Hi A.S., welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been good, thanks. You can call me Steve, by the way.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “All Time’?
It’s a song about forgiveness and love and mercy. The lyrics sort of bounce around a lot, from the present to the past and the future. But I think of the song as being very grounded in a particular moment. That the ‘all time’ it refers to is about everything happening simultaneously as opposed to a long period of chronological time. Sort of like that ‘time is a flat circle’ line from Matthew Mcconaughey’s character in True Detective.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Not really. It was more just a moment of clarity or something, and that song just came out very spontaneously. Tom Waits said about songwriting that ‘some songs you may write and record but you never sing them again. Others you sing ‘em every night and try and figure out what they mean’. I think that’s one of those songs that I don’t fully have a grasp of. I like that about it.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
I didn’t have much involvement in it, which was a strange feeling. Not that I would necessarily have a lot of valuable input into making a piece of film like that, but it’s slightly unnerving to just hand something over to other people having worked on it for so long. I’m used to having some notion or illusion of control over everything I put out, so to hand it over to Mark Logan and the Collective Films guys was a different experience. But they were great. We had a couple of chats about it in advance of the filming and bounced a couple of ideas back and forth, but really it was their concept and their film. They got all the actors together and a group of them decamped to West Cork for the weekend to shoot it – around the end of the Summer, when it was briefly possible for a group of people to be in each other’s company – and the first I saw of it was a rough edit the following week. I really think of it as a film in its own right, for that reason. It doesn’t feel to me like something that has just been tacked on to the song in order to have some visual accompaniment to it, it inhabits its own little universe which I have very little influence over, and I’m quite happy about that. I think it’s a really beautiful film.
The single comes off your new album You Should Go Mad – what’s the story behind the title?
Well it comes from the song of the same name, unsurprisingly. The song is about anxiety and mental illness, but the title comes from a line in Moby Dick. There’s a passage in it where Ahab tells the ship’s blacksmith ‘I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should’st go mad, blacksmith’. I’m not sure why that line appealed to me so much. I think I liked it for the album title because the process of making the album had felt like an embrace of chaos and loss of control, and the album jumped around a lot stylistically, which I had decided just to accept instead of rigidly trying to fit everything into more consistent structures.
How was the recording and writing process?
The writing was quite sporadic. Some of the songs date back a good few years. There’s a couple that I had knocking around since before the first album, which I didn’t think quite fit with the atmosphere of that record. So it’s a bit of a mixture of stuff in terms of the writing. Partly because of that, I decided I wanted to record it in as short a time as possible. Myself and the band basically took some sketches of songs that were in various states of disorder, and spent three days in Impression Recordings in Berlin just hammering them all into some sort of shape that could hang together as an album. We recorded three songs live in the studio as a five-piece band as well and came out after those three days with something close to a finished record. I really enjoyed that, it’s a great way to work. I spent a long time poring over the first album, giving full reign to my perfectionistic tendencies, imagining that I was improving things with every tweak and edit that I made. I was happy with what came out of it in the end, but the process was quite slow and laboured. So it was really liberating to do everything so quickly in this case, to just make decisions very instinctively and embrace the unpredictability of it.
What role does Dublin play in your music?
I think it plays a diminishing role the longer I live away from there. I did grow up in Dublin so elements of it will probably always be in my head somewhere, but I don’t think about it very often when I’m writing or making music.
How has The National and Elbow influenced your writing?
I’ve never really listened to The National. I’ve heard a couple of songs that I thought were quite good, but I’ve never gone any further with them. I was quite into Elbow for a while about ten years ago. I was playing bass in a band called The Mighty Stef at the time and we played a couple of festivals where they were on the bill, around the time of the Seldom Seen Kid album, and those shows were pretty incredible. But I don’t know if they’ve influenced my writing at all.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I think I’ve gotten to a point with songwriting where I don’t really interrogate it very much. In certain cases I can definitely remember a specific thing that influenced a song. Like with ‘You Should Go Mad’ I remember the Moby Dick thing, and I also remember reading The Dead by James Joyce around that time and deciding to use the structure of it as a framework for the song. But a lot of other songs are harder to put my finger on, and I don’t ask too many questions.
What else is happening next in A.S. Fanning’s world?
I’m working on a new EP that I hope to release next year. I’m tentatively booking some shows for next Autumn as well. Not getting my hopes up too much just yet that they’ll actually happen, but starting to make some plans, fingers crossed.