Future of the Left: Interview
“The aim is to be the greatest rock band in the world. Maybe that in itself, that kind of belief, is kind of intimidating.”
In conversation, Andy “Falco” Falkous of Welsh rock band Future Of The Left (formed from the ashes of UK Mclusky and Jarcrew) is striking in his delightfulness. Perhaps most striking because, on his records and during his live shows, he projects a demeanor of growling, brooding, piercing aggression. During our interview, however, he came off more as a charming talk-show guest than a furious punk rocker.
As we discussed the creative drive behind their new album, The Plot Against Common Sense (TMT Review), he reminded me explicitly and implicitly that, while critics may occasionally refer to him as such, he’s not a furious punk rocker. The new songs were carefully crafted, with every second calculated for maximum visceral impact, the lyrics offering equal parts humor, characterization, and political commentary. He’s direct and honest about his goal to be “the greatest rock band in the world,” and his attention to detail on the new album shows that this comes from a place of personal pride, not grandiosity.
Fans of Future Of The Left seem like they tend to take your songs very personally. Since the release of The Plot Against Common Sense in June, what has the reaction to the new songs in your live set been like?
Even though it’s crass to generalize and stereotype, it can also be very informative. In certain countries, say Belgium and Holland, and to a lesser degree France, they listen a lot more. They’ll step back and listen to new songs. There’ll be a marked difference in the reaction. People will throw themselves together in a collective nostalgia for the old songs and then step back and try to take in every nuance of the new songs. Sometimes that can make you think that these new songs don’t have the same kind of incendiary feel, but it turns out they’re just appreciating it in different ways.
The general lore around the live show is how intense and intimidating you can be. Have you noticed that reaction from people?
A little, yeah. I think that can be offset if people have met us before the show, say, or if people know us from our lives outside the band. You don’t go onstage and become a concentrated, uni-dimensional version of yourself, but there is a focusing or maybe an exaggeration of certain aspects of people’s character when they go onstage. It’s quite difficult for me to consider it to be intimidating. I know a lot of people have said it’s intimidating, but for us playing live is a joyous experience. There’s nothing really cathartic about it. There are no insidious personal problems that need to be worked through the music. The songs in their recorded form stand as expressions of varying moods and thought processes, but the live show is a question of gelling onstage and fuckin’ sticking it to people.
The aim is to be the greatest rock band in the world. Whether that happens or not is in the eye, ear, and soul of the beholder. Maybe that in itself, that kind of belief, is kind of intimidating. But I can’t overemphasize how much fun the whole process is.
For a band like ours, after the show is finished, our job certainly isn’t finished. Rather, our job begins then, because packing down the stage and making sure everything gets in working order back into our van – there’s another hour of work in itself. I don’t know, maybe that’s another reason people may find us intimidating – that we’re immediately packing down the stage as people are trying to talk to us.
For me, there is nothing brave about guys in masks throwing colored paint at the Gap.
From what I’ve heard, the recording of The Plot Against Common Sense was rather strenuous and protracted.
It was just difficult to fit it all in around the schedule of the studio. The studio was very generously provided to us at a budget that meant we could afford it, and we are eternally grateful for that; otherwise we might not have been able to afford to make the record. And if it hadn’t of been for a very good friend of ours who basically gave us the money to make the record, again, there probably wouldn’t have been a record at all [… ] We still rely on the kindness of others in order to fully function as a band, just simply because of the finances involved. I know there are a lot of people who conduct their bands purely as hobbies, but because they do that they can make enough money from their jobs on a serious or semi-serious basis to finance the band, whereas we lie in an uncomfortable hinterland between those two existences.
Recording the album did take longer than I would have liked, but it’s my belief that […] the process ended up improv[ing] the album. There were a few songs which I maybe would have got to earlier and rattled off a few lyrics in the way that I usually do. I was given the luxury of spending time listening to dictaphone recordings and writing lyrics that I normally wouldn’t have had. The time that was taken made for a more considered lyrical piece.
I can see how that attention to detail could lead to a song like “Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop.” That song is just so insane; where does something like that come from?
The sentiment is basically against franchise filmmaking, which is an easy target as it goes, but I don’t remember that point being articulated in a song [before]. But really, everything stemmed from the title “Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop.” We had a similar experience with the last album and the title, “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You,” which existed way before there was ever a song by that name. In fact, we wrote about six songs called “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” before we wrote the actual song, which appears on the album because it was self-evidently such a gorgeous, fruity title that it had to be utilized in some way.
The best songs to my mind are the ones which happen in almost a stream of consciousness, and that’s what happened with “Robocop 4.” I tried to write that song for months, I tried to articulate exactly what I was feeling or thinking about the topic for months, and then I simply listened to it and wrote from the point of view of a character who, beneath the skin of his asshole-ery, actually makes some good points in a very plain way, even to the point of mispronouncing “Cannes” as “cans.” It was a deliberate policy to try and evoke the character of the person who was speaking.
It’s funny how the song can be interpreted. I’ve seen it interpreted as, “This guy thinks all action films are shit!” … which is quite a stretch. What is informative to me about music criticism, whether it’s from a meta or micro level, is [that] it exposes [things] about the person’s prejudices and speaks on the person reviewing as much as it does any artist.
