Interview: Les Savy Fav

by Gordon Downs

It was a fairly strange and uncommon night, for as much as I can recall of the very first time I encountered Les Savy Fav. This unusual evening took place several years ago in Southern California, when a small group of my friends suggested we go check out Ugly Casanova, as their tour would be rolling through town on such an eventful and listless evening.

So with our sheets to the wind we headed out to the intimately quaint venue that would be hosting the festivities for the night. As we arrived at the club a strange presence came over me. My “spider-senses” started going off like crazy! I felt as if there was a serious disturbance in “The Force.” I quickly regained my bearings and realized that it was the klonopins I had thrown down earlier, which were making me feel are warm and fuzzily weird. “Let the evening begin!” That’s what my buzz was saying.

I wasn’t exactly sure who would be playing that night besides Ugly Casanova? I didn’t know what to expect of the bill. It was a curious line-up indeed.

At The Drive In had recently broke up, and I knew that Cedric and Omar would be opening the gig with their (at the time) new band, The Mars Volta. I was somewhat familiar with Isaac’s side project Ugly Casanova. I knew it was much more folk oriented than Modest Mouse, so I definitely wasn’t expecting Cowboy Dan to jump out from behind the bar and start shitting all over the place.

“Les Savy Fav? Who the fuck is Les Savy Fav?” I thought to myself as I gulped down barley and hops while standing amongst a throng of smokers and Modest Mouse fans on the club’s outdoor patio.

The Mars Volta opened the night with an amazing set of frenetic and mind-blowing music, leaving me in a state of “Shock and Awe Shit!” Then this band Les Savy Fav started setting up their equipment. I decided to retreat towards the rear of the club, and proceeded to engage Galaga in one my most triumphant assays at the game. I was nearing the 13th level when suddenly; I heard the band dive into their set.
The music was intoxicating – I had to see what the fuck was happening up there on stage. I still had several lives left and I was shooting double-duty Galaga-style; but I had to leave the game – the music was calling me.

The dance floor was semi-full for a place that can only hold around 200 or so people, so I easily made my way to the front of the stage. There in the front row, I found one of my friends that I had brought to the club with me that evening. She too was in somewhat of a trance; captivated and overpowered by the voracious hooks and killer beats the band was kicking out. It took her several minutes to realize I was dancing next to her before she embraced me with a passionate “cup” and a kiss. “This band rocks! Thanks for bringing me!” she exclaimed as she released her lips and hands from my mouth and genitals. I enjoyed the brief and thorough PDA; but I still had no idea who the fuck these guys were; Les Savy Fav? I was stoned, drunk and dancing relentlessly. I was truly captivated by the bands’ frenetic beats and tasty guitar licks. But more so, I followed the rhythm and watched in wonder at their charismatic frontman, Tim Harrington.

At one point during their set, Harrington shoved the microphone in my face; perhaps assuming that I knew the lyrics to the song which he was currently singing. Though being in such a frenzied, excited and drunken state, the only thing I was able to muster up that made perfect sense at that very moment was, “Fuck yeah, you motherfuckers!” Another one of my friends bore the brunt of Les Savy Fav’s entertaining wrath that evening when Harrington jumped off stage, onto the dance floor and proceeded to dry hump him rather vigorously.

It was a magically, entertaining and very intoxicating evening to say the least. After their set was over, my friend sought Tim out in the crowd of people there and delivered unto him a wicked titty twister as revenge for dry-humping him. It was a fair form of retribution in my opinion. The dry humping was rather entertainingly embarrassing on my friend’s behalf – although my friend that was dry humped is a fairly hostile person, and can deliver a stinger of a titty twister.
After that night, I felt that perhaps I might’ve stumbled across a diamond in the rough? Was I just so fucked up that they sounded and performed that good? Or were they really the best kept secret in the realm of independent music?
Pavement was gone; I needed a new source of original, interesting and groove-able music. I proceeded to research Les Savy Fav and buy every release they had available in Compact Disc format (I do not own a record player, sorry hipsters.)
Four CDs all-together – that was Les Savy Fav’s catalog. And despite my inebriated and high-as-a-motherfucker state that unusual evening – I was right. They are THAT GOOD.
Les Savy Fav possess the ability to rock while actually supplying danceable beats and thick groove-able bass lines. That’s not so much of a rare thing these days; but no one in any of the Burroughs or the world for that matter can match the lightning funk that this band brings to your stereo and the stage.

