Les Savy Fav
udging by what looked like the festival’s largest crowd and most tangible response, many of Intonation’s attendees had spent the weekend waiting for Les Savy Fav.
The once-Brooklyn based foursome hadn’t played an American show or put out any new music in about a year—the band released three new tracks on Inches, their 2004 singles collection—and when I met them early on the second day of the festival, I was eager to hear them justify their absence. But lead singer Tim Harrington, drummer Harrison Haynes, and bassist Syd Butler were quick to dispel any notions of an impending breakup. They seemed offended at the thought—or, at the very least, of losing their musical vitality. I’d never seen Les Savy Fav, but I supposed that when I was repeatedly told they’d be the festival’s tightest set, their claims weren’t unfounded. I dunno why. I thought it was a tall order for a punk band playing the night after the notoriously meticulous Tortoise. I just wanted to see Tim’s crotch and lots of crowd surfing. (I was not disappointed.)
Under the shady confines of the press tent, we talked about the band’s career trajectory, the ubiquity of Frenchkiss Records (Syd’s record label) bands at the festival, their design firms and art galleries, and The Bravery.
Stylus Magazine: So I’m Sam Bloch with Stylus Magazine, which, like Pitchfork, is an online magazine—
Tim Harrington: Stylus? Not Silas, like The Da Vinci Code.
Syd Butler/Harrison Haynes: Stylus.
Did you read The Da Vinci Code?
Tim: I listened to the book on tape.
Harrison: I read it.
Tim: I wrote the screenplay for the film, so …
Do you read Pitchfork, or other online magazines?
Tim: I have before.
With some frequency?
Tim: I try to read only pornography.
Syd: I have to read it all the time for the label.
Well, whenever there’s some Les Savy Fav news item on the site, it’s always very—am I pronouncing the name correctly? Lay sah-vee fahv?
Thank you. I don’t speak French.
All: We don’t either.
Syd: It’s fake.
Tim: “Les” is French.
I read somewhere that it was an art movement.
Tim: Fauve—Fauvists—were an art movement. Just sort of—were they before or just after impressionism?
Harrison: They were during expressionism. Just after.
Syd: Interpret it however you want. Our favorite was The Boredoms’ drummer, who pronounced our name Wasabi Fav. And that’s just as good as Les Savy Fav.
Tim: We almost changed it. It was one of the first shows we’d ever played outside of Providence (where the band attended RISD together), and we got an opening slot for The Boredoms in D.C. They were amazing.
Were you still in school at that point?
Tim: We’d just graduated?
Syd: No, we were still in school.
Tim: (Silence) Jesus Christ. We’re Tom Petty.
So is it weird playing at this festival? Like the elder statesmen, kind of?
Tim: Nuh-uh. (All laugh) We’re like little kids.
Syd: I think we’ve just reached a point where we’re just so happy to be hanging out and having a good time and playing a few special shows.
Tim: It’s funny, because for us, every time we’ve ever played, we’ve been obsessed with making it special and unique. And I think we haven’t been touring this last year or so and we’re not necessarily planning on touring a lot in the future because we felt like maybe ourselves and our audience weren’t feeling it was as special.
Well, you guys are ostensibly on hiatus right now.
Tim: We’re just a rarer band.
You’re supposed to come out with a “pretty album” with older songs at some point?
Tim: Yeah, we were talking about that. We have to record it. We want to do more recording and less touring, but we haven’t figured out how to do that.
The new songs on Inches sound a lot more commercial. Is that intentional?
Tim: No, we always just, like, write, and then afterwards, think about it.
Syd: The first song on Inches, “Meet Me In The Dollar Bin,” is just feedback and two notes. I’m curious to see how that would be—
Tim: But it’s clean. It’s like painting versus graphic design. That’s more graphic design. It sounds commercial compared to the way that we would sound.
I’ve heard other people listen to "Meet Me In The Dollar Bin" and say it sounds like discopunk. Like you’re cashing in on it.
