Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Fanfarlo: “Our music has always been about the dialogue between acoustic and electronic”

Fanfarlo: “Our music has always been about the dialogue between acoustic and electronic”

11 November 2013, 12:00

From day one, Fanfarlo had a touch of brilliance about them. Emerging into the noisy, scuzzy, London indie scene of White Heat and Fortuna Pop in 2006, Fanfarlo wore the twee-indie-pop tag in the same way that Kate Moss wears H&M: sure, she makes the clothes look good, but that’s kind of beside the point. Just as Kate could rock a pair of fishing waders and make them look like lingerie, so Fanfarlo could have come to life as a klezmer band and still oozed nothing but pure indie-pop delight. Fanfarlo’s early singles, and their self-released 2009 debut album Reservoir, presented a clarity of thought and composition – not to mention prodigious talent – that few bands muster so early into their existence.

Self-released six months before Mumford & Sons ruthlessly hammered the last nail into the coffin of the early-noughties freak-folk movement, Reservoir did well enough to attract the attention of Atlantic Records, who re-released the album later that year. A cynical mind might have expected newly major-label Fanfarlo to try and ride on folk music’s new-found marketability, but a sympathetic listening to Reservoir reveals a band far too grounded to indulge in the hollow bombast of the Mumford bandwagon.

Any expectations that Atlantic might have had that Fanfarlo could be the next radio-friendly hit-making parent-friendly stocking-fillers must have been thoroughly popped by their second album. Released three years after Reservoir, Rooms Filled with Light has an adventurous, insistent, challenging first half, before settling down album into a slightly off-kilter pop groove in its second half. As a whole the album owes far more to David Bowie than to Nick Drake (and possibly more to Arcade Fire than either of them). It was a noticeable departure in sound that firmly jettisoned any residual twee elements, though the desire create pop music clearly remained undiminished.

Cut loose from Atlantic’s roster, the band have returned to the joys of the self-release. They’ve rustled together both a new EP and an album, and are ready prove themselves all over again. None of which means that Fanfarlo have returned to the simplicity of their roots. Indeed the first single from the upcoming EP, “A Distance”, is a thumping, funky, jam with flurries of brass and spacey synths and a bass line that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a DFA release, and. It is by far the most danceable song the band have ever produced. Where tracks like “Feathers” on Rooms Filled With Light teased us with sultry vocals and a subtle swing, “A Distance” stops kidding around and just hits the floor. We asked band founder, lead-singer, and songwriter Simon Balthazar about the band’s early days in London, their restless musical experimentation, and finding just the right place to record their new album.

You emerged onto the White Heat scene back in 2006 as an almost perfectly formed article. What influence did that scene (White Heat, Fortuna Pop, etc.) have on the band?

The band coming together started in White Heat, that was the beginning of this band, me coming to London and landing in a crowd where everyone I knew was running a club or a 7” label or played in a band. It was a cornucopia of people doing shows, White Heat was one of the few ones that survived, in amongst all the nights at Madam Jojos, Nambucca on Holloway, et cetera. There was an amazing flourish of DIY 7” labels back then, it was lots of fun. Back then we were really figuring out what we wanted to do. I used to listen to a lot of British twee stuff in Sweden, but it lost its allure a bit when I moved to London. For me it’s something that maybe lost its poetry – the stuff that’s really British became less exotic. And when you start playing shows there’s an aesthetic that goes with that which we became less invested in.

What do you think has changed most for you since then?

You grow up. Of course, for me personally, coming from a small town and moving to a music hub like London, I feel that I’ve shot off in a lot of crazy different direction. My whole understanding of music has become much more interesting.

I’ve learned to appreciate extremes, learned to appreciate interesting well-crafted pop with some substance. It’s interesting for Fanfarlo coming from indie-pop with pop sensibilities… we’ve become more interesting in making good interesting pop music with panache and depth to it. I’ve really come to appreciate really fucked up noisy shit, I’ve gone to a lot of noise gigs and ambient drone gigs. We all in the band have a common thing that we love to do – crafting pop songs, crafting timeless quality pop music. We spend endless amount of time exploring and playing new music that we found.

