Earlier this month, Future of the Left released their new album “The Plot Against Common Sense.” You could say, in a way, the band encourages some nonsense, anyway. FotL’s live shows are rowdy, most banter-heavy social events (and yes, they’re more like an event than a traditional concert), a hard rock free-fall through song titles like “Robocop 4 – F*ck Off Robocop” and “adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood.” The Welsh group boasts new members Jimmy Watkins and Julia Ruzicka to round out this eclectic new mix of tunes on ”Common Sense,” which has inspired an increase in dancing at these shows.
Their audience has broadened, too. According to frontman/songwriter and founder of FotL’s former bedrock band Mclusky, they’ve gotten more press opportunities out of this Xtra Mile Recordings deal than they did with their last label, 4AD. They just finished a U.S. tour and plan on returning later this year.
Below is an abridged chat I had with the very enteraining Falkous, on his business perspective on label deals, annoying fans, his old songs with Mclusky and film.
I was kind of surprised and I was excited to see kind of the label deal that you guys set up for this record. What was the thinking about hooking up basically a U.K. label into the U.S.? Was it part of the timing and why this particular deal?
In terms of deals and the way you look at it as a band, you have to trust the people you work with to push you in the right direction. Certainly in terms of the label we've worked with in the past, there was at least our eyes and ears, a certain complacency and a lack of knowledge as to what to do with us, the fact that we sit on a label's rosters is a little bit of an oddity. I mean, really the only promotion for the last record -- as much as promotion is a dirty word -- was the blog post that I wrote about the album leaking three months in advance. And that was the whole extent of the promotion. There were no singles released on the record…
Yeah, it was just a desire to go for something fresh and trying to take advantage of a new relationship. Like the first couple years of a relationship, everybody is doing their best to impress everybody before that inertia sets in and people just walk around in sweatpants all the time.
And that's always the surprising thing, when you notice labels sitting on an artist. Aren't they in the business of selling records? Did that mean high tension with your last label?
I wouldn’t say “high tension” but… Certainly with labels who are independent labels or purport to be independent labels, of course they want to make money… I think nearly everybody who gets into the record business on the label side or the promotion side loves music at one stage or another and loves bands and it can't be a fully cynical choice. But I don't know. I asked the label before "Curses" and "Travels with Myself and Another" -- before the last two Future of the Left albums -- if [the label] wasn't going to [release] it properly, please just let me buy the record back off of you so we can do it properly elsewhere…
As a band we don't have any pretensions towards playing arenas. To make it sustainable -- which surely is the keyword of anybody involved in the whole enterprise -- you need to be playing to more people, as opposed to very entertained rooms of 300 people. There is a certain lack of focus and desire and for things to work for a band like ours. For start you have to be very lucky in terms of the personalities involved or the band doesn't tear itself apart in the same way that many relationships do. But everybody has to be putting every sinew, every moment that they can into the band. And to simply sit on a record and hope beyond hope that it's successful and that it gets picked up by iTunes or for a Mazda commercial isn't really the way to go.
I was going to ask about the change in lineup and with that particular mix of personalities. At what point in the recording or the songwriting process did you feel like this was going to be the lineup that works best? Was there a single moment you remember?
No and this is the thing. Making good records or good relationships aren't about moments. They are about—they're about getting through. You can live with people for three years and have a real impression of the ebbs and flows of their personalities. It was self evidence at work. And beyond that, no anecdotes -- just four people who love music and playing and are very proud of it, who occasionally drink a little bit much and want to continue making that music for as long as possible.
Got it, the occasional drink.
Just the occasional.
I was going to ask you about that album leak blog. And that was three months out. But you guys also chose to stream this new album in full two weeks before releasing it.
I mean, you know. It's pretty common these days and it's just a way to—it's a way to put it out there on its own terms as opposed to our own terms. A Pitchfork review can be so influential when people can't listen to the record to make their own minds up. The best counter-argument to any kind of criticism or any kind of negative spin is simply to put the record out there. If they have that record to listen to then… I wouldn't say it makes the reviewer irrelevant, but it's a stronger counterpoint than any other person's opinion.
My problem with streaming is obviously the audio quality isn't exactly fantastic and generally speaking if people are streaming a record they're going to be listening to it on their laptop speakers. But you have to take that into account and when some f*cking goon then comes back to you and says the new record sounds terrible in as much as they are a complete f*cking idiot. You still have to respect that by putting it out there in a streaming service. You've rather opened yourself up to that accusation.