Something like “Robocop 4” is not meant to be taken literally. Someone linked me to a discussion on some Smashing Pumpkins fan forum about the reference to Billy Corgan. Even though I have scant regard for the work of the Smashing Pumpkins, the reference [lyrics: At least Harry Potter has a proper story / In the sense that the characters crave an ending / If only to release poor Billy Corgan / from his role as the titular character’s nemesis] is simply that Billy Corgan looks like Voldemort. That’s it! That’s as far as it goes. If anyone cares to go any further than that they probably have a dangerous sexual disorder.
Between you and Pavement, Billy Corgan is really getting knocked around.
Oh man, we’re some strong-armed gammies between us! Pavement have more fans but I guess … I guess we would win in a fight. But I wouldn’t care to bet on that. It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.
“Robo Cop 4” reminds me of a song like Black Flag’s “TV Party,” in which the writer explores hatred of putrid pop culture by creating a character who bathes in it.
That makes complete sense to me, but the second you mention any kind of contemporary band in the same sentence as Black Flag, I’m liable to get seven emails saying, “You’re not a punk.” I’m just preparing myself. And I’ll agree: I’m not a punk.
You don’t go onstage and become a concentrated, uni-dimensional version of yourself, but there is a focusing or maybe an exaggeration of certain aspects of people’s character when they go onstage.
Speaking of characters in your music, a song like “Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots” sounds like it could be about a specific character’s story or a large political statement expressed by the characters’ interactions.
It was written very quickly in response to the May Day riots we had in Britain last year, the anti-capitalist riots. Most major cities and financial centers have to weather [these kinds of things]. I like the left on most issues. I’m as anti-capitalist as the next proto-socialist … Sorry, I don’t know what a proto-socialist is, I just said it. [Laughs] [Jokingly] I’m gonna fucking stand by it as well, that’s the kind of guy I am. I’m gonna live and die by the thing that I accidentally said.
For me, there is nothing brave about guys in masks throwing colored paint at the Gap. The only thing that symbolizes, to me, is a kind of mob anger, which I don’t ever want to be any part of. If systems financial and corporate have to change, I dearly hope they’re not changed in that way by crowds of thugs whose excesses, if they had the opportunity, would rival those of the police.
I stopped reading the reviews [of the new album] after about five when I saw two different reviews that said the song was anti-the Occupy [Wall Street] movement. That is NOT TRUE. I’m saying that in capitals even though you can’t see it.
[Laughs] Exactly. There is something adoringly cutesy about the Occupy movement at times. You’d have to be something of a heartless shrew to see it as anything less than well-meaning and rooted in the spirit of truth, if occasionally too … I’m trying to think of a nice way to say “hippy bastards.” [Laughs]
I agree with most things hippie bastards say, I just choose not to dress like a wooded area. [Laughs]
I understand that you’ve been getting into writing and performing comedy?
Myself and [Future Of The Left guitarist] Jim [Watkins] write. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to listen to our podcast, which is on SoundCloud at the moment. That’s a good guide. It’s on the ridiculous side of silly … reimaginings of, say, Glen Danzig as a Northeastern English hill-walker … a preview of the new Smashing Pumpkins single, which you may be surprised to know isn’t entirely authentic. Jim has actually started doing stand-up comedy recently. He has the kind of unbelievable confidence which means he will be very successful in that, should he apply any organization to it whatsoever. He’s a very talented individual who is occasionally distracted from his focus, shall we say.
Myself, I’m less naturally talented, but perhaps at times more focused. I don’t know, maybe I just have more pride. But we do write together and we work very well together. He’s probably a more creative individual, and I’m better at editing stuff. My plan is to start doing stand-up sometime in the next year, once I’ve got a routine that I feel meets my standards. I’m very much looking forward to doing it, actually. I can’t say I have any nerves about the process, I just have excitement. I’m sure it won’t be a successful enterprise; don’t get me wrong. My intention is to come out and confront the audience to a degree. Not in a violent way. I can’t imagine slipping on and anonymously doing 10 minutes of mother-in-law jokes, then fucking off to finger the bar maid. It’s not really my stuff. Besides, my wife-to-be would be incredibly annoyed by all of that stuff, and rightly so. [Laughs]
I’ve always heard humor in your music. It’s like you’re funny in a pissed-off kind of way.
It’s difficult sometimes to get that aspect across in rock music […] I’ve met so many people in bands who are funny, engaging, intellectual human beings. But when it comes to the rock music that they make, that they partake in, it’s pruned of all of those elements. It becomes very much in the style of how rock music should be communicated. And I always think that’s a shame.
We never sit down and have a sexy meeting where we decide we’re gonna write funny songs. It’s just the personality of myself and the personality of the band coming through naturally. It’s just the way we write. I think it’s a bit of a sad condemnation that it makes us unique to a degree […] that by virtue of us exhibiting our personalities we appear to be multi-dimensional. I think more bands could do without thinking about ex-girlfriends or society in its wider sense and just letting loose on this whole world of language and happening that we can dip our minds into.