Fionn Regan – Starting at the end
“We’re mentally preparing for a storm of sorts,” says Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan, referring to his upcoming performance at the Glastonbury Festival. He might as well have been talking about the release of his full-length debut, The End Of History. Upon its release in the U.K. last summer, the album met with tolerable sales and rapturous reviews that drew all the requisite comparisons (Dylan, Drake, Van Morrison, etc.); more recently, it was nominated the vaunted Mercury Prize.
With Damien Rice now settled into baffling mediocrity, there’s an opening in the ranks of literate and difficult Irish singer-songwriters. Regan, a floppy-haired mystic armed with an acoustic guitar, a worn collection of Woody Guthrie albums and an irresistible back story, would seem right out of central casting.
The End Of History — which was released in the U.S. on July 10 of this year, on Lost Highway — is a strange and lovely piece of work, a muted, mostly acoustic (and frequently fingerpicked) disc seasoned with little more than the occasional piano or violin. Regan financed and produced the album himself, recording in bursts when he could afford it. Making it, he likes to say, “was like building an ocean liner with a butter knife. You go into the harbor every day, and you’re making sure the joints are all flush and you take it into the harbor and hope that you can sail it into the next port, you know?”
Regan, 26, has an almost preternatural ability to conjure up an atmosphere of both excruciating gentleness and nameless dread, sometimes in the same song: He’s covered in pig’s blood one moment (on the grim, gripping “Snowy Atlas Mountains”), referencing Saul Bellow another (in the weird, wondrous “Put A Penny in the Slot”).
The End Of History oscillates between great clarity (“I have become an aerial view/Of a coastal town that you once knew,” goes the lead single, “Be Good Or Be Gone”) and a charming sort of dippiness. “The songs themselves are the evidence of triumphs and struggles,” Regan says, though he’s loath to get more specific. “It’s so wild, so hard to pin down….They sort of write themselves in a way, I suppose.”
Much has been made of the fact that his songs make frequent reference to novelists (“For the loneliness you foster/I suggest Paul Auster,” goes one couplet). Regan, to whom the word “Joycean” has been perhaps too frequently attached, suggests it’s best not to make too much of it. “It could have been an object [I was referring to],” he says. “It represents the currency of an exchange between two people.”
Regan was raised in coastal County Wicklow, the child of artists. “You’d have drunken poets around, or somebody who could play a harmonica,” Regan recalls. “It was the type of environment where it’d be your turn to stand up on the table and tell a story or improvise. You know, wear a bowler hat, a cane and waist coat, and come up with something on the spot.”
Becoming a musician wasn’t encouraged, necessarily, says Regan, but what else could he have done? “A lot of things were signposts in a certain direction,” he says, “but at the end of the day, all the maps are in the marrow of your bones. They’re all there. I could probably spend my whole life around mathematicians and not be able to add two numbers together. I think it’s part of you from the outset….It’s this big flashlight shining at you, and you either close your eyes and block it out or you try to find the person that’s shining the light. I didn’t have a choice about it. [I] had to do it.”
Regan wasn’t much for school; he worked a series of knock-around jobs, and eventually made his way to Brighton, England, where he still lives. Before The End Of History was cobbled together in various houses and sheds, he issued several now hard-to-find EPs, of which his official biography makes no mention.
He’ll now peddle the disc in clubs and theaters across the United States. Outside of a handful of festival appearances, this will be his first real large scale exposure to the world, and vice versa. Making The End Of History was a mostly solitary pursuit, and Regan can’t help but marvel at the strangeness of taking his unbearably intimate creation to market.
“For me to go from scribbling these things down to standing in a big theater with people singing the words, it’s been pretty amazing,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been on a submarine or something. You get going, and you come up for air. And then you get going again.”