Fresh from reviewing the new second album from Future of the Left, we meet up with Future of the Left’s frontman Andy Falkous to talk about the writing and sound of Travels With Myself and Another, as well as the complexities of music piracy and merits of the words “ace” and “psyched”.
How pleased are you and the rest of the band with the new album?
We’re very very pleased. We did the previous album two years ago, written three years ago, and we were very proud of that record , we were particularly inspired at that time and wondered at one stage if we were ever going to better it. But I think after about nine months of doubt when nothing was really happening, all of a sudden we had two months where absolutely everything went right and we wrote about 16 songs in a two month period. Certainly in terms of the band it’s our favourite record, there will be people who prefer the first record which they’re in their rights to do.
You think as a band you managed to top the first album then?
Yeah definitely – I mean not exactly to take it on in its own terms, because Curses is a sort of nastier, more angular record, it’s got sort of more bite to it. I mean this record is just massive, I don’t mean in terms of commercial reach I just mean in terms of the way it sounds, it sounds as if it was recorded in crumbling caverns underneath mountains or something, it’s just sort of this gigantic sound which wasn’t really what we were reaching for, it’s just the way the songs pushed us, I suppose.
It sounds to me like an anxious, sort of agitated album, where do you think that comes from?
You see I was just saying exactly the opposite in the last interview we did – I think Curses sounds like an anxious, aggravated album… I mean I haven’t listened to that much, if I’m at my mother’s house and I go for a run or something I’ll put it on, because 33 minutes is the right sort of time to go for a run, but to me it sounds incredibly confident and it has it’s natty little moments, don’t get me wrong – stupid little lyrics about dinosaurs and the like, but anxious isn’t something I get from it, to be quite honest with you.
Fair enough… it’s funny that you mention that dinosaur lyric (on “Yin / Post-Yin”) because that’s always one of the ones that stands out for me. There are quite a few surreal moments like that aren’t there, lyrically speaking?
Yeah absolutely. And it’s the only way it can be for us really, trying to write about the things which are important to you, unfortunatelyyou can end up sounding very worthy and po-faced. And obviously there are songs on the album which are about subjects which are close to our hearts, there are love songs on there and there are songs about people which are cleverely (or not, as you may choose to look at it) interspersed with bits of pure bollocks, but it’s fun to write a song about dinosaurs, as opposed to some girl who left you and broke your heart. I mean how distinctly uninteresting and unoriginal is that? Maybe it’s the age, but I’m not interested in hearing about somebody’s heartbreak really. Maybe if it had some new and exciting spin… there’s nothing new you can say to me about that. I don’t mean you personally, I’m sure you have lots of incredibly invigorating tales of heartbreak, but the way rock bands write about heartbreak just isn’t something that interests me at all.
Less heartbreak, more dinosaurs?
Well you know that’s a little bit of a generalisation, but if it looks good on a T-shirt then let’s have that as the manifesto.
It’s a really fun song, that. You were saying that the album is quite strong in parts, it is quite strident isn’t it… it doesn’t feel overtly serious a lot of the time.
Absolutely. Like you say there are moments on “Yin / Post Yin” there are moments, there are lines in it which are very serious lines and when those particular people hear those lines they’re meant to basically sit back in a leather chair, light a cigarette and go “that’s so true about… stuff” but you know to intersperse that with little bit about dinosaurs going back to college after doing a part time job for a while is pretty much how I choose how to write songs, it’s not neccesarily true of lots of bands that I like, but our strengths are – I wouldn’t say stupid lyrics – but more inventive uses of language. The problem is of course that then you get into something of a comedy band ghetto where having a sense of humour makes you exclusive from the rest of rock bands, which isn’t true because lots of people in rock bands are funny individuals who understand and appreciate comedy, but who for some reason are scared of showing that in any kind of way in their music, and as a result we stand out a little bit more than we should for that factor, because humour is a part of our music, rather than being waved around in a plastic booby kind of way, a la the Bloodhound Gang or some shite like that.
It seems that whilst there may be bands out there that might have funny personable people in person, but they seem to see music as a serious business.
It’s a manifestation of an idea of what music should be. The bands I love, their music conveys their personalities, for better or worse, all the foibles, all the good and the bad bits. The curmudgeonly nature perhaps, the humour, the excitement, the genuine aggression, the love, the loss, the whole picture, as opposed to some quasi-gothic fucking distillation of a failed love affair. That’s not everything that life’s about, life isn’t about jumping around a stage in shorts screaming about “society”. Society’s a very complex thing and it isn’t all just about you know, singing about what “the government” does to them, fought with getting tattoos and wearing shorts on stage, which is a great way to “stick to the man”.
