How a construction worker in Atlanta inspired Fred Again..’s ‘Actual Life’

Words: Andrew Moore

Following the release of his stunning debut album Actual Life, Andrew Moore spoke to Fred Again about his relationship with Brian Eno and how he wove a nostalgic tapestry of lived experiences to create one of the best albums of the year so far.

“Y’know there’s hungover, and then there’s hungover in a hotel room in a country you’ve never been in before and you’ve got to get a flight in a few hours,” says London-based producer Fred again.. as he appears on my laptop screen in a plain black Nike hoodie. “I’d surrendered that that day wasn’t going to have anything good come of it; I was just going to eat chips for breakfast and smoke a bunch of ciggys.”

We’ve all been there; awaking bleary-eyed and dry-mouthed as the fear slowly starts to settle in. Lucky for Fred, his day was to take a turn for the better as his Whatsapp group chat began to blow up with scenes from the night before. A chance recording of a construction worker called Carlos – captured after a show in Atlanta – would provide the inspiration for the artist’s follow up to his collaborative GANG mixtape with Headie One, featuring a star-studded feature cast in Jamie xx, Sampha and FKA Twigs.

The clarity of Carlos’ words cut through the noise spilling out into the streets after the performance. “I want you to see me, friend! We gon’ make it through”. This optimistic gem gave Fred the adrenaline shot that would kickstart the shape of the album.

He began constructing a diary, of sorts. Gathering clips from nights out, stored voice notes and combing through social media in search for those little moments that capture a certain mood and energy – drawing upon the rawness of reality and expressing it through sound – Fred has created one of the albums of the year, collaborating closely with his mentor of ten years, Brian Eno, on Actual Life.

Most music creates a mood or a vibe, but Fred’s latest work isn’t about the creation of a moment, it’s an ode to the energy of a moment that has already happened, and will never happen again; metaphorical polaroids falling from the sky faster than Hogwarts letter shooting down the chimney at 4 Privet Drive, each one providing a glimpse into the spirit of everyday occurrences and moments that stay with you forever. 

“It was really making me laugh because Carlos has a beautiful spirit to him,” says Fred, taking a moment to fix his headphones. “It was striking me how much musicality there was in the way that he spoke, so from there I just dragged it onto Logic on my laptop and put some chords over it. I loved the feeling it gave me; of glorifying that very mundane seeming moment.”

The album’s title is very much self-descriptive. Encapsulating the extreme highs and lows that our natural cycle inspires, Fred’s lyricism floats between euphorics transcendence and deafening reality. Beginning as a project to pour unadulterated joy into, the spiralling illness of a close friend – and an unexpected tragedy – gave the record a fresh perspective. As pain and loss are a part of life, so too did they become a part of Actual Life. 

“It was quite emotionally exhausting in the end, it took a bit out of me,” he says as we begin to discuss the stimulation and fatigue that such personal projects conduct. “I’m very happy that I’ve drawn a line in the sand with it, and that it exists as a barometer of how things felt. I was saying to my friend, the same way keeping a diary is good and healthy for your mind, I very much feel the same about this.”

The result is an emotionally compelling, inward-searching voyage through light and dark. It is hard not to feel the pure unadulterated pop joy of ‘Kyle (I Found You)’, the tears-in-your-eyes nostalgia of ‘Lydia (Please Make It Better)‘ and the intense, fragile sadness of the ‘Adam’ interlude. What separates Fred’s record from those of his contemporaries is the refusal to be placed into a box; exploring a range of moods, textures and aesthetics. It would be too easy to describe the album as a ‘pop record’, especially when it calls upon Burial-garage deepness, Future-championed codeine autotune and has just enough left turns to keep even the most anti-pop purist interested.

I’m keen to learn more of ambient electronic luminary Brian Eno’s influence on the record, having read a few interviews in the past about Brian reportedly bringing Fred out of his comfort zone in signing for. It’s interesting that Brian should be the one to inspire Fred, given that Fred himself has been credited with bringing UK artist Headie One out of his comfort zone on GANG; these differing artists and personalities uniquely informing the perspective for one another. 

“That’s a lovely thought,” exclaims Fred. “You’re probably right, but that hadn’t crossed my mind. Brian did a remix of that record, funny enough. That was a beautiful moment: clashing together those worlds. I felt very privileged that I was the person that was able to bring Headie to Brian.”

“It’s been amazing, I feel so lucky to have had a mentor as incredible as him, and at such a young age. It’s so inspiring, having an anomalist mind. He’s not followed any beaten path, he’s just done his own thing. He doesn’t give a fuck about anything. I think that’s very inspiring, because I’ve met a lot of people – who are great – but they give a bit more of a fuck. It’s beautiful when minds like Brian’s are rewarded with a legacy.”

He doesn’t give a fuck about anything. I think that’s very inspiring, because I’ve met a lot of people – who are great – but they give a bit more of a fuck. It’s beautiful when minds like Brian’s are rewarded with a legacy.

Fred Again..

It’s this ‘no fucks given’ ideology that makes Fred again..’s future so exciting. He’s already proven he’s an expert at creating UK drill, and Actual Life exuberates an emotionally diverse energy reminiscent of records like Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Electro-pop now, but what’s next? It could be anything, such is the artist’s Eno-influence and refusal to stray from the beaten path in search of more exciting experiences.

The nature of such inward-gazing, personal projects mean that we may rarely ponder the impact that this art will have on the outside world. The question of what others will take from the album is one that Fred has only begun to think about recently, such is the cathartic release that finishing it has produced. 

“I’m not sure if there’s something I want people to take from it, in fact the question hadn’t even entered my head until a couple days ago,” he says, thoughtfully. “Increasingly, I have been very affected by people writing extremely detailed messages to me about how the album has impacted them and I’m very proud for that to change me. It’s like, shit, that really meant something to that guy that I’ve never met.”

“I hope they take something honest about themselves. That’s what you hope music does, right?”

Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020) is out now stream it here.

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