Scottish trio Fatherson had fun with their second album, and indulged in the odd “U2-y” moment – but don’t hold that against them.
“F atherson may be known for their moody music, but when it comes to their battle against the second album slump following debut ‘I Am An Island’, they feel fairly cheery.
“I think everyone always talks about second album syndrome and how you’ve got your whole life to write your first album,” begins singer-guitarist Ross Leighton, “but the way we did our first album is that we had a bunch of songs that we could have put on it, but we wrote nine of those album songs within the nine months before we went in to record it. It wasn’t like we were banking on old stuff and I kind of liked that bit of pressure.
“All of us are like all-nighters-before-exams type people, so it was like ‘let’s just give ourselves a bit of a challenge here’,” he continues. That challenge resulted in something daft – around 28 or 29 songs demoed, from which they then had to pick. “It’s nice to know you’ve got the ability to just go in and vomit out music if you need to!”
This, together with some forward planning, allowed them to be a bit more relaxed going into ‘Open Book’. “I think we’d already decided we were going to write the album before it was made official that we had to write it. It wasn’t really a surprise to us. I think if it had been planted upon us one morning we’d have probably freaked out a bit, but we’d already been chatting about stuff we wanted to do and sounds that we were liking at the time, so we were like, ‘Cool, that’s fine, let’s just go down and write this’. It was actually a lot of fun rather than a lot of heartache.”
As for those seeds of inspiration back in the album’s early days, it was largely what they were listening to separately being brought together. “I’d been listening to a ton of instrumental music like Gogo Penguin and Chon and Animals As Leaders and stuff like that – not that it sounds like Animals as Leaders, because that would be a massive departure. But just that sort of vibe. Greg [Walkinshaw, drums] had been listening to loads of U2 and Paul Simon. Marc [Strain, bass] had been listening to a bunch of pop punky stuff, Idlewild-y stuff. We were like, cool, let’s take all those ideas in.”
Though they remain far from a pop-punk-U2-Chon (although if they’re looking for a side project idea…), Fatherson started mucking about with any instrument they could get their hands on. “We were trying to play around with pianos,” Ross says. “Lots of it was first brought to life on a piano and then moved onto other instruments, which is a nice way to write because I’ve got no idea what I’m doing with the piano. I don’t really know what I’m doing when I play the guitar either but I kind of like that because you can’t really go wrong when you don’t know what you’re doing.
“We had loads of fun just chucking around ideas, just setting up all the instruments and having a bash around with them and swapping over. Somebody would be playing guitar while I would be playing keys, or I’d be playing bass, you know? We just had loads of fun with it. For the first week of the writing process, we’d get through all the wacky ideas, then go, ‘Right, we can’t have a nine minute jazz fusion song’. So you’d take that back and write a good tune.”
On top of being collaborative and fun across the board, ‘Open Book’ has also seen Fatherson level up their songwriting skills. “I think that’s actually been a big thing that I’ve been quite proud of with this album,” explains Ross. “Lyrically it’s gone up a notch. I’m not going to try claim that any of the songs are any happier than they’ve ever been, but just some of the words are a bit smarter. There’s a song called ‘Joanna’ that’s basically a flip flop of the sort of relationship where people are feeling, not really taken advantage of, but don’t know where they stand within something. Maybe the loss of the other person. That kind of story is I suppose fairly relatable for people.
“There’s another song, ‘Wondrous Heart’, that is maybe the most U2-y song on the album, but lyrically it just goes through from two people’s perspectives verse to verse, the lyrics sort of finish each other off. So the first verse, the questions aren’t necessarily answered until the second verse, and I quite like that. I think it’s pretty cool. Then there’s ‘Forest’ and it’s just got an absolute screamer of a chorus. On the day it happened I was like yeah, this is going to be an absolute smasher.”
From smashers to those whose lyrics hook you in with threads of your own life, there’s still the next issue: the live show. No matter how good the new songs are, you run the risk of the audience grumble, but they’ve thought about that too. “New songs is a thing that we’re trying to handle it a little bit differently because we’ve all been those guys in the crowd where you’ve gone to see a band you really like and they go ‘Aw, we’re going to play a couple of new tunes’ and everyone goes to the bar or goes out for a smoke.”
“We’ll introduce maybe one at a time instead of a couple in a row. At the moment, there’s three or four. It’s always rubbish if you go and see someone when they’ve got a new album coming out and you’ve maybe really liked the album before and you go in and it’s like four tunes from the album before and basically the whole of the new album. The new ones have been going down well. We haven’t had anyone boo, so that’s good.”
With their second album, Fatherson have an almost startling self-awareness in how they’re handling it all. Writing before they need to so they can have fun, putting proper thought into how to introduce them so their audiences have fun. As they’re set to embark on a tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland before festival season, they’re on the right road with everything.
Beyond that, they also know that there comes a point where their album is painted in a kaleidoscope of new meanings by others. It’s on the horizon, and they can’t wait. “[The album is] a snapshot in time. That was the culmination of a year, having our own album out and touring Europe and going to America and touring with Enter Shikari and all these other great bands. We got to watch all the bands we loved growing up every night and go, ‘That’s really cool how they do that, let’s take all these ideas and go do them how we would do them’.
“Hopefully we’re writing songs that people can relate to. That’s what it’s all about. Once you’ve written a song and someone else has heard it, it’s not really about you any more. It’s about what they take from it. That’s been the great benefit I’ve found being in this band is meeting people and them telling you what they took from something. That’s pretty much the most incredible thing ever, when someone gets a completely different thing from a song. You’ll have one idea what it’s about and they’ll have ten others, that’s the best thing. Hopefully this album gives a bit more space for people to just listen to music and make up their own minds.”
Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now. Order your copy here. Fatherson’s album ‘Open Book’ is out now.