Fiddlehead: “I’m lucky to walk through life, either as a teacher or as a participant in this weird subculture, with a curious mind”

As Fiddlehead release their superb third album Death Is Nothing To Us, mainman Pat Flynn ponders his own experiences with loss, history, fans and why empathy is the only way forward…

Fiddlehead: “I’m lucky to walk through life, either as a teacher or as a participant in this weird subculture, with a curious mind”
Huw Baines
Pooneh Ghana

Every lyricist wants people to connect with their words, but for Pat Flynn there’s a heaviness that comes along with that. His work with Fiddlehead has chiefly hinged on lucid, honest discussions around death and grief following the unexpected loss of his father in 2010, so when someone approaches him at a show to thank him for something he’s written, it’s pointed.

One particular interaction had quite the impact on Pat (who made his name in hardcore by fronting Have Heart between 2002 and 2009), which came to the fore when thoughts turned towards assembling Fiddlehead’s third LP Death Is Nothing To Us. It was essentially a cursory conversation, they didn’t even exchange names, but it hung around in his mind. “I found myself really struck by this one person, and trying to imagine their life based on what they had very quickly told me,” he recalls.

Pat thinks this impulse came from his grounding as a history teacher. Often, our lives inside and outside of work are arranged in parallel, and any deviations are viewed with suspicion and, likely, irritation. Musicians perhaps feel this more keenly than anyone else. But that’s not how Pat sees it: you don’t get the hardcore vocalist without the educator. “I am lucky enough to have walked through life, either as a teacher or as a participant in this weird subculture, with a curious mind,” he says.

As he continued to mull the fan conversation over, it became the backbone of track The Woes. The song stands a key cog in the record, representative of the way Fiddlehead – completed by drummer Shawn Costa, guitarists Alex Henery and Alex Dow and bassist Nick Hinsch – have settled into a surging fusion of indie-rock hooks and hardcore dynamics, but also its core preoccupation in what Pat terms “doing away with the romance of death, and flipping the coin”.

“I arrived there largely because I was very curious about who this totally random person was,” Pat explains. “To me, that speaks to how studying history, from a skills perspective, allows you to really understand the historicity of life. That's a very fancy way of saying that it's everywhere, it's not just a bunch of books. Every single moment will eventually be a part of a story.

“I approach history very much in a methodical, discipline-oriented way, where it's really about doing history as opposed to memorising or recalling stuff,” he adds. “This thinking, to me, comes together to work towards the higher human goal of empathy and then, ideally, compassion.”

By documenting his experiences with death in such a bracing fashion – outside of their thematic weight, Fiddlehead’s first two records, 2018’s Springtime And Blind and 2021’s Between The Richness, are certified ragers – Pat has often resembled a hand reaching out from the void. But, consciously or not, he’s also filed away a trio of extremely personal historical texts that he'll be able to revisit in future, helping to shore up a shifting viewpoint with additional primary information.

“I tend to think very deeply, existentially, philosophically, and at its worst, it becomes brooding,” he observes. “One thing I get stuck on is the end of my own life. I went to a small Catholic middle school attached to a church. I was an altar boy for funerals that not a lot of people would go to, sometimes two to three times a week. It would be in this big church: me, my buddy Mark, the other altar boy, the priests, the organ player, and the coffin. It propelled me into this early meditation on the meaning of life and death.

“Around that time, as well, my grandfather passed away surrounded by family. These two massive experiences got me thinking about what it means to be at the end of one's life. In those moments, I think a tremendous amount of warmth can come from the life that you lived. Retrospective psychology is always a dangerous game, but it seems like not too big of a coincidence that I've been writing so much about these pretty big moments as a historical record to look back on, like, ‘That was really eating at me at the time, these were the things that really got my brain moving.’”

Death Is Nothing To Us is stocked to the gills with things that get Pat’s brain moving. Its title is inspired by Stephen Greenblatt’s work on the Roman philosopher Lucretius, and its knotted heart is informed by Jean Améry, a Holocaust survivor who wrote extensively on the right to end life. But it’s also home to real punk nerd stuff with neatly concealed references to Wire, Minor Threat and Bad Brains.

From the outside, it’s interesting to see the way Pat slots dense philosophical concepts alongside sub-two-minute songs with the same care and reverence. At a time when punk’s rep for spotty bookkeeping – out of print seven-inches, lost flyer art, countless barely-documented scenes – is being countered by the crossover success of hardcore and the online availability of previously discarded records, his context-based outlook on life feels particularly incisive.

“Before the pandemic, things weren't what they are now,” he recalls. “I remember going to shows in Massachusetts and looking at the age demographics. I was like, ‘There's no young people here.’ I was alarmed by it. At first I was like, 'Gotta get the old heads out.' But, wait, I'm one of the old heads! I started thinking about the history of punk, really remembering the lifeblood, and some of the original founding ideas. This is for young people, but it's not literally just for young people. It's actually for the spirit of youth, and that is curiosity, ​​and feeling like there is a chance.

“My big criticism was of people roughly my age gatekeeping the fuck out of everything,” he continues, warming to the task. “I absolutely hated that shit. It's part of the reason why there was such apprehension about the Have Heart reunion [in 2019]. I wanted to preserve the idea that this is about the present moment. I was pleased to see a significant young population liked Have Heart 10 years after we broke up. It restored my faith. If you’re an older person you have the ability to create opportunities for young people. That older generation held a perverted understanding of history, and of themselves as the truth.”

Death Is Nothing To Us is out now via Run For Cover

Check out more:

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?