Just reminds me of a Bad Religion song called “You Are (The Government)” which seems like quite a good retort to that…
Well yeah it is. The power exists in people’s minds and ultimately in their hands. The problem I find with political music… I mean we’re relatively political individuals, all left-leaning, but the problem with explicitly political music for me at least is that it’s preaching to the converted and as such I choose not to put my best efforts into that direction. And also musically it can sound very po-faced. Putting a personal perspective on an issue is fine, but when a band sing about politics they’ve got to do something particularly special musically in order to engage me at least.
Besides the surreal lyrics, there are a few songs on the album and particularly titles which even very abstractly made me think of topical things as well, a bit.
Well “Drink Nike” is about branding, for example… the beginning of “Lapsed Catholics”, the final song of the record, is something of a stream of consciousness rant which was inspired by Sky News announcing that Morgan Freeman had died which reminded me again of what happened on Sky News on September 11th when the presenter announced that the entire eastern seaboard of the United States was under attack, it’s not news really is it, it’s soap opera dressed up with occasionally convenient fact. The only really difficult song to explain on the record is “Yin / Post Yin” which is just a meeting point of surrealism and well-meaning bluster about ex-girlfriends. But “Arming Eritrea” is a very difficult song to explain, I’ve already tied myself in knots trying to explain that on a couple of occasions… but all the other songs have a much more linear sense to the lyrics, and you have stories underneath them which is a new thing for me, I’m quite proud!
One of the songs which springs to mind is “The Hope that House Built” which I believe is going to be a single is it not?
It was a single a while ago now… and it was spectacularly unsuccessful.
That would explain my confusion then… but what would you say that one’s about?
Well musically the song comes from wanting to do something completely ridiculous. I mean personally I’m a huge Queen fan, I just love the unashamed, undiluted over the top parts of classic Queen, particularly mid-70s things like Sheer Heart Attack which is one of my top 5 albums ever. And also in a totally unashamed way I wanted to write a record which part sounded like fighting music but part sounded like a series of a Klingon war chants or something, not that I’m a huge Star Trek fan but I just found that notion particularly appealing. That’s musically where that song came from, lyrically it’s about hopeless causes. We feel like a hopeless cause a lot of the time, I mean we love playing shows, the people that like our band seem to really like our band, and believe me we appreciate that but the song is about feeling that you have a pre-destined fate, that being a good person and endeavouring to succeed in the best kind of way isn’t going to be enough but shouldn’t stop you falling lemming-like off the cliff. Life isn’t always about the end, the process can be the end in itself. I think a lot of bands get that sometimes, I think records become a means to success and money or a particular tour, or getting their dick sucked by a sucession of women with low self-esteem. But it’s important to step back sometimes and realise that sometimes the process of the album can be the end in itself as well, it’s not simply a device to attain another level of existence but it is the thing it itself. Sorry that’s a little profound for one song! But that’s kind of what it’s about, we sometimes see ourselves as a hopeless cause but that doesn’t make us any less proud to be in the band.
Calling yourselves a “hopeless cause”, which is of course a phrase used in that song, reminds me of your recent anti-piracy rant on MySpace, talking about the lengths you’d gone to as a band to try to prevent the album leaking. How do you feel about that whole situation now?
It was absolutely heartfelt, and it wasn’t put out there to judge people for downloading the record, I mean it’s human nature. If you can get something for free, the chances are you will. Unless you’re a morally stoic individual, you are going to take what you can for free. I was just trying to add another angle to the whole narrative of what pirating of music has become – to give a different angle in a sense that most of the argument is people who are pro-downloading going “I’m sure Metallica doesn’t need the money”. I’m sure that Metallica don’t need the money, unless you’re talking of a fourth holiday home or whatever, but it doesn’t really change the moral issue. Theft is still theft, whether it’s from Metallica, Puddle of Mudd, Echobelly, Pulled Apart By Horses, it doesn’t matter. As far as I’m concerned, if people want to steal stuff then that’s on their conscience, it’s not for me to step in and tell them what’s right and wrong, that’s their personal morality. But once they’ve taken that decision they should really run and hide in a corner and consider their ill-gotten gains rather than come on the internet and morally justify how music should be available for free. I’d say that if we were really living in this agrarian hippy fucking free-for-all there are more basic human rights than free music…. free clothing, free food, free water, free electricity, I’d say they all come before free music. As far as I’m concerned the way to end the pro-download argument now is to accuse everyone who downloads music of being middle class.
