Posted by: Cory | December 17, 2008

A Few Words with Todd Fink of The Faint

In anticipation for tonight’s Southgate House performance by The Faint, Backseat Sandbar had the opportunity to chat for about an hour with Todd Fink, lead singer of the dance-punk outfit from Omaha.  Famous for being one of the leaders in a growing genre and for his on-stage antics and the “half-rave-half-gallery” visual spectacle, The Faint have an eye to the future and just might have the key to industry success packed away in their labcoats…

Tickets are $15 in advance & $18 day of show. 18+

BS:  I’m going to jump right in here. You misspelled “Fascination” for the album to include an extra “i” which, as a nerd, I noticed that it happens to put ascii right in the middle of the word…that had to be intentional. How does technology/science influence you? By that I mean more than just the synthesizers you use, but more the philosophy of the album itself, including the lyrics and the way you layer your beats.

Fink: Well, actually the spelling originally was due to laptop malfunction…the “i” key was stuck and when I’d written the title for the demo it showed up. I just titled the demo as a result of that. I did notice the presence of ascii and perhaps subconsciously that is what I liked about it and why I wanted to keep it.

As for technology and its influence on our music, it’s funny because nothing has really changed much over the years, we’ve learned more about software and manipulating waves in the creation of music, but moreover the general way that music is made tends to be the same. I do hear technological overtones lyrically in some of our music, particularly on this record, but our focus tends to be more on the future. Ever sense Blank Wave Arcade we’ve been asking more and more about the future, which tends to be technologically related. In doing that, we try not to give a positive or negative view of future, but something that points out both…if I say something about it positive, I tend to say something negative as well to be objective.

What is it about the future motivates you?

I’ve been interested in the future my whole life…it’s become something of an obsession on this record. I’ve just always been curious about where we’re headed. Since then, I’ve become more obsessed over history and now I’m just trying to learn everything that I can…it’s been something of a new awakening because when I was younger I never really cared about the past and was always looking forward. Now, it’s just so interesting because its like some people are really able to know what the future holds based on the past by studying the past to predict the future, and then you’ve got the futurists, people on the cutting edge of technological discoveries as well who can see entire worlds that most people can’t even imagine. It’s really these people and the way they think that motivates us.

Several bands in the dance rock movement gives fairly readily identifiable retrospective nods, and while vague comparisons to 80s synth might be appropriate, nothing about the faint feels retro to me, but now with your new-found appreciation of the past, is there any chance of The Faint starting to look back into the past for the next album?

No, I don’t think we’ve gotten futuristic enough just yet, we’ve not gone far enough and we have a long way to go. The great thing about the future is its unending nature…I think we’ll stick to that. I look at that differently than those bands doing the retro thing though. We actually did that to a limited extent on Blank Wave Arcade, except that we were very consciousness that we didn’t want to be doing a 80s revival album, so every time we went that way, we’d throw in something that was obviously not from that time period. Nostalgic is fun, but that just isn’t what we want to do.

So what is it you started out wanting to do? I can’t imagine many electronic dance-punk bands in Nebraska? Was there an electronic scene happening at the time, and how were you received there early on?

Really, it started from us trying to escape from indie rock in 1998 when the sound changed. We just wanted out and wanted to do something different and around that time is when our sound really shifted for Blank Wave Arcade. That was really the new beginning. We put down our guitars for keyboards and decided to really head off in a totally different direction. There was a great scene happening and we were big fans of a lot of these bands from Omaha and they were all doing something different, new and interesting, but it was still mostly indie rock. When we got into it ,we just realized that we weren’t interested in doing what they were already doing, so our inspiration came from doing something new. By 98 or 99 we found what we were looking for and it didn’t sound like anything else. Once we found it, the scene was really supportive of us.

On that note, you were one of the first bands playing this kind of dance punk music. What do you think about the flurry of bands flooding the genre? Do you think that The Faint was an inspiration for them?

We were part of an inevitable movement in music with good bands involved and have been around longer than people think. It was happening for a while before it got suddenly popular. For example, ChkChkChk (!!!) and The Rapture are both bands that would probably fall into the same general classification and have been around for a really long time, only people eventually took notice and it just fell into favor at some point.

Being someone who obsesses over the future, what do you make of the future of a movement as being something that fell into favor?

I think the issue arises when people try to pin us to dance punk. I don’t see us as labeled in that genre, and while you can find a lot of it in our albums, and even more that fall into the set, the thing is that we make music that suits the times. There are lots of beats to dance to…house and dance punk forget that.

In light of the number of other dance bands these days, as someone who gained a lot of attention on the front side of that and has managed to remain at the top of the movement, what do you do to distinguish yourselves from all of the other artists playing the music for the fad?

