by CARLOS ANDUJAR
The day I was asked to interview the Faint, I was having a particularly bad day at work. Anyone who deals with customers on a daily basis can attest to the drudgery of existence that one experiences on this particular sort of day. Out of touch, so-very-non-web-savvy people trying to make a “quick buck” with the Internet calling in every few minutes throughout the day can very quickly put a strain on your mental stability. Couple that with the fact that it involves their money and typically very, VERY poor taste in aesthetics and you have a pretty good recipe for a day of hair-pulling.
While getting through the day definitely ranks as one of the hardest on my routine “To-Do” list, I am afforded with a few humble and quaint luxuries that are too often absent with many jobs in the corporate landscape. One of my favorite perks is that I get to listen to music in between calls, while finishing up my workload. Since I was in preparation-mode for the interview that was to occur the following day, I decided to slip on my headphones and familiarize myself with the Faint’s newest release, Fasciinatiion (no I don’t have any kind of palsy, it’s honestly spelled with four “i’s”). They Faint will be appearing Thursday, October 23 at the Freebird Live.
I could go on about various minute details and nuances but without wasting too much of your reading time I’ll say this: In a nutshell, the new album is good. Really good. The songs drive with a mechanical force but are alive with more than enough energy and sustainability to keep you hooked the whole way through.
I made the album my soundtrack for the day. I found myself repeating the album over and over in the work day. The verbal throws and sporadic curses hurled at me through the phone receiver earlier in the day seemed to fade away to the blips and fuzz of songs like, “Machine In the Ghost” and the psychological suckerpunches were drowned out even more when listening to, “Fulcrum and Lever.” I couldn’t help but bob my head and feel a little, JUST A LITTLE, ghetto-fantastic (I swear they must have been listening to Jay Z when they wrote that drum pattern). Fans of Blankwave Arcade may also enjoy rockers like, “Forever Growing Centipedes” and, “Psycho.”
With all that said, and being a fairly inquisitive person by nature, I was eager to find out what makes the Faint tick and how an album like this came about. Todd Fink, lead vocalist for the band, was kind enough to talk with me from a warehouse in the quiet hours of the day, somewhere between the close of that day and the beginning of the next.
ENTERTAINING U: So how’s it going?
TODD FINK: We just got done practicing, well not really practicing, we were setting up our lighting for the tour. We know these people who have a warehouse and they let us use it for practice.
EU: So do you have somebody who’s totally dedicated to working the lighting for your shows or is it all totally automated?
TF: We have a lighting guy, Steven is our lighting guy —
EU: He’s going to be on tour with you?
TF: Yeah he goes out on tour with us, but we kind of work with him to make up the lighting parts so that it locks with the music and to choose the colors, and to choose the fixtures, and gels and all different sorts of things. It’s usually Clark, my brother who plays the drums, Steven, and myself will kind of design the lighting side of things usually. And it’s a work in progress, I mean, we know what we’d like it to be like, but it’s taken years and years just to get it to this point, so, it’s never quite what we want it to be.
EU: Yeah, it’s always hard to replicate what you have in your head for the live setting…
TF: But it’s getting better, you know? And we don’t do it like it’s usually done or like it’s supposed to be done so we have to constantly reinvent and adapt technologies that don’t have a great way to interface.
EU: Is that something that you’ve conciously tried to do not only with your [live shows] but also for the [music]? I think back to your first album, Media, that’s a pretty straight-forward rock record and then you transitioned into the sound that you guys are pretty much known for now, the dancey electronic stuff. Is it a concious effort to use technology in your music and your performances?
TF: To us, technology is just a resource, you know? We use it because it does what we want it to do. We’re not necessarily after technology itself, just what it can do for us.
EU: I have to confess, every time you guys come through town something always happens resulting in me missing your show and being out of town. All my friends end up going and come back saying it’s such a great time, everyone’s dancing, and it’s a real experience. Was there a particular reason why you decided to transition into that sort of genre, the more synth-infused, dancey kind of music as opposed to what you originally kind of started out with or was it more of a natural progression?
TF: Well, I think it happened through… Just being on the search for finding the music that… Well I guess when you first start playing an instrument, or you first start playing an instrument together as friends you don’t necessarily come up with something that all of you like. You come up with little bits like, “Well this little doodle is nice on guitar,” and, “this beat is nice” but as a whole, you don’t necessarily have a vision. I mean, you can have one and that’s great, but you kind of have to coagulate the artistic minds of everyone there into one thing that’s pleasing to everybody and I think that’s kind of how it happened for us. I mean, we didn’t want to sound like every other band that we see, because most of the bands that we saw didn’t really do anything for us. It was a matter of just searching for and kind of imagining what kind of music SHOULD be made, what kind of music do we want to exist? And through time and trial making an album that didn’t really work or didn’t really sound like we wanted, you know it takes a while.
