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Les Savy Fav

Les Savy Fav

Friday 28th January, 2011 10:00AM

Les Savy Fav are in Australia for Laneway Festival and are playing two side shows here next week. We caught up with bassist Syd Butler, who is also the founder of FrenchKiss Records (home to artists like The Dodo’s and Local Natives) too shoot the breeze about the new album, how the bands changed over the years and why Les Savy Fav have a symbiotic relationship with their fans.

You guys have never been to New Zealand before? What have you heard?

Um, we’ve only heard great stories from the Cut off your Hands dude. We’ve been told to go to Cuba Street in Wellington. Oh and the side-shows are no reflection on you guys – it was a logistical thing. We definitely don’t look at New Zealand as a step child!

Tell me about the new album, Root for Ruin.

It was a lot of fun. We’ve had times when we struggled to find time to record but there was something about this time around that made it really easy. We went to the practice space and the writing came quickly which was refreshing to us. And, so we were really excited about the album coming out and then somebody leaked it, which CRUSHED us. Not for the fact that we didn’t want people to hear the music, but because we were really excited about our marketing campaign that was just starting to happen when the record leaked. We basically had to cancel the whole marketing strategy which was really sad to us and sad for the fans.

Can you tell us about the campaign?

No I’m not gonna tell you because it’s gonna go down with the leak. It’s one of those situations where it was like: ‘if you guys had had any patience you would’ve been rewarded’. We had a lot of really cool projects that would engage the fans and ask them to be part of the record rather than just saying ‘here’s the record and you can check it out on pitchfork who cares’. There were trips and things! You know and we’re tight lipped about it now because hopefully we will get to use those strategies in the future.

Would you say there’s an overarching theme to that album?

We went back from our roots in Root for Ruin and the things that changed our lives when we were in high school and college. We wanted to emulate these bands going into this recording process rather than trying to do something different. We weren’t trying to be like ‘oh what’s cool now let’s fly with that’. We basically love Archers of Loaf, we love Superchunk, we love Fugazi we love all these bands and they changed our world. They were huge in our heads and we realized that they weren’t actually that big and perhaps people hadn’t heard them. We had a collective language when we were recording the record that was like ‘oh this sounds just like this record’ or ‘oh I wrote this song can we make it sound like this’ so it was really awesome.

The members of Les Savy Fav all came from Fine Art backgrounds. Was forming a band simply another medium for getting an idea across?

We were all at art school studying different careers. Myself, Tim (Harrington) and Andrew (Reuland) the guitarist were studing film and video and Harrison (Haynes) was studying painting and we just got together with a ‘hey I play this’ mentality. It became something we did in between creating art and then we started expressing ourselves through the medium of music as well. There’s a massive relationship between video and music too. Music too use is another way of creating and communicating art. Providence at the time was a great, supportive environment – there were bands like Lightening Bolt around. It was a fusion between local bands that went to Rhode Island School of Design and they all cared about this scene. There was a great place for bands that could play called Fort Sunday that was actually where the guys from Lightening Bolt lived. They would throw parties and have bands play and that was a great place to do something crazy. And there was competition between all the bands but it was healthy competition that made other bands better and pushed them. Lightening Bolt and Les Savy Fav are very different bands but in my head we speak a similar language, in the way we approach making music or sound.

Do you see the other visual accompaniments to the band as important?

Absolutely and we have a hell of a lot of pride in how we are presented to the world. Sometimes it’s bad because we’re too uptight about it. Someone will be like ‘come on let’s just do this and someone else is in the band is like ‘oh I donno about that’ and we kind of go down a rabbit hole and have tunnel vision for a while, thinking hyper critically about something instead of getting on with it. You know we care, but someone else who didn’t grow up listening to music or appreciating art in the way that we do might not give a shit.

Although with the industry changing in the way it is, surely people both expect, and are appreciative of such an overarching package?

I think so. I don’t want to toot our own horn but I think we’re authentic. The fan base that we care so much about I think support us because we’re totally honest. We’re not trying to put something over them and when they come to support us we have a symbiotic relationship where we’re supporting them and they’re supporting us. You know we survive because of them and we give them everything we can. Tim is an amazing front person in the sense that he marries the band to the audience. It’s special to the audience because at each show you’ll get something unique, rather than ‘oh that band had the exact same set up last night and for the ten shows before that’. I think back to this musician I saw and it was like every single show he did he did things in the exact same way. It was like ‘come on dude you blew us away the first time but you did the exact same thing – he stood in the same place for every song. It became creepy, I actually think he had memorized his moves!

You’ve been a band for such a long time and seen the industry change in such a monumental way. How has your approach changed?

It’s a great question and a great challenge to utilize this technology and people’s expectations as much fans and music lovers in the right way. How do they hear and value music now? You have people over 30 who grew up with vinyl and grew up with ways of hearing music that don’t exist anymore. And then there’s people like my cousin who is 17 or 18 years old now, but when he was discovering music iTunes had been invented. He grew up in Memphis, Tennesse which is arguably the birth place of rock and roll and there’s no record store there anymore – nowhere for him to go and find that record. So when he was 12 or 13 he went to iTunes and he grew up with an iPod and never went to a record store and have someone go ‘oh you’ve gotta check this out bro’. He just screwed around on iTunes so how do you sell music to someone who has never learned to value it in the first place. It’s also an exciting time because there are no rules anymore, so it’s a bit of a paradox.

And you run a record label, FrenchKiss, so these questions must be pretty constant in your day-to-day life?

The great thing about FrenchKiss compared to other labels is that it’s an artist run collective so when I communicate or talk to the band I know what I’m talking about and I’m not bullshitting them. When they go on tour I know most of the promoters they’re using and I can relate to them and they can relate to me when we sit down and have a beer so that makes FrenchKiss authentic. We’re also very small which gives each of our releases a lot of attention. It’s about being on a label with people who care about you rather than some guy who works at a major label who might get fired if record sales go down or whatever.

Do you think that’s part of it? Imbuing the entire process with passion and integrity – things that the major labels arguable lost throughout the years?

I think it’s a different scenario. I’m not trying to keep my job on FrenchKiss whereas other guys who work at labels, that’s their job. Their whole job is to prove to their boss that their band is gonna be the one to sell and that’s a different way of approaching things and sometimes bands are perfect for major labels. For example I’m really happy that Passion Pitt started on FrenchKiss and moved on because they wanted to go down a different road and I was supportive of that. Then you have bands like The Dodo’s who are really happy on FrenchKiss. They like the family feeling and constant attention that we can provide. You know if they call us we answer all the time. That’s really important to bands like The Dodo’s and Local Natives and that’s why we’re here.

Courtney Sanders

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