THEY were once among the most ubiquitous of Irish bands - appearing here, there and everywhere, playing up and down the country, at festivals and on your radio - a measure of their domestic success.
Then, things went a bit quiet for Fred, the Cork five piece that boasts Limerick man Jamin O’Donovan among their ranks, the bassist hailing from Caherdavin. This was not equally a measure of their lack of success, rather a conscious decision to remove themselves from the public eye, spending close to a year writing and recording new album ‘Leaving My Empire’, the band’s fourth, the follow-up to 2008’s ‘Go God Go’.
When asked what it was like to be “off the map”, Jamin stifles a giggle - City Life has just woken him up you see, after a stellar performance on Today FM’s breakfast show. But, such exposure brings with it a lack of sleep.
“It is weird, we have just come back on the map now and realised that we have actually been off it for a while,” laughs Jamin.
“We took the whole year really, to write and record the album, so we felt like we were busy all the time, but we have just realised we were out of the public eye all right.”
Taking that course was no doubt strange for the hard working band, but probably no bad thing - after an incessant period of touring, the break was welcome. They have returned with a stunning album that was produced by Howard Bilerman, a Canadian producer and former drummer with Arcade Fire. At times a dark, woozy and brooding affair more in line with Arcade Fire, or Broken Social Scene, the album is the band’s most assured and ambitious, removing the “power-pop”, comedic element that made Go God Go such a winner. Brave decision, one feels.
“Writing the album was a long slow process and you never know if you are getting anywhere, but when it came time to record in Montreal, we put it all down in a month and went to London to mix it,” explains Jamin, who has been with Fred for eight years, along with Joseph O’Leary, Jamie Hanrahan, Justin O’Mahony and Carolyn Goodwin - the latter a “new member”, boasting three years in the band.
“The new album is definitely a departure from the last one, that had a lot of pop songs on it, whereas the new one doesn’t have any of that, it is not a pop album, it is...,” he pauses and laughs, “it isn’t a pop song album - people are saying it is a more mature album”.
“I haven’t used that word myself - until now! But it is, it is more about where we are at as a band, this one. With the last one, it just came out of nowhere when we realised we could write pop songs. This time around we decided we didn’t really want to do that and the songs reflect where we are in our own lives and more so what we like musically.”
The remarkably uncategorisable band have pulled off something of a trick with the album, drawing in reference points as diverse as 70s soul and shoegaze rock - as well as undoubted contempoary influences in Radiohead, Modest Mouse and Stars.
“We have been together for so long that this album feels almost like a new band that did it, different from the last time around. For Go God Go we wrote everything very much in isolation, we wrote every song in isolation from the next, so it never felt like a complete album - each song felt like a little project,” Jamin says.
“These songs were written over a longer period of time, and we definitely considered the album as a group of songs that would sit well together. We didn’t feel under any pressure to do super radio friendly pop songs. Lyrically they reflect more of where we are actually at, and musically I think the same. It is a much more considered album than the last, I think,” he adds.
The band recorded directly to tape, a departure for them, with everyone in the room together, playing as a band, making the album quite simply their most cohesive.
Fred play the Belltable this Friday, doors at 7.30pm.