Artist: Les Savy Fav Video: 'Let's Get Out of Here' Highlight: Watching this…
- Posted on Dec 3rd 2010 6:06AM by Chris Mugan
Les Savy Fav may not be godfathers to the Brooklyn art rock scene, but they certainly behave like its eccentric uncles.
Formed in 1996 at Rhode Island School of Design, the group's early efforts reflected a passion for Fugazi-style hardcore noise, with a hint of Pavement's wry indie rock. Over the course of five studio albums they have gradually refined their sound, while still maintaining the group's visceral punk edge.
While they have yet to make a breakthrough similar to groups they have influenced and are admired by, LSF continue to build up a following through their startling live performances and the on-stage antics of Tim Harrington. The band's lardy, bearded singer spends as much time in the audience as on stage. Spinner talked to Harrington and bassist Syd Butler ahead of their recent London show.
Your new album opens with 'Appetites,' where Tim screams "We've still got our appetites." How far is that a statement of intent?
Tim: Pretty far. I'm ashamed of its plain-facedness and its complete simplicity.
Syd: It's an itch we still need to scratch. We wake up every day and all of us have to do this.
Tim: That was one of the earliest songs we wrote for this record and it served as a motto for wanting to make a record that deliberately didn't declare its own importance. We just wanted to rip it out.
Syd: Our live shows are charged with a primal energy and sexuality, where people come and lose their inhibitions, so we were really excited about Tim's lyrics reflecting that.
Was it important, then, just to rely on the five members of the band to record 'Roots for Ruin,' rather than bring in guests like on 'Let's Stay Friends?'
Tim: 'Let's Stay Friends' had an outward-seeking vibe to it and this is more about consolidation. One of the things that came out of writing and recording this album was an indulgence of the base, lusty pleasure of playing as musicians. It's easy when you're a 15-year-old band to enter a mature phase, but we were like f--- that.
Syd: There's a lot of nineties references we're paying homage to, that time when we were most excited, craving music and energy.
What bands in particular?
Tim: There's so many direct references -- the first song on the album references Silver Jews' 'Punks in the Beerlight,' and that's their ode to teenageness. 'Dirty Knails' had a Dead Kennedys-style guitar riff. The opening line to 'Excess Energies' is from a Circus Lupus song, and they were a huge influence on us.
Do those bands think offer something that is lacking nowadays?
Tim: Everyone has 10,000 songs on their f---ing cellphone and that ends up with a culture of connoisseurship. Thinking about the nineties, it was about the simplicity and baseness of the whole thing. Now you're burdened by your past work and exposure. You end up with this weird, mushy world music, chillwave. This record is, like, anti-chillwave.
Now you are a 15-year-old band, do you find it harder to find time to record together, thus making recording sessions more valuable?
Tim: It's definitely a challenge. One of the reasons our band functions the way it does, with sporadic album releases and mystery touring, is because we took time to tear down the band, dissemble it and put it back together in a way that works for us. Syd runs the label [Frenchkiss Records], I'm a graphic designer, Seth's [Jabour – guitarist] also a designer. Harrison [Haynes – drummer] is a fine artist and Andrew Reuland [guitarist] is a filmmaker and editor. I never thought of a band as a career, I thought of it as a passion.
Commentators here suggest sometimes that you have never achieved as much as you should have. Especially when compared to all the artists that have name checked you over the years. How far would you accept that?
Syd: Our expectations have always been clear, even when we started at university, we wanted to control our art, our recordings and how we grow. We don't want other people's expectations upon us; we want our own expectations as we move forward. And that's given us a lot of freedom.
Tim: We never want to operate in service to our band. It's the Nantucket sleigh ride, when you harpoon a whale and it pulls you along. We've never had to chase our band. And we're comfortable where we are, there's less hype and people see us because they like us.
Syd: Our fans are like family to us. In the room when we play live, there's a real sense that we're all in this together.
Tim, you are best known for your incendiary live shows, snogging the audience, climbing walls....
Tim: That's funny, because that was a completely uncommodifiable detail until YouTube made it really easy to see what it was like. I loved that magic surprise we used to have where people showed up and saw us start playing and their jaws just dropped. Half the audience would bale and the other half would be quadruply impassioned.
How did your approach to audience interaction come about?
Tim: It's always been that way. I've always been extrovert and liked attention. We formed at art school, but we were like the Duran Duran of Providence. We formed at the same time as Lightning Bolt, we played our first shows together. And I remember being really hung up on how poppy my band was. And when we did our first national tour, it was only for a cassette. Our shows were so sparsely attended, leaving the stage allowed me to play for these guys. And that's my greatest inspiration, pleasing the band.
So Syd, how aware are you that Tim's shenanigans are for your benefit? And does he ever go too far?
Syd: I believe three-fourths of what he's saying. There's definitely a sense that we're playing for each other and Tim has the most freedom in that. In theory, when we play our songs we cue him, so he knows when to come back. A lot of times we miss what he's doing because we're playing with the lights against us, so it's great for me when Tim takes it to the next level.
What does take it to the next level?
Syd: Tim does a great job of pulling something out of nothing and he's also really good at pushing people's buttons, but not in a harmful way. It's about people feeling safe enough to allow that to happen. There was a time in Sydney, Australia, where Tim climbed a wall and walked out along it, but the wall got taller and taller. At the end he rappelled down on his mike chord then flicked it off the wall to get it back.
Tim: There was a review in a German magazine, which we couldn't read, but it called me a 'PG GG Allin.' He s----s on stage and breaks glasses over people's heads, so the idea of a fun, good-times version of that was really cool.
Les Savy Fav have just announced a UK tour in February.