Syd Butler, Harrison Haynes, Seth Jabour and Tim Harrington are Les Savy Fav. All are graduates from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, and have individually followed their own path of artistic expression, and have parlayed various careers through different forms of graphic design, painting, illustrations and oddly enough: a record label.

It’s April in New York City, and bassist Syd Butler is sitting in the newly arranged offices of Frenchkiss Records, the label he started several years ago to release Les Savy Fav’s music and the sounds of other kindred spirits such as Har Mar Superstar, The Apes Detachment Kit, Ex Models and Enon just to name a few.

Right now though, Syd’s mind is on “Inches,” a compilation of 7″ singles Les Savy Fav have been releasing through nine different labels since their inception in 1995. With nine 7″ singles in all, the cover art for each 7″ is actually a piece of a puzzle. When the combined artwork of each 7″ is assembled, it creates an image; leaving the 7″s to become collectors’ items in an expedient amount of time. Now, eight years and eighteen songs later, the non-vinyl purchasing fans of LSF are finally able to experience the brilliance of this compilation in all it’s glory.

As Syd sifts through a stack of photos he had stumbled across earlier, he tells me of how the concept of releasing a series a 7″ singles over the course of eight years came to be.
“We were actually sitting around a coffee shop kinda diner in Providence, Rhode Island.” Syd explains. “We were just thinking that pretty much after we named the band Les Savy Fav, we wanted to put out a 7″. Tim had specifically requested that we release a 7″ and then we got to talking and we all decided to make this nine-piece puzzle. Then have all the 7″s be released on different labels, and then they would all sorta become collector’s items.” And indeed they have become revered items amongst the staunchly indie rock elite, as predicted.
“The whole discussion,” Syd continues, “was in regards to people collecting 7″s. Each 7″ would be a different color vinyl, cool packaging. So [the idea was] to release them as a collector’s item, make a puzzle and make them unique and kind of hard-to-find, and then release a CD of all the 7″s down the road. That was actually the first thing we thought about after we named ourselves.”

That’s an extremely humble and very D.I.Y. ethic to recording and releasing music in an era where format is King, and CDs (let alone 7″s) are slowly becoming the court jester of musical formats. For the moment though: fuck formats, what about the puzzle? “Tim actually did them all on the computer. So all we had to do when we released a 7″ was just simply take a chunk out of the puzzle.”
Syd is in business-mode. Les Savy Fav’s relentless touring has left him much work to catch up on, and he’s taking the band’s current hiatus to do just that: focus his work on Frenchkiss Records.

In a limited-edition run, a bonus DVD will accompany the initial pressing of “Inches”. The DVD contains six music videos, three songs worth of live footage from the band’s performance at North Six in Brooklyn on August 26th, 2003 – a slideshow photo section featuring photographs from Amanda Marsalis, Dan Monic and Andrew Paynter, and last, but certainly not least, the entire “Inches” compilation can be found on the bonus DVD complete with audio commentary from Les Savy Fav, Henry H. Owings from Chunklet Magazine, producer Chris Zane, (Infamous) Inland Empire booking agent Robin Taylor, ex-Trenchmouth drummer, comedian and SNL cast member Fred Armisen, Phil Manley of Trans Am, and the ever-so humble jokester David Cross.
The bonus DVD is a move often used to entice the music buying populace into purchasing the album when it’s initially released. But this is Frenchkiss Records, not Interscope or Capitol? A bonus DVD is usually a frivolous tactic used by the major labels. Why release the initial pressing of “Inches” with a bonus DVD attached to it? Don’t get me wrong – I am certainly not bitching about this; I LOVE THAT FUCKING DVD. I’d be extremely remiss though if I didn’t ask why?
“Around November of 2003, Tim and I were sitting around a coffee shop again, just sitting around and brainstorming about what we could do that would be extra.” Syd recalls of the impetus for the DVD. “I came up with the idea to have this bonus DVD, and have directors’ commentary on the audio. I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny?’ and everyone was like, ‘Yeah! Ha, ha, ha!’ and all of a sudden I was like, ‘No actually, let’s do it.’ We figured some of the people who already have the 7″s might want to buy the CD/DVD because it included all this extra fun stuff.”