Tim: Totally. Cashing in is our main bag.
Syd: That’s what we’re all about.
Tim: That’s what Les Savy Fav means.
Syd: It’s funny, because we were in New York before all of those other bands, so it’s interesting to hear that we’re cashing in on something that we were doing before people started cashing in on it.
Tim: I remember the first interviews in New York, they were like, “What’s it like in New York where there’s no bands? Is that weird?” And we were like, “Oh, we love it. There’s no annoying scene.” Then they were like, “So what’s it like being part of the New York scene?” And now, it’s like, “What’s it like being part of the aftermath of the New York scene?”
You’re here with the Frenchkiss Records crew, right?
Tim: We’ve lost Syd here. Hey, Syd!
(Syd talks to the drummer from Chisel for a while, who discusses his affection for playing the drums when he’s drunk. Harrison and Tim bemoan the many hours they will spend in 90-degree heat today).
Tim: It’s hot as the opposite of a witch’s titty in a brass bra.
Harrison: That’s a great one. I’m going to start using that.
Tim: Yeah. Cash in on that shit. That line is the new New York scene, actually. Everyone in Williamsburg’s saying that one.
Harrison: It’s kind of a discopunk thing.
What do you think of Frenchkiss?
Harrison: It’s good, it’s good.
Tim: Frenchkiss is good, man. It’s extra good that we decided to start our own [label], because we wouldn’t be at the same state that we are now. We can do whatever we do whenever we want to do it. The label’s not gonna drop us.
So, Syd, is this a big day for you?
Syd: Oh, yeah. I’m really happy. We have Thunderbirds [Are Now!] here, who are awesome, The Hold Steady, who are just doing fantastic, and, uh, then us. You know three out of the seven bands [today] are Frenchkiss bands?
Tim: (Feigns sound of disbelief) This is Frenchkiss’ big day. This is your biggest day.
Harrison: It’s a pretty big day. It’s exciting.
Did Pitchfork approach all of these bands?
Syd: No. They got Les Savy Fav first, and I said, “Can The Hold Steady play?” They’re like, “Okay.” Then I said, “Can we get Thunderbirds to play?” And they’re like, “Uh-huh.”
Tim: But they already like all of those bands.
Syd’s been doing Frenchkiss stuff during the band’s break. What about the rest of you?
Tim: My wife and I have a design company, Deadly Squire. There’s this Swedish textile designer from the forties, Joseph Frank, who inspired us to start a company this winter. We make patterns and stuff, mostly, like, pillows, dog beds, ties, and handkerchiefs. But this skateboard is one of the things we made.
Harrison: My wife, Chloe, and I started an art gallery. All of the guys in the band and Chloe, we all went to art school together, so the gallery has been a sort of natural outcropping of our little circle of friends who are all artists. The gallery’s called Branch Gallery. It’s really similar to Frenchkiss, I think, because it started as sort of a social network, and it still sort of operates on a pseudo-DIYish art gallery thing. It started in our apartment in New York, and now we live in North Carolina, which is where this exists.
Isn’t that move difficult for the band?
Harrison: Yeah. It’s definitely difficult. We had to shift things around a lot, but we decided that we didn’t want to stop doing it. We’re always finding ways to get together and collaborate.
(Syd and Tim are whispering to each other and watching the crowd for Dungen).
You all can go soon. I’m almost done.
Tim: (Laughs, grabs my recorder, and begins an overemphatic oration) The band looks longingly out towards a park full of jolly people, playing Frisbee, dogs barking.
What’s the future of Les Savy Fav? Are your live shows going to be more demure now? Are you going to record a new album?
Tim: Uh, I dunno. (All laugh) Get back to us later. We don’t know.
Harrison: We’re not against [a new album].
