Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons
With a name like Fuck Buttons, you’re bound to get attention. Luckily, beyond the name, this British duo of Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung are creating some unique noise-based electronic music that’s as much abrasive as it is sweet and melodic. Chilling out in a hotel room in Austin, TX before they introduce themselves to North America via the SXSW festival, they both took time to indulge some questions about, obviously, the name, how they "compose” their intricately noisy epics and what genre they belong in, if at all.

The name. Besides the origins, is it a statement, or is it a noun?
Benjamin John Power: It’s not like a statement. Over time, our sound has changed quite a lot but it’s a good name, it’s got a ring to it and we stuck to it.

How are you dealing with having "fuck” in your name?
It’s all right, actually. We initially thought it was going to be a bit of a problem when we started to get a bit bigger but I think it’s kind of cool because it gives people something to play around with and it’s a bit fun, you know. When they speak about us on the radio they really have to kind of suggest the word "fuck” as opposed to saying it and it’s fun to listen to DJs trying to work their way around how they’re going to get the name of the band across without swearing on live radio. So, it’s quite fun and I don’t think it hinders us at all. The name’s got a ring to it and I think if anything, it’s a favour.

Even "F” Buttons sounds okay.
Yeah, I mean a lot of people say "F” Buttons. They try not to leave anything to the imagination.

How did you two come together in the first place?
We actually met when we were kind of 16 or so. We both used to skateboard and we both used to skateboard in the same kind of group and then Andy disappeared for a bit and I went to university in Bristol to art college to study illustration, and Andy was there already studying fine art so we just got chatting and, yeah, that’s kind of how we met.
Andy, he’d made a short film and we’d both been chatting about music prior to him telling me about the short film he’d made and we had a go at the soundtrack in it and it worked so we just carried on making music from there.

Did you guys have the same taste in music? Were you both drawn to noise?
We were both drawn into noise from different areas or different sides of music. Andy was really, really into his electronica and I was kind of listening to, at the time, a lot of post-rock and punk and stuff like that. So, we both kind of met at noise music, if you know what I mean, but, like, the directions we came from to meet up at that point, though, were different.

Between the two of you, how do your songs come together? Do you create simultaneously? Does one bring a song to another?
No, we don’t do anything like that. No one writes anything and then comes along to practice and says, "Oh, I’ve got this new riff.” It’s more like we use whatever kind of tools and instruments and found sound-making devices that we have on hand and we jam out in quite a naïve way, just trying to get whatever sounds we can out of our equipment and when we’re happy with what we’ve made we start to take it apart and structure it. So, there’s a lot of jamming involved, but we don’t have any set idea of what we want the finished outcome of the song to be when we start to write.

The songs have an improvised feel to them. What’s the balance between what’s composed and what’s jammed out?
Everything’s composed. We don’t improvise or the only improvisation element in our set is the amount of time we’ll actually play a certain phrase for. But, everything else is quite carefully crafted. Everything is in its place and we try to stick to that. Yeah, we’re not an improvisational act as such.

Are there lyrics to your songs? Or do you see the screams and vocals as just another instrument?
The original idea with the vocals is to just add another layer to the sound. They’re kind of used as another instrument. It’s just another layer to the sound really. I mean, I do actually have lyrics for some of the tracks – don’t ask me to get into the details – but we demoed songs before using the vocals as another instrument, like speaking in tongues, and listening back to demo recordings I can pick out certain noises that perhaps sound like words and then they kind of start to actually become the words to the songs, if you see what I mean. But that doesn’t happen with all the tracks.

Has anyone ever come up to you and said, "I love that lyric!” and try to quote them back to you?
[Laughs] Not yet. But maybe one day.

Have these songs been around a while in earlier incarnations? Or are these all newly made?
One of the tracks on the album is one of the actual first songs we ever wrote, but it’s just been tweaked a lot over the years. We’ve just really tried to perfect it. It’s "Race You To My Bedroom,” that’s one of the first tracks we ever wrote, but it’s changed a lot since how it sounded when we first used to play it.