Though he quickly adds, “The hardest part about doing the DVD was coordinating it during Christmas. That was the hardest time, right around the holiday season. Sort of tracking down everybody and getting in touch with David Cross and Fred Armisen and being like, ‘Hey if you have ten minutes I’ll go uptown with a microphone and tape you doing this.’ We have a friend of ours who does DVD design and he just put it together for us.” Syd continues about the DVD. “If anyone reads this hire him, he does great work. His name is Tarikh Korula (from the interactive media cartel – Uncommon Projects) he did a great job.” Well Syd, for Tarikh’s sake, and for the sake of my own personal job security: I sure do hope somebody reads this too.

It’s Friday, April 23rd 2004, about 6:00 PM (EST) and Les Savy Fav percussionist Harrison Haynes is working at his studio in Carrboro, North Carolina. “I’m painting some pictures.” Hayes explains of his latest series of works. “I’ve been doing this series of drawings,” he explains. “I’m turning them into paintings. They’re like pictures of sweatshirts that have a really elaborate camouflage landscape on them.” Haynes speaks slowly and lackadaisically; as if I had just awoken him from a brief nap: his painting trance perhaps? “I’ve been working for a little while now on images from the Cabelas catalog.” he continues. “It’s the greatest sporting goods store in the world. It’s sorta like what Disneyworld’s wild animal kingdom resort is to like, a hunting store.” Though not the original drummer for Les Savy Fav, Haynes has been the man behind the shake-your-ass beats since the late nineties. His career as a professional painter though, is beginning to take off as he informs of his previous and future showings.

“In the past few years especially, I’ve been concentrating on really trying to pull resources where music and art intersect.” Haynes explains, adding that he’s been, “trying to build up a network of artists. And through that I’ve met tons of people that are starting galleries. By those means I’ve now been shown in Italy, Portland, San Francisco, London, New York and all these places.”
With his current series of paintings focusing on the sport of outdoor hunting, I had to inquire if he personally was kind of a ‘Ted Nugent hunter/gatherer-type fellow?’
“I grew up going duck hunting with my uncles.” Haynes explains. “Yeah, it was sort of a natural part of my upbringing. Then when I got old enough to start contemplating it from different angles, I partly rejected it and partly became more interested in it.”
I totally agree with Haynes 100%! I too, personally dislike hunting and the macho bullshit that goes along with hunters and people that like to hunt living things and kill them with bullets. Although, the one aspect of hunters and their outdoor lifestyle that I can honestly say I appreciate, is their uncanny and unique sense of fashion.
“Yeah, you just nailed it man!” agrees Haynes. “I’m contemplating the fashion world of the hunting experience.” A native of North Carolina, Haynes has been in Carrboro on and off for most of his life. Adding however, that he’s been, “more or less full-time in New York for the past five years. I’ve been up there [NYC] quite a bit since I’ve been down here [North Carolina] and it actually doesn’t feel that far apart.” During his time off from recording and performing with Les Savy Fav, Haynes has been helping his girlfriend open an art gallery in Carrboro. “Her and my stepfather, who’s a contractor, have been renovating this turn of the century mill worker’s house,” explains Haynes, “and have been turning it into an exhibition space. I’ve been helping out as much as I can with that. It’s called Branch Gallery, & the website is:
www.branchgallery.com.”

With his first solo showing taking place this September in Baltimore, a rocking girlfriend with a kick ass gallery, and the much-anticipated release of “Inches”; Harrison Haynes seems to be leading a full and rich life. Though he quickly adds while laughing, “I’m trying to make a living. Check back with me in a year or so.”

It’s a brisk Tuesday afternoon in New York City, and Les Savy Fav guitarist Seth Jabour has just returned from a brief jaunt with Pretty Girls Make Graves (an amazing band also affiliated with Frenchkiss Records.) Jabour is an accomplished graphic designer and illustrator whose work can be seen from scientific textbooks to the New Yorker and Chunklet Magazine. Recently though he’s been filling in on second guitar for Pretty Girls Make Graves, as their original guitarist Nathan Thelen, left the band in March to spend time with his family and daughter who’s almost one year-old now.

Pretty Girls Make Graves made a brief outing in April as they played several west coast shows, including opening the Outdoor Theatre at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this year. Jabour is barely on his second day of returning to Eastern Standard Time, and he sounds fairly jet-lagged.
“I definitely was the second day I got back to New York,” he explains. “My schedule was pretty fucked up. I’m pretty much back on track now.” Jabour says, half-heartedly knowing that deep inside he’d rather be watching Caddyshack while catching up on rest.
Though as I bring up the subject of Coachella he gladly fills me in on what I missed. “It was awesome.” he declares. Pretty Girls Make Graves opened up the Outdoor Theatre on the second day of the event. “There were probably 2,500 to 3,000 kids there already,” Jabour says with amazement. “I guess I don’t go to festivals that much?” he adds. “I go to the Sirens Festival here in New York when they have that over the summer. Those are usually pretty fun. Probably the last big outdoor festival that I’ve gone to,” Jabour tries to recall, “that was maybe like, Lollapalooza when I was in High School.”

