Thursday, April 24, 2008

Interview: Les Savy Fav

This feature appears in Wireless Bollinger.

During a Halloween show in Ireland, Les Savy Fav singer Tim Harrington was up to his usual shenanigans.

“Tim was in a bat costume. He dressed up and he was hanging from the rafters, head first. Some people were holding his feet. The people let him go and he fell two feet and landed on the crowd, and the crowd carried him on stage with their hands,” says the band’s bassist, Syd Butler.

When Les Savy Fav play a live show, people expect excitement. When he isn’t in costume, Harrington often isn’t wearing a shirt at all. But the wardrobe, or lack thereof, doesn’t affect his ability to connect with the crowd.

“He’s pretty phenomenal how he relates to the crowd and the crowd relates to him. People want to be part of his antics, and the more they respond to his creativity,” says Butler.

On April 29th, the band will commemorate their New Year’s performance at New York’s Bowery Ballroom by releasing their first live album, After the Balls Drop. It is the follow up to last year’s Let’s Stay Friends, the band’s fourth studio album.

Butler described the recent creative process as a more controlled affair compared to previous albums. “In the past we would go make a bunch of noise and edit from the noise,” says Butler, comparing the finished product with Frankenstein.

Let’s Stay Friends was different. “We slowly over the summer started putting some things together, basic ingredients,” says Butler, using a drum beat or guitar line as an example. Harrington writes all the lyrics, which come from personal experience, according to Butler. The band also had a comfortable amount of time in the studio, using two sessions of three weeks from Thanksgiving 2006 to April 2007. The album was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Not bad for a project that was never supposed to be more than a fun hobby. Les Savy Fav’s four members met at Rhode Island School of Design, forming in 1995, with decidedly casual goals. “We didn’t consider ourselves a real band,” says Butler. Eventually, the band relocated to New York City, during a time that the music scene was simmering.

“There are so many bands in New York, it’s hard to keep up with all of them,” says Butler, but he mentions Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol as major players during Les Savy Fav’s development. Although these two neighbors have achieved worldwide success, Butler is far from jealous.

“We didn’t want the same things that they did,” says Butler. Perhaps a telling contrast is each band’s current label status. Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their second album through the major Interscope Records, while Interpol signed to Capitol, a division of EMI, for their third album. Meanwhile, Les Savy Fav’s longevity led to the creation of Frenchkiss Records in 1999, a label owned and operated by Butler.

This independence has enabled Les Savy Fav to carve out a place in the nebulous Brooklyn scene. “It definitely helps with the communication and expectations with all the bands,” says Butler, who cites the Dodos as a recent example of success. He also speaks warmly of the Bowery Presents, who treat the band as if they are “part of the family.”

I many ways, the decision to release music independently is not so much rebellion as an acknowledgment of the realities of the music industry. “Huge bands and majors have it a lot harder because their expenses are higher,” says Butler. He believes putting up a large sum of money upfront is detrimental to the long term growth of a group. Les Savy Fav’s development has been “slow and steady,” however, relying on regular touring and album releases. “The expectations stay the same throughout our career, keep it interesting and fun onstage,” says Butler.

The band did go on hiatus in mid-2005, understandable when considering its members’ additional interests. Harrington works at VH1, Jabour as a creative director, and Haynes curates an art gallery in North Carolina. Butler remains tasked with operating Frenchkiss. These “day jobs” have allowed the band to function as a more creative pursuit, rather than the role of breadwinner.

And even after thousands of records sold and infamously bizarre concerts in front of huge crowds, Butler hesitates to declare Les Savy Fav a complete success.

“Even today, I don’t know if we’ve made it,” says Butler. “We don’t travel on a bus. We keep it as simple as possible.”


Syd also likes hockey. Les Savy Fav is playing Coachella.

MP3: Les Savy Fav - Sweat Descends (Live)
MySpace: Les Savy Fav
Official Site: Les Savy Fav

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