Published Sep 20, 2007The return of Les Savy Fav after three years feels like discovering your new favourite band for the first time. For some people that will likely be the case with Lets Stay Friends, their first new full-length in six years. Taking time off to pursue other careers, the band have used that gap to not only build their rep as an unforgettable live act but also to carefully formulate an album thats their finest work to date in a nearly flawless catalogue. Their fourth album proper builds on their unique post-punk signature, once again finding the four members each walking in different directions. The albums variety this time, however, comes with much smoother edges, as theyve loosened the angular nature of their music to focus more on giving each song distinction and fulfilling their abundant ideas. In a way, this is guitarist Seth Jabours crowning achievement; his riffs shimmy ("Patty Lee), shimmer ("Brace Yourself) and simmer ("Comes & Goes), setting up the rest of the band and guests like Fiery Furnaces Eleanor Friedberger and Emily Haines to follow in stride. More than ever before, this is Les Savy Favs moment to shine, and Lets Stay Friends has a number of songs to finally get them recognised as the unsung heroes they are.
How would you say the band has changed since Go Forth?
Im gonna have to say this: we did Inches, in between, and we actually wrote new songs for the Inches compilation. So a part of us felt that it was a new album, even though people didnt talk about it like it was. Between Go Forth and this record, Id say this record is more like Rome, the EP we did a long time ago. When we did Rome, it was very new for us because we were down to a four-piece from a five-piece, and in the recording world it felt very uncomfortable but exciting at the same time. We had a new place and we were excited to be here, but at the same time we were both uncomfortable and very excited with what we did in the songs on Rome. And this record feels the same way; were all excited to be recording again. Our friend Andrew Reuland helped us in the studio maintain focus and work on some songs. So we had the same kind of anxiousness, but we had more confidence as being older people working in that studio working with Chris Zane. It was an awkward space to be in.
Do you think it was mainly just time that led to that awkwardness?
Maybe. Since we hadnt released a record since Go Forth we didnt know what our expectations were. We obviously didnt want to write a derivative Les Savy Fav record or imitate ourselves where people would hear it and go, "Oh thats Les Savy Fav. We wanted to grow ourselves. I think theres a sense that we wanted to create new songs and a new style, while basically having a good time in the studio approaching the songs in a different way, while making sure they didnt sound like previous records. It was almost like being on a rollercoaster, where you know youre safe because youre under the bars but youre getting jostled around a lot.
What were some of these approaches you took?
Well, we had a lot of time, which we didnt have with previous records. We did it in chunks; we would go in a do a little bit here and there, so there was more distance between the songs, which helped hear the songs better. When we went in to mix and do overdubs we knew what we wanted because we could hear the songs and we knew where we wanted them to go. Before it was more like, "This is how the song goes, play it like that. This one had a more organic appeal where we could say, "Lets call up Fred Armisen and ask him to lay down some drums to see what theyd sound like. We had all of these great people who just happened to be in New York and available at the same time that we were in the studio. Their energy and creative outlook also helped the feeling of the record. We wrote the songs the summer before, and had demo versions of parts and sections, so we werent reaching with the songs, we just tried to see what we could build with these parts. Sometimes it was extremely stressful, but other times we would get excited and happy about what we were doing. One of the songs, "Slugs in the Shrubs, Seth [Jabour] just went in with that guitar line, we didnt have anything else, and then it was done in five minutes. So thats the confidence Seth had as a guitar player and a writer, and it really helped. And Emily Haines and Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces came in, things were always there if we needed some extra tension that only they could bring. It definitely helped with the vibe of the songs and the vibe of the studio; it helped us not be so serious and precious with the songs.
The list of guests is rather impressive Eleanor from the Fiery Furnaces, Nicholas from Islands, Emily Haines, Fred Armisen, Enon and Joe Plummer. Were these improv additions made whilst you were recording? Or were they written with these people in mind?
