Lifelong friendship results in band of brothers
Barry Egan talks to the lead singer of The Last Tycoons about their album and suffering for art
It's a band of brothers. Dan Fitzpatrick grew up at 27 Rosmeen Park in Dun Laoghaire; Stephen Fanning at number 23. Dan was born on September 30, 1985; Stephen on September 17. Both came into the world in the Rotunda Hospital. Their respective parents were friends for years before Dan and Stephen were ever thought of.
They both picked up the guitar at around 10. They formed Porn Trauma together when they were 17. In 2007, they dissolved that much feted four-piece to form The Last Tycoons (something of a prescient title, I'm sure you'll agree.) "I have known Dan since he was two weeks old," Stephen says. "It's a funny thing. Some people, when you're playing with them, if you come in with an idea or a song and it takes a bit of explaining, but with Dan there is no need for that. He just gets it."
Stephen, who looks like Richard Ashcroft of the Verve, as drawn by Picasso, says "maybe I've come into my own". You could say that from listening to The Last Tycoons' self-titled debut album. "The influences on Porn Trauma were Stones and lots of Sixties," Stephen says. "With The Last Tycoons, we have got a lot more into the early element of country and soul and gospel.
"That influence is written large over songs like Don't Let Me Catch You, Seven Days (Off The Road), Alaska Hotel, The Love Song and The Dry Law. The latter was described by NME Radio as "great narrative-tinged country pop".
"I worked on those lyrics for probably a year," Stephen says of The Dry Law. "I had been drinking too much for a while and I decided to give up for a while." Stephen lives with his girlfriend, musician Candice Gordon, in a flat in Phibsborough. However romantic, their accommodation situation has echoes of that cult British black comedy about artistic types in reduced circumstances, Withnail & I. Stephen tells me that money can be so tight between himself and Candice that they often can't turn on the heating. "We put the electric blanket on the sofa, turn it on, and sit on it," Stephen laughs channelling the ghosts of Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski.
Those same ghosts are still hovering later when Stephen recalls being in his old band Porn Trauma playing The Trinity Ball a good few years ago with Ian Brown and Babyshambles. He says: "Shane MacGowan and Kate Moss had come along with Pete Doherty. I remember nicking beer from Ian Brown's dressing room before talking our way to the side of the stage to watch Babyshambles, who went on stage at about three or four am. I was in my first year of college at the time and had an exam in literary theory or something on the Saturday morning. Shane told me not to worry about it anyway and we had a great night."
Another great night was had on the top deck of the Nightlink bus in Dublin not so long ago where The Last Tycoons (Stephen and guitarist Dan, bassist Matt Roddy and drummer The Hog) met up with musician Aoife Ruth at a later stop. "We had our guitars out singing Johnny Cash songs and stuff, and she started singing harmonies and we did a drunken rendition of Jackson," Stephen recalls.
The Last Tycoons invited Aoife to come in to the studio with them. That led to her joining the band.
It doesn't take a degree in the arts to work out that Stephen Fanning is a lover of music. Off the top of his head, he names songs by singers and groups that meant things to him growing up in Dublin. He isn't talking about Take That. Be My Baby by The Ronettes, is a perfect pop song, he says. There is also an honourable mention for John Lennon and Jealous Guy. "I was trying to think of a Beatles song, but it's impossible for me to pick a favourite, so I went for my favourite Lennon song instead. Another Phil Spector production."
He talks excitedly of Midnight Special by Leadbelly. "This is a really beautiful song about a guy in prison waiting for a visit from his wife. Apparently the superstition was that if the Midnight Special shone it's light on you, then you were due a conjugal visit."
Stephen cites $1000 Wedding by Gram Parsons ("Probably his best song"); Waiting For The Man by The Velvet Underground ("I think Lou Reed is actually underrated as a songwriter and The Velvet Underground are one of my favourite bands ever") and The Kinks' Dead End Street.
"Ray Davies is another one of my favourite songwriters. I saw him playing at South-By-South-West in Austin, Texas, this year and he was brilliant. The best gig I've seen this year," says Stephen who is moving to Berlin with the band and his girlfriend next year.
Later that night, I get a text message from Steve: "Electric blanket has broken down!"
The Last Tycoons play The Workman's Club, 10 Wellington Quay D2, (beside the Clarence Hotel) on Tuesday, December 28, with co-headliners The Show.