A great musician in his own right, I inquired as to what groups he checked out since the line-up for this year’s Coachella Festival was an indie rockers’ wet dream.
“I’m like super into TV On The Radio right now,” Jabour begins. “I saw TV On The Radio probably three nights in a row while I was in California. I saw both nights they played at the Echo in LA, and then I saw them play at the URB Magazine party at Coachella. I think those guys are awesome and I was really excited to see them. LCD Soundsystem was another band that I wanted to go check out. Basically I watched as much I could until I went over to the Coachella stage to watch the Pixies.” Yes, the Pixies, the biggest cherry you could put on a mountain of indie rock ice cream!
“They toured with the Cure on the Fascination Street Tour back in like 91′.” Jabour ruminates. “I was a really huge Cure fan around that time and I went to go see them play at The Spectrum in Philly, and the Pixies weren’t playing with them that night which was kind of a disappointment to me. I finally got a chance to see em’.”
When asked about his take on the 7″ compilation of “Inches” his explanation made a hell of a lot of sense and opened my eyes to look at the album somewhat differently.

“The way that Tim looked at it was more of like a concept album, instead of talking about it like it’s a compilation or a collection of singles, which in theory it is.” Jabour explains. “More so, it’s like a record we’ve been working on for the past eight or nine years.”
Since he was dropping some science on me, I inquired as to the arrangement of the songs in reverse chronological order. “I think the idea to put the most recent material first is so that if the kids already have the first three or four 7″s, they’re just gonna sit there and hit fast forward to get to the new stuff they haven’t heard yet.” Adding, “This way you put the disc on and the first songs you hear are probably gonna be songs you haven’t heard before.” When I ask how people and devoted fans have been reacting to “Inches,” Jabour states, “Everything I’ve read so far has been some of the most flattering and positive press that I’ve think we’ve ever gotten on any of our records. Though most people contact Tim or Syd.”

What? It seemed truly discerning, that no journalist whatsoever had contacted such a multi-faceted artist in…how long? “I probably haven’t done an interview in a couple of years,” Jabour says while laughing humbly. “So if I’m a little rusty, help me out.” You weren’t rusty Seth, probably just still a little sleepy. And we all know that rust never sleeps. Get some rest buddy, you definitely deserve it. (*Editor’s note – Modern Fix would like to apologize for Gordon Downs’ blatant Neil Young reference.)

“I’ve got a couple of friends that won’t go there because the locker room is a little skank.” Explains charismatic vocalist Tim Harrington of the community pool, which he’s just returned from in his neighborhood in Brooklyn. “It just happens to be around the block from my house,” he continues, “and it’s like; fifty bucks a year for an in-door pool. I’ve never gotten an infection.” Adding that the swimming pool he attends has, “a humungous sign that says, ‘THE DISCHARGE OF FECAL MATTER IS PROHIBITED.’ So, I figure with a sign like that.”

Harrington’s sense of sharp and witty humor is one of the driving forces behind Les Savy Fav’s amazing stage presence and often-cryptic lyrics. His on-stage demeanor though, is perhaps what he is remembered for the most. Harrington makes it a point to keep the crowd on the balls of their feet when Les Savy Fav is performing. From dragging you on-stage to dance with him, or serenading a young lady amongst a crowd of hundreds, to unexpectedly dry-humping people on the dance floor and even shoving the microphone down your pants and singing into your crotch; Harrington is a jack of all trades when it comes to Les Savy Fav’s live performance. “At shows people will be asking, ‘Is your lead singer like a really big fat gay guy?'” Harrington laughs. “I think my

sexual orientation, live on-stage usually confuses people, because it’s kind of like a shotgun blast approach.” Adding that he’s “excited in general. It doesn’t take much to get me excited. [Though] I’m not always bouncing off the walls of the van.”

