Fang Island: Interview
“High-fives are extremely important to me.”
In a world full of demagogues and negative forecasts, it can be tempting to throw in with the naysayers and look smart by claiming a realistic outlook. Someday the world will look up and shout, “Save us!” Fang Island will whisper, “Sure, just let us pause this game of Mega Man. We’re whispering because there are a bunch of puppies sleeping over there. Let’s go outside and light off some firecrackers and rock out.” Indeed, their uncompromising dedication to good times has rubbed off on quite a few bloggers, who seem to have momentarily forgotten to hedge their bets, declaring Fang Island, the group’s second album (on Sargent House), to be a contender for best-of-2010 lists. I’d like to say Fang Island are a tough band to describe because they make accessible music while treating time signatures like quick-dry cement. The truth, however, is that Fang Island are incredibly easy to describe. They sound like fun, and everyone knows the best fun happens when you push yourself.
Chris Georges knows a lot about that “fun” feeling, because it seemed like we were laughing throughout the entirety of our conversation. I found Georges’ good humor to be contagious, and I apologize in advance for subjecting TMT’s readers to my childhood memories. I dare anyone in my place to stay serious in the face of such unbridled enthusiasm.
Socially acceptable pleasantry befitting a gentlemanly TMTer.
I’m OK, I just got off at work so I’m hanging out at my job.
Oh, you guys aren’t full time touring musicians yet?
[laughs] Not yet, I hope soon though.
You guys are going to SXSW this year right?
Yeah, we’re playing a couple of shows there.
That could change things
I hope so, man. That would be wonderful. I can’t wait to go, I’ve never even been to Texas. I was born in L.A. and kind of grew up all over the country but my dad’s from Texas though so I kind of felt like it would be really nice to visit where he came from.
That kind of leads me to how you got involved with Sargent House. They’re kind of known for being an insular community with a focus on L.A. and California bands.
Nick played in a band called Daughters and they were managed by Cathy [Pellow], who runs Sargent House, so when he joined the band he was always showing her what we were working on. When we finally finished the album we sent her the final mix and she got really excited about it and signed us on the spot, which is really amazing. It’s been awesome being on Sargent house, Cathy and their whole team have been really supportive.
When you started out, this was a project at RISD?
Yeah, Yeah, we didn’t want to really do assignments anymore. Personally, I stopped doing a lot of art and just focused on sound stuff. Music became really what I was interested in at school. I still drew and stuff but music was what I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to write papers anymore, me and my friends started writing rock operas instead of doing papers. We had an open class slot so we made this rock band class and recorded an album under the name Fang Island. The album was called Doesn’t Exist. From there we made it a real band and started playing shows and recording more.
Was it an elective? Do all the other members have different arts backgrounds or were you all music majors?
Oh, yeah, it was kind of like an elective. You can create your own class there so that’s what we did. It wasn’t really like a music study or anything. We were mostly printmakers there in the same department and that’s how we all met and started hanging out, a lot of the original members. Then Nick joined and Mark joined and they were just from Rhode Island and played in a lot of bands there.
Does that kind of diverse interest in art extend to your overall aesthetic, like the cover art or your light shows? Do you want it to be a bigger project than just the music?
Oh absolutely, the aesthetics of the band are really important. It always got us really pumped up doing really cool packaging or good shirts that didn’t just say the band name or something. Shirts that you’d really want to wear. We’re always going to be drawing and everything, so all that stuff kind of ends up being incorporating in the band. The light show was one of my other friend’s projects at RISD that he kept going on with our friend Sam Moglia.
“We went on a little tour and bought a bunch of firecrackers and just lit a ton off and recorded them all outside.”
Were you guys involved in the “Daisy” video? That was another one of your friends who choreographed and directed it right?
