By Reed Romanko
Liam Fagan is a Chicago-native attending Berklee College of Music who releases music under Park National. WTBU DJ and writer Reed Romanko chatted with Fagan about his new album The Big Glad and being a college student.
Reed Romanko: The Big Glad was definitely a pretty big success. What’s your favorite track on the album, and why?
Liam Fagan: My personal favorite track is probably “The Key.” I’ve thought about it a lot, it’s either that one or “Faking My Own Death.” “The Key” is a kind of a more underrated song, it’s more of like a B-side, “Faking My Own Death” is definitely one of my more popular ones. I think I just worked on those ones a lot in terms of melody and arrangement and flushing them out a lot. When I look back on those songs, I’m a little more proud of how I structured them and my dynamic change. With “Faking My Own Death,” I have a lot of different layers; I have acoustic, some gang vocals, it’s more interesting in terms of general arrangement and the flow of the song dynamically. I really like those ones, those were more thoughtfully written. I have some that are more super high energy, just in your face, fast punk riffs the whole time. That’s the purpose of that, then I have some that are a little more thought out and worked through.
RR: I believe in December, you promised to give away your remaining merch if The Big Glad got to 200,000, and it did! Now, it’s close to 300,000 streams I’m pretty sure. I’ve never heard of any band doing a giveaway of that magnitude like that, what inspired that?
LF: For the entirety that this project has been a thing, my only way to sort of grow, keep people engaged, and communicate with people is through the internet. I have to give people incentive to keep doing that. Usually, you go to a show, and you see this band, and you’re like “Oh that band is so sick, I’m going to check them out! I’m going to support them; I’m going to buy their merch or whatever.” Right now, it’s harder to keep people engaged because you have to give them something on this digital medium that’s worth checking out or following through with. At first I was like, “Oh, my album’s maybe gonna hit 200,000 before the end of the year. Maybe I’m on track to hit that.” Then I had a really limited amount of merch left, maybe four or five T-shirts. I was like “Oh, if I really want to get my album to this imaginary stream number, if I’m gonna do this little thing, I’ll give away some free merch. It’s not like I have a ton left, it’s not like it’d be a huge financial dent if I gave away three or four shirts, so…” It was just a fun little deal I thought I would do.
RR: Certainly very fun to see that little acceleration! And just in regards to the album itself, your sister created the album art, right?
LF: Yeah, she does graphic design, she’s really good at using Illustrator and Photoshop and stuff. I had the idea for the layout, the picture with the bar over my eyes and a title and stuff. I had the idea for that, but I have no skill or literacy with photo editing programs. I pretty much just made it in PicCollage or some weird online thing. I was like “here’s the idea that I have,” and then I asked her about it, “Do you have any suggestions I could do with this, or can we flesh this out together with an actual software? Because I don’t know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop or whatever.” I guess the layout of everything was my idea, but she helped me create it and critique it and figure out all the measurements of shapes. It’s a pretty a simple thing overall, it wasn’t like I had any ideas about what I wanted it to represent. I just had this cool photo and I was like “I’m going to put this in, and put the title over it because it’s going to look cool or whatever,” and I look how it looks; the bar goes over my eyes. It wasn’t like, “I’m going to do this specific photo and I’m going to lay out the words in this specific direction to communicate a certain idea.” I definitely could have done that, but I wanted it to be like a fun album cover.
RR: As you’re continuing to work on new stuff, write new songs, what are you taking away from The Big Glad?
LF: I think what I took away from that is that I have the ability to write a bunch of songs and record them myself. It seems super daunting right now, especially since I have an album out, I have all this time ahead of me. I don’t know when shows are going to come back, I don’t know what the step is because there is no realistic time frame for when I’m going to be able to do things. Right now I have no logistical reason to release an album because I put one out six or seven months ago. Now, I’m sort of taking my time with it, and I’m realizing that I’m having confidence in my ability to do another album and do that whole process again. I know that I was able to do it once, and once I got into that flow state of working on it for several hours a day, I was able to do something. I think I started writing the album in May, mid-May, and I had the album fully completed by mid-June. It’s still kind of a marvel to me at this point that I was able to do that entire project within the span of a little over a month. I remember having all these things laid out, I had a big spreadsheet on a white board above my desk that had every song and every instrument. Every day I would try to check off one or two boxes, and I was in such a productive state. It’s kind of scary because I haven’t been able to get into that state again since then. I know it’s going to happen again at some point, but for now I’m not trying to force it.
