LES SAVY FAV: The New Champions of Rock Reign Supreme
By Jonah Brucker-Cohen
Jun 13, 2008, 04:46
What's the shakedown? A mental breakdown? Is this a takedown? We're going to make out. The band sort of sucks but the audience sucks too much. I'm going back to high school where the audience plays rough. I got myself rejected. I got myself elected. I'm going to run again.
—From “Blackouts” by Les Savy Fav, on the album, 3/5Â (Self-Starter Foundation).
One night in glorious hell. Grinding guitars and sandblasted drums create holes in the club walls. The cement cracks, the lead paint peels off dripping with humid sweat, rafters crash down on the unsuspecting crowd, a rumbling wave of the aftershock dims oncoming flash bulbs, everyone flinches, and earthquake-style bass rumblings cause mini tidal waves inside every open beer bottle. The ultimate question is raised: “Who rocks the Party that Rocks the Body Body!!?” The answer's easy. But of course... it's Les Savy Fav.
At 11 p.m. we have unzipped pants, overhead waving, punches into the crowd, shouting, hoots, hollers, poses, clapping, mic slamming, and thunderous marching set atop a windmill of noisy guitars. Lyrics blare through two mics at once while the stand is used as a spear, a torch, or a coat of arms. French words blast from singer Tim Harrington's lips. The echoes could shatter lights, eyewear, even break bottles on stage. The glass shard in his hand reaches out to cut an audience member who is too close.
But Tim's not through. There's still climbing on amps, adjusting the lights to each snare hit, air guitar that rages with adrenaline, exhibitionism, mock self-multilation, torn sheets of paper with poetry (or are those lyric sheets?) in his left hand. Bassist Syd Butler stands back looking calm, collected, holding in the mayhem with a tight grin. Guitarist Seth Jabour stands in front, looking serious, nodding along while drummer Pat Mahoney towers behind his kit focused and determined. Gibb Slife wrestles with a second guitar, wailing along, completely absorbed in the high speed frenzy. Ear piercing harmonics divulge a two guitar onslaught. I am witnessing a sonic firing squad that embraces confusion and upheaval with a tender, delicate, and oh-so-warm hand. Just when calmness is about to break, Syd pours on a bassline that would beat the loudest slamming kid into submission. Chaos is too nice a word for this pseudo-French apocalypse. When Tim shouts “Out!/Get Out!/Out! Out!/Get Out!” it's not a request, it's an order.
Back at home, I'm listening to the record, 3/5 by Les Savy Fav, on my 1982 Fisher-Price turntable. The bass on these speakers is completely fried but I still feel a rumble through my wooden floor. This is not an album as much as a manifesto of time, space, and the underbelly of urban mysticism. The ride resembles a twisted transportation vehicle that only visits those days in 1986 when Stetsasonic were In Full Gear and everybody and their motha were freakin' wid the homeys at the high school gym. This trip is like old school slam dancing at a hardcore show when the pit meant something, you didn't care who hit you, and all that mattered was getting closer to the band. Whether the event was held in a church, gym, sweaty club, or the muddy outdoors, those remain the good old days of teenage punk.
“Les Savy Fav wants to be loved for doing what it wants. We also want the people who don't like us to have to hear us at work and on their kid's stereos,” explains singer Tim Harrington. The band formed in Providence, Rhode Island where all five band members attended the Rhode Island School of Design. “We began in an attic of a home owned by H.P. Lovecraft where we used a Ouija board to determine who should play what and what we should be called and even wrote the words to “Rodeo” [available on their Sub Pop single].” Since their inception, the band's aesthetic can be described as one of sheer optimism and grace. “The best thing about Les Savy Fav has been the way our personalities have mixed. We have always been about addition rather than subtraction. We try not to say “no” to each other. Double votes not vetos. It makes the music fun because we let ourselves see different things in the same songs and accept that we are a whole of pieces.”
Although they may want us to believe that each band member's influences equally penetrate the mix, there is something about Harrington's stunning verbosity that consumes their sound. The Fav elaborate on this presumption: “We sing about lots of different things. Mostly we try to be like the mad rapper who lets it all flow out illustrating both a rat's nest of ideas and memories and a clear path to an unknown destination. We care about science and try to sing about scientific stuff through the eyes of people who can't make pens work right.”
Based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Les Savy Fav have become the new spastic darlings of NYC's fledgling indie circus. After month-long negotiations with Sub Pop (one of the many labels bidding for the Fav's hand in contract-land), the band decided to stick with alternate labels for their next release. Their conclusion was based on botched negotiations with A&R reps and the band's decision not to commit themselves to a multiple record deal. Nevertheless, the Fav profess a stalwart stance on the mixture of business with pleasure. “We are more likely to tell others that pleasure is our business and how we do it is none of your business but it would be our pleasure to pleasure you at your place of business.”
In order to further their quest for world domination, the Fav completed a national tour this past summer. Harrington describes one of the adventures from their past outings in excruciating detail. “During our first U.S. tour we played in Mississippi at this crazy double-wide trailer called “The Little House.” It was a little house made up of one gutted trailer and one regular trailer. Bands played in the gutted one and the mom and dad who ran it hung out and served free French toast in the other one where kids played Nintendo and chain smoked between punk bands. It was about 110 degrees when we played and everyone hated us and walked out. Afterwards they said that they hated us because we sounded like Van Halen. But we hung out all day and participated in a French toast eating contest that night going for the record of twenty-seven pieces held by the family's high school daughter...
In terms of sheer power, there's no denying Les Savy Fav's brute strength. After forging their instruments by hand in the foothills of Rhode Island, the band quickly became instant saints to all things audible. When asked exactly how energy laden they are, their response was obvious. “If we were hooked up to a dynamo we probably could power all five Boroughs for five weeks just by tuning up.” Indeed this electric charisma can be found on ear splitting tracks like “Je T'aime” and “False Starts,” which ends with Harrington's screams of “We burn the boom box every night!”
When you boil it all down, Les Savy Fav's motto may as well be “There is a certain kind of truth in all deception.” They continue to deceive, dismantle, and pursue success with adrenaline-coated smiles and enough humor and charm to make psychosis seem like a sugar rush. When asked about their rumored duet with Puff Daddy for the soundtrack to next year's Roland Emmerich blockbuster, the Fav responded with an empathetic explanation. “That's true we are doing a Kashmir type deal with [Puff Daddy]. Unfortunately he is very difficult to work with. He smells like Jovan musk, smokes a large Sherlock Holmes style pipe, speaks with an affected European accent, wears sweaters in the summer, puts black socks over the microphones before singing into them, is short, does not bring pretty women to the sessions, loves to do Jerry Lewis impressions with his voice pitched down to ridiculous levels, and constantly looks for a single word to rhyme with â€˜carburetor.'” I think that about wraps things up.
This article originally published in 1998 in Your Flesh #40.