I read a critique that said this is Future of the Left's first dance record. Would you agree with that at all?
I'm not sure I'd agree that it's a dance record. I think obviously I see people dance to it at our shows, but I think it sounds like say “Cosmos Ladder” or “Rubber Animals.” I'd say that they're an invitation to a party you might want to go to, but there are definitely rhythms and blues you can lose yourself in should you be that way inclined.
And so for every “Cosmos Ladder” there are two or three songs with a similar mood, a similar feel, which didn't quite impress the ice skating judges as much as its stronger sibling.
You’ve mentioned you want to play bigger shows, but you also want to be able to look people in the eye and do your whole thing -- spurring on so much crowd participation, sparring with your bandmates. I’ve seen people get naked at your shows. And shout back and forth with you. What's the most irritating thing a crowd can do while you guys are playing?
There are so many things. I mean I don't know where to begin or end. How long have you got? The most irritating thing they can usually do is be un-reactive, which involves staring at you as if you've been brought down from Venus and you're encased in some kind of glass container for them to gawk at.
But then again you have to recognize, especially when you've toured for a long time that different countries have different cultures and different ways of appreciating things. For example the British, the Germans and definitely a lot of Eastern Europeans and also all the way to the Balkans and Croatia they show their appreciation by kicking the living f*ck out of each other. It's mostly a good thing.
And sometimes there is the One Guy in the crowd who thinks that the entire show is about him and he's chattering nonstop in your direction. That can knock the wheels off to a degree and this is the thing with playing. You never know everything. You haven't, even though you may think you have once you've played for a few years. You definitely haven't experienced every idiot and some people are relentless. You can embarrass them in front of a group of hundreds of their peers and they will still keep coming at you.
Does it bother you that people request Mclusky songs?
No, not all. I mean I was in that band for as long as I've been in this one and you know to be frank I wrote those songs, so I get to play them. I think it's funny when people call them covers.
You mentioned Pitchfork reviews earlier… in general ,do you read your own press and read your own critics and with that, with what you've read or learned from your audiences. Do you ever engrain your songs with criticisms back at them at all?
No, I mean for me early on I read the reviews because you're very excited to actually make music and have it in magazines and online. I mean certainly like when early Mclusky stuff came out there were lots of online sites, but it was principally like the written press, the newspapers, NME, Melody Maker, etcetera, but I used it as a—I always use bad reviews as motivational tools as opposed to something to refer to explicitly. Usually with a review I just want to know if it's good or not. Did it get a nine? That will do, thank you very much. Because that is ultimately the impression people will take away.
It's the last four or five years the hyperbole of reviews means that unless somebody says, “This is the best album year, buy it with your last money, do not feed your babies,” then it barely makes an impact. For example I think in terms of Pitchfork Review a six out of ten has the same impression as an eight out of ten really. It doesn't affect sales either way. The same people are still going to listen to and decide whether to buy the record or not. The only time it does make a different is when you get the gushing praise. The second somebody starts to say album of the year then the whole perspective changes.
Throughout many of your albums you have alluded many times to movies. What role do movies play in your life now and when will “Future of the Left: The Movie” occur?
Well, I don't think Future of the Left the movie will ever occur.
What I spend most of my time doing is listening either to podcasts, usually TV podcasts or film podcasts, but I tend to listen to more podcasts and read more about films than I actually do watch films these days. I went through a phase which hasn't been so active in the last year or so of just losing myself in all the fantastic television shows which have emerged in the last decade or so. I find that format more appealing to me.
I was trying to watch a couple of films on the plane on the way over [to the U.S.] and that's obviously never the best way to consume any kind of art, but I found myself watching the film “Safe House” with Denzel Washington, but a lot of the times when you see people acting you just want to go, “Bless you.”
“Bless your heart.”
You're playing a spy, who is a clever spy. You just want to rub their stomach and go “You've done very well, the espionage, I'm thoroughly convinced!” It's so obviously an actor playing a role and this is the problem. I mean to be fair to Denzel Washington: I think even though he doesn't exhibit the greatest range I always end up believing in the character he is, even if a lot of that involves mumbling.
You have a problem with the phoniness then.
No, I mean “phony” implies the heart is not in it. I think the heart really is in it, but I don't know. I'm a complete bastard and the…
I'm just going to erase all of that answer and just have you say that you're a complete bastard.
Yeah, that’s about right. The standards I apply to everything almost guarantee to suck any joy out of my life and the lives of the people around me.