A Conversation with Liam Fagan (Park National)

Liam Fagan is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, and songwriter, and he’s only a freshman in college. I first came across Fagan’s solo project Park National in July when a friend who knew Liam in high school recommended it to me. I was blown away by the maturity of his lyrics, his skilled guitar playing, and simply the fact that this was all done by one kid, alone, in his bedroom. The pop-punk energy combined with Midwest emo riffage in his songs make something both beautiful and exciting, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

After listening to his debut album The Big Glad on repeat, I began to formulate more and more questions in my head around the creation of this project. How was Liam able to exist as a new artist during a global pandemic? What inspired him to make an emo punk album like this? In order to get these questions answered, I set up a virtual interview to talk to him about what it’s like to create music during COVID, and his experience as a musician in general.

WPGU: How did you get into playing music?

Liam: Second grade is I guess around when I started playing guitar, just kinda out of the blue. Nobody in my family really plays music, and I’m really the only one out of all my close relatives. It was really random. I guess I didn’t really know I wanted to do music as my main thing until I was in high school really. I picked up drums when I was in fourth grade, and I got really into metal music when I started high school, so I played drums in a prog metal band. It was a lot of dumpy shows in random bars at least an hour away, so it was kinda awful, but also a ton of fun.

WPGU: What caused you to transition from metal to the kind of music you play now?

Liam: Our guitarist, Nolan, actually started his own band called Dogma Soup in like early 2019. It was a joint project between him and our bassist. That was like my first introduction to this kind of music that I play now. I played drums for them in all of their shows, so that was my first real experience with music like this. It wasn’t until very late last year though that I started writing my own music for my own project, and wasn’t until spring or summer this year that my music started to, I guess you could say take off, all things considered. 

WPGU: How has COVID affected your growth and processes as a new artist?

Liam: It’s definitely difficult to maintain a steady interaction with people and a steady following when you exist entirely on the internet and you can’t really do any shows. I’ve done my fair share of livestream shows, so it’s been difficult but I’ve definitely gotten more traction with this project than anything I’ve done before. So yeah, this has really forced me to get creative with promoting myself and marketing myself. It’s definitely a unique struggle that people haven’t really had to deal with before. It’s interesting because I now have more time than ever at home to write and record music, but it’s a little ironic because once you have all that time it becomes less appealing to you to always be working on music and stuff. It’s definitely affected my productivity a lot, especially because of how much of my inspiration to write and play comes from live shows. I’m going to ramp it up soon though, so I’ll have something ready by the time all this is over and live shows come back.

WPGU: Are there any bands that especially inspire your songwriting?

Liam: Yeah, there are a lot of bands, especially ones like Modern Baseball and other really big, staple emo bands. It’s actually kinda funny, I’ve never really seen any of those bands live. Just because, *laughs* I guess I’ve been into this genre of music for a very short period of my life so I haven’t had much time to get super involved. But definitely bands like Modern Baseball, Mom Jeans, Oso Oso, Macseal, and then there’s a huge DIY scene in Chicago and nearby. There’s also a ton of good bands from Minnesota like Niiice!, their album is one of my favorites that I’ve heard this year. I guess since it is, you could say ‘Midwest emo’, I do really have the Midwest influence.

WPGU: Other than metal and punk music, what else do you listen to and/or play?

Liam: I don’t really listen to a ton of metal or play it anymore, I guess it’s not really my thing right now. But there are a lot of progressive metal bands and instrumental bands that I still really like, and especially at a place like UC Berkeley there are so many kids that are into that, so I kind of can’t ignore it since there is so much attention drawn to it. I’ve been getting into a lot more different kinds of indie rock music, bands like Duster, Horse Jumper of Love, Alex G, and just a lot of slower music. It definitely goes along with my general outlook on the world, as we slowly descend into this madness I’ve been listening to slower and slower bands. I’m sure I’ll show those influences once I start ramping up the writing process more.

WPGU: What things do you think you can improve upon for your next release?

Liam: I think with whatever I do next I want to sort of hone in on production. When I made my first album I did it entirely alone in my bedroom, I didn’t really have any extra help. I still want to keep it mostly that way, but there’s a lot of bands I’ve been listening to recently that use a lot of really cool production techniques that really add to the songs. I feel like when I was making The Big Glad I wasn’t really thinking about how the production adds new ideas to the table, so I’m hoping to think more about that and have my eyes on the final product to make it as exciting as possible. But obviously these things take time, and I’m slowly growing as a writer and a producer. I feel like with my last album I was just trying to get it out to meet expectations after I put out my first song so I kinda rushed it a little bit. So for the next thing I’m just trying to put the necessary time into it to make it as good as possible. This has really made me think about how fast people expect you to put out music, especially during the pandemic I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep pushing out music to keep up the hype, but what I feel like really matters is the people that stay and continue to listen every day or week to the stuff you already have out. That long-lasting connection is definitely more important than keeping up hype by putting things out fast.

WPGU: That’s pretty much all the questions I have, is there anything else you want to add?

Liam: I guess I would just say to anyone who reads this, I’m working on stuff. It may be slow, but I promise I’m not going anywhere.

You can stream Park National’s debut album The Big Glad on Spotify, Bandcamp, and Apple music.

About Leo Kasper

Leo is a freshman from Chicago who has had a passion for music his whole life. From jazz rap to pop punk, Leo dabbles in essentially all genres. When not listening to music or playing guitar, Leo can be found on a couch somewhere on his phone.

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