SM: Is there anything specific you’re really looking forward to about performing again?

Matt: Changing up the setlist.

Stephen: Yeah. One of the things I'm most looking forward to — that's not even the actual stepping on stage and performing — is just like the lifestyle, you know. The travel, the pre-stage stuff, the post gigs, the load out and getting to see like, like our friends and crew people who come on the road with us — like backstage people, lighting people. Almost more than performing itself, I'm looking forward to getting back to that lifestyle.

Craig: Yeah, there's something about it. It's like waking up and knowing you're going to actually go do stuff. I think that's what we all want to do.

SM: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do backstage to get you hyped up before a performance?

Matthew: We never used to listen to music before going on, but now, we started, like, curating a playlist that plays before we go on to definitely just kind of get in the zone. Nothing crazy. I mean, I just usually have two beers and I’m good to go.

Craig: Yeah, two beers and a cigarette.

Stephen: I pace around a lot, like back and forth.

Dean: Before gigs, I think we just like to mess along with the four of us just to get in the headspace. We do that a lot, but there's not really any big rituals, like jumping jacks or press-ups or anything like that.

Photo courtesy of The Academic.

Be sure to keep up with The Academic on Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok. Don’t forget to check out their music on all streaming platforms, including their new single “Kids (Don’t End Up Like Me)” and their EP “Community Spirit'' coming out July 9!

Parts of this interview have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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