The first thing you see on the Facebook page for the Brooklyn-based band Animal Years is an old photograph of a blond haired baby boy in a striped shirt, smiling happily against a fence hemmed in tomato plants. The caption reads “#TBT right before I started growing my beard.”
Flash forward a couple decades and lead singer Mike McFadden’s beard is indeed pretty impressive, but not as impressive as the band’s debut album Sun Will Rise. Lyrical themes of simplicity and affirmation are woven through Americana-inspired riffs that alternately lull and burst, conjuring first nostalgia, then the irresistible urge to, for lack of a better phrase, stomp your feet.
While Animal Years has been deservedly compared to bands like The Lumineers and The Head And The Heart, their compositions often reach beyond the normal genre boundaries of folk-pop, at times defying them all together.
If you want to see what we’re talking about, you can check out their cover of HAIM’s “The Wire,” recorded live at SXSW, by following this link. Or catch them in person at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday, Nov 17 with Jesus On The Mainline.
BTR caught up with McFadden to chat about the name Animal Years, his writing process, and the band’s future plans.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): You guys are based in Brooklyn, but you’re in Baltimore at the moment right?
Mike McFadden (MM): Yeah, we just got done recording our album so the guys are in Brooklyn and I’m back home in Baltimore just hanging out. I got away from Brooklyn for a while.
BTR: What’s your background as a musician?
MM: I’ve been playing music and gigging for about ten or eleven years. As a solo act [Mike McFadden] I put out three records in the past seven or eight years, all in Baltimore. This last one I was going to put out as another solo, but I moved to New York where I already knew Anthony and he wanted to be a part of it. We got together and kind of branded the band and gave it a new name and released that album under Animal Years.
BTR: Where does the name Animal Years come from?
MM: There’s a record by a guy named Josh Ritter called The Animal Years. We really liked that name, and decided that we would pick it and give it a new meaning. So we say: live your life in animal years–if you only had fifteen good years to live how would you do life differently? We try to put that work ethic into the band and move it forward, because maybe we don’t have as much time as we think, and we try not to worry about expectations or what other people think. We say let’s just do it, let’s just go all out, make music, and not really worry about anything.
BTR: Despite the obvious upbeat nature of the album, there are some themes of leaving, searching, and heartbreak, what was your creative headspace like when you were writing it?
MM: Yeah, I was just finishing up the record when I sold a song and made some good money, and was like ok time to really do this, so I quit my job in Baltimore and moved to New York. I was dating someone at the time, and they didn’t want to date long distance. I never went to college so I’d never lived outside of Baltimore before, and I was going to this whole new place. There’s a lot about that, and missing a lot of people, and doing something different–there was a ton of energy behind it in that way…but I still think it’s a happy sounding record over all.
BTR: Oh absolutely, and are you the main songwriter then?
MM: This last album was technically a solo album, so I wrote and recorded everything on my own. But we’re putting out a new album early next year, and for that one I wrote everything and then brought it to the guys to arrange it. We stayed in our bass player’s family’s cabin in upstate New York, where I just kind of fleshed out ideas every day, then brought them to the guys at night. And then right after that we went to Woodstock, New York, and recorded.
BTR: What was the recording process like for the upcoming album?
MM: We did twelve hour days at this studio and lived in a cabin next door. We went in and recorded the drums and the bass live together in this huge studio/barn with awesome natural reverb. Then we went back to New York and I laid all the guitar and vocals over everything.
BTR: Do you feel like you have any major influences?
MM: A lot of people say we sound like the Kings of Leon or The Avett Brothers, and we definitely have an Americana rock kind of vibe. But I’d say that most of my influences don’t influence my sound as much as they influence me as a person.
We just opened for singer songwriter Martin Sexton, who’s one of my heroes, and he’s just an acoustic guitar guy now, for the most part, but I love listening to his music.
(Mike McFadden of Animal Years)
BTR: What’s your lyrical writing process like?
MM: To be honest, I just sit down and think about them. It’s the last thing I do. I don’t even think about the lyrics or the theme of the lyrics until the song is done. In fact, there are some songs that we play live now that I still don’t have the lyrics for and I just say random stuff and no one gets wise to it. It’s a good way to work out melodies, and then you go back in with lyrics.
BTR: Well, no one is wise to it until now [laughs]. So what other future plans have you guys got?
MM: We’re releasing a single on Nov 17, the same day that we’re playing Rough Trade in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a Tuesday night, but we play with Jesus On The Mainline, which is like a 15 piece band who are awesome. Other than that, we’re gearing up to release the record, hoping to play one more NYC show and then probably hit some type of tour in early 2016.
All photos courtesy of Animal Years.