In Conversation With The Academic

After five years and some hard times due to COVID, the Irish indie rock band The Academic – consisting of Craig Fitzgerald, Dean Gavin, and brothers Matthew and Stephen Murtagh – have been riding the exciting release wave of their sophomore album ‘Sitting Pretty’, which hit the airwaves at the beginning of February this year. We recently had the honour of sitting down with the charming four-piece for a very special conference, during which we talked through all things new music, songwriting and the creative process of their latest record.  

How did the recording and writing process for ‘Sitting Pretty’ differ from ‘Tales From The Backseat’? 

Craig: “Our first album was just the four of us in Dean’s dad’s shed. We did not really know much about the music industry and we just wanted to play music and write songs like our heroes of that time. We were stuck at home for so long because of COVID, so we couldn’t get into a studio. That’s why we made a couple of EPs, mainly out of respect of the album. We have huge respect for the album process which is why we didn’t want to make the album from home. The record asked for a lot of patience around the songwriting which we did from home during COVID, but eventually we got to expand that process in the studio. At time, we got a lot better at our instruments and we trust each other completely. This album is very much an open field where we could go to many directions which we were not able to five years ago.” 

Stephen: “I totally agree. We really embraced the element of making music in real life when we were able to go into the studio again. That is really the place where jam sessions and happy accidents happen, which gives some extra magic to the songs.” 

Out of your recent released singles ‘Don’t Take It Personally’, ‘Pushing Up Daisies’, ‘Homesick’ and ‘My Very Best’, which song best represents the new era for you and why?  

Matt: “Homesick definitely shows the most developed process of our songwriting. I do not think we have ever released a song like this thematically and musically before. It’s a sad bop though, but it shows that we have grown up a bit more.” 

Stephen: “I agree with that too. It’s very vulnerable, and I think before we were not bold enough to release a song like that on the first album.”  

You describe ‘Sitting Pretty’ as an album about navigating your life in your 20s. What has been some of the best pieces of advice you’ve received that has helped you to deal with change, uncertainties and such? 

Craig: “Open up to people and tell people how you are feeling would be my best piece of advice. We have been very lucky with this band as we’re four best friends who grew up together. Our way of communicating with each other is very open and that is something that we are constantly working on still.” 

For first time listeners, what three songs would you advise people to listen to first and why? 

Stephen: “I would probably start with ‘My Very Best’. It feels like the emotional epicentrum of the album where you can show vulnerability. It’s definitely a good starting point when you look at the emotional tracks.”  

Matt: “I would pick ‘Buying Smokes’. It shows a different side of us, it’s good to have a bit of weirdness as well.” 

Craig: “I would go for ‘Rain’, because it’s one of the most exposed songs when it comes to music. It has a very strong place on the album.” 

Out of all the songs of the new album, which ones are you the most excited to perform live? 

Matt: “There are definitely a couple of songs that would be interesting to perform live. There is this one called ‘This Is Your Life’, which is a very complex and weird song. While making the song in the studio, it represented this imaginary house of cards in where we kept adding instruments to it. Every time we would add or take away an instrument, the house of cards would fall apart. We actually did a little hometown show before Christmas last year and it got a great reaction there, so I am very excited to see what the crowd thinks.” 

Dean: “For me there is this song called ‘Right Where You Left Me’, every time I listen to it, I can imagine playing it live because it has this raw energy to it. It is quite loud and exciting.” 

Stephen: “For me, I am very excited to play ‘Step My Way’. It is kind of joyous and something you have never heard of us before, so I’m very excited to play it and see what people think of it.” 

Craig: “I’m very eager to perform ‘Buying Smokes’. It shows this kind of bluesy world that we have not really tapped into before, at the end the drums go crazy and it has a guitar solo which also gives me a break from singing.” 

What’s your favorite memory from making the album?  

Craig: “We are obviously very professional in the studio and got everything done. But we also played an enormous amount of FIFA in the lobby and at times, the FIFA became more important. When I think back about it now, it makes me laugh. The studio was called “Snap” so we organized the “Snap Cup”. We were like teenagers stuck in our bedroom playing FIFA, and it was even funnier because it was an old version from 2014 or something.” 

Do you have any preshow rituals individually or as a band? 

Dean: “Personally, I like to keep myself calm and do some breathing exercises to get into the zone and focus on the show.” 

Matt: “Me and Craig like to listen to music. We do it sometimes but, really, we should just get a Bluetooth speaker in the dressing room to do it more permanently. Usually, we play some energetic and more heavier songs to get us pumped. A beer helps as well!” 

Stephen: “Last year at our UK tour, we had a football with us on the rider, which was very nice and energetic to play before we went on stage.” 

What story does the album cover tell? 

Stephen: “The cover shows a bit the evolution of the band. The artwork on our latest two EPs were so heavily based on photographs, that we knew we wanted to try something new with the artwork of the new record. We wanted it to look and feel different, just like the band, music, and songwriting have changed and gone through some progression.” 

Matt: “On the artwork there is this person sitting with their back to you with doors in front of him. It shows a good representation of the life of someone in their 20s figuring out that period in your life which can be a chaotic time. That is very much what our mid-20s have been like.” 

What message would you give to your fans? 

Matt: “I would say that with this new record is all about being a little bit older and checking in with yourself. So, if you are feeling bad about a situation in your life, you’re not alone and definitely make sure to check in with yourselves. It is important to know yourself.” 

Stephen: “I’d love to give a message of gratitude to our fans. You guys keep listening to our music, which makes us able to tour, come to your cities and play concerts for you.”  

Written by Jamina Roobrouck / photography by Ed Cooke

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