“It’s a very liberating experience to be in a band where you kind of don’t give a shit if no one likes it.”
There’s a fine line between not giving a damn about what other people think and appreciating the positive reactions that come your way. On one side, you’re flirting with nihilism, while the other side is grateful and uplifting.
The fine line between, it seems, can be a liberating space, and it’s one that the Boston post-hardcore supergroup Fiddlehead occupies with their sophomore release, Between The Richnesss, which dropped in May via the local label Run For Cover Records. Have Heart vocalist Patrick Flynn brings a genuine intensity, while Basement’s Alex Henery and Big Contest’s Alex Dow lend raw riffs on guitar and Have Heart drummer Shawn Costa and Youth Funeral bassist Casey Nealon anchor the tight rhythms.
Flynn and I recently spoke about feeling more comfortable with personal lyrics, having a lot of time during the pandemic to work on new music, and planning out some shows for the fall and early 2022.
It says in the liner notes of the new album that Fiddlehead wasn’t even supposed to make a second album and there’s a case to be made that the band’s 2018 debut full-length Springtime & Blind wasn’t supposed to be made either. Going from the start of the band to now, how have things changed for you and the rest of the members to keep this project going?
I think it’s a very liberating experience to be in a band where you kind of don’t give a shit if no one likes it. Most of the members of the band have played in previous bands and they’ve done pretty considerable touring. We’ve enjoyed that lifestyle, but I can say that we didn’t enjoy having a life that was kind of dependent on it. It kind of detracts from the more fulfilling elements of pursuing a creative endeavor, so this band has almost always been about really focusing on having a fulfilling musical experience. We write when we can and when we want to; if we’re not satisfied with it, then we’ll just scrap a song.
There were two or three songs that we wrote for this record that we just didn’t like, so we scrapped them. When it comes to playing live it’s a huge benefit for us because it keeps our performance fairly infrequent, so when we do play it matters a lot more. Everyone in the band has had the experience of touring relatively full-time and kind of rubbing off the value of the live performance and the songs. We really don’t want to do that with this material, we intentionally want to play frequently but we can’t because we have other things in our lives. That’s becoming pretty constant and I can’t say that anything has changed with that from the beginning of the band to now.
We’re a little bit more pressed for time, but oddly enough the pandemic really switched things up because we had a lot of downtime. I bought a house with a big, giant barn so we had all this space to practice in and we actually wrote a third LP. It won’t be out for a couple years but we did it because we had the time with the lockdown and the lack of activities. We’re really grateful for the ease of everything, but I think we’ve learned that it is so easy and enjoyable to write new songs because we’re not in any way, shape, or form worried if the public doesn’t like the music. We want to write music that people enjoy but we like it as well, and if people like it then that’s not a problem for us.
We’re just happy to put out what we like. It sounds kind of self-indulgent but it works for us.
It’s good to have that feeling of artistic freedom where you can write something without worrying about it being rejected or unappreciated. It’s also great that you’ve had more time to write new music during the pandemic. “Between The Richness” is inspired both by your late father Richard and your son who has the same name in the sense that it focuses on both life and death. With that theme in mind, how personal do you consider this album to be for you?
Pretty personal, but I’ve always thought that everything is a personal expression. If you’re writing about your views on a friend of an enemy or even love, it always comes from a personal outlook. How do we define something as personal? What’s the scale of it? Is it things that are sad or is it things that run the risk of vulnerability? As I said before, I’ve always thought that everything is personal and that’s definitely true from a lyrical standpoint. Suppose I wrote about highly emotional and emotive topics, such as the personal loss of my father or the birth of my child.
It’s pretty much me writing about my life while doing some Bruce Springsteen-esque perspective taking. I don’t really know any other way, I’ve written some songs for other projects that are imaginative where I take on a character, but that’s also a demonstration of personal expression. It’s a little more obvious in the album there are songs that focus on the loss of an immediate family member, the birth of a child, and my personal conflicted nature towards both of those topics. I do find it to be therapeutic to write about problems that have bothered me personally. When I find the right words, I find that they don’t really bother me anymore or they’re not bothersome to the point where it’s disrupting my life in the way it was before.
