Ahead of the release of his second album, The Curious Hand, next month, Irish alt-folk and electronica alchemist Seamus Fogarty spoke with The Fountain. His first since being signed to Domino and follow-up to God Damn You Mountain, there has been much anticipation for this new record.
Seamus gave us an insight into his working practice, the sounds he incorporates into his tracks and the inspiration behind his evocative album title.
TF: So, you’re first release after being signed to Domino, there’s a lot of hype surrounding The Curious Hand. You gotta be excited?
I’m very excited. In fact I still can’t really believe it – every so often I have to check the Domino Records website to make sure I’m still on there.
TF: And it’s quite the thing, a beautiful thing, this album, with field recordings, samples, synthesiser drones and circuit burps. What inspired you to throw these into this wonderful alt-folk record?
Thanks very much. Generally the sounds I choose have some personal connection to the songs and I use them to try and create a more immersive experience for the listener. And sometimes a tune just needs a bit of bass. I think the whole field recordings and burps and farts thing was there on my first album and on the EP that follows. When I started writing songs fifty years ago, I just played guitar and they were fairly conventional verse chorus verse jobs. I didn’t really know anything about computers or synthesisers, but I liked the idea of them. And then I heard this piece by John Cage piece called Roarotorio – I think he did it with the Chieftains – and it was bonkers, a weird collage of random sounds mixed with bursts of traditional Irish music. That kind of changed my philosophy with regard to sound and music and what a song could actually be. Around this time I also found a banjo in a house I moved into and started learning that – and the rest is history.
TF: Obviously titled with the inclusion of the track, The Curious Hand, where did this track and album title spring from?
I’m not very good at coming up with titles for albums and songs – God Damn You Mountain came from a track name on that album, but it kinda works.
This time around most of the songs had no titles until well after I recorded them, The Curious Hand being one of those. The title comes from a line from the first section of the song, which I wrote a while ago – I think my nephew had just been born and it got me thinking about that first part of life. I think the idea of the curious hand kind of encapsulates that idea of taking chances in life, or setting out on a journey where the destination is unknown, and this is something I’ve tried to capture and record on the album.
TF: With certainly the addition of Aram on drums and Emma on violin and bass, your sound has altered slightly from God Damn You Mountain. How would you personally describe the progression of your music from your first album to your second release?
Aram and Emma, and Leo Abrahams… they’re like the holy trinity. Aram is such a solid and sympathetic drummer while Emma actually played over 185 instruments on the album. I think the fact that we’ve been playing a lot of these songs as a band for a good number of years is the biggest single alteration to the sound – the first album was all me, which was nice but its nice to do something as a collective – the first album was a solo record, but this one is a band record.
TF: Writing such layered songs, with these beautiful lyrics, I am curious about your working process. How do you begin and progress a song, filling an entire album?
Some of the older, more conventional songs would have come together really quickly. But often the fact that they’ve been around for a while is the very thing that makes me want to fire sounds at them – I want to make them exciting for myself first and foremost. Or I’ll start a song and I’ll be really happy with the whole thing except for the first line of the second verse, so that might be shelved for a couple of years until one day the line miraculously appears and I can finish the song. There’s probably a more efficient way of doing things.
TF: And what was it like working with Leo Abrahams?
Amazing, his very presence exudes music and calm in equal measures. He’s probably the hardest working person I know which is great but can also make you feel a bit lazy by comparison – but that’s probably the only negative. He was crucial to so many aspects of this album, from production to recording to mixing, can’t really say enough about him. OK, I’ve said enough about him now.
TF: Lastly, it is obvious that your Irish roots are influential on your music even on tracks like Mexico. Where did the other influences come from?
That’s a tricky one. Domino, Lost Map and Fence?
The Curious Hand is out on 6th October via Domino Records.