When we had the basic stuff done, we were thinking, "That would be awesome if Eleanor could sing on this song, or Fred could come in, or Josh Schwarzel, or Nick from Islands could play on this song. And every time wed call them, theyd say, "Yeah, actually Im just around the corner, I have four hours to kill, lets do this. The fact that they were all in New York, it was just this weird thing. Emily wasnt in Toronto, she was here in New York, Eleanor was in Brooklyn hanging out, and one day all of Enon stopped by and said, "Hey, what are you doing? And we got them to sing and play drums here and there. It just had this magic feeling to it, easy and organic. There was no fight for anything; all of the songs just came.
Before I get off track, I must ask: Why did you guys wait so long to put out a new studio album?
I think at the end of Go Forth wed done so much touring. When 3/5 came out we went out on tour, then we put out The Cat & the Cobra and went out on tour, then we did Rome and went out on tour. We were an active band and we were super happy about doing it but after seven months on tour for Go Forth there was just a sense that people had seen us and done that so we decided to take a break and focus on our other interests. We all went to art school, we all went to university. Harrison [Haynes, drums] moved to North Carolina and started a gallery with his wife called Branch Gallery, Tim [Harrington, vocals] got married and started a textiles company called Deadly Squire, Seth focused on his art is now an art director for his company and I focused on Frenchkiss. We didnt want to become a band that after ten years were asking, "Okay, now what do we do? or when we were 40 have no other interests or talents.
The funny thing is, your profile actually got higher in the last three years while you were gone. Why do you think that is?
Umm I have many guesses. My guess is that the time of music when we were playing a lot, which was the post-Nirvana, when the indie music moniker hadnt existed yet so we were just caught in this weird vacuum of time and I think now people are into the music that we play and the kind of bands that we associate with, its sort of a trend. And since we were dormant for so long and our live show has a reputation for being a lot of fun, and when all of a sudden we started playing shows people came out in troves. I remember when Pitchfork called us up a few years ago and said, "Hey, do you wanna play our festival? Wed actually like you to play with the Decemberists; you wont be headlining, but well pay you all this money, and they were all excited. We were thinking, "Why would anyone give a shit about us, were been off doing our thing? So we were totally baffled about the fact that all of these kids knew our songs and were totally excited to see us. Two or three years prior, we couldnt get 200 people at a show, and now we can get 1500 people at our shows. It was new to us and weird to us as well to see all of these kids who for so many years we toured our asses off to make a connection with, all of a sudden be there. It was awesome. Those long drives just to play for two kids, thats what it was like for a long time.
To touch on what you said early in your answer, Ive always felt that you guys were ahead of your time, especially with an album like 3/5, considering when that came out
I wouldnt want to say we were ahead of our time. Tim said it best that we were "ten years too late in the first place and now people are saying were late for being ten years too late. If that makes any sense Im paraphrasing his clever comment. We were just doing our sort of thing. We were part of this late 80s and 90s generation of music , which weve always played. And the trend of our kind became popular, and then unpopular, now popular again, and Im sure it will be unfashionable in the future. We just want to maintain our own thing, and it just seems to be in favour and five years ago it wasnt.
The Frenchkiss site says Lets Stay Friends is "about Les Savy Fav's unwillingness to give up. Are there circumstances you guys feel youve needed to overcome? Whats the deal with that quote?
I guess for me, just the pressures of responsibility. As one gets older and bills get bigger, because we kept wanting to do this and through all of our responsibilities we stayed with it. Were not a career band thinking if this doesnt happen for us well be devastated. This is something that we love to do as friends, a bunch of guys practicing and having a good time together. Sometimes you lose focus of what that is. Theres so much pressure to go on tour, and sometimes when a tour comes our way, we say, "We cant do it. At one point in our career wed get angry with each other if we said that, but this is who we are now. Were in our early 30s, and we enjoy playing music and connecting with our fans, but this is what it is.
So, professionally Les Savy Fav are at a point where you can pick and choose when you actually want to play shows and tour?