It is such a convenient, middle class attitude to take, believe me there are working class kids out there making music, wanting to make a living out of it, which shouldn’t neccesarily mean that they’re artistically compromised in any way. I’ve made what you may laughingly call a living out of music for the last couple of years and it hasn’t compromised me one bit. If somebody tries to give their music away for free believe me they’ll fucking headbutt somebody. Has anybody suggested to the Wu-Tang Clan that they give their music away for free? It’s such a middle class thing to come up with ridiculous notions of how life should be. At the end of the day we live in a first-world economy, but the people I’ve met who out forward the argument that music should be free are the sons of rich financial advisors and as a result their opinion on the subject is almost invalid. But it is funny, and they should keep it coming.
One of the things I thought that was a bit different about what you had to say, was the way that you managed to communicate with a lot of people using MySpace, and that your perspective was quite different from that of the major labels.
They’ve tried to portray it as just black and white, which is never the way to deal with a problem, or an issue. It turns the whole thing into a one-dimensional cartoon debate, as opposed to a very real issue which actually affects people. It’s a real shame because it didn’t come out of nowhere, pirating, it’s not a simple matter of the technology becoming available, it comes from record labels overcharging for CDs for years – new releases, £14 or £15. Which didn’t all begin in a vacuum, maybe in that sense piracy was stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and unfortunately that mindset imbues a lot of people these days but believe me, stealing from a band like ourselves or the kind of label we’re on, you’re not stealing from the rich, you’re simply putting the artist out of business, and it’s as simple as that. If people understand that and still steal, then well I’ve done my job. There’s an argument that they should just sit and consider the effects of their actions.
I guess there comes a point when you feel you’ve done what you can do, and you have to just let this album and everything else you’ve done stand up by itself?
Yeah absolutely. We’re very much of that mindset as a band, things rarely go as smoothly as you might like. But we put everything into our live performances, we put as much love and pride into every performance whether it’s in front of 550 people as it was in London the other week or 28 as it was in Carlisle 4 or 5 days ago. I mean I can tell you obviously which one I preferred, it was the bigger show with the great reaction, as opposed to the room full of a support band, who were Oasis wannabes and a selection of rather bemused-looking locals, but as a band you give you everything to every particular situation and the things we can’t affect, we can say about how the different ways they play out affect our lives, but there’s only so much we can let those things worry us. Expressing an opinion about downloading is one thing but then we just have step back away from the debate hopefully having added something to it and let people get on with their lives, and the formation and re-formation of their moral codes.
I think you’ve certainly added something to it, and certainly something rather different to the sledgehammer approach which is what the big labels seem to do, that whole “you’re either for us or against us” idea.
They don’t help anyone with that, and the silence of the big labels over the last few years shows that they’ve realised that doesn’t work any more.
Let’s get back to the band – do you feel like now, you can bury of the axe of being ex-members of bands and you can be seen as Future of the Left as a unit?
Yeah, to a degree. Maybe not quite yet at this early stage. I really do hope so, because it is like talking about an ex-girlfriend every day, three and half years after you split up. It’s understandable, because she had great fucking legs, and those kind of eyes which can enchant any man, but it does get a little bit tedious for a lot of reasons. We’re proud of what happened with Mclusky and Kelson’s proud of Jarcrew but all three of the people in this band have far more belief and excitement in their current endeavour which is understandable… but the consistency we’ve shown on these two records dwarfs anything that myself and Jack did in Mclusky and anything Kelson did in Jarcrew, as far as I’m concerned. Some people prefer the previous bands, and I understand if they do if they’re into a more particularly straightforward type of music. It would be nice to move on from it one day. I would suggest that even if we end up being ridiculously successful it will still never happen. People love talking about what no longer exists. They love to romanticise the past and thanks to the medium of the internet people can always find out about bands. And believe me if everyone who talks about Mclusky with such fervent love and attention had been there at the time I’d be conducting this conversation from a golden sofa on a golden phone and after I’d finished talking to you I’d take a helicopter ride to my local baguette shop where I’d get two thai sweet chili baguettes, one which I might choose not to even eat.
Maybe give it a few years and you might be there! I’m sure that’s not what you really want though…
No of course not… if everybody who wanted to said they’d seen us at the 100 Club the capacity would have been about 1,500 instead of about 300 which is what it actually is. The amount of times people have come up to us at shows and said “I love your music I can’t understand why you’re not bigger” and we say “did you buy the record?” and they say “no I downloaded it”. You think, you need to go and sit somewhere, and think about what you just said.
I think you’re right about people wanting to talk about things that are gone, despite being The Beatles, The Beatles still could never kill off the Quarrymen.
They just love it. The path of criticism follows – the new album is not as good as your old album. There are a few exceptions to that where it’s beyond debate but there’s always people who prefer the previous album. The amount of angry emails I’ve got from people over the course of my career saying “I don’t like your new album as much as your last album” and you just think, start your own band, listen to the album again, you’re not getting the same album again, grow up.
