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Les Savy Fav
post-punk progenitors
by: Bill Dvorak - March 11, 2008

The members of Brooklyn art-punk quartet, Les Savy Fav, don’t have tattoos, or at least none that are immediately obvious. As guitarist Seth Jabour jokes, “if the neck tattoo is the ‘job-stopper,’ then the facial tattoo is the ‘everlasting job-stopper.’”

Indeed, despite the underground success the band’s had since its inception in 1995, they all hold jobs outside of their more recognized roles as self-appointed agents of angular, post-punk clamor. Jabour works as art director for a fragrance company, bassist Syd Butler runs Frenchkiss Records, drummer Harrison Haynes opened an art gallery, and vocalist Tim Harrington runs Deadly Squire, selling accessories with patterns designed by him and his wife. But outside pursuits are not the reason LSF took thier time to release 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends; Haynes says they just kept working until the material reached its fullest potential.
“The songs really emerged out of copious, sporadic songwriting over the last four years, and then a period of more scrutinous songwriting and recording over the last year,” Haynes recalls. “This more recent period saw the addition of our friend, Andrew Reuland, as a second guitarist, and I think, along with the help of producer and engineer, Chris Zane, we managed to reach an unprecedented (for us) level of cohesion and focus in the music.”

Haynes would also like to point out that, despite reviews claiming it’s been six years since LSF’s last release (Go Forth), the singles compilation Inches--released in 2004--actually featured six new songs, and so it’s really only been a two year gap. “I think folks tend to overlook the fact that within the context of Inches were six brand new songs (an EP's worth), so we don’t look at 2001-2007 as a totally dry spell,” he says. Regardless, Let’s Stay Friends is a veritable whirlwind of LSF’s delay-pedal soaked avant-rock and surreal vocal diatribes; it also finds the band branching into new, unexplored pop territory. It’s not so much that the more delicate songs on the album are “polished” -- they are just a little more restrained, allowing for subtle musical nuances to be realized that may have been remiss in the more aggressive sound of earlier LSF. For example, the new album’s near-ballad, “Comes and Goes,” offers a surprsingly atmospheric milieu where pop-friendly lead guitar and piano is woven through dual male-female vocals.

As for the classic, sweaty and visceral Les Savy Fav, songs like “Raging in the Plague Age” and “Patty Lee” still offer fans the riotous fun and anarchic abandon that have made the band’s shows indie legend. But if the varied styles of all these songs make the album seem somewhat disparate, however, that’s because it is, and that’s the way the band wanted it--sort of.
“Our approach to recording Let's Stay Friends turned out to be like Frankenstein's monster in a way - a bit here, a bit there, some electricity, voilá,” Jabour says. “There was never a sense of being overly precious with the material. If it worked; then sweet. If not, move on to the next part/song. At any given time there may have been two or three micro-sessions going on at the studio. We'd be chopping up songs on one computer, tracking in the live room, and working out compositions in the break room.”

Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, however, the songs on Let’s Stay Friends are fully realized and more dynamic than past efforts. “The Lowest Bitter” showcases a perfect combination of Harrington’s gritty-yet-melodic vocals, Butler and Haynes’ potent rhythm section, and Jabour’s loose-but-structured guitar wizardry. In fact, the reverb and delay guitar attack that has come to characterize LSF’s sound is in full form on the album; Jabour appears to have developed a style that feels improvised yet tightly structured.
“My approach to playing the guitar is mostly sketchy; at best painterly,” Jabour says. “Some songs are made up of parts which were tightly written and thus performed. Other times I'll choose to take liberties wherever applicable.”
“Painterly” might also be a fitting description of LSF’s approach to songwriting. Like the bold colors and skewed perspectives of the work of infamous French painters, Les Fauves (Haynes says any connection to the Les Favy Fav name was subconscious), LSF paint their canvas with splashes of intensely colorful guitar strokes, primitive dabs of vocal shrieks and howls, and an idiosyncratic aesthetic that is uniquely their own.

“The name, Les Savy Fav, was created in an effort to invent a band name without a specific subject reference point, a sort of autonomous title whose meaning was solely defined by the band's actions,” Haynes says.
Since LSF migrated in 1996 to New York City from Rhode Island, where they attended Rhode Island School of Design together, their “autonomous” DIY ethic has given them the freedom to hone in on a sound that, while owing a debt of gratitude to punk rock, is such an amalgam of influences that it’s hard to pigeonhole.
Haynes remembers when he first moved to Williamsburg in 1999 to join the band, how the then-nascent music scene was really beginning to pick up and, in effect, inform the band’s sensibilities.
“There had already been a lot happening when I arrived, but it all still felt new and on the brink to me,” he says. “I remember ascribing all kinds of relevance to the self-titled Evergreen record because James Murphy and Nichloas Vernhes had recorded it at rare book room on South 5th street several years before. I think that record is really relevant…to our band in general, since it was the first revival of punk rock that had caught my attention in a long time, that was re-interpreting punk in a freaky, smart way.”

Yet somehow, between LSF’s semi-haitus in 2001 and now, the local music scene exploded and many of the bands became recognized for a sound that, to some extent, LSF pioneered, and it would seem they might harbor mixed feelings about all that; in “Pots and Pans” Harrington sings: “Has your skin grown thick from bands that make you sick/Has your skin grown thick from a thousand stinging pricks/Have you been made dense standing upon the fence/Have you been made dense by polish and pretense?”
Haynes notes, however, that “Pots and Pans” is not so much a reaction to recent music as it is semi-autobiographical.
“A critic said recently somewhere that ‘Pots and Pans’ was following in the tradition of Bowie's self-mythologizing 'Ziggy Stardust' character,” he says. “But I actually think it's closer to Archers of Loaf’s ‘Greatest of All Time,’ which chronicles the respective fates of the frontmen of the ‘world's worst rock n' roll band’ and of the ‘greatest band of all time’ - like a dimensionally once-removed account of a band's life-story in the form of an epic historical moment.”
Indeed, when Harrington later sings, “Let's tear this whole place down and build it up again/This band's a beating heart and it's nowhere near its end,” it becomes clear that Let’s Stay Friends is a testament to the band’s resolve to keep doing things their way, on their own terms--regardless of current music trends. When asked about the bold proclamation on the band’s website that reads, “Missing out on cashing in for over a decade,” Haynes puts it simply: “That's just about our determination to keep creativity at the top of the list of ‘things to accomplish.’



 
 

"If the neck tattoo is the ‘job-stopper,’ then the facial tattoo is the ‘everlasting job-stopper.’”


Les Savy Fav
"Let's Stay Friends"


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what it is

post-punk developing into something else