RR: That’s crazy, a two month turn around for that is absolutely nuts…
LF: I wrote a song in March, and then I kind of banked on it for a while. I was like “cool, people really like this, I’m just gonna chill,” and May came around and I had one song out and it had been three months since a put out any music. I was like “Oh sh*t, if I’m going to do this album, I gotta do it. This took off in a way that I wasn’t expecting it to and I have to do this thing I set out to do.” That was always the goal, to do an album –I didn’t know if it would be an album or EP or whatever– from the moment I put any music, I was like, “I’m gonna do a body of work, I’m going to an album.” I slept on it for a while, and I think the bad habit that I developed from that was putting out music and being like “I can just chill and not do anything for three months.” Then, that state of productivity and creation and writing just slows down to the point where it’s impossible to do anything. If I just complete this body of work, I’m just gonna sit there and chill and let people enjoy it and leave comments and give me validation on the internet for three months. It’s definitely a weird thing to think about. “Hey, how often should I release music? Why should I release music if I can’t play shows on it? What’s the point of all this?” It’s been difficult, but I really enjoyed the process of making an album even though it was kind of rushed.
RR: Going from Chicago to Boston, you’re a first year student at Berklee. What are you studying?
LF: I’m hoping to study music production. I kind of decided that rather recently, but I decided that what I want to accomplish hear is not so much trying to make a bunch of connections and meet a ton of people, but I’m more trying to get as good as possible at making my own music, making records and stuff. That’s really what I want to do, whether that’s as a producer or as a recording artist, I want to spend time in a studio making music. I think, for me, songwriting has always been more of a personal thing that I can’t really gain a lot of insight in terms of an academic setting. I’ve decided that I won’t waste my time trying to get really good at song writing from taking a lot of classes about it. All of my favorite song writers probably didn’t go to music school, so I’m just trying to get really good at producing. That’s always been an interest of mine that I haven’t really been able to work on. I think when it comes to listening to music, I really know what I like, and I know really know what stands out to me with certain recordings, but I’ve just never known how to reproduce that in my own work. I’m trying to get more literate in that so anything that I do release in the future becomes a little bit more legitimate instead of “I have no production experience and I’m just going to figure it out and make it in my bedroom.” Even though that’s definitely the vibe I’m going for, I still want to have a legitimate, good sounding recording.
RR: Have you found being a student at a college of music has impacted your creative process at all, or are you still early in the education? What’s the vibe there?
LF: I mean it’s definitely a little bit early, but looking at all these projects that people around me are making, I’m trying to find a balance between “I’m intimidated by the creativity and productivity of other people and I’m really gonna step up my game in order to match their pace,” but I’m also kind of thinking “they’re going to do their thing and I’m going to do my thing. I need to just stick to what I’m doing instead of always trying to be in a productive state to keep up with other people.” That’s been a damaging mindset to me. When I see other artists making all this stuff during quarantine, and I’m just like “I wish I could be producing at that speed” because I want to be doing this in the same that everyone else is doing it. I need to found out what works for me and what I’m going to be happy doing. That’s really the goal. I’m not trying to be the biggest band in the world; I just want to enjoy what I’m doing. I just need to find the best way to enjoy that, I don’t want to feel so pressured by the people around me to produce music at a certain speed. I just gotta do what works for me, everyone does their music at a different speed.
RR: Yeah, it’s definitely a double-edged sword. It can be really motivating to be around all these inspired individuals, but also daunting. A bit off that, you’re now in Boston out of Chicago, what excites you about becoming immersed in the Boston music scene?