(laughs) Honestly, that’s not our strong point – we don’t think about it much – although, having a record label now, we should be. We do the normal things like hire a press person to work the record, but beyond that, I don’t really know. We don’t really focus on publicity or promotion (magazine ads and that sort of stuff), although we’re doing that now more than in the past. I think the way that we distinguish ourselves is that we consider the live show really important. We want it to be an event every night that is different than a regular show. We want it to be an experience that people hear about and want to come to our shows. If we had a lot of money, it’d make it very different.

You’ve gained quite a reputation for your live performances. How do you go about putting together the visual aspects for a tour and coming up with your incredible costumes?

One thing usually just leads to the next. We used to wear all black in the blank wave arcade days because it was all fog machines in strobe lights and the black showed up really well. Eventually everyone was wearing them though, so we moved on.

After that, we had screens and we wanted to do video linked to the music. But before we got it together and bought the projectors and screens, it took a while to get the videos made and still some of those first videos are used run through different effects or on different surfaces to create a new way to present them. Then, we wanted to find an invisible screen, I’ve done research looking for one, but just wasn’t been able to find anything that will really work for us. We did found sheer materials to work and that’s how we eventually found a way to use them on this tour.

I was reading an interview from 2001 and it mentioned a click track in Clark’s ear to ensure precision for the set…I imagine that takes a lot of work. is the set still as structured, or have you become more spontaneous?

It’s gotten really easy for him now. He listens to the click before the set and we’ve got all the videos linked to the tracks along the click track. When he’s playing now, if he’s on time, he shouldn’t hear anything at all, and if he’s off, it allows him to catch back up. Its important to get as many things synced up as we can so that it can be a really tight set. By tight, I don’t mean better playing than other musicians, but rather that everything matches and works together perfectly.

You mentioned earlier having created your own record label, can you tell us a little bit about it, and why you decided to do this?

Yeah, we created Blank.wav to release Fasciination because, for us, a record label didn’t seem necessary anymore, not for the expectations we have these days – we don’t expect to be the Beatles. Certain type of people will relate to our music and we’re happy with that. We just decided to skip the middle man and avoid the complications of the opinions of others. It’s given us a lot of freedom to do things exactly the way that we want to do them.

As for Blank.wav, we’d like to put out other artists in the future. Everything went well on this record and we were happy with how it all came together. Releasing other artists will have to be something in the future if at all, because we spend a lot of time touring and we’re planning on starting to write our next album over the next few months.

With that in mind, what are your thoughts about the state of the music industry? Are record labels becoming irrelevant with things like YouTube, MySpace and others, as well as artists adopting the “pay what you want” model (although that seems to have quickly died out)?

It’s going to happen a whole lot more in the future. Once bands have enough of a name and a catalog of music, I just don’t see the need to deal with a record label. Just starting out, you could even take out a big loan, but it’d be very risky and wouldn’t give much leeway which artists need to build a name.

Can record labels survive being just the jump-off?

Probably not. The ones that sign good artists will develop into something else eventually rather than just traditional record labels. Their function will have to change a little to morph with times. For now, the most important are the indie labels, because they are the ones who are likely to not have the excessive expenses and can really help an artist to achieve success and by being good at what they do, they’ll be able to maintain a steady stream of artists and since it is a lot of work to go out on your own, there will always be work for the indie labels.

So, to bring it back, you mentioned you’ll be starting the next album over the next few months?

Yeah, I told the guys I’d try to have some things by January, but we recently just finished up a Europe tour that was grueling. Flying solo and not having the support of the record label, we had to do virtually everything ourselves, and since we didn’t get a lot of help, we haven’t had much time to write. Unfortunately January is getting close, so who knows if that is going to happen. Also, each time we start writing an album, it’s really hard to get back into it. You tour and tour and tour and then coming back to the studio is like trying to learn how to write music all over again. Once we get into the mode and find something we can all agree on, then it just comes out.

Speaking of finding something you can all agree upon, what are the records getting the most play time in the van between cities?

Right now, it’d have to be “Lambs Anger” by Mr. Oizo. Also Fuck Buttons – they sound pretty good. I always try to keep up with whatever Diplo is doing. Then there is Das Glow who did a remix of “Mirror” for us on Boyz Noize records, putting out 12” and that’s how I found out about him. Also, a lot of dubstep stuff.

Any plans to work with any of these artists for a remix?

Jacob & I are big Mr. Oizo fans, and we’d love to do that.

10 years in now, is performing still as fulfilling or do you look at it more like a job? I guess what I’m asking, what are your thoughts on professional musicianship?

(laughs) Not a huge fan of musicians. As far as us performing, I really think of it more like we’re throwing a party. We are just hosts trying to make sure that the party goes over well and we happen to play the music. I enjoy it now more than in years past for several reasons. The visual part of the live show is better, the set list is better and we can do things exactly how we want.

Last question…anything you want to say to the people of the Ohio Valley?

I just hope people come and have a lot of fun at our party…

Tickets are $15 in advance & $18 day of show. 18+

The Faint – Desperate Guys

The Faint – Get Seduced

The Faint – The Geeks were Right

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