I feel obligated to do it and the added value, and I could take it or leave it, is that people connect to it. Dealing with loss is universal and I’m super grateful that people have really identified with the lyrics. I kind of expressed it in the first song on the album, “Grief Motif,” that there’s an expectation that this is the only thing I can write about, but when you look at the lyrics of the songs on the record it’s not so focused on the really grief-stricken themes. There’s more of a focus on life on this record.
It’s awesome that you’ve had people relate to the music in a deep way. That’s when music is at its most powerful, when you’re able to make as much of an impact on the listener as you do on yourself. Alex Henery is from England and he also plays in the band Basement, so did you have to do a lot of remote recording because of that along with COVID-19?
He actually lives in Boston. He basically toured here with Basement around a decade ago and he really fell in love with Boston. He also lived in Philly for a moment, but Basement was on our label at Run For Cover Records and the label offered him employment. He’s such a creative human being and he’s so talented, it goes beyond just writing music. He’s also an artist who does photography and videography, so he worked for Run For Cover and carved out a little hole while living in an apartment on 1088 Boylston Street. It’s the original place where the label started and then it became an apartment complex with studio apartments.
There was a five-person apartment that I lived in at one point. Alex Dow, the other guitarist, and our bassist Casey Nealon lived there in the famous windowless room. Alex Henery was kind of an OG member of that apartment and he moved out here on his own. His home base really became Boston, he actually just moved to California and so did Dow. Dow considers himself “bi-coastal” so we’ll see how that works but both of them felt comfortable moving to LA because we had already written music for the third LP. The work was done, so they just wanted to explore the West Coast for a bit, but that’s the nice thing about being in this band.
We could have a hiatus for a few years, it’s never really been about us being all in the same location. When we’re all in Boston it’s a bonus and we love playing live together, one of the best shows we ever played was at SUNY Purchase in New York in an art studio type of venue. There were like 28 college kids there, they didn’t know who we were and we didn’t know who they were and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever played. We’re lucky to be able to appreciate the more simple things of being in a band but like I’ve said before, it creates this liberated experience of writing while not really being worried about what other people think.
What do you consider to be the main difference between your time as the vocalist of Have Heart to now being the vocalist of Fiddlehead?
Have Heart was so long ago and I was really young in that band, we started when I was 16 or 17 and we went at it until I was about 24. I was a really young person, I was growing up and I didn’t really know anything. I didn’t know what I was doing and I was learning as I went along. I remember kind of wanting to stop the band because I felt like I had creatively, lyrically reached a ceiling and I wanted to change the whole entire framework of the original plan. My lyrical approach evolved to be more personal and I began to feel more comfortable writing more personal lyrics and poetics with assertions about the outside world.
From that evolution I really began to enjoy writing more introspective, personal lyrics. As we were writing this third record I was more compelled to look outward actually. It was one of those things where I discovered halfway during my time in Have Heart that I enjoyed writing from a personal sense with the added bonus of people really connecting with it in a pretty intense way. Sometimes overly intense and that’s ok but it’s never really intentional, I just kind of go with what is eating at me and that’s been pretty constant. One of the reasons why I started turning more inward lyrically during the course of Have Heart was that I felt silly being 19 or 20 having not really known much of the world yet and offering these assertions about it.
Who the hell am I to offer that? I haven’t even lived a full life yet. I still don’t think I have yet these days, but I’ve had a lot more experiences since I was 19 or 20 … I’m still writing about what’s eating at me. If it happens to be something personal then I’ll write about that and if it’s something more political then I’ll write about that.
Fiddlehead recently announced a string of shows in the United Kingdom in February of next year. In the meantime, do you guys plan on playing some shows in the United States during the fall like a lot of other acts plan on doing or do you plan on taking it easy for the rest of 2021?
We’re going to be putting together some shows in September, that’s the plan for now. We’re just kind of carving it out. We want to see how August goes and we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. If there’s anything we’ve learned is that you don’t want to put too many canaries in a coal mine. I think between late July and mid-August we’ll announce those, we’re going to be in California for a weekend in September as well. We’ll be doing some stuff but we’re trying to be conscientious of people who are pretty amped up and ready to rock at our shows as if nothing’s changed.
We’re also trying to be on smaller bills with a two-band show so there’s less amount of time in a crowded room. That might be the proper approach, be on a small bill and try to scaffold our way back to normalcy.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.