I think that were definitely blessed with that scenario. Were not 20 years old and needing to go out and prove ourselves to anybody we pretty much just have to prove it to ourselves that we can continue to do this for fun. Basically I think at one point we lost sight of what we were doing. When we were playing music in school, it was about being a band: making music, hanging out at practice, drinking beers and talking shit. And at one point there was an option to make a career out of it and we went up and down, "Maybe we should, maybe we should. And with this record we just felt like, "No, lets get back to why we became a band in the first place. What brought us together in that practice space every Wednesday and Sunday to make loud, sweaty music? It was just the purity of making music.
The way you guys operate is something a lot of bands should aspire to do: to realise that you can make music and have other, separate careers that you love at the same time. I think most bands feel that they have to break their backs touring and promoting to make a living, even after doing it for as long as you guys have been doing it.
Well thanks. We played all of those shitty shows for so long. In America, we play two shows in Los Angeles with 1500 people each show. Then we drive to Las Vegas and play for 40 people. And its like Las Vegas! Lets go! But then we thought, "Why dont we just go to Las Vegas and hang out but not do a show? Thats more fun. Otherwise you get there for sound check and theres some guy with long hair and jogging pants shows up who doesnt give a shit. So we focused on playing shows where, a) we wanted to play the shows, and b) in the cities where people wanted us to play the shows. In Canada, I love Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. I dont know if I want to play Moose Jaw
Yeah, Moose Jaw might not be worth your time.
Yeah, the Generals man! Im a huge hockey fan. I was in Vancouver for a bit and I love Canada. I know most of the words to the Canadian national anthem, which is both embarrassing and very cool.
So whos your favourite hockey team?
See, this is my embarrassing moment and I wish I could change but I cant I drank the water once, as they say. Im an obsessive Washington Capitals fan.
I know, dont hate me. But I loathe the Penguins. I hate them. I think theres something wrong with Pittsburgh. You have all of these amazing players that come out of Pittsburgh and theyre all whiny bitches. I think Sidney Crosbys an amazing talent, but why does he have to whine so much? Just be one of the best players in the world!
Hes a whiner? We get so many ads in Canada, and he comes off as such a nice guy.
He could be a total sweetheart. I live in New York, and of course, New York hates him too, but they make him sound like a little whiny brat. Im obsessed with Alexander Ovechkin, hes amazing! I got to meet him once and he seemed like the greatest guy in the world. Big hug, handshake, a really excited "How are you? I dont think Id have the same energy from Crosby if I met him.
Okay, sidetracked! Back to the subject of music. Lets Stay Friends sounds like you guys took a step back to make the songs more introspective and varied. Was that something you guys noticed while you were writing/recording the album?
For me personally I felt that this album has many different songs from many different people. Everyone seems to have their own favourite song: I think Seths is "The Lowest Bitter, my favourite is "Slugs in the Shrubs, the distributor loves "Pots & Pans, and someone else loves "Patty Lee. So, theres a broad scope of this record that our previous ones didnt have. I think we wanted to make a deeper, more dynamic record. Not to say that I dont love our other records, but they just have the same kind of have the same tempo. Whereas this one has more of an arc, a story, an album feel to it: a beginning, middle and end to it.
It definitely feels the most cohesive album of yours, to me.
I think that Seth really shined, during the recording of this record. He really stepped up this time and put the work in. Thats not to say he didnt do that before, but this time he was on fire and in the zone, it was amazing. Id go to practice with him and its as hot as balls in there because we dont have any air conditioning, and hed sit there with his guitar and shirt off and go, "Put the tape recorder on. And within three months he 50 songs, and Id just try to keep up with him. Again our friend Andrew Reuland was instrumental no pun intended in helping us focus on certain things. Seth and I have the tendency to play the same things and wander too long and explore for the good and the bad, but Andrew would make us come back to parts and work on them. And then when we went into the actual studio, Chris Zane, he was the best hes ever been. So, there were all of these elements, start to finish, that helped us make this album what it is.