EU: Absolutely, I mean I play music, and I’ve played with bands over the years, which actually leads me into my next question. Whenever I’ve played with bands, when we’re just getting together to write a song or get a feel for each other’s chemistry it’s more of a free, improvisation type of environment where we just build upon an idea and we just structure it later on. Is that pretty much how your songwriting process goes or does –
TF: Yeah, I mean kind of both, though. I mean, where you gonna ask…
EU: Does one of you bring an idea to the table?
TF: Well we do, I mean, I bring songs sometimes that are finished or at least demo’d, not FINISHED finished, but to me at least I’ve gotten all the way through the song and it has specific chords and maybe the melody or the words, I might change a thing here or there over time. Some songs are like that, and I think we all kind of like it when they are like that although we do have fun jamming. Most of the time spent jamming is a waste of time, I mean it’s kind of fun, but at the end of the day it’s like, “Okay, well, we didn’t really end up coming up with anything we like. Umm…. I wish we would’ve.” (laughs)
EU: I know exactly what you’re talking about, a lot of times you end up embarrassed over what just happened.
TF: (laughs) Or at least you’re not ready to all vote for it to be on the record whatever it is.
EU: Right, exactly.
TF: But a lot of times we piece them together, I guess I didn’t get to that point, a lot of times we piece them together from the jams. Or from like… We keep those stash of keyboard riffs or something. We think of those, or we’ll remember ones from different times that we’ve jammed and try to fit them together if we need a part that seems like, “Well maybe this will work. It’s about this speed,” we’ll change the key and try it out. But that way of treating the song like a puzzle is tough and it takes a long time. It’s better to have somebody write a song and then to have everybody make it their own as a group.
EU: I was just curious as to how you did that. If you’re using a lot of samples or pre-programmed stuff, if there was a way that you kind of use that to just improvise and then develop an idea…
TF: A lot of the programming we’ll do later… Well, a lot of the songs we don’t end up programming anything, and if we do we’ll program it while we’re recording the song.
EU: So pretty much everything on the record, if you were to play that same song live, I mean you’d be re-creating everything?
TF: Yeah, once we make an album, we usually do it all at once. Once we make an album we usually have a lot of work to do to figure out how we’re going to play it because everybody has [a] say in about every part that every person plays so there’s a lot of opinions in how the sounds should sound. I mean, we work out a lot of it during the recording because we’ve kind of decided, you know “this is distorted” or “this has a phaser on it” or whatever the decision is. But who plays it is not obvious all of the time.
EU: Yeah, that makes it kind of interesting and it kind of shows in your music. I wanted to ask you about the new record being released on your label, blank.wav. Can you talk about that a little bit? What was the idea for kind of splitting off from Saddle Creek and trying to sit on your own label?
TF: It just seems like a good idea to have your own record label if you can. And we’re at the point now that we can, and the distributors will commit to buying some records for putting in the stores. Saddle Creek has done a lot of work for sure, I don’t mean to discount it, it’s just that, if we can put it out ourselves I don’t see why we shouldn’t. You know, it’s hard to make ends meet for everybody, especially when you want to put on a bigger show. We’re always having to scale things back because we don’t have the money, and it’s nice to have a bigger cut of it if we can.
EU: I was just curious because it’s definitely tough to start a label. A lot of them don’t end up lasting too long, I noticed in the release for the new album, since it’s being released on the new label you had complete control over every aspect of the recording, the artwork, promotion and all of that. Was it the same case with Saddle Creek?
TF: Yeah, it’s not that different. We weren’t ever “hemmed’ by the desires, you know? They’ll help you if you don’t know what to do, but we always had a pretty… Our idea of what we wanted to do and what we didn’t want to do was always fairly focused, and we didn’t really use that aspect of the label.
EU: Any time you start something new you’re going to be faced with some interesting challenges? Did you run into any roadblocks with putting together the label as opposed to having the support of Saddle Creek who has been around for awhile and have connections, did you have any trouble putting your label together and putting the new record together through that?
TF: No, not really, I think the important thing is… I mean, you want to have the digital rights to your music because CDs don’t mean anything, and records are cute and heavy but we’re talking about files, it’s already the future, you know what I mean? There are record labels that will sign bands, but not many of them are letting the bands have the digital rights to their music so the work that we had to do, I guess, which we had help from our friend Joel who takes care of a lot of the business stuff for us, is to find a distribution company that will help us with upstart expenses or front money here or there but more importantly to find one that will let us keep our digital rights and still distribute the CDs.
