Last month saw the release of Steve Fanagan's second solo album. 'There Is Hope' was recorded with cult auteur producer Steve Albini who has worked with bands such as Nirvana, The Pixies and Low in the past. Fanagan is not the only Irish act to have travelled to Albini's famed Audio Dynamite Studios in Chicago in recent times. The Frames recorded 'For The Birds' with Albini last summer and fellow Dublin band Joan of Arse also enlisted him to work on their forthcoming album, 'Distant Hearts, a Little Closer'.
'There Is Hope' is a marked leap forward from the near-claustrophobia of last year's 'By Way Of'. The move from home recording and playing most of the instruments himself to working in a studio with other musicians and limited time for retakes seems to have suited Fanagan. "It's just a different time and it's definitely a different fire in my belly," he says.
A respected recording artist in his own right, Fanagan also has his finger in many other pies. This twenty-first century Renaissance man runs his own record label, Mango Music, has a home recording studio, designs album covers, makes music videos and presents his own music show on Dublin pirate radio station XFM. Noted for playing the length and breadth of this country, as well as frequently touring in the States, often with people like Pete Courtney, Josh Ritter and Martin Finke in tow, Fanagan exemplifies the old adage of: "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." During an infrequent quiet moment he talked about some of things he does when he's not making his own music.
The Label: independent Dublin label Mango Music has released albums by Martin Finke, Dead Man's Flats and last summer's acclaimed compilation of Irish bands (with a few visitors), 'For Your Machine'. SF: Mango Music started originally because of a band I was in called Dead Man's Flats. After seeing Joan of Arse and The Null Set and Jackbeast put out their own records in Dublin we kind of thought maybe we should do the same, scrape some money together, get some equipment, go down the country and record for a couple of days and just put it out and see what happens. So we basically did that, went and recorded. We had it finished and we needed to put it out so I decided let's just start a label; hopefully we could start releasing other people as well but initially we could start with ourselves. It was a move on our part to connect ourselves with what was going on in Dublin, musically.
After releasing our first record (we sold about 600) so we had a bit of money and I had this idea that I wanted to do a compilation. It took a while because in the meantime Dead Man's Flats split up. Then that money was gone and I started to try and get things together on my own. I knew I wasn't ready to make a record myself so I figured the compilation was still a goer. I had some friends in the States I wanted to put on it like Martin [Finke] and Josh [Ritter] and there were some bands in Dublin that I was friendly with like Joan of Arse. I thought, "great! Just stick us all together and put it out and make it ridiculously cheap and put it in a nice package". That, for me, is the point where the label really began. Two months later, Martin's ep 'How Not To' came out and then my own 'By Way Of' so suddenly there was a label.
The Producer: several of the songs on 'For Your Machine' bore the legend "recorded in Steve's room". Fanagan has just finished recording Paul O'Reilly's debut album in his home-based studio.SF: It's a pretty minimal PC Protools set-up with some mikes. I've a bunch of amps, a drum kit, basses and guitars and it's very much in my bedroom. Paul's record was the first really big record that I recorded there. I've always done my own records there and recorded for a couple of bands like The Coldspoon Conspiracy. Home recording to me is very much not about the equipment you're using but about the imagination you employ in using it.
The Designer: as well as recording and releasing albums, Fanagan also designs album covers. SF: I've designed everything, apart from Martin's stuff, that I released on the label. I love graphics and am really into photography. The idea of getting to design a record, a layout, is something that really appeals to me. You pick your favourite photos you've taken and figure out a way of sticking them together and playing with fonts. I always carry a camera everywhere. The photo on the cover [of 'There is Hope'] was done one night in New York. I was ambling around after a gig in December and there were these really striking lights and I just snapped them.
The Video Director: as interested in moving pictures as he is in stills, Fanagan has made several music videos, both for himself and other artists. SF: Music and visuals together is really, really nice to do. I love video because it's an extension of photography. The initial idea for any video just starts with a single image and it's just a matter of trying to figure out how to make that image move in an interesting, and hopefully complimentary, way. The biggies I've done are Wilt, Juliet Turner and The Frames. And then I've done one for the Northstation and one for myself and one for my old band. For my own video I borrowed a camera for two hours and filmed it myself and then just edited it that day over eight or nine hours, just kind of stuck it together. It's a process that I really enjoy doing.
A one man music industry, and still only in his early twenties. The future is there for his taking.