After exploding in their home town of Mullingar, The Academic have topped charts with their debut album, supported huge names on tour, and continued to pack venues full of fans on their tours. Taking a break from the sun, The Academic joined me on the festival grass of Community to talk albums, roots, and creative processes.
The Irish four-piece are named with literary influences in mind, the source being Catcher in The Rye. “It nearly becomes a thing that you don’t even think about any more; when you’re starting the band the name is such a big deal, it’s like, you want to get something that’s not been used and that’s unique to you.” The Academic is in some ways a nod to how they came together. “We started playing music together in school, and when we were looking for band names we just looked through some books we liked”. Stephen studied The Catcher in the Rye, and the rest is history. Though some bands grow to regret their younger decisions, they all still love the name. “I’ve got no post name regrets,” laughs Matt, and Craig adds, “I think we still look like a band that might be called the academic.” They explain that they never really considered incorporating more of their Irish roots into the name; “as much as we’re proud to be Irish and all that kind of thing, we don’t take as much musical influence from, let’s say, traditional Irish roots”. They refuse to make their origins a gimmick, “it just didn’t make any sense for the name to be Irish”.
The band’s journey has spanned six years, and though their music has maintained a cohesive sound, each member has individually grown up, personally and artistically progressing in that time. “None of us were adults when we started the band and now we’re all adults, were all men,” explains Craig. “I think we look after ourselves a lot better. When we were young we were just figuring it all out but now, like, definitely the mental health side of things and touring …” Matt finishes his sentence, adding, “learning when to support each other on the road and when to stay out of each other’s way, it’s such an important skill.”
The boys have toured with the headliners of the festival we’re at, and recollect that “touring with The Kooks was actually a lot of fun, they’re unbelievably nice guys.” They paint an endearing picture of them going bowling together while on European and American tours, and explain that they learnt a lot about performing off the legendary band. “The Kooks really do have fun, and when we were on there we just wanted to give their fans some excitement before they came on.” “Especially when you’re an opening act, your role is to make the crowd happy.”
Ireland adores the quartet, and the home gigs unsurprisingly therefore rank among the bands’ favourites. “We just did our own headline show in Cork, that was a really good crowd,” they tell me. “It’s a city we’ve played in so, so much and when we started playing there we were playing in like the smallest venue in town, and now we’re doing a 4000 capacity tent. From the first song they were just crazy.” They laugh when asked about the Leeds crowds, explaining that the few rare mosh pits they get are usually at the Leeds gigs. “Leeds is always crazy. I remember a distinct moment where we’d never had crazy crowds and then we had one UK tour and we played Sheffield and Leeds for the first time, and people were like, splitting their heads open, the moshes – everything was a bit crazy. That was the first time we’d seen crazy crowds in the UK. Matt adds, “Southern crowds tend to be a lot more just vibing listening crowd, northerners are crazy. They get more into it. More willing to put their bodies on the line. They’re similar to Irish crowds in that way, a bit.”
As they’ve grown as a band, The Academic explain they have learnt the importance of the visual accompaniments to their music. “Before when we were young, it was just like yeah let’s get up and plug in our guitars and play. But now we have a new light show, and with artwork as well, we spend a lot of time on it. Like with our new single, we designed that completely ourselves”. “Even with the album, we got in touch with this Irish photographer we liked who documented her son growing up over the years and we really liked all the pictures – because it was all about adolescence. She was kind enough to let us use the photographs and kind of manipulate them, so that was a fun thing.”
The band embrace their indie-pop label, but refuse to be limited by it. “we’re definitely not shying away from the fact that we’re a pop act, we definitely have pop sensibilities with a sort of slightly alternative twist”. “Now that we’re an album in and we’re testing the waters with new music, we don’t feel as bracketed in to the indie pop role. Whatever the song needs is what we’lI do. We don’t need to have indie guitars going on if the song doesn’t need it.” The band have “weirdly gone more DIY” with time, becoming slightly more self-sufficient. The creation of a song is “pretty democratic”; they all have make suggestions and incorporate their own ideas. “It’s not just like, here’s the song play your part.”
Fans can be assured that there are a few adored songs the band would never take off their setlist. “I’d never do a gig without ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’. I would never take that out, it’s maybe still my favourite academic song.” Craig adds, “Even 5 or 6 albums deep I still think bear claws and different would still be up there as well.” The group hint that they’ll probably release a new single before the end of summer, so catch the band at one of their remaining headline shows this year for a head-splitting audience and catchy, energy-packed tunes.