20 Questions: Fionn Regan

Fionn Regan
100 Acres of Sycamore
Indie Europe/Zoom

Fionn Regan has had a bit of a wild ride.

Although now barely past the age of 30, this Bray-born folkster has already lead a full and complete musical career. His 2006 debut album, The End of History, was an underground knockout, critically adored for its beautiful melodies and quiet confidence, all while snagging a Mercury Music Prize in the process. What’s fascinating about that initial effort, however, was that it was almost entirely composed of demos, given very little touchup between recording and pressing. What’s more, Regan wound up appealing to a large swath of observers who were keen on hearing an honest-to-goodness folk record — not merely people putting out singer-songwriter discs with acoustic guitars — and Regan’s frequent references to great songwriters past has kept him firmly rooted in folk music’s storied past while venturing confidently forward.

Now, the lad is coming off of two of the busiest years of his life. After touring and taking a break following the release of The End of History, Regan wound up putting out an album in both 2010 (The Shadow of an Empire) and at the tail end of 2011 (100 Acres of Sycamore), deepening his craft and showing a true, honed development in his sound. Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Regan sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing a strong affinity for Dylan Thomas, how his stabs at art are very much informed by his love of music, and why he might be “cruising for a bruising” in those oxblood Doc Martens.

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Shane Meadow’s This is England ’88; watching that made me cry, the performances, the whole thing is incredible and to top it off, a song I wrote called “Dogwood Blossom” was played out over the final scene. It was the first time a song I’d written was married with a moving image to such a beautiful effect. I felt blessed to be part of something so brilliant.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I like to make sure the line in the sand is drawn deep using reality’s boot heel with its fictional laces fastened loosely.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Probably After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. It’s a record that has followed me and guided me in some way, a north star, growing up we had no record player in the flat, but for some reason we had the “After the Gold Rush” record sleeve, so being surrounded by musicians I’d point to songs on the sleeve and say “Can you play ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’ or play ‘After the Gold Rush’?” and they’d do it on the piano or an acoustic guitar, like a live jukebox.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I’m not really sure which is which to be honest. I don’t like wars, treks are fine by me, but stars on the other hand I love, especially lying on a sand dune looking up them.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Go to the bus station in Dublin, a bit of money in your back pocket, but not too much, take a biro, a moleskin, and a cassette recorder. Look at the boards, take your pick, buy a ticket and you’re off.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Pride comes before the fall.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

I’m not sure if I have that level of ego to see myself remembered in any way … I’d hope that some of the songs I’ve written might go on to inspire or illuminate people down the road, but who knows. I’d also like to think I’ve tried my best to become a better person as I’ve moved through life. That’s my religion: become a better person.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

I played in the poet Dylan Thomas’s house. When I first read his work I was blown away. ‘The Boathouse’ now a museum, is set right on a cliff overlooking the estuary in the town Laugharne, in Wales. As I stood in his room and sang the lines from the song “Be Good or Be Gone”: “I have become an aerial view of a coastal town you once knew”. I felt like I had tipped the hat and received a feather in one swoop.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I’ve never felt that way about anyone’s work; I’d never want to rub out another artist’s name and replace it with mine. I don’t want to be or be better than anyone else, just the best I can be within myself.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

Well, I’d like to think I’m an all right painter, I do the artwork for the record covers, concert posters and that, and I get great ideas for songs from painting. When I paint it comes out as pure feeling on the paper, which bleeds back into songwriting, it’s a reminder of what you hope to achieve in the writing and recording of songs, as Jack Kerouac said “First thought best thought.”

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

The best advice I ever got was “Don’t give advice” and I said, “Is that advice?”

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I bought a box of licorice pipes in Sweden and gave one to everyone in my family on Christmas day. None of us could put our fingers on why it was funny but everyone laughed all the same.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

I love the expression of clothes, when I was growing up, I’d buy a plain white t-shirt, kneel down in the front room, paint teeth on it with cheap ink, cut my jeans above the ankle, put on my oxblood Doc Martens, Tipp-Ex them, then I’d dart out the front door knowing I may well be cruising for a bruising.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

A diamond as big as the Ritz … I know it says ‘guest’ in the question but I have a bit more of a shindig in mind … OK, let’s see … some alive, some not, I’m sure they accept reservations for ghosts at the Ritz … Lord Buckley, Woody Guthrie, Dylan Thomas, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, Joe Strummer, Michel Gondry, Samuel Beckett, Autumn De Wilde, Shane McGowen, Shane Meadows, Anna Friel, Keith Richards, Carl Sandburg, John Lydon, Rhys Ifans, Joseph Beuys, Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart, Florence Welch, Sylvia Plath, Alison Mosshart, Flann O’Brien, Edie Sedgwick, Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, John Fante, Bjork, Charles Bukowski, Guy Clark, Luke Kelly … I could go on … but instead of the Ritz I’d rather say bring your own, light a fire on the beach, roll out a cart of deck chairs and viola!

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I like the time I’m in now, I don’t want to go backwards or forwards, although on a time related riff, I have recently been thinking about first memory, which for me was seeing a donkey lying on a snow drift from the back of Renault 4 in the Wicklow mountains. I think that may explain more about me than an interview ever will.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Taking less in exchange for a greater hold on the creative reins, has created a lot of stress, but put on the scales up against making records via a committee, I’d say it’s an effective form of stress management.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?  

Moscow mule.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

At the moment, I’m waltzing between both so as soon as I’m recording in our bunkhouse studio by day, I’m back in the city under streetlight by night.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I’ve just written a song that I’d sing instead.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I’ve started work on my next album, after that I might do something else completely.