THE INTERVIEW: The Faint
The Faint began making music in the mid 1990’s, experimenting with different elements of dance, punk, and new wave keyboard synth. After seven albums and a few lineup changes, the band has just released a new album Fasciinatiion and is heading out on tour across the world. I had a chance to catch up with the band’s lead singer and keyboardist Todd Fink for a conversation about the band, their creative process, and the essence of geekdom.
One thing I always loved about The Faint is that as a band you have this modern electronic-synth-punk sound and that you guys came out of the unlikely locale of Omaha, Nebraska.
Yeah, coming from Nebraska from a New Yorker’s perspective is kind of the middle of nowhere, and I agree, it is.
How did you guys originally break into the scene out there? What was your big break?
I’d say, for us it was Blank-Wave Arcade. The album came out in 1999 and that was probably our first real inspired moment of stumbling upon something that we felt comfortable with as Faint music.
Congratulations on the new album, Fasciinatiion. From listening to songs such as: “The Geeks Were Right” and “Machine in the Ghost” it seems like you guys tackled some different kinds of content. Was it a thing you guys wanted to do or just came out organically?
When we planned to make the record, it was going to be more simple, more of a rock band type of thing, but we just kind of fell back into what we do naturally. With “Machine in the Ghost,” we wanted it really rhythmic, stripped down, and somewhat awkward sounding. We thought maybe the song can be silent in between the words.
I guess that’s what an artist does; you can’t help being who you are even if you fight it.
Right, you can try to steer it but you got to be real hard on yourself if you want it to work. I haven’t figured out how to make that work yet. I think if it were just one person, you could change quite a bit but to have five people, you’re always going to be working with the same five opinions about how music should sound so you’re going to end up with things that you know, kind of sound like, The Faint.
You guys have become doctors of the remix after remixing whole albums and other musicians work. Should we look forward to hearing any cool Faint remixes?
Yeah, there’s some new remixes coming out of our stuff and we’re talking about remixing The Kills and some other things.
For this album you guys left the Saddle Creek label and went to your own- blank.wav. What lead to that decision?
I guess just our need to keep taking control of things. I blame a lot of it on that and just the way the music world works, I think. We like Saddle Creek and we grew up together but we kind of always planned on moving on at some point when it makes sense and now is the time where I think it makes sense. We had considered going to other labels, bigger labels, for a long time and never found one that we liked. I don’t like the idea of trusting people in desperate positions and people in the music business are in desperate positions. I think it’s best to make your own mistakes.
Outside of music, what do you guys find inspiring when you’re working on songs?
Well, I think all of us like visual art in general, there are influences there but I don’t want to speak for everybody. There’s literary influences as well. On this record from my perspective I was interested in, I guess, Geeks. I feel like I had to become one of these guys, you know. I grew up skateboarding and thought of it as more of an art form, not a sport like it is today. I knew geeks and liked them but it wasn’t me and now I’ve really become a geek. Everybody in my band has become a geek. We’ve got tables of toy keyboards with tons of soldering irons and tables everywhere with books about, well the future for one thing with Mr. Fuller type of diatribes. I was reading some Ray Kurzweil, Mark Pesce and that kind of psychedelic nerdy stuff like Terence McKenna, who is a genius.
It’s funny you mention Fuller because there is a lot of Fuller material coming out recently and he is sort of the anti-nerd in a weird sense – he was a geek but the hippies jumped on his boat and accepted him.
Yeah, he should be celebrated now and everybody should be embarrassed at what they didn’t learn from him in the last forty years. He had it all worked out. People just kept fucking it up. But it takes real problems to make real changes. You really have to have a lot of pain and death and bad shit before you could really make much of a turn.
What new music are you guys listening to lately?
Well, that Kills record, everybody in the van likes that one. A bunch of us like Mr. Oizo and I checked out Of Montreal today. My friend Connor’s [Oberst] got a new record out, -I think he’s always getting better. I’ve been a fan of his since he started- he was in our band at one point.
I wanted to ask a little bit about your image because The Faint is often associated with an image and a genre. I wanted to know how you felt about it and whether it was a blessing or a curse because I would imagine that it could be confining.
I think it was at one point to us. The one that we didn’t like was when we couldn’t see our name anywhere without an 80’s reference. I think it was because we were real early in the keyboard resurgence and electronic pop kind of stuff but I feel like we shook that pretty well when Wet From Birth came out. I haven’t heard any new slick jargon and I’m happy with that because to me, as soon as you think of yourself as like Industrial Goth or something you’re never going to have a banjo on your record. There’s certain things you will never do if you think of yourself too narrowly. I think we’re in a healthy position now.