Yeah Yeah. Our friend Carlos directed it and helped choreograph that one. He’s friends with one of our guitarists, Jayson, and he does these really cool videos and we dug his art a lot so we wanted to get him involved. He did our upcoming “Lifecoach” video as well. We’re started to get more people involved in the art-making process of it. We’re talking to an artist called TV Carnage about an upcoming video. He’s always been an inspiration to us so we’re really excited to work with him.
What video is that for?
We’re still talking about it. Possibly “Davey Crocket” or maybe “Treeton.”
Oh, OK. Have you seen the dunk version someone made on YouTube for Davey Crocket?
Yeah, I made that with my buddy Phil. That track is exciting because it’s like more of a single riff throughout the whole thing, which we never really did before. It was always a lot of changing parts and that’s one driving song. What was really cool about recording that song is that all the hand claps are actual high-fives. That song got us really pumped up when we were recording; we had to high-five.
I kind of feel like the hand-claps pop up so much right now that they kind of feel played-out, but on this album it feels natural. You just took the simplest musical element and ran with it. Can you talk about the importance of high-fives in your music. [I crack up]
[laughs] High-fives are extremely important to me. I think you can tell a lot about a person if they have a good high-five. It’s better than shaking hands. Have you ever been to Disney Land? You know how on “Small World,” when you’re about to leave, there’s the picture of the Earth and everyone from every different nation holding hands? It’s kind of like that but if everyone were high fiveing it’d be such a powerful image.
Have you ever experienced a high-five as a burden?
[incredulously] A high five as a burden?!
Yeah, I knew a guy in college that no matter how far away you were he would insist on getting a high-five. So if he saw you across campus he’d yell at you until you came over and gave him a high-five.
And you didn’t want to high-five?
Well I mean, I’m on my way to class with like a two minute margin and he’s like screaming at me on the other side of campus and I’ve got to go meet him or I’ll hear about it at dinner or something.
I’ve never heard of anything like that before. I guess I could see that but I think that’s so cool that he really wanted to high five you. That’s pretty exciting. That’s a good friend. He just has to have contact with your hand. A powerful contact.
I’ve taken your album and tried to do different stuff with it and I found that it kind of works the best for me in the morning before the day starts. What would your ideal Fang Island listening set up be or what would you be the most psyched to hear somebody use it for.
Maybe a bunch of buddies hanging out, they’ve got the Super Nintendo out and they’re playing NBA Jams and they’re always on fire, high-five-ing and having a good time. Maybe a car trip would be really fun; but, probably, it would have to be something with a Sega Genesis or a Super Nintendo.
Do you think this self-titled album could be platformer music?
Yeah maybe some tracks would be pretty rad for that. I love a good platformer. I guess that’s the only type I’d want it to be for. Super Mario is like my ultimate. I think it’s the best piece of art ever. If some of those guys wanted to use it for that it would be amazing.
Have you played the new one for Wii? The spinning thing is nuts to me.
Oh yeah, they really went all out. They made it really challenging too.
Yeah, it’s back to being hard. I haven’t played a really hard game in forever. Like 1980s style.
Those are the best ones. Those old Ninja Turtle games, the first one for NES was like impossible.
“One of my favorite songs is that Perfect Strangers them song. That harmonica solo is so cool and so funny. “
I don’t think I ever got past the second level of Empire Strikes Back.
Oh my god! Yeah yeah yeah, that was awesome [laughing] My grandma bought me that [Empire Strikes Back video game] when I was in 6th grade and I was so excited to play it but then I opened it up and it was Super Tennis. But I was actually pumped because I really enjoyed Super Tennis.
Was that an accident or was it like an intentional “gotcha.”
I think it was an accident. It was a defect. But it actually worked out really well.
When you guys recorded the firecrackers was that a live recording? Were you running around with firecrackers or was it more controlled?
We went on a little tour and bought a bunch of firecrackers and just lit a ton off and recorded them all outside. There were some really cool ones. We actually thanked one of the firecracker companies on the record, it’s a company called Bumble Bear. That one was really great.
I kind of have to ask you about Andrew W.K. He played with you at your record-release show but would you say he’s a big influence or did you know him beforehand?
