Forming in their early teens, The Academic are Craig Fitzgerald, Dean Gavin and brothers Matt and Stephen Murtagh. In late 2014 word started spreading throughout the flatlands of Westmeath, a small county in the middle of Ireland about these 4 young kids who played really fast and short sets that sometimes just fell apart but sometimes was pure magic to witness. No frills just short, sweet and straight to the point.
With their self-released debut album, ‘Tales From The Backseat’, The Academic announced themselves with an unlikely bang. Buoyant guitar hooks and earworm melodies coalesced with Craig Fitzgerald’s lyrics about teenage romance and tribulations in rural Ireland to place the band firmly amongst many ones-to-watch lists.
Released in 2018, it hit number one in the Irish Albums Chart but had enough of a global reach that over the next few years, the band toured the UK, Europe and a good chunk of North America.
In fact, the four friends from the small village just outside of Mullingar have been on an upwards trajectory since they decided to learn Kings Of Leon covers to play in their local pub in 2013. An EP of guitar-driven originals followed in 2015 alongside a sold-out show at the 1500 capacity Vicar Street in nearby Dublin.
Since then, they’ve released two more EPs (2020’s ‘Acting My Age’ and 2021’s ‘Community Spirit’) and supported the likes of The Pixies, The Rolling Stones, Noel Gallagher and The Killers. Fans have got lyrics tattooed and their songs have been used to soundtrack weddings. “The fact that our music has soundtracked someone’s life is incredible,” says bassist Stephen Murtagh. “What an unbelievable privilege.”
Not bad for a group who, according to vocalist Craig Fitzgerald, “fell into a band and have been falling uphill ever since”. To change the formula now might sound foolish on paper but there’s not a moment of second album ‘Sitting Pretty’ that feels like a risk.
See, that first era of The Academic saw them driven by a competitive edge. “We wanted to play the fastest, have the biggest chorus,” explains Craig with Stephen explaining how they were definitely “a fun indie band” with that first album reflecting on their carefree, teenage years.
However new album Sitting Pretty has “a more matured edge to it,” he promises. “We're different people now but that's natural. You grow out of things.”
Leaning into that, Stephen explains how the songs on Sitting Pretty are “reflections of where we are now and who we’ve become. We’re in our mid-20s and experiencing all the chaos that comes with that. No one really knows what they’re doing or where they’re going, but nobody is panicking because we’re all in it together.”
‘Don’t Take It Personally’ is a character-led song about a toxic relationship, the rock and ’n’ roll swagger of ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ was written after a big night out and swings between low self-esteem and swaggering confidence while the vulnerable ‘My Very Best’ gives the record a much-needed sense of grand romance.
“If we were doing the same thing now as we did on that first record, which was recorded in 2017, I’d be genuinely worried about this band,” explains Stephen.
‘Sitting Pretty’ still packs an energetic punch though. With the band having not played a live show for almost two years due to COVID, by the time they went into the studio with former
Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson, their excitement was at an all-time high. “We were just buzzing to be in a room, playing loud music all together,” says Craig. That same excitement drove those early years of The Academic and that giddy joy can still be heard across their second album. There was an emphasis on live takes. “If the magic is there, the magic is there,” Craig smiles.
Inspired by the likes of The Kinks, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground, The Academic were drawn to music that “feels genuine and without pretence,” for this album, which makes perfect sense really. “If this band is any one thing, it's 100% genuine,” says Stephen. “This record is us wearing our hearts-on-the-sleeve and following our instincts.”
The band hopes ‘Sitting Pretty’ “connects on a visceral level with people who are grappling with their sense of self-worth, their identity and not knowing where they belong in the world. It is a struggle to know where you fit or what’s around the corner and it feels like that’s only getting harder,” explains Stephen. “I think a good chunk of young people feel lost or confused. Hopefully there’s comfort to be found in knowing other people feel the same way.”
As an Irish guitar band, The Academic have forged their own path while fellow countrymen Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital have demanded the global spotlight as part of the blossoming post-punk scene. Craig is a “massive fan” but was never tempted to try and jump onto the bandwagon. “We started this band from a young age and we’ve always trusted our gut and the music we make. That’s not going to change now,” he explains. Afterall, if you’re following someone else, you’ll always going to be in their shadow.
“It just highlights our confidence,” continues Stephen. “We’re willing to change, we’re willing to evolve but we also know exactly who we are. We know we love a big chorus. I do find it really difficult to find other bands doing a similar thing to us on this album though.” Worried? No chance. “That makes me feel good,” he grins. “That makes me feel like we're doing something right.”
‘Sitting Pretty’ is the first time a record from The Academic is getting a push anywhere outside of Ireland. “The idea of breaking into new territories and seeing new parts of the world is what you dream of,” says Craig. “We’re ready for that leap as well. Right now, we’re playing the best we’ve ever played and we’re very comfortable with what this band is becoming.”
Early on in The Academic’s career, they played huge shows with the likes of The Pixies and Noel Gallagher and definitely felt the pressure of taking to such big stages. Playing with The Killers at stadiums earlier this year though “is the most comfortable we’ve ever felt onstage,” says Craig. “I don’t know what that says about our delusions of grandeur though.”
Still, you wouldn’t bet against them. Having already conquered their homeland with their independently released debut effort, The Academic are back with the same hunger; now bolstered with the benefit of experience and a few more tools at their disposal. “It’s the
idea that your music can take you further than you've ever been before,” Stephen says of their ambition, ‘that’s what lights a fire under me.’
Absolutely great night. Loved it from start to finish. Amazing music for cheaper than the cinema, can't wait for their next one!!!
Posted by Millie on 06/10/2018
The Academic, Heaven, London - 5th October 2018
Love the Academic, quite a small venue but the music was amazing and would definitely see them again!
Posted by Natalya on 22/04/2018
The Academic, The Cellar Bar, Oxford - 21st April 2018