EU: I’m always interested when bands start to put out their own records on their own labels, I’ve always been curious as to what that entails.
TF: It’s a lot, but we’ve always done a whole lot more than just get together and play a song, record a song, and go on tour with it. We’ve always had a lot to do with everything. There’s a lot to do in a band, doesn’t seem like there would be, doesn’t sound like a full-time job being in a band! (laughs) I’ve never been short of things to do on behalf of the band.
EU: With that in mind, would you consider the Faint your full-time job or do the rest of you have work that you do on the side? I know a lot of bands do work on the side and tour as much as they can in the meantime.
TF: Well, because we take so much of it unto ourselves and have for so long we haven’t really had time to have jobs so we’ve been really fortunate that we’ve had enough to keep us going. If we all had jobs we wouldn’t have enough time to get the things done that we need to. At one point, we made the concious decision to just try to do music and deal with whatever financial crisis was the result. But because we made that decision, we were able to say, all right we’re going out on tour for a long time and I guess we got paid back for making that decision.
EU: I guess it kind of goes back to just doing what you love, and the rest will come, that kind of thing.
TF: Yep, whatever you spend your time doing is what you get good at so, if you want to be good at something you like you better spend time doing something you like.
EU: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the new record, just listening to it, is really good. It sounds like you’ve incorporated a lot more acoustic instruments, more acoustic drums, electric guitars, more “traditional” band instruments I guess if that’s what you want to call it. Is that something that you decided to do or was it kind of a by-product of where you guys were at musically at that time?
TF: Well, we did talk about doing a record where we didn’t program anything and we would be playing all the music, you know, just basement-style and then record it and then having it be more of a “played” record which tends to sound less electronic but that kind of got ditched after awhile. I mean that was an idea before we even had any songs, it was just a thought, but it didn’t end up happening for whatever reason. I think maybe some of that could’ve come through in the recording process, because in the recording process for the first time we had total control.
EU: You guys were in a new studio, right? For this new record?
TF: Yep, our practice space is upstairs in a building that we got when we moved out of our rental. After Wet From Birth came out, we moved into a different studio so we could build and make it our own. Since we were renting it didn’t make any sense to start erecting walls to make things sound better. One thing led to another and now we have like a real, professional studio.
EU: It’s always interesting to hear about the recording process goes with paying for studio time and having that set amount of time as opposed to having your own place where you could record at your leisure. Do you think that affected the songs for the new record?
TF: Yeah, you know, I was worried that we’d end up overcooking them but I think we went into it thinking, the last one at some points sounded overcooked (laughs). And so we kind of steered our way away from that, so it worked out pretty well, and also we gave ourselves a due date because of touring. There’s ideal times to tour in every place, so it’s kind of like you have to have the record done by this point so that when it comes out you can be on tour and it’s not December 20th (laughs).
EU: So I guess it’d be safe to say it requires some discipline I guess?
TF: Yeah, I mean, without due dates, without the pressure of having to turn something in, I’m a procrastinator, I think a bunch of us are, maybe one of us is not, but it’s hard for one person to reign in the other four.
EU: I’m kind of a nerd because I work with computers all the time, so of course I had to look you guys up on Wikipedia and —
TF: (laughs) I wonder what it says, I’ve never seen that one, I hope it’s better than the AllMusic one.
EU: You should check it out! It said that Conor Oberst played with you guys, is that true?
TF: Yeah I mean we played in Bright Eyes at points too, I mean he invites just anybody to play, so that’s kind of how we kind of got in on that. Before he started playing as Bright Eyes, he just went by Conor Oberst and made tapes, he had a bunch of albums on tape and 7″s and stuff. When we met him, he already had a couple albums out but he was just a little kid… (laugs). I was introduced to him through, I think it was through Chris Hughes who does a band called Beep Beep, so he kind of turned me on to Conor’s music… Although, I probably made friends with him before he made his music. We ended up playing together in coffee shops. It was Clark, Joel, myself, and Conor.
EU: I was kind of surprised, I guess I just never made that connection, I guess it was just news to me.
TF: Well at the time he wasn’t even all that folky. He would play acoustic guitar but he would play it super fast and just scream. Not out of any allegiance to hardcore punk music or any sort of that, he’s always just been a really intense guy and he’s learned to kind of just get that out through the lyrics instead of…
EU: His vocal chords?
TF: Yeah! At one point, he played distortion, or just sound effects in the band. We kind of just started it with him so it wasn’t really our band it was just our band together.
EU: Pretty interesting connection… Let me ask you about your older albums like Danse Macabre and Blankwave Arcade. I know when I’ve read reviews or something about those albums, they always mentioned phrases like, “dark themes” or “sexual themes.” Do you guys have a theme set in mind when you write a record or do you feel that’s a pretty accurate description of your music or even lyrically?
