Fanfarlo is one of the bands that I have been name-dropping for people who ask what new and hot on the scene. The U.K. six-piece have been knocking aroundtheir native country for a couple of yeasr. Eventually, they bypassed any music labels and decided to release their Peter Katis-produced debut album, Reservoir, by themselves.
Here's what I said about them when I saw them last year during CMJ at Fat Baby: Incorporating a violin, mandolin and a trumpet, the band blissfully portrays the joy and pain found in pop music. They embrace all that and just run with it. They remind me of early Belle & Sebastian, when Murdoch and Co. cranked through "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "Me and the Major." With Fanfarlo, they blazed through their set with the anxiousness of a young boy discovering their older sister's pop music collection. A song like "We Live By the Lake" will make Sufjan Stevens jealous.
A few weeks ago, I talked to lead singer and Swedish native Simon Balthazar about making their debut in the U.S., his love of old pictures, the upcoming tour and maple donuts. I'd like to welcome Simon to this space.
How was your summer?
It was really good. I've been doing a lot of cycling and doing it in London is scary. I have overcome my fears.
You should try biking through the streets of Manhattan.
Sadly no. It's hard to bring your bike overseas.
You play a lot instruments. Do have any schooling in music?
None of us do. I took some piano lessons that didn't take. A lot of friends did have schooling, and I picked up from them. Learning it in school was not for me.
How did the band come together?
The long and short of it -- I started songwriting when I was still leaving in Sweden. I moved to London. I felt I should probably find some people to make these songs. In the end, they were quite different from what we sound like now.
"Talking Backwards" was your first single in 2006, but you didn't start making the album until 2008. Were you consistently playing gigs between to kind of work up to making the album?
We did many shows in London, but it wasn't until the beginning of 2008 that we were able to go through out Europe. That was an exciting time for us. It felt like things were finally starting to work in our favor. It was nice to get out of London because I felt like everybody I knew was in a band. The rest of Europe isn't as intense.
What's it like being in a young band in London, since, as you said, there are tons of bands? Do you feel there's a good support system or do you feel there's a lot of competition?
A little bit a both, I suppose. I think when you are surrounded by other talented musicians, you have to raise the bar on your own playing. You can't be complacent with just having a band in the London scene. I think the downsize is that everybody is trying to get themselves heard and you feel frustrated when you don't get attention. It also can be very sort of fad based.
Obviously, you wanted to work with Peter Katis because he has a great track record with Interpol, Spoon and The National. Did you also want to make the album away from London?
Not particularly. We went in with an open mind. We talked to a few who are stationed in all parts of the Europe and America. I think when we settled with Peter, we knew we had to be focused on making the album in a specific time period.
I've heard great things about his studio/house in Connecticut.
Yeah, it's a fun place. He has this collection of music charts from all the albums that he's worked on. We rummaged through them and you can see the comments on these songs that became popular and random doodles from the bands.
Tell me about Harold T. Wilkins. Why is there a song about him?
It's not specifically about him. I think it's more of a homage to him, maybe, or any interesting reference. I picked up a book at a used book store that he wrote called Flying Saucers on the Moon. It's these insane ramblings about aliens and U.F.O.s. The song is about an outsider waiting to get picked up, maybe by flying saucers. I thought it was funny to put two and two together.
On something like "Fire Escape" you use a lot of instruments. Is that something you strive for, like adding a melodica to a track to get an extra layer.
We do like to use a lot instruments. We seem to collect them. "Fire Escape" is pretty traditional. We did pick up a musical saw and lot of weird percussion instruments. I was able to play the clarinet on this album.
Did you feel that making Reservoir was a marathon or more like a sprint?
More of a sprint, it did seem to go by pretty fast. After a couple of weeks, we saw that we had a lot more work to do. By the end, we were sort of in panic mode because we had set amount of studio time and we had to work pretty fast.
The video for "The Walls Are Coming Down" has man singing upside down, how come you didn't do it?
We found an escape artist who could do it better then I can. I love Harry Houdini and I've read a lot about escapology. The directors Iain and Jane thought the video should just be a guy hanging upside and trying to escape. They found his guy Ros and he's one of the few escape artists around. He had to go into a meditative state before he had to be hanged. He would come out of the chain all bloodied and beat-up. It was unreal.
I've noticed from your album art and packaging to your website, that you love old pictured from the 19th Century. Is that a hobby of yours, finding these old sketches and photos?
I find it interesting to combine modern music with these old imagery. I do like those old Victorian sketches because they are grotesque and bizarre looking even though the subjects are normal. It's a fascinating art form that nobody does these days.
You did big arena tour with Snow Patrol. What's it like playing in these huge places where nobody knows who you are?
I don't think it's such a big deal. I think playing in small clubs that are packed is a big deal. It can be kind of nerve racking. When something goes wrong like a monitor breaking, it can ruined the whole set.
I will tell you this funny story. There was this one show during the Snow Patrol tour, where one of their sound guys was fooling with the wireless monitors during our sets. It's one of those in-ear devices so you can hear yourself. He was working on it in the sound deck. For some reason it interfered with our sound and we went stone silent for 20 seconds. The guy would have been fired if it happening during Snow Patrols set, but since it was us, it was ignored.
You're gearing up for your first U.S. tour, you excited about that?
It's been something we've been looking forward to for a long time. We've only played SXSW a couple of times and that Fat Baby show. It's great that we get to headline and play a proper setlist.
I'm hooking you up with these maple donuts from Tim Horton's. It was change your life.
I, I, I can't wait. Now, I'm really excited.
Reservoir is out now. You can check their myspace page for U.S. tour dates, including Bowery and Bell House this Monday and Tuesday.