How would you characterise your relationship with your band members?

I made a conscious effort from day one that I wasn’t interested in a singer song-writing vessel, even though I had recorded a few songs as a bedroom recording in Sweden. For me music is a very visceral social act. Bedroom recording is great too – but the whole point of having a band is that it’s a sort of communion that you bring on the road and record together. The other collective experience is being colonised by the same bacteria!

How does the recording process work for you?

It’s a mix of exploratory and planned. We always try new ways of working. we went four or five different times to Wales. It was very Wales-centric. We recorded the EP and album at same time. We went out with David Wrench to do basic tracking and drums. After that we went away to a friend’s house that had just had electricity installed and spent ten days living and cooking together with a fire. We would just make music from when we woke up in the morning until we passed out at night. There were lots of hilarious situations – in the middle of the night, in the Welsh countryside, we’d have a brilliant idea like singing a backing vocal while the other hit us on the back, and mic-ing things from the next room. The irony of it was that it was a terrible place to sing, it was covered in dust, and we ended up coughing our lungs out.

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There is a definite stylistic change between your early work – songs like “Two Months” and “Talking Backwards” – and the more intricate work that you are producing today. What would say has been motivating your evolution as a musician?

A lot of people have said that they are different. I sort of get it and I sort of don’t at the same time. We’re always going to be exploring with textures, and instruments, the world the music lives in. We were using more acoustic instruments on the first record. When we made the first record the folky indie thing was going on and we got associated with that. But it would be strange to not move on and try new things. Our music has always been about the dialogue between acoustic and electronic. We were trying to have much more strict regimented arrangements, a bit of a new wavey influence – but the fundamentals are the same. We worked with a major label to fund touring in America, they’re the only people who can give you tour support. To be fair to Atlantic it’s not like they were telling us that ‘this is what we want it to sound like’, but we knew we had someone’s commercial expectations to live up to. You get sucked into a way of talking about music that’s a bit lame and soul-sucking and lacklustre.

What kind of changes should we expect from the new EP/album?

I think that’s its always healthy just to move on. We’re not interested in doing the same thing. Hopefully each record will sound different in its own way. There’s no conceptual stylistic change, we’ve always been about song-based music. We’ve had fun with production and instrumentation, the single is full of arpeggios and bongos. There’s all sorts bass shit going on. Lots to look forward to.

Have you felt any impact as a result of your media exposure (e.g. Grey’s Anatomy, Twilight)? Do you feel that this has helped the band?

I don’t think it’s had any impact on us, apart from that it has been helpful paying the bills. Obviously we would rather not have been on Grey’s Anatomy, but we’ve had financial help from Hollywood because they like to take bands that are already doing their thing and drop them into shows and movies. It’s not something we feel bad about doing, I don’t think it’s affected us at all. Maybe there’s lots of thirteen year old girls out there in their bedrooms looking at Fanfarlo posters. After Twilight we all got a gold disc with like…vampires. “Yay Mum I got a gold disc…but it’s from the twilight soundtrack!”

What would you do differently if you were starting all over again?

Just to make more records. Fingers crossed we get to keep making many more records, that’s kind of what it’s all about. There’s been some rumblings about side projects. We’ve done things like live soundtracks, but at the core of it is just making interesting music. We’ve had all sorts of people writing to us, getting married to our music, telling us that “this song took me through hard times”. One person said they had a car crash, lost their hearing, and the last music they listened to was Fanfarlo, you get these crazy stories. It’s crazy, it’s gratifying but a weird responsibility. You start feeling some sort of responsibility.

What would you do if you couldn’t make music?

I’d be a film maker. But if I wasn’t making records I’d have to ask myself why I wasn’t. Maybe if I had no hands, but then I’d still figure out how to make noises. Sometimes the question is more interesting than the answer. Like, what record would you listen to if you could only listen to one record for you the rest of your life? Why would you only get to listen to one record for the rest of your life?

The Sea EP is out now.

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