TF: I think we tend to play minor-key riffs, chord progressions, and melodies and that stuff. That’s just what we prefer I guess. Maybe we’re a little bit scared of happy music or playing happy music? I think at least one point we were, I don’t know…
EU: Well I think it works for you guys whatever you’re doing…
TF: Oh we like listening to it when other people do it, it’s just that I think we just tend to get tired of.. Maybe it’s just my voice doesn’t sound any good in major key songs? But I keep trying them
anyways. This album has at least one I think.
EU: Yeah I think the last song or one of them towards the end has some sort of major chord progression like that.
TF: Mmm. Yeah there’s a couple of places where we sneak them in, I guess. “Fish In the Womb” does, I guess. That one I felt like didn’t turn out all that happy. It turned out really light, not gothic or anything… (laughs)
EU: Well it was a nice way to break up the flow a little bit. It’s not quite a dark, “doom and gloom” type of theme it’s more of like a tongue-and-cheek dark element. Kind of hard to explain, but the way you do it makes it distinguishable in a way that makes people say, “Well that’s a Faint tune, that sounds like a Faint type of sound.”
TF: Well, we play whatever melodies sound good at the time and whatever I’m thinking about tends to come out in the words or if there’s a certain traumatic event that I feel it might be therapeutic to write a song about, there’s nothing else behind the themes. But once you get a group of songs you can recognize the thematic thread that’s sown through them.
EU: It sounds like the lyrical overtones seem to compliment the music if I’m hearing you right, where it kind of promotes the feel a little bit better, I don’t know if that’s the right way to phrase it…
TF: Yeah, well I think there’s a word for it, I always forget what it is… There’s a word for when the melody and the words feel like each other… A really dumbed-down example would be when you sing the word “rising” and the pitch is going up a little bit or when you say “high” and you hit a really high note I mean that’s a really dumbed-down version of what I’m talking about, I think it’s called crossity…
EU: Yeah I think I know what you’re talking about, and I that connection is definitely there in your music.
TF: I don’t pay attention to it, because I don’t follow rules…
EU: So there’s no pre-ordained sort of thought put into it?
TF: No, I mean, I think that at one point or another that in the recording and writing process thoughts like that will come to me and I’ll either think, “Oh that must work because the melody’s going up during this section” or “Maybe this isn’t working…” because of something like that, I might think about that for a second. But it definitely doesn’t rule… (laughs)
EU: I was just curious, because at least to me, it didn’t seem like it was only just me that thought about that connection. As far as touring, you mentioned that you have done a lot of touring to promote the band and try to keep that in the forefront of what you do. Do you have any memorable moments from your tours, favorite places to play, or worse memories or anything like that?
TF: Oh, I dont’ know, there’s too much to sort through… I mean, right now, what comes to mind is, we just got back from Australia and Japan and that’s something we all look forward to doing each record. I mean, Japan is amazing, it’s like another planet.
EU: What sort of bands are you listening to these days as far as influences or is there anybody in particular that kind of hits your sweet spot? Sometimes you’ll hear a band or song that just “does it for you” and you end up spinning it constantly for weeks or months on end, is there anybody out there like that for you?
TF: Well, I haven’t found that song that I play over and over again for a little while. I did just pick up a bunch of music and I listened to all of it once, but not enough to really grasp. Today I listened to the first half of Of Montreal’s new record, I like some of their songs a lot from their last record. “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal”, I like that one [song] a lot. I like his song titles.
EU: Yeah, he’s quite the showman, if you’ve ever seen his live footage…
TF: (Chuckles) And what else… I’ve got this type of music that I’m looking for, and that’s one of those things where I have this idealized version of what I want to hear and hopefully I’ll just make it. I don’t know what’ll happen if I find it before I make it. Somebody’s probably doing it… That’s all right it’ll sound different.
EU: Especially with home recording being what it is these days, anybody and their brother can record a song…
TF: Yep. That’s a good thing, it’ll keep people wanting to have better ideas than everybody else and then everybody can enjoy those best ideas, best executions or whatever it is.
EU: Well, as a parting question do you have any general words, advice, or anything that you want to say for aspiring musicians, artists, or anybody who might read this article in general? Kind of a broad question I know, but you never know with some people.
TF: (long pause) I dont know.
TF: Life is a little… I guess the trick to listening to advice is knowing who’s advice to listen to. But, who knows! But I’d guess I’d say to anybody who’s thinking about making music or starting a band to think about what the world’s missing rather than trying to jump onto some new style or term or… whatever seems hot at the moment. Just, look inside your head and try to pull something that blows your mind out of it.
by CARLOS ANDUJAR