You’re from Bristol. It’s had its fair share of famous electronic bands; did that atmosphere influence you at all? Do you draw inspiration from the city?
I don’t think so. I think we like the idea that our music doesn’t have any sense of location. I don’t think we particularly think we sound like any of the bands from Bristol. We only actually started in Bristol, I don’t think we’re actually particularly part of any Bristol music scene, if you see what I mean. There are some great bands from Bristol but I don’t really see us as being part of that or anywhere really. [Pause] Should I pass you onto Andy now?

Sure. Perfect timing actually. Andy, I’ll give you the big, harder question. What draws to you the type of music that Fuck Buttons create? What’s that mix of electronic and noise that you enjoy?
Andy Hung: I mean, initially, we were attracted to noise just because it was quite exciting at the time. We’d never really heard anything like it and it was very abrasive and confrontational and those are the things that drew us to it in the first place. Quite quickly we started adding other elements that were in us already and that’s how our sound developed. It wasn’t actually a conscious effort to use noise as a tool, but it happened that way.

I was arguing with one of the editors about what genre you were in. Do you think you have a genre? Or do you try to make your music genre-less?
Yeah, I’m not sure we’re part of that noise/drone genre anymore. I think just from the nature of us experimenting with anything that makes a sound that’s partially what makes it hard to put us into any genre because potentially it could be anything. So, the genre could be anything.

That’s a good thing?
I think so, yeah. I’m not aware of any bands that stick to any genres but I’m sure that most band would say that they don’t try to stick to any genres but we definitely don’t confine ourselves and it’s not something that we’re aware of or taking into consideration when we’re making music.

How did your relationship with the ATP label start? How did you get signed to them?
Yeah, it was pretty crazy actually. It all happened within a week, really. We played a show near my house and the guy who saw us is named Declan and he’s managing us now and saw us and, yeah, I thought he was a bit of a nutter when he came to us and was raving on about us. [Laughs] Sorry, Declan’s in the room as well. But, he was raving to us afterwards and I didn’t think much of it at the time but he emailed us the next day and said he’d spoken to Barry [Hogan, label head] from ATP, which at the time, I didn’t believe either. [laughs] Sorry. [Aside to Declan] C’mon! It’s crazy! Well, next thing I knew Barry had actually given us an email and still I didn’t believe it. It only really hit us that it was actually Barry when we went to ATP after he invited us to go to the May one, or ATP Vs. The Fans, and I saw him behind the desk doing his job, in his element. That was the only time that it really hit home what had happened to us. It all happened that week and Barry came down to see us at another show that week and he said he wanted to put our record out, so, yeah, that’s great.

Why that label?
I’ve been a big fan of ATP for a long time. Like, before the band even started. I just really like their ideology. I think ATP suits us very well and it’s been great working with them as well.

How do you translate this to your live show? When you compose music for the album, do you think about how you’re going to translate that live or do you just deal with that later?
Actually, the way we compose the music and the way we write music is very live based. What that allows us to do is that as soon as we’ve written a song we’re potentially able to play it live as soon as we’ve written it. We play really quietly in our front rooms as well so we don’t have any kind of dedicated space to practice in so playing at low levels we’re kind of unable to hear it at its full velocity so when we hear it live we’re able to hear it with fresh ears and we’re able to make decisions based on that.

And for your live show, do you make it more than just two dudes behind laptops and keyboards?
Yeah, there’s a lot of communication between Ben and I. We stand across a table and we’re always facing each other and the way we signal for changes is looking at each other and nodding whatever we need to do in time and if we need to make any quick decision we’re sort of able to catch each others eyes easily because of that formation.

Since you both studied art, are you concerned with a visual aesthetic for Fuck Buttons at all?
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s part and parcel of the band actually, I think it all feeds into each other and kind of informs each other. It would be difficult to separate the different mediums that we’ve partaken in when we’ve been recording and that includes the album artwork and the video and anything else that comes with it. We have a voice in all decisions that are made in Fuck Buttons so, yeah.

So you collaborate on the design, look and feel of the albums?
No, not really. Ben does the artwork and I do more of the video stuff.