“I’m really reticent to do like a WWF “thing” (circa 1980s.)” he continues about his on-stage persona. “You know; they’re in the ring they go crazy, and then they always do between-the-match things where they show the guys in the locker room. And they’re like really in character going crazy.” He explains through uncontrollable and contagious laughter. “One time,” Harrington recalls, “we were doing this interview for this guy in London, and they were taking pictures. We were just standing around being ourselves, and the guy taking the pictures was like, (in a demanding English accent) ‘C’mon guys! Get angry! I heard about you and your live shows. Show me some action!’ We all just kind of looked at each other and said ‘This photo shoot’s over.'”
Les Savy Fav never set out to be “that band” everyone wanted to know about. But through word of mouth, relentless touring and releasing original and great albums, Les Savy Fav have become “that band” that everyone seems to want to know more about.

“A lot of bands go on tour and do things as basic as coming up with a set list for a week,” Harrington continues about Les Savy Fav’s live performances. “And they play that set so they get good at it. They can play it really smoothly. We’re always juggling the sets every night for that exact reason. It keeps us from getting bored. Every night we’re like, ‘We gotta play different songs all the time!’ even though no one would really know.” Adding that, “The songs that we’ve been playing forever end up getting longer and longer.”
“Basically,” he continues, “the shows are tons of energy and weird stuff happens, but I feel like it’s not pretentious. The goal for it is to feel like a party, and everyone’s partying and the band happens to be playing music to get everyone feeling equally intoxicated.”

Despite the eccentric and varying nature of LSF’s music, Harrington hit it right on the head with that explanation. That’s exactly how a Les Savy Fav show makes you feel. Like you’re at a party, and you’re drinking and dancing, and for a little while at least, you can forget about all that owes and woes you.
“I’m actually getting married this summer.” Harrington adds as he explains the impetus behind one of the catchier songs off “Inches” – “We’ll make a lover of you.”
“That’s a love song I wrote. I had never written lyrics for a love song, it’s not my bag because I hate sentimentality that’s manipulative. I don’t like making people tearjerkers or emotional in that kind of way. I was thinking about my fiance and I was like, ‘God, I love her. I gotta write something about it.’ It just came out more like a boast than a love song.” Either way, it’s a damn fine tune that I do accommodate & recommend.

Les Savy Fav have been on the longest hiatus they’ve ever been on since they began their onslaught of touring back in the nineties. With Syd focusing his thoughts on Frenchkiss Records, and Harrison and Seth working on illustrations and paintings – what’s Harrington been up to during this hiatus?
“When I’m not in the band I make my money doing graphic design,” he explains.
He and his soon-to-be wife are starting a textiles business. “It’s called Deadly Squire, like an English version of ‘killer dude.’ It’s www.deadlysquire.com but there’s nothing up yet, we’re just getting started. The website will be up in August.” And how exactly did he and his fiance stumble across this particular path of design? “Some friends of ours asked us to design a pattern for some towels for them,” explains Harrington. “And we did it, and then we were like, ‘God that was great! We should start selling patterns!’ Then we were like, ‘Let’s make textiles and sell fabric to the world!'” Though upon further research into the textiles business he adds, “Then we were like, ‘How about we make a little bit of fabric, and we’ll make stuff out of it and sell it.’ So we’re making cool stuff, like guitar straps and also like little cute things like pillows and cute stuff. It’s for people who want cool, good looking designed stuff and don’t wanna buy it at Target.” (*Editor’s note: there is nothing wrong with Target. Target often has very good deals and two out of ten chicks that work there are damn right doable.)

So for the time being, Les Savy Fav are taking a break from being the band everyone wants to know more about. Or to be more precise, they won’t be touring anytime soon. Aside from playing the first leg of their “World Tour” (which consisted of one show in London,) “We’re doing it one country at a time!” adds Harrington; don’t expect Les Savy Fav to hit the road until the fall of 2004. When I inquired about the current status of any new recordings the band might be working on as far as a new album goes, the most I could get out of Syd was, “We haven’t had time actually.” And the only comment I could muster out of Harrison was, “Uh, nope.” Either they really haven’t been working on any new material, or they are the true party pranksters that know how to keep a secret.

When I tell Harrington of the first time I saw them perform with The Mars Volta and Ugly Casanova that fateful evening, I inquire as to if he remembers being given a titty twister by my friend that night?
“Yeah, I remember that show very well. Though I don’t remember that.” Harrington says of the titty twister. “But what I do remember,” he continues “is that it felt like a frozen hot dog in his pants!”
interview by gordon downs

www.frenchkissrecords.com
www.lessavyfav.com
www.seththom.com
www.branchgallery.com
www.harrisonhaynes.com
www.deadlysquire.com