Tim: We’ve never, ever known what we’re doing. Okay, write that in a way that’s going to make it look, like, awesome, and not weird. You know, what the future holds, we don’t know. We’ve always played it by ear, continuously. Continue to surprise, startle—
Syd: I think—
Syd: I think—
Syd: I think our expectations are different now. So [in regards to] this scattered show schedule, and whether we make this pretty record or record all new songs, our expectations have just shifted about everything. (The lead singer of Thunderbirds, on his way to an interview, spits on Syd’s back).
Tim: Thunderbirds are teasing us. The way the band has worked forever was just like, practice two or three times a week, go on tour, some songs happen, and everything was just automatic, based on the quantity of time spent—a thousand monkeys, a thousand typewriters style. It’s just not possible to work that way anymore, but how that’s going to come out and what the fruits of that labor will be is a mystery to everyone. [But] there’s a confidence among the band of just being like, “Whatever.” (Laughs)
Okay. Who do you guys like now, and who do you hate?
Syd: I like Wolf Parade.
Harrison: Blood On The Wall.
Tim: The new Love is Laughter record. Now it’s a little bit older, but it’s awesome. They didn’t just practice and practice and write. It was also kind of a long space between their last record and that, and it’s their best record.
Syd: Oh, the new Cass McCombs, that new record is really good.
Tim: I’m really into Animal Collective for the summer. That’s my summer picnic jam, or when I’m outside in my backyard, working on my garden.
Syd: Mars Volta, man. I love those guys live.
Tim: I love The Mars Volta album as an idea. I’ve never listened to it all the way through, but the idea of a 14-year-old listening to it, confounded, like, “is that what I’m supposed to be partying to? I can’t even figure out what beat to hit the bong on!”
Is there anything you really hate now?
Syd: Uh-huh. There’s this one band. The Bravery. I don’t even want to give them ink on your [notepad]. They’re not worth writing.
Tim: I haven’t heard their album, but I know I don’t like Coldplay. They’re so vague. It’s like, of course everyone likes them. It’s like a weird, creepy monster from a horror movie that shape-shifts to be whatever is your reflection. I like a band that, lyrically, is so specific, they’re inaccessible. Like, “this is so specific, obviously I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about me.” Or someone else, at least. With Coldplay, everyone’s like, I think it’s about me! This thing’s like a magical mirror that you can just stare at, and it’s as masturbatory as you are.
Syd: I don’t even want to get The Bravery in print. They’re the most contrived—
(I move my recorder closer to Syd, and the band yells “louder!”)
Syd: I would say it to their face. The most pathetic band to—
Tim: Is it brave?
Tim: None of them are handicapped?
Syd: No. (Tim laughs) If they had something interesting, then I would be like, “okay, at least they have that going for them.”
Tim: So there’s not a guy who’s brave, like they have a retarded guy playing bass?
Syd: You know what? Tim, they’re the indie rock Coldplay. They’re just the most bland, generic garbage that New York City has established. They’re just the crappiest—
Tim: Oh, yeah, I heard about these guys being bad!
Syd: They were put together—
Tim: They’re not that band who we had to see in that basement one time, right, that you were so excited about?
Tim: I heard they have a roadie on the side of the stage, for like, their mascara.
Syd: If we got in a fight, they’d hit me with their glove. If their mascara didn’t drip off first.
Tim: What about the band with the singer that sounds like Craig Finn from The Hold Steady, but everyone else looks like him?
Syd: Louis XIV.
Tim: Yes! They’re awful. I heard they’re all thirty-eight and forty and they’re all dressed up to look young. Is that true?
Harrison: They’re all upper crusts?
How old are you guys?
Tim: 39, 60. We’re 30-33. All of them. We’ve got it covered.
That’s what I mean about that “elder statesmen” stuff. I mean, you’re all like, “Wow, I’m 30,” you’re on this bill with all of these “hot new bands”—
Tim: Hot new bands. I like that. We’re trying to take advantage of that. Cash in. Get a piece of that.
By: Sam Bloch
Published on: 2005-07-29