Fence Records' Seamus Fogarty: "I just do whatever, even if it doesn't pay the bills!"
A text comes through from Seamus Fogarty as we’re walking to meet him at a coffee shop on the Thames. “I’ll be the big hairy fella,” it reads. And sure enough, ten minutes later, there he is: hirsute and sizeable, sitting by the river with two dogs sniffing round his feet. “They’re not mine,” he laughs, by way of introduction. Despite the nip in the air, the February sunshine beams down with the suggestion of spring. “With weather like that, it’d be rude not to order a beer,” says Seamus. And with that, as he articulately explains to his girlfriend four pints later, “the interview went liquid.”
Fogarty is from Swinford, County Mayo (population: 1,500), is signed to Fence Records in Anstruther, Fife (population: 3,500) and lives in London, England (population: 8,278,251). He’s about to release his debut album, God Damn You Mountain, which is one of the most beautiful to have passed through these ears for some time. The connection with Fence was made via James Yorkston, a man who is no stranger to playing the bars and clubs of Ireland, and who advised him to “lose the Yank accent” he’d acquired from years playing Johnny Cash covers, before inviting him to open a gig in Kilkenny in 2009.
“I knew Homegame was coming up a couple of months after the gig,” says Seamus. “After the show, I asked him about my chances of getting involved in it and then kept emailing him about it. Eventually, he got me sorted out with a slot and we kept in contact and always said we would do some recording together.” A year later, Seamus was back teaching music technology at a Limerick college. “I was fed up. I’d had a horrible day and emailed James again. He spoke to Johnny Lynch and they got me a gig in Anstruther. Kenny Anderson was there and I gave him a CD. A couple of months later, he told me he’d listened to it five times in a row. He invited me back to play at Haarfest. I’ve been involved with them ever since.”
Fogarty is clearly delighted to be on Fence (“they’re an amazing bunch to be involved with”) and you’d be hard pushed to find a label more suited to his music. The CD he handed Anderson contained the opening tracks from God Damn You Mountain, an album that, stylistically, isn’t a million miles from King Cresosote’s understated magnum opus of last year, Diamond Mine, in which his microcosmic folk songs were drawn out by the ambient wizardry of Jon Hopkins. Fogarty, though, plays both roles. “I was sick of writing songs with such a rigid structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus. So I started trying all sorts of different things. Jon has a load of field recordings from around Cellardyke, and I have a similar archive, I suppose. I’ve made it over the last five or ten years, so sometimes I’ll dip into them to add something to a track.”
And so, woven among the bluegrass, the blues and the folk is the baaing of sheep, the dropping of kitchen utensils and the memories of old, Irish women. Fogarty’s extensive mixing of the songs (over the course of the day’s chat the names Squarepusher and Aphex Twin crop up, helping to explain the prevalent electronic influence) give them an aura of nostalgia – a rose-tinted snapshot of old Ireland, much more appealing from a distance of 50 years. Fogarty, who was raised on a diet of traditional music – admits being surprised by how “Irish” the songs sounded when he first played them back. “I grew up playing trad,” he says. “I used to play the fiddle, tin whistle and like many people, I got fed up with it as I got a bit older. You kind of get it hammered into you when you’re growing up. I got into a lot of American music – Pavement, Johnny Cash, stuff like that, and got back into the Irish stuff in my twenties.”
He admits getting “eyes to the sky” when he plays his music to the folks back home, but undeterred, Seamus decided to go full time last year. As well as his music, he makes films (he has had installations in Germany, Argentina and soon China) and paints pictures (the cover art is his own). “I just do whatever,” he says, “even if it doesn’t pay the bills!” It all makes for interesting conversation, and over the course of a day, we stretch to “girls with dinosaur bodies” (one of his more oblique lyrics”), dead singers (Sparklehorse and Elliott Smith are a big influence) and of course, Ireland. Eight hours, two pubs, a few songs and a skinful of ale later, we part ways. As first dates go, we haven’t had many more successful than this.