Interview: Dave Fanning
A presence on Irish radio since it started to cover popular music, prescription its nearly impossible to imagine a world without Dave Fanning. Trends come and go, online artists rise and fall and certain genre’s wax and wane, but Dave’s always been there, taking notes. We recently sat down with him.
When you where here was music journalism something you ever thought of getting into?
We had a newspaper with the terrible name the Campus Chronicle and I did some music stuff for it. I remember I did two pages on Joni Mitchell, and there were only twenty pages in the whole thing, so people where going “what the hell is this guy up to?” I did a bit here or there, but that was it really. I was actually more into film, I remember on Monday evenings they’d set up a projector in Theatre L. Less music, definitely more movies. Having said that they always had concerts here at lunch time in Theatre L, and I honestly don’t think I missed a single one. I saw a lot of people that I don’t really care about, weird small bands. Thin Lizzy played once actually but it was ridiculous, it was far too loud. They didn’t realise it was a lecture hall.
Do you feel as though back then it was harder to be interested in music?
In terms of how you get music it was. I think it’s a terrible thing, how you get music now. Don’t tell me music hasn’t been devalued, because there’s a generation out there that gets music for nothing and that expects to get music for nothing. Music doesn’t have the value it used to have. Years ago a student could get a job as a postman at Christmas to help give out all the extra post. It was normally six days but I remember once I was delighted because I got eleven days and I could buy more albums then, that doesn’t exist anymore. You would inject them into your blood, you know you’d go into town and find the cheap rack and add them up. It was really important, I’m not saying it isn’t now, but the journey is gone. The journey to getting the album, for me, was the best part and there is no journey now. I’m not saying you need to work at it, but it’s better to work at it.
Was it especially hard to work at in Dublin? Not to sound patronising but Ireland was more cut off from the rest of the world then.
It was yeah, and the world was a much bigger place. London, which is just out the door now, was a long way away then. All the other music centres, your LA and your New York, was another world. That added to it as well though, like you’d buy a record by the California singer songwriters, like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell and you’d listen to them sing about Topanga Canyon and you’d just think “wow” as you made your way through Pearse Street on your bike avoiding the potholes. Back then you couldn’t aspire to that, and the music gave a snapshot to that life. There were very few concerts in Ireland back then. I remember when the Police played here, supported by U2, in Leixlip and almost 30,000 people went, and that was headline news, the biggest concert there had ever been in Ireland. Now Eminem plays for an hour with a tape, and 85,000 will show up. It’s all changed. Then again maybe it only meant that much to people I know, I don’t know.
Do you not feel like it’s always been like that though, that only a small percentage would really be interested in music?
Alt-J played recently, and I knew a lot of people that went, not to see Alt-J as such, but just because everybody else was going. There’s nothing wrong with that, I mean it seems a bit pointless, but if that’s what you want to do. Electric Picnic is definitely an experience over the music, with the music playing a big role. I mean if all your friends are going, you’re going to want to go and because of social media, you have a lot of friends now. I mean I have a child here and I honestly think he hangs around with the same people he was friends with in school. He’s definitely met less people then I knew when I went here. When I left school I had about two good friends, with him he has about forty good friends from school. Every time he goes out it’s with them, they’re all on the same app or whatever. And I mean that’s great, but I always thought you’d meet a load of new people here. To back to the original question though, I guess concerts aren’t really about music anymore, but that’s just how things change. It’s not injected into your blood anymore.
As an art-form do you feel as though the album is dead?
Well the album is definitely gone, in a direct sense, but in some ways its still there. There isn’t a Jay-Z or a Rhianna that doesn’t think in terms of an album, because they do. It’s a body of work. I know people take one song here and there, and they make a playlist, but that’s not how I see it. If a painter puts on their first exhibition in three years and they said here’s my sixteen pieces, I think it’s a bit rude to just look at one or two. I don’t like that; I want to see the whole thing. I want to see the bad ones, because they can become good ones. This is what Neil Young did during his year in the studio; I want to listen to all of it. Is the album dying? In some ways yes, but a lot of the big names still talk in terms of the album release date. I know they slip out a song here and there, but album is still important, I mean everybody always stops for an album.
Because of the amount of bands and the lack of money in the music industry now, do you think we’ll never see another U2?
Well I think looking for the next U2 is a bit stupid, because that just won’t happen. I mean U2 have just gotten huge now, there really a corporation so fair play to them. The structure just isn’t there anymore. I don’t want to sound like a Granddad, but there was a golden age for rock and roll. It was from 63 to 85. It just changed in the late 80s and the early 90s. Now the music in the 90s was better then the music in the 80s, but something changed. CD’s are very throwaway; they don’t look as good as a record, and it just all changed too much to happen again. Oasis are probably the second last truly big “rock” band, and maybe Kasabian are the last, and to be honest they’re both so boring it might be for the best. Maybe it’s dead. It’s like Jazz, if you go to a jazz concert now most of the pieces will be from the forties, which was the golden age of jazz. If you go to a classical concert it’s the same, its all Beethoven, Bach. Maybe something from this century. Why the fuck should rock last longer? Radio Nova is a “classic rock” radio station and they’ll play the same songs 30 years from now. I’m only started to realise the importance of movements, you know, there’s no movements anymore. There isn’t a Beat generation, or Mods and Rockers or Hippies or the smiley face Madchester thing, or Grunge or Britpop. Britpop was the last movement. Society isn’t as informed by music, because we don’t hear about movements. There’s Hipsters, which is nothing to do with music, it’s a fashion thing.
Just to finish up, you have a reputation as being close to U2, you always get the first listen, and I was wondering do you ever feel under pressure to avoid criticising them or being honest with them?
Well I do slag them now and then. I remember when Pop came out I hated it, but I listened to it recently and I enjoy it. I listened to their new album, and to be honest I like it more now that it’s had some time to sink in. It’s not a classic by any means but I see where they’re going with it, what they want to do. There trying to make a statement, make it about the songs and not the production. They changed all their producers, the Daniel Lanois’, the Steve Lilywhite’s, and people wont like that, they’ll think the new producers are bland, which to be honest they are. One of the producers (Danger Mouse) is the guy who gave the Black Keys their commercial sheen, which made them boring.
I think the Black Keys were far more interesting before they met Danger Mouse.
Well it was very different, I mean listening back to Thickfreakness I never would have guessed they’d be the next arena rock band. Having said that I really like their recent album, I think it’s brilliant. I thought I’d never like them again. Back to the original question though, if you’re going to get the producer for Gorillaz, that’s fine for Gorillaz, but whatever he’s done with this, it is very clean and very nice and very middle class rock and I see why a lot of people hate it. I still maintain it gets more interesting though, better then you first think. But they are U2, people will always like them. They are bigger than anybody. The Stones were big for ten years, and they’ve coasted on that for forty. They don’t try and be big anymore. I can understand that, you should stop trying to be the biggest thing in the world when you hit fifty three, but I admire U2 for it. They couldn’t have made a bigger announcement for their most recent album. I saw Fleetwood Mac in the Point a while back, the Eagles as well, and it was all the hits. They can’t be arsed making a new album, they probably don’t even get on offstage, so why would they bother. I saw U2 in Barcelona at the start of their last tour and they opened with five songs from the new album, which is really saying “we believe in these songs, so fuck you if you don’t”. I love that, as long as they believe it, I’ll go for it.
By Adam Duke