time I arrive at Brighton
Music Hall in Allston yesterday for a pre-show
chat, London-based indie-pop-punk outfit FANFARLO are running a little late. The musicians are onstage,
bundled in thick knit scarves and jackets, politely addressing the sound tech
in quiet English accents. They're surrounded by a mess of instruments, and
switch between them effortlessly as they power through a few songs for soundcheck.
hours later, in a considerably less empty room, those same accents are making
every man, woman, and child in the vicinity swoon violently. Front-man and
founder Simon Balthazar -- a Londoner by way of Sweden, and a vague Benedict
Cumberbatch look-a-like -- shades his eyes from the stage lights, looks into the
crowd, and says, "Wow. Thank you so much." Screaming ensues.
trippy, finger-picking-and-synth-filled opening by Chicago band Young Man, Fanfarlo took to the
stage and threw out a staggeringly confident and comfortable hour-long set. The
mix of debut and sophomore album selections (their latest record, Rooms Filled With Light, was released
February 28), was an intelligent blend of their best songs, and an unabashed
introduction to their new ones. The music is earnest and effortless, with just
a tinge of Bloc Party-esque edge and experimental melodies. Cathy Lucas' violin
slams right into your chest with a direct and shocking sweetness, and Leon
Beckenham's brassy and reliable trumpet was a crowd favorite all evening.
and I perched on a pool table before the crowd arrived and talked inspiration,
science fiction, and 19th century Parisian hipsters.
[He gestures to the Big Buck
Hunter console in the corner, as it flashes images of terrified gazelle and
safari animals sprinting through tall grass]That is
just so, so strange. You really only see that in America.
You know, I broke up with my first
boyfriend because he loved that game.[laughs]
We definitely don't have anything like that in U.K. bars. Such a weird thing!
Agreed. So, how have things evolved
since the first album?The main
difference for us, is that the first record, like a lot of people's first
records, the process was very delayed in an unfocused kind of way. We'd been
trying to get an album together for a long time and hoping a label would pick
us up and playing tiny shows and releasing limited singles, and then we
eventually did it, but by that time, the songs were already kind of old to us.
This record, it was very much a matter of, we stopped touring, we sat down,
wrote a record, and recorded it six months later. It was very much a structured
process. That's definitely a much better way to do it... [laughs] It means it's
still reasonably fresh to us, even though as soon as you go out on the road,
it's all about perfecting it. You find little ways of doing it differently each
Is there a general theme or idea
behind Rooms Filled With Light?In the
sense that there is a sort of conceptual theme behind all the songs, I guess
they all sort of deal with how people try to find meaning in life, and how they
try to build some sort of structure. Musically, I think it's a lot more about
structure and cyclical things and space and geometry. I think the first record
came from a folklore ghost story kind of place. Almost a magical realism type
of place. In one sense, it's a continuation of the same theme. I just feel that
I'm not very interested in writing about the small things.
The big questions?Well,
maybe not the big questions, because I suppose that sounds a bit pretentious. I
don't think we'll ever write a gushy break-up song, you know? I like music being
a bit like science fiction. That is to
say, interesting on two levels. Interesting on a literal level, and also on a
poetic and metaphorical level as well.
The whole diversity of instrument
selection is kind of a thing now for indie rock bands, isn't it? Glockenspiels
as far as the eye can see. How do you set yourself apart?I
actually got really annoyed when I realized that! We were never thinking of it
as a gimmick. For me, writing and arranging really comes from what you have
around you. I grew up in a house of exactly those instruments. Cathy and I both
bonded over learning to play certain instruments; we both learned mandolin and
she was learning to play the saw, and stuff like that before we were making the
record. So we did that, and then I realized, "Oh man, now it looks like we're
just trying to do what everybody else is doing." But I guess that's kind of how
the zeitgeist works, people get interested in certain things. It's always an
organic process, and it should be.
What bands to you get compared to?To be
honest, I don't read anything that gets written about us. I think it makes you
fickle. Music really has to be an intuitive, gut-driven process, and music
writing is often very fickle to me. Even if it isn't fickle, I think your
reaction to it can be. So it's very tricky territory, and I think it's much
better to stay out of it. Some of us read stuff, maybe they're just better at
dealing with it. Even when they say good things, it's like, "Ooh, okay, I'll do
a bit more of that!" I think it blocks the connection from your gut to your
What was the initial single-only
process like for you?I had
just moved over to London from Sweden and I
was just fucking around playing shows, and we pretty much played a show before
we had songs. Before there was a band! London
is good and bad like that, there's always a constant demand for new things. But
also, if you just want to do something, there's always an outlet. There's
always someone who wants to put out a 7-inch single or put on a gig. People are always up for it. But it also means that once you start playing
things, people very soon feel that they've figured you out. It's very hard to
sustain that. I find that bands in London
are, right from the get-go, are almost too savvy, if that makes sense.
Is that something you want to
really like playing "the game" anyway, but I guess we're just a lot more
comfortable and experienced at this point. We're mature enough to know what
we're doing and not care so much about what other people think.
How did you all come together?I think
it was really that whole London
music scene. I moved to London being really
starved for shows, since I lived in a small town in Sweden. I would go to three or four
shows a week, and always be out meeting people while I was working a full-time
job. I was just kind of binging on that whole culture. So I had a few songs
that I recorded, and did a few gigs with just backing tracks until I realized I
should probably replace the tracks with real people. It just kind of slowly
came together. Funnily enough, all of the people who are in the band had seen
the band play before they were in it. I quite like that.
What's your favorite country to
tour in so far?The two
favorites are the U.S. and Spain, in very
different ways. I think there is something very romantic about road trips in America. I
think touring in America
has sort of a roughness to it. There is a very cool road culture that I like.
they just treat you so incredibly well. Maybe it's just what we play, but they
have a very different culture with regards to music. The U.K. and the U.S. are very similar in the fact
that everything is a little more grotty. Crowds in Spain are just always incredibly up
for it. People take it very seriously, like it's a concert, not just a gig. It's like punk never got to Spain.