Interview: The Academic

Hailing from Ireland, the indie-rock quartet known as The Academic kicked-off their headlining U.S. tour in Washington, D.C. While on the road, they will be performing songs from their debut record, Tales from the Backseat which was released via Downtown Records on January 12th. Already, the album has received wide praise and even debunked Ed Sheeran from the #1 spot on the Irish Albums Chart. While The Academic has a laudable following in Ireland and the U.K., over the next couple of months they plan to continue winning over American hearts with their catchy and raucous sounds, starting with those in attendance at their show in DC. We sat down with Dean, Matt, Stephen, and Craig, whom are refreshingly composed for a rowdy rock band, before they took the stage. Check out the conversation below.

Capitol Sound DC: Last night, Elton John, opened with “Different” during his Rocket Hour radio show. What were your first thoughts when you heard Sir Elton John is going to playing “Different”?

Craig: Strange. He’s written so many good songs.

Matt: It’s our first ever recognition from anyone that’s ever been knighted. It’s a big deal.

Craig: Yeah, strange. It’s a weird feeling to know that somebody like that’s playing your music.

Matt: Yeah, he’s like one of the all-time greatest pop song writers.

Craig: It’s an honor really.

CSDC: Tales from the Backseat was just released and hit #1. Tell me a little bit about “the backseat.” You guys reference it in your album name and again in “Bear Claws.” What does “the backseat” represent? 

Craig: Since it came out, people have thought it’s like a dirty thing, like an innuendo. It’s the actual metaphor of taking a backseat and watching what’s happening in front of you. That’s what we feel a lot of the songs are about. It comes from the lyrics in “Bear Claws” and has always been an album name that we wanted. When we finally made the album, everyone was happy with the title and that it was going to be the name of the album, which was really cool.

Matt: Yeah, I guess it’s like Craig said, it’s about looking from the outside-in and feeling like bit of an outsider and being in the backseat, that was sort of the reference.

CSDC: That’s really interesting and not what I expected at all. I read in a couple of your previous interviews that the album is also about coming of age, so I assumed by being in the backseat you’re now wanting to take a front seat and have a little bit more control.

Craig: That would definitely be driving a metaphor home.

Matt: I think as well, being in the backseat  of a car conjures up that adolescent becoming an adult thing. It’s just more imagery for that.

CSDC: So what kind of pressures, anxieties, or even joys are you now realizing, of going from the backseat to the front seat or of coming of age?

Craig: Well I guess having to become an adult. That’s one of the big anxieties. We were just kids in a small town and everybody knew everybody and now that we’re adults, we’re out in the world working and trying to make a career for ourselves. I think that’s probably one of the more stronger anxieties.

Matt: I don’t think there’s much anxiety because it’s not just like we’ve gotten “success” overnight. It’s been a very sort of gradual build for us. We’ve always said from day one, from the ground up we’re going to put in hard work and build a fan base. So it wasn’t too jarring when we started doing well because we gradually built up to it rather than just shooting up to it, ya know?

CSDC: I know there’s been a mental illness movement in Ireland, do you have any advice for those who are dealing with that or how do you deal with your own anxiety or external pressures?

Craig: A big thing, they all say - anybody that is trying to help and give advice, they all say talk to someone. You know, if you’re feeling a certain way it’s definitely good to speak to somebody who may not be in your circle, who doesn’t fully understand what you’re going through, but is able to offer advice is the important thing. I think we had that in music, growing up.

Dean: It definitely is a problem in Ireland, suicide’s sort of like an epidemic in Ireland. Yeah, the advice is just to go talk to somebody. Don’t feel like you can’t.

Stephen: Especially for young men. I think there’s sort of a stigma about opening up about that sort of stuff, but it’s important to find someone that you trust and talk to them.

CSDC: Definitely. Getting back to the album, is there a reason why you included “Northern Boy” and “Different” as opposed to some of the other songs that were on your EP (Loose Tounges)?

Craig: The original recordings were just EP things, like recorded in 2 days. We just wanted to get music out there. So when it came around to the album we kind of felt like them songs weren’t served as right as they should have been. They obviously served their purpose on the EP, but we felt like the album would be a little bit lost if they weren’t on it.

Dean: They fit the narrative of the backseat.

Stephen: We felt like them two songs, more than the other three, they probably deserve the platform of the album. We all felt like they really add to the album.

Craig: Exactly. Them songs have received quite good success in Ireland, but we never got to push it in America or anything like that so it would have been a shame. We love playing those songs so to say goodbye to them would have been sad.

CSDC: Getting into the United States market – how do you guys plan to break into the U.S. audience? You guys are really well known over the pond, so how do you plan to really distinguish yourself?

Matt: We’re kind of taking the same approach that we did over there, which is just to play. Radio has been a massive help over there and just playing live constantly. That’s how we started in Ireland, we built up a live reputation as a band. We used to sell out shows in Dublin while having no music out just because we had played so much that people knew us for our live reputation. Now that we have an album out it’ll actually be a bit easier to sell it to people. I think to just get out and play as much as possible and get the music around.

Stephen: I think the theme of the album is pretty universal as well even though it’s about us coming of age in a small town in Ireland. I think some of stories or themes that can be related to anyone who’s going through that.

CSDC: Very cool. So help me understand, Ed Sheeran had “Galway Girl,” what is a “Northern Boy”? Is that a stereotype in Ireland? 

Craig: It could be more of a stereotype if it was called “North Dublin Boy” or “Northern Ireland Boy”, but that’s not what the song is about. It’s a song loosely based on my older sister, who met a boy from North Dublin originally and they kind of had troubled teenage years, they had like lots of babies, very young and all that kind of thing. It’s just a song about that. 

Dean: Sorry to disappoint.

Craig: It’s more specifically North Dublin more than Northern Ireland, cause we get that a lot from people in Northern Ireland, asking 'is this song about Northern Ireland'?

CSDC: You’re like “Yeah, no, sorry.” Is there anything you do to prep before shows? Any traditions?

Matt: The only tradition is that we have no single tradition.

Stephen: We have none. It’s pretty much different every night.

Dean: I like to just sit on my own for ten minutes and play with drum sticks, but no crazy tradition.

Craig: Just the classic stretching.

Dean: Visualizing the gig.

Craig: A Red Bull if you’re really tired.

Stephen: Yeah, sometimes after a long flight or night of driving a Red Bull is good.

Matt: Yeah, we’re like this is disgusting, but I have no choice.

Stephen: Tonight’s not gonna be one of them. I think we’re all pretty well-rested.

All photos by Raelena Kniff for Capitol Sound DC.