Daniel Fitzpatrick steps into the limelight with Badhands.
This is the first time that Badhands’ Daniel Fitzpatrick finds himself front and centre, serving as ringmaster rather than sideman – a role he was always more than content with. “I started in a band when I was about 15. You’re talking over twenty years which is kind of depressing to think of,” begins Fitzpatrick. Though the depressing nature of sand through the hourglass is somewhat undercut as, over pints of plain in a city centre pub, we consider just how contemporary much of what was happening two plus decades ago still feels. After all, the first Strokes album was released over twenty years ago! Which, funnily enough, was a formative moment for Fitzpatrick, as he goes on to explain. “That’s a good reference because it’s very much what I associate that time with. I started in a band when The Strokes and Kings of Leon came out.”
Inspired by this generation of swaggering, nascent rock and rollers redefining guitar music for a new generation, Fitzpatrick joined local luminaries The Mighty Stef. With the temperature of public tastes changing and the focus once again shifting toward bands in the traditional mould, Fitzpatrick’s time with Stef marked a new era in the guitarist’s understanding of what it could mean to be a working musician. “When are we now? 2022. So I’m guessing that was seven years ago so it must have been 2015 or 2016 or something,” explains Fitzpatrick. His uncertainty regarding timeline betrays the rarity with which he retreads Stef’s pomp, either personally or in conversation. He’s plainly more excited by his continued solo work over starry-eyed nostalgia. Fitzpatrick continues, “There was a stage when we recorded our last album in LA with Alain Johannes from Queens of the Stone Age. In our minds, this was going to be the beginning of greatness. We thought we were going to make it.”
It’s peculiar to reflect on such a, relatively speaking, recent period of music industry history that now feels somewhat alien. I wonder if a summer spent in sun-dappled studios surrounded by the prehistoric monarchs of rock lead Fitzpatrick and co to a more Hammer of the Gods understanding of what ‘success’ meant in the rock and roll ecosystem? “A little bit,” explains Fitzpatrick. “Then, we came back, the record did well but there was always this sense of it never quite…” Fitzpatrick pauses for a moment, choosing his words carefully. He obviously still holds his work with Stef in high regard but now, two records into the more low-key milieu of Badhands, Fitzpatrick seems acutely attuned to that certain naivieté that comes with fetishising the Big Time.
“You can tell when something is really taking off and it just wasn’t, y’know? We were still plugging away at this level and for whatever reason it just didn’t really happen and we broke up soon after. After that I was a bit like, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I never thought I’d do a solo project. I mean, I never had any desire to go out and do it. I always liked the side man gig; having some involvement in songwriting and being the guitarist, but not having that pressure. So, the solo thing is kind of great in some ways because you really do just decide it all yourself. At times, it really can feel like sort of lonely. But, I’ve got a great band who are all good mates and committed. I’m really lucky in that respect. There’s still a feeling that if something comes out and does badly, it falls somewhat more on my shoulders. That can be the downside of the solo thing.”
As our conversation pivots to notions of pressure and success, we both can’t help but linger on how murky those ideas become when placed under any amount of scrutiny. I wonder, when you’re principally viewing the act of music making as a creative rather than economic endeavour, how does one really conceive of “failure” in one’s own mind? What does “pressure” mean to Fitzpatrick himself? Especially now that he has successfully put out his debut transmission under his Badhands guise: 2018’s critically lauded Predictable Boy. “I feel [pressure] really strongly but it’s hard to specifically articulate what that is,” reflects Fitzpatrick. “Maybe the problem is now that I have more of a sense of needing to progress from [Predictable Boy]. With the first album, putting it out was an achievement. I probably had very little self-belief when I was starting out. When you haven’t written as much, you can feel a bit precious about everything. Like anything, it’s practice – exposing yourself in that way.”
Practice breeds confidence. Now, rightly emboldened, Fitzpatrick’s eager to work at a quicker clip than before. He’s just released his second LP, Far Away, yet we discuss the ins-and-outs of the recording of his unfinished third record. “I took a really different approach with the next LP. I’d watched the Beatles Get Back documentary, as had the lads in the band. We were really inspired by it and I was like, ‘Let’s just book time in a studio and record.’ I do find the release process a little bit unsettling. There’s a bit of anxiety that goes with it, so having the next one in my sights is nice for my own state of mind.”
Speaking as a seasoned frontman, I wonder if Fitzpatrick can place his finger on just what makes him antsy about putting new work out there in the world. Is his position at the front of the stage still a furtive one or is sharing his songwriting the spectre of doubt in this instance? “I guess it’s the sense of rejection on a mass scale?” laughs Fitzpatrick. “It wouldn’t even be that mass a scale! But certainly rejection on a more than one-to-one basis. Chris Barry [Badhands producer] said to me recently, because I have a habit of claiming each album is my last album – I’m at that point having only made two albums! – I need to just accept that I like making records and I’m probably going to continue to do it because I won’t be able not to. And I had to admit that maybe he had a point there. There is a bit of compulsion to keep doing it.”
As we both smile at Fitzpatrick’s misplaced catastrophism, I posit that, having spoken to no shortage of musicians with their guts in knots over how their latest release will be received, how easy it can be for people to lose sight of the fact that the process is supposed to be fun. Or is that even true? Do great “works” in the Guernica sense inevitably have to be reduced by their makers to “work” in the ditch digging sense?
“You’re totally right,” smiles Fitzpatrick, “Musicians do nothing but moan. To be honest, it’s kind of a product of getting older and Dublin becoming more difficult to live in financially. As you get older you get more conscious of what your friends are doing. It can be an especially tricky balance as a musician when your work is also your therapy and your hobby. I guess that’s why it can be so easy for the lines to be blurred. It does become quite a big part of how you define yourself. That’s something I feel maybe I’ve gotten a little better at; trying to have a bit more perspective. I used to obsess on the idea that if I thought I’d failed as a musician then I’d have completely failed as a person because [music] is my thing. If that doesn’t work out then I am ‘a failure’?”
For all this discussion regarding looming pressures and the nature of labour, Fitzpatrick cuts a contented figure as we offer our thanks to the barman and say our goodbyes on one of the first sunny evenings of the year. With two collections of immaculately crafted folk-rock slowburners under his belt and another gestating nicely – one cannot help but feel this might just be the kind of pressure that makes diamonds.
Words: Danny Wilson
Photo: Jamie Fitzpatrick