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The Faint

The Faint, in NO Dessert for You

The guys from The Faint are Best Buds with Conor Oberst aka Bright Eyes, have gossiped with a star of TV's C.S.I., but really admire UK electropop act Ladytron

By Scott Wood

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When I get to the venue, the guys from The Faint are tucked away in the Commodore’s lush backstage area, enjoying the flatscreen TV, comfy couches and the yummy-smelling catering. But I manage to lure two of them out to the bar.

When interview begins, it was me doing most of the talking while Jacob Thiele and Todd Fink finished their desserts. On the mp3 of our chat, you can hear the tapping of their spoons on the bowls. However, with a little apple crumble in their stomachs, the guys warm up.

Scott Wood: Your current single is “The Geeks Were Right.” You talk about geeks as if you are not one. So if you guys aren’t geeks, then what are you?

Todd Fink: The popular kids.

Scott Wood [incredulously]: Really?!

Sometimes people will be like, "What do you think of this controversial thing that Conor [Oberst aka Bright Eyes] did?" And that's probably the bad part - cuz come on! Don't ask me!

Todd Fink: No.

Scott Wood: Ok, so then what, nerd, artsy guy? What?

Jacob Thiele: Yeah, a little of both.

Scott Wood: I read that back in the day, you guys were skaters. Do you still skate?

Todd Fink: Yeah. I try not to, cuz it hurts more when I fall these days, but that’s how I kinda got out of it—getting hurt too bad too often—but that’s also why I also started playing music more.

Jacob Thiele: No, I don’t really skateboard. The house guy at The Fillmore [a stadium in San Francisco] had a skateboard and I rode it around The Fillmore a little bit.

Todd Fink [calling him on it]: So YES! YOU DO.

Jacob Thiele: It felt really weird. Like wow, I can’t believe how really alien this feels.

Scott Wood: I was reading this quote from Joel Peterson [The Faint’s bassist] where he said, “dance music is just that—dance music” implying that The Faint’s music does more. You guys all come from an art school background where art should have a purpose. How do you mix the two?

The Faint

Todd Fink: Well, the easy way to do that is to write a song. I mean not all art songs are art, but you’re definitely on a path of human expression when you start writing songs.

Scott Wood: Dance music can sometimes be pretty disposable. How do you rise above genre conventions?

Todd Fink: I dunno, it’s just a bunch of words. It either works or it doesn’t work. It keeps your interest—makes you wanna dance, makes you wanna cry, makes you wanna sing, or it doesn’t. I don’t really worry about those classifications.

Scott Wood: I was interviewing Tommie Sunshine. He does straight up dance music. I was asking him about politics and dance music. He told me that he got so tired of being asked about the Bush administration by journalists, combined with his own personal frustration over that situation in the US, that he played a ball of distortion for the last half an hour of his set to express those emotions. How do you react?

Todd Fink: Well, we don’t really make dance music—that’s the thing. You can dance to it certainly, but its point isn’t to dance.

Scott Wood: Ok, what is the point?

Todd Fink: The song is the point. The live experience is the point. But the song is the point.

Scott Wood: Your first couple of albums were released on Saddle Creek Records, which is the home of Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst [aka Bright Eyes] himself was in your band on your first album tour. He has gone on to become an indie rock god. What are some of the best and worst aspects about being forever linked with him?

Jacob Thiele: He’s a friend of ours and a very talented songwriter. Usually it’s just a good thing. Sometimes people will be like, “What do you think of this controversial thing that Conor did?” And that’s probably the bad part—cuz come on! Don’t ask me! I mean usually I will agree with his stances on most things, but I can’t vouch for him all the time. He’s a friend of ours. It’s the downside of having a friend that is a public figure. People want an explanation and they want some kind of soundbyte or something.

Todd Fink: Ditto.

Scott Wood: You guys are stylistically quite different from what is considered the “Saddle Creek sound.” And a lot of indie music fans tend to think of Omaha and that sweet indie rock with little bit of twang. You guys are from Omaha as well—where does your “dark” sound come from?

I got robbed at gunpoint. It was dark times for the economy and our living situation - but we all tried to make the best of it and that happened to be making music.

Jacob Thiele: I think that when we were accused of, er, when it was described as “dark,” it was kind of—[He stops himself]. We were living in a kind of squalor. Todd lived in a hotel downtown where there was—[He stops himself]. A lot of it is depicted on the Danse Macabre album, particularly in the song “Violent.” There was a house that we all lived and those kids—[He looks at Todd] Her mother beaten half to death and left by the train tracks. I got robbed at gunpoint. It was dark times for the economy and our living situation—but we all tried to make the best of it and that happened to be making music.

Todd Fink: I think even before those times, we had stylistic preferences—minor melodies over major one. So, I think it just comes together and it sounds especially “dark” if you don’t have that juxtaposition between your lyric content and the shape of your melodies. If they’re both dark, then it comes off as really dark. And I think there are times that I think we err on that side. It’d be better to have a balance and I think we’d even get our point across better. Mostly, I am thinking about the song that he brought up, “Violent.”

Scott Wood: Fasciination is the first record you guys released on your own label. You guys wrote recorded, produced, art directed and released it. Wow, that is a lot to take on.

Jacob Thiele: We always kind of did all that stuff, except for the recording—we would do it with Mike Mogis [member of Bright Eyes and Nebraska recording engineer honcho] or A.J. Mogis. We didn’t have our own studio, so we kind of took over that step. Just another thing we did without any outside aid. We had pretty much done everything and we were exploring options on how to release the record and putting out records ourselves—starting our own label was something we had talked about. Suddenly, the timing seemed right and we took that idea seriously.

Scott Wood: I was watching an interview with Depose [The Faint guitarist] and, you, Jacob. You were talking about advice they would give to bands starting out. You said that bands should do as much possible. Why?

Jacob Thiele: I just think it’s good to understand all the aspects of what it means to be a band. Even if you end up hiring people to do things for you—[He stops himself.] This example comes to mind right away: Ladytron, they’ve tried to do their own artwork in the past, but they find it easier just to hire someone else because that person has more expertise and that person has a style they like—and that works. For us, we still do all of our own artwork because that is what we are all going to school for, or went to school for, and we all really enjoy it still so.

Tiempe Libre

Todd Fink: That the album cover they were showing us was amazing too. [They are talking about the cover at for Ladytron’s Tomorrow single (2009).]

Jacob Thiele: Yeah, it’s incredible.

Todd Fink