A quarter of a century fronting The Frank And Walters has brought Paul Linehan close to middle age and fuelled his obsession with the brevity of life, says Don O’Mahony
“I have a load of tapes at home full of songs. Like, I’m finishing songs that I wrote back in 1992, still”
“Leaving a legacy, whether it’s songs or art or poetry, that’s your way of achieving immortality”
OF the six years since their last album, Paul Linehan, frontman with evergreen Cork indie poppets The Frank And Walters, says: “We always seem to take a bit of a while all right between albums”.
The band have just released Greenwich Mean Time, the sixth studio album in their 23-year history and their first since 2006’s A Renewed Interest In Happiness.
“I think it’s because I’m normally the main writer in the band and the onus is down to me to write the songs. You know, if we were in The Beatles, they had three writers in George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, so they could come up with albums a lot quicker. The way I write songs is that it’s very rare that I finish one song in one day.
“I always write the verse one day and I write the chorus another day. I have a load of tapes at home full of songs, little bits, and what I do is that I join them together. Like, I’m finishing songs that I wrote back in 1992, still. I actually am,” Linehan says.
The verse of one of the songs on the new album was written in 1992. The bridge was conceived in 2005, and the chorus in 2006. The song glories under the apt name Slow It Down, something Linehan admits he took too literally.
“I think I did,” he says. “I have songs which I think are good and I won’t let them out until I’m completely happy with them, until I have the next section, and I’m always waiting for the next section to come. It’s very hard to actually sit down and go: ‘I’m going to write the next section now.’ It just comes on its own and I’d say then, ‘well, that chorus will suit that verse,’ and that’s how I work. So that’s why it can take a long time for me to write.”
As signalled by the title, Greenwich Mean Time, time figures strongly on Linehan’s mind. “I’ve been obsessed with time for the last five or six years,” he says. “Just trying to get my head around it, how time controls our lives and so on. I think the songs I wrote then are about me trying to come to terms with time and trying to understand it. And we decided a lot of the songs that go into it were related to the theme.
“I think the reason why I’ve become obsessed with time over the last few years is because you’re kind of getting closer to death and time is the thing that takes you to death. That’s why it just means more to me now and that’s why I wrote about it.”
Linehan says these songs are a coming to terms with death. “It’s a very morbid subject, but I’ve decided to just try to confront it, and try to get my head around it, and try to prepare for death in some way.”
This theme may have emerged as he faced his 40th birthday. “You start thinking, ‘Jeepers, next stop 50’.” But Linehan’s musings on the bigger questions shine light on his deeper artistic impulses.
“I think one of the reasons bands and artists write songs, or paint or write poetry, is because you subconsciously want to achieve immortality,” he says. “You want to live forever. And, I think, leaving a legacy behind you, whether it’s songs or art or poetry, that’s your way of achieving immortality. It’s just something that you do.
“I think it’s also because you’re afraid of death. I have a suspicion that maybe poets and artists and songwriters might be more afraid of death than other people and maybe that’s what drives them to create. It’s their way of battling with the fact. You don’t want to die and it’s very hard to think you are going to die. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we create.”
It’s hard to imagine a band less suited to raging against the dying of the light than The Frank And Walters. So often synonymous with perky, upbeat songs populated with quirky characters, they also typify the idea of resilience. Even at their most regretful, they seem to extend a comforting arm.
An insight into this sense of harmony can be gleaned from the track 20 Years, from the new album. “Twenty years and we’re still together,” sings Linehan, “through the calm and stormy weather.”
Though the song could be about any relationship, or even the presence of The Frank And Walters in our lives, it is about drummer Ashley Keating, the band’s other remaining original member.
“We just get on so well,” says Linehan. “We never have arguments. The good thing about our relationship is that we have jokes that we tell each other about incidents that happened, like, 30 years ago. We’re still joking about things that happened 30 years ago. We met when we were seven or eight and we never argued.”
The Frank And Walters have an instantly recognisable sound, but Greenwich Mean Time betrays other influences too. Sometimes, a little flash here and there suggests something from the 1960s and ’70s, but there’s also hints of The Beatles, a band they’ve always openly cited as an influence, especially in the George Martin-esque string arrangements of the majestic If I’d Known.
Linehan says: “Before, if we had a song that sounded anyway remotely like The Beatles, we’d discard it because we wanted to be original.
“But that’s one of the things we decided with this album: if one of our songs sounds like something else, it doesn’t matter anymore.
“I suppose we were wearing our hearts on our sleeves more with this album,” he says.
“We just decided: you know what? We might be dead tomorrow, who cares. Sometimes, stuff was sounding good and it would have been a shame to ditch that just because it sounded like the Beatles or whatever.”
* The Frank and Walters’ Greenwich Mean Time is out now on FIFA Records.
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