LF: I’ve always really looked up to east coast bands, a lot of my favorite bands are based in this general location. I always admired the vibe of being in Boston. A lot of cool record labels are, like Run for Cover is in Boston, Counterintuitive is in Boston, lots of really great bands and labels are based here. Not that being here will instantly make me a part of that community, but it definitely helps me feel a certain way, since I’m in a different. Not that Chicago is any less, because Chicago is a great place with a ton of great bands, the Midwest in general too, but I’ve always looked up to the east coast scene in general. I’m hoping to become more acquainted with that in the future. Even though I’m from Chicago and that’s where I got my start, I still feel like I’m a band on the Internet; I don’t feel like I belong to any one city. Once shows come back, I’m hoping to establish my roots in a city rather than “I’m just gonna put all my stuff on the internet and get a bunch listeners and fans from all over the country.” I wanted to be more rooted in one place. In order for that to happen, I have to have in person events, so it’s just a matter of time.
RR: Of course! One of my favorite things about this scene, well this applies to every scene, but how the scene interacts and works with one another. So, if you could make a split with any currently active band, who would you work with?
LF: Any currently active band…
RR: Yeah, no modern baseball!
LF: That would be cool, insane, but I don’t know if that would ever happen because they’re probably not gonna come back either… It depends on the quality of the music and the quality of the hangs. Some of my best friends are Frat Mouse, they’re probably my biggest friend band. I’m sure we’ll make something together at some point. In terms of bands who I’m not friends with but I love their music, I love Oso Oso a lot, that’d be sick. There’re tons of bands I’m really digging at the moment, so I’m not really sure. Especially once I start playing shows, I really want to meet cool bands. Right now I’m really only meeting people through Twitter and Instagram, so it’s hard to make any real connections with people, and I can’t expect to be a more well-known individual in the music scene if I’m not friends with any people from an in-person standpoint. I definitely want to be more connected through real experiences rather than “Oh, we follow each other on Twitter, we’re friends now.” I’m just hoping for shows to come back as soon as possible, that’s going to be when I start really being a band, when I can do that in the normal world. Obviously, I’m willing to wait as long as it takes for safety circumstances, but that’s going to be a new era for most bands, when that comes back. It’s been too fricking long.
RR: Agreed on that front. Big pivot outside of everything here, I know you have a tattoo of the Hotelier’s Goodness on your arm. Is there anything upcoming on the tattoo front?
LF: Not sure, I definitely want to get more at some point. I haven’t really decided if I’m going to get a full sleeve or just a couple little ones on my arm. Also, I haven’t decided if I’m going to do mostly band ones or mostly different ones. All I know right now is I want more, and I’ll probably get several more, but I haven’t made any concrete decisions in my head. I know that I really like the idea of tattoos, and it’s different for everybody. Some people really want tattoos to have a ton of meaning to them, but some of them just look cool! This one has a fair amount of meaning to me, but, also at its most basic level, it’s an album that I really like. It’s not like “I live by this value,” or “this is a huge part of my life,” it’s just a band that I really like and an album I really like. It’s a cool word too, so why not put it on my arm? It’s kinda fun!
RR: Last thing, do you have any final thoughts or parting words to your fans?
LF: Hang in there! It’s a really difficult time for music right now. I don’t want to be that person who doesn’t want to adjust to changing times and stuff, but I don’t think music was ever meant to be this way. It was never meant to be this thing we all talk about on the internet. I’ve always found my greatest musical experiences to be at shows and at in person events. That’s always the way this art form was meant to be. Don’t expect all your favorite artists to be doing exactly what you want them to do right now. This is a difficult time for everybody, and not just logistically or medically. In terms of making music, it’s been a huge creative slump, and it’s had a huge effect on my mental health. The only note that I would say is, this is going to end at some point. Until then, try to enjoy yourself, don’t expect so much from yourself and other people, live your life, be safe, and wear a mask so we can actually do this soon. That’s my biggest thing, please don’t go to any parties or anything, don’t be stupid, have respect for other people, that’s pretty much it.