We love his music and we’d go to his shows in college. One of the things that’s so great about going to an Andrew W.K. show is that after the show he’ll talk to everyone that wants to talk to him. So we used to talk to him and he started remembering some of us. We just asked him if he wanted to do the show with us. We actually asked him if he wanted to do some recording with us too. We’re about to release a song he did vocals on that’re insanely epic. He did like 50 vocal tracks. It was absolutely amazing to play with him though. We played one of our favorites, “I Get Wet,” and it was really cool to see the way he can capture an audience from that perspective. He’s such an amazing positive energy when you’re around him.
For each subsequent release you guys have added more vocals, is that something you’re still playing around with? How you want to balance that, I mean.
It just felt right to start adding more vocals. A lot of the vocals before were just “Woahs” and chanting and there were just more things we wanted to say. We didn’t really know how to sing at first. It was really exciting you know, it’s like learning a new instrument. I still think the vocals are like instruments in the new album. They could just be another guitar.
Do you see yourselves developing longer phrases or verses or do you still like the idea of the lyrics as a mantra?
We have new songs that we’re working on that have longer verses but I still love just outbursts of chanting in songs and letting the music tell most of the story. I do think that we’re going to start experimenting with longer verses though because we’re really digging singing.
Are you believers in the idea of mantras and positive thinking leading to positive outcomes?
I think we all try to keep as positive a mental attitude as possible and I think hopefully that comes through the music and makes people feel good. We want this album to be a really feel good album and get people excited and pumped up. That’s the ultimate achievement. I don’t even listen to much sad music anymore. I try to listen to music that makes me feel good so I can have the rest of the day feeling good. I work at a record store so all day long I’m listening to music that gets me excited. I don’t know if that makes me a nicer person or a better person but I don’t think there’s any point in being negative. That can really hold people back.
“My grandma bought me that [Empire Strikes Back video game] when I was in 6th grade and I was so excited to play it but then I opened it up and it was Super Tennis. But I was actually pumped because I really enjoyed Super Tennis.”
There are points where this type of album could go cheesy but it doesn’t. Do you consciously avoid that or do you feel like with this type of music there is no point where it would hit a cheesy level?
We try to make it not cheesy but there’s a song on the album called “Sideswiper” and I wrote this solo that I really wanted to sound like a TV sitcom kind of solo. I thought that was really funny. Some people might think it’s cheesy but that stuff makes me really happy. One of my favorite songs is that Perfect Strangers them song. That harmonica solo is so cool and so funny. I guess I don’t really care if it’s cheesy because it still makes me happy. No, I don’t mind if it’s cheesy. Cheesy can be real good.
I feel like any time it would approach being an issue, there’s always something in the lower register that makes it like “Oh shit, that’s kind of heavy.” I was just curious if you sat around arguing about throwing in a big drone or something to pull it back or if you were going all-out all the time.
For a while, a lot of people thought the harmonized guitar solo was really cheesy but Jayson and I used to sit around and listen to old metal records and whenever there was that harmonized guitar solo we’d start laughing so hard. It made us feel so good when we heard it, I think it’s the most beautiful sound in the world. It’s a positive thing.
Finally, Chris from Yeasayer remixed “The Absolute Place” and he was talking about it in an interview. He was joking around but he said, “They were like, ‘Is there any original music in this?’ and I was like ‘not really, it’s a remix.’ ” Is there any truth in you guys giving him a hard time about that remix? What do you think of it?
There was definitely original music in there, it was just cut up. I don’t really understand how a lot of electronic music works but he told us that there was a lot of original music in it. Our guitarist Jayson lived with him so he was there while he was making it. I think it’s cool. Unfortunately our vocals sound really terrible. You can hear a lot of our vocal flaws. We weren’t that hot at the time. I think it’s a really cool remix though and I was really excited that they did that for us. We’ve been talking about hopefully doing a remix for one of the songs off their new album, Odd Blood.