And then if they got the same album again they’d moan about that…
There’s a particular type of fan who does just want the same record over and over again. Mclusky Do Dallas was very successful in Germany, but the next album just didn’t work there at all. But particularly in Germany, Curses didn’t get any following at all, and it’s only now getting a cult following and the new record is coming out, and people aren’t liking that! So it’s all about the revisionism, all about the “yeah this is good and everything, but remember when it was so much better?” I’ll tell you what shows us the mindset of this type of person… there was something on our forum the other day, which is something I only check every so often, and it was somebody saying they didn’t like the new album as much as the last album, which they’d loved. But that was the first post on our forum – their first action was to come on and criticise. Everyone talks about Mclusky Do Dallas as this classic album but believe me when it came out it was not regarded as a classic album. Because it wasn’t – it was only a classic album two and a half years later when the next record came out. It’s the way people work critically I suppose.
The people that love something just tend to shut up and not mention it…
Yeah they just tend to be drowned out by people whose only way of discussing music is by using words like “ace”. Personally the word “ace”doesn’t exist for me, an “ace” is a fighter pilot. The same if someone tells me they’re “psyched” for one of our shows… that one just passes me by. Generally speaking the people I’m going to like don’t use those words. Generally you dip your toe in the wider lexicon with me but “ace” is the kind of way that people who like twee bands talk about those bands. The bands I liked were never ace. Wire were never “ace”, Shellac – never “ace”. Different words, more human words I would use to describe.
I ought to ask you about the live shows, I know that playing live is something you’re all enthused about, how has that been going?
The shows – apart from when things break and believe me my friend, they always break – have been fantastic. We’ve just done a difficult run of shows, Carlisle, Edinburgh and Crewe… not the kind of thing you talk about unless you want to have the kind of depression which breaks the heart of most sober audiences but the tour we just did was meant to be at the same time as the album release but that hasn’t happened as the album isn’t out until 22 June. But the attendances generally speaking have been OK, they need to be better though if we’re to sustain ourselves as a band. But the live shows have been enjoyable, I think we’re quite lucky in that we played the songs from the last album just long enough, we didn’t get bored of them. But if we’d been on a bigger label, if they’d tried to milk that album, maybe we’d have been on tour for three or four more months playing that same set and it would have become tedious. I think we manage to turn it around at just the right time – we always approach each show with the same level of conviction and enthusiasm, like I say if it’s for 550 people or 28 people in Carlisle.
It just reminds me how long it is until the album comes out… I feel like a dirty pirate already for having heard it.
That’s the way piracy affects bands, in terms of momentum. A lot of the praise expended on in webzines or in the printed press can have dissipated. A lot of doing a record is about building a momentum between the different parts of the industry – playing live, the reaction on the internet, maybe the radio play in a fantasy land where John Peel is still alive, about all those things happening at the same time. The problem we’ve had as a bad is that people have said very nice things about us but it all happens in a really fragmented fashion, which means that there’s never really enough momentum to break through into a slightly more wide audience.
It’s really interesting to hear all that from a band’s perspective.
There’s a notion again that comes from what we were talking about earlier, that middle class ethos of pirating. With bands, you’re not allowed to say you want to be successful, whatever successful means. You’re not allowed to say you want to sell records, it’s not the cool thing to do. I have no shame about that at all. The second it compromises the music we make we should feel snowed under by shame but we want to take the music we make naturally to its biggest possible audience. Which we don’t see as being arenas or whatever… but as far as I’m concerned I can’t see why it’s unreasonable to play to a thousand people a night, and I refuse to see that as mutually exclusive to maintaining a sense of artistic credibility. Believe me, we are so informed by our pride and our innate sense of what credibility means in our own terms, that we’re not going to compromise that for something as crass as money.
You were talking about that idea of playing to a thousand people a night, but what other things are hoping to achieve, what’s next for Future of the Left and for you personally?
There’s going to be a lot of touring over the next six to nine months , touring that record. On a personal level, hopefully getting in more exercise than I have over the last month or two, reading a lot of books, working some other… I’d hesitate to call them side projects but other music, until we feel ready to write a new record, that’s pretty much it really. As a band we just need to step up a level in terms of the number of people we play to. We’ve stepped the music up on the album, we did that in terms of our live performances and frankly in terms our hilariously quick-witted comedy, we just need to tally that with the number of people. And if we do that there’s no reason why we can’t sustain ourselves over the next few years until the point where it eventually becomes boring for all concerned and we just stop just like that.
I’m sure that’s not too close… it is a great album.
Thanks very much for that, maybe speak to you around the time of the next record!