Fuck the Facts The Horrors of Freedom
Published Jul 04, 2013Ottawa-based grindcore iconoclasts Fuck the Facts have built a reputation over the past 15 years for their punishing tour schedule, prolific and consistently innovative output and unrelenting passion. Since being founded in 1998, they have become mainstays of the Canadian aggressive music scene, adding more and more experimental and noise elements to their sound and pushing grind to the limits of its devastating potential. Since 2002, Fuck the Facts has been defined by core duo of founder Topon Das and vocalist Mel Mongeon, and for the past five years has enjoyed a stable, supportive line-up that has allowed their creativity to flourish anew.
Their latest EP, Amer, is a vicious and bone-crushing work, an exploration of bitterness penned entirely in French, vocalist and lyricist Mongeon's first language. Following the release of 2011's Die Miserable and accompanying EP Misery, Amer was first conceived as the companion to an as-yet-untitled full-length still in progress, but took on a life of its own, becoming a hard and hurting album that the band opted to release on its own rather than allow it to fester. While Fuck the Facts continue to plumb the darker parts of human nature, ugly experiences and the way affection can turn to poison, the health and future of the band remains remarkably bright. About to embark on a European tour before returning to work on a backlog of new material, Fuck the Facts have become astonishingly good at exorcising their demons through their dismal, dissonant and challenging music, allowing them to turn clear and optimistic eyes towards their creative process. We spoke with guitarist and founder Topon Das.
The title, song titles and lyrics of Amer are written entirely in French. Since Fuck the Facts' singer and lyricist, Mel Mongeon, is a native French speaker, this is not surprising, but this is the first record you have made that is entirely in that language. What led you to this decision?
It's completely Mel's decision, and was entirely her idea. The way we have done it over time, I guess we started when Mel joined the band — when she first joined the band, she could barely speak English. She could get by if needed, but now she works in both languages, she's really fluent. When she first joined, it was really weird, and when we first started, lyrics did not hold the same importance that they do now. It probably started because when I started the band, I've always been more of a musician than a writer of any sort, so I just focussed on making the music; when it came to lyrics it was just something that would follow the vocal patterns. When Mel first joined, we kept with that idea, just like "Okay, so this is what the vocal pattern is going to be, so let's just put some words in here that will kind of flow with this." We did that for some of the very early stuff, and then the years passed and we were striving to improve. Mel was getting better [in English] and we thought, "Well, we don't want to have crappy lyrics."
So you felt that there was a point where you had certain standards about musical quality and you felt that the lyrics should match that?
Yeah, but we started out as just... I don't want to say we were ever a goofy grind band, though maybe some of the stuff we did could really fit into that. It reached a point where we want to have good lyrics, and a lot of that was from Mel, because I've always been mainly focussed on the music, so she really took the initiative to get better and learn that. I guess it just seemed natural — she just felt that she had to write lyrics in English because we were an English band. So she wrote all the lyrics in English for a while, then at some point she was like, "I'm going to write a song in French." And I think this was around when we did Stigmata High-Five. I was like, "Okay, cool, do it." She did it, and it became a thing for numerous years, where there would be like one French song on every release and the rest were in English.
I don't know what her exact decision was, I think she thought that the EP we just released, Amer, would be in French, and then the album that we're actually working on right now would be English. So that's kind of the idea that she went into it with, and she's always had free reign to do whatever she wants when it comes to vocals and lyrics. I'm a huge fan of what she does and I think I'm such a fan of what she does vocally because she's not a musician at all. She can't play guitar or another instrument, and so she doesn't have the same understanding of music. When we give her a piece of music, she doesn't approach it in the same way we would as musicians, counting a certain time, and thinking about note placement and things like that.
Any ideas that I would have, she would do something that is completely different and that has always blown my mind. I remember at first when she would come up with patterns, I would think, "That's so weird, that doesn't make sense!" Because it didn't seem to fit with what I thought, but then the more she did it, I started to think, "This is amazing because it doesn't make sense with what I'm thinking." If I were to write it, the vocals would just follow the guitar or something.
But to get back to the language thing, I thought it was awesome. I've always encouraged her to do whatever she wants, even for the lyrics. If she wanted to write every song in French from here on out, she has my blessing. Besides, with the genre of music we are playing, and with all the screaming, I'm pretty sure the majority of people can't even really tell the difference if you are screaming in English or you are screaming in French. Now that she's working on the lyrics for the next full-length album, we've kind of abandoned the idea of the EP being French and the full-length being English, because I think right now about half the songs are in English and half are in French. It's a challenge as well, just like as musicians we try to switch things up and keep it interesting, writing lyrics in both languages is the same for her.
Having a record entirely in French also seems to be an attempt to bring to the fore part of the identity of the band as a bilingual entity. So in making the French language a central part of this record, you're bringing that fact forward.
Yeah, for sure.
French is also a very romantic language, which seems like an interesting choice when you have a record whose title translates to "bitterness," but is one letter off of the French word for love.
I know a lot of the songs have very depressing lyrics. It seems to be the approach that she has taken over the past while. She has an insanely in-depth approach to writing lyrics. That's part of the reason we have such a long writing process, I never want anyone to feel rushed and I don't want her to feel rushed, and has a very meticulous way of going about and really researching everything that she does and taking her time to make it as good as possible.
Was there a central concept or particular lyrical inspiration for Amer beyond the idea of bitterness in general?
I think that Mel draws a lot from experiences that she has and we have as a band. On the EP, there is a song where she drew the inspiration from one night that we spent in Sweden at this house that was just disgusting, and really crazy, and kind of painted how that whole experience felt and really just wanting to get the fuck out of there. I know that's one of the songs. A lot of things that happen in life inspire her. The kid that we have together, when she was born, she was premature, so Mel had to spend like three weeks in the hospital with her. And that was really three weeks where her whole life was getting up, taking care of our kid, and going back to bed. It was a really crazy and depressing time for her, and that pretty much inspired the lyrics for the Misery EP that we released previous to this.
As the Misery EP accompanied the release of your last LP, Die Miserable, is Amer intended to also be the companion record to your next full-length?
That was kind of the initial plan, that we wanted to do the same kind of deal, where we had the full-length album and we had the companion EP. Just kind of how it was coming all together, we decided that this EP was done, and we wanted get it out there. We have a European tour that we're leaving on in a few weeks. And it was kind of like, we either sit on this, and I said before I don't want to rush Mel at all through the process, so either we wait to release them at the same time, and we decided to get it out now. I guess now they won't really be linked in that way, but for writing the lyrics and that part, it's pretty much seamless. As soon as Mel finished the Amer EP, she dove into writing all the lyrics and vocals for the album. So for her it's kind of this continuous flow of ideas, even though they are two separate releases.
Do you have a title for that record, or is that still in process as well? Yeah, it's still in the process. We recorded the full-length album in December, actually. We spend a full month in our own studio, down there working on it, so the music has been done for a while. We're kind of just working on the vocals now and there's no real title yet or anything. I definitely think our approach to putting together records and releasing them is kind of unorthodox. A lot of the time, band write, then record, then release. Whereas we write, record, go back and write some more stuff, record that, okay let's release this thing. Let's go back and finish that thing. We're kind of jumping around a bit. At some point I think it became a bit frustrating as a process, but as time goes on this is what works for us, so instead of just looking at the downside of it, let's look at the positive and take advantage of our process and the way we go about creating music and releasing it.
Fuck the Facts have a particularly interesting relationship with recording, though, that is quite different from other bands, in that you have a complete home studio where you can record at your leisure. This is very different from the kind of constraint a lot of bands are under, where they only have a very limited amount of booked studio times. Yeah, but that is also an awesome way to do it. If there is one downfall to us having our own space and all this freedom, it is the freedom. We have to build in self-imposed deadlines, because otherwise I could work on an album for ten years! People always complain about artists getting carried away like that, and say "What's taking so long?" about an album, but I can totally understand. Once you get in there and start analyzing everything you're doing, and if you have that endless amount of freedom, an endless amount of options, you could spend your life working on an album, easily.
For the Amer EP, I was extremely strict on myself and I put aside a two-week period to work on the mix for it. That might seem like a lot, and it is, a lot of albums can be mixed in a day or two, but for me that was intense, because I've worked on our own recordings or things that we've worked on for other bands for weeks, even months. It's not really that uncommon a practice to have these things drag out. So for this, I wanted to go in, have it done, and when I left it I was very happy with the mix. I knew there were a couple of little things, but I was like, "That's it." And listening back to it now, I can barely even hear the things that were bothering me before. That's kind of the really awesome thing that we don't have — someone to look at the clock and say "Hey, you've gotta do this," so we could drag out an album over a year, no problem. So we really have to self-impose these deadlines.
It's also a thing with how easy it is to work on an album on a computer, you can do so many things at home. We actually just started getting back into our recording process just yesterday, we went in and recorded drums for what is going to be another, future release. But we did it a little bit differently, in that I have a friend who has another studio and we went to his studio and recorded the drums. It was really cool for me, because I got to just hang out. I got to sit on the couch and kind of give my opinions and really be involved in what was happening, as opposed to when I am engineering as well, that takes a lot of my attention. I have to make sure everything is working and everything is sounding good, but I don't have as much energy to analyze it from that musician / artistic point of view. Whereas this was a chance to give some of my input when it came to some engineering and recording practices that I like, but mostly I can be involved in how this is going to sound in the end, from the artistic point of view. I hope this is interesting, I think it is, but I worry that it is all very boring.
Not at all, I think it's fascinating; you're in a position now where you have everything set up to make it as easy and accessible as possible, and so music is the natural by-product of your being alive.
For sure. And I think when you're working in a group setting and getting the best of everyone, for this band, that has been something that is extremely important to me. Even though this is a project that I started on my own a zillion years ago, I don't want it to be my project. It's very important for me that the five individuals are very involved in what we do.
If this was just my own band, it would sound completely different. We all have our own tastes and I think the thing that works great in this band is that we actually have five people that are always compromising. Everything that we do from every instrument is always, "Huh, that's not the way I would do it, but that's awesome." This band sounds the way it does and not at all like it would if I just sat down and recorded all the instruments myself. I could never make this band sound the way that it sounds now on my own. I don't have those other ideas, I don't have those different approaches that everyone else in the band has. It's really exciting. Like when we start to put stuff together, sometimes I think, "I don't know about this," but the compromise has to happen. Everyone has to compromise and it's awesome that we all do it.
It is clear that for all your unique visions and approaches, each member of this band has a tremendous amount of respect for what the others do. Much has been made of the fact that for the last five years, Fuck the Facts has had a static, stable line-up, and that security is certainly having an affect on your work.
It's a part that I really love, and I don't always get my way. Even if I'm the original guy or whatever, I want this to be the product of five individuals. So a lot of the time I have an idea that the other people aren't into, and that's cool, and it can definitely be frustrating for everyone because we all put so much work into it and so much energy, and sometimes you think something would sound really good and it just doesn't happen. But it still sounds really awesome, just not the way you would have made it. That's what I love about other bands; a lot of my inspiration for the music that we make, I listen to other bands and get inspired by that, and when I see a band taking a different approach from a real involvement in music... I think the best bands out there are the people who have solid involvement from every member. That makes music distinct and [that's] what makes it interesting. That's what I love about music. Probably one of the worst things about modern digital recording is that everything has started to sound the same, because I think what makes stuff the most interesting is distinct sound, when you hear a band and you think, "Oh yeah, I know who this is."
Do you think that this desire to have every member of the band contribute has contributed to the sheer variety of the work Fuck the Facts has produced? Is this part of what makes your impulse to experiment and innovate successful?
For sure, and now we've been the same five people for five years, and the more that we work together and we discover out sound together, it becomes easier. Even previous releases though, I am very thankful to all the past members who were involved in those, because even an album like Stigmata High-Five, it wouldn't sound that way but for the ex-members who were involved in that writing. It's a really cool thing, and from the old releases, when I'm talking to the band now and we're learning old songs, they say things like, "This harmony is weird" or "I wouldn't have done that," and it's weird for me to think, if the current members were in the band at that period, we probably would have cut that part. It's not better or worse, it's just really interesting to me, to see that records would have been totally different depending on who was working on them. That shit blows my mind. That's what is so exciting about music.
Now that it's been five years with these guys, we all really have a sense of what we all can do and what we all like. This is especially true for our drummer, Vil [Mathieu Vilandré], we've been together for eight years, and we've practiced four times a week for the past eight years, plus all the touring that we have done. We go down to the practice space regularly and it takes about five seconds and we're already playing something that we just spit out because we're so used to each other. It's so easy to feel what the other one is playing and just jump right into it. And what is so cool right now is that it has been so long with everyone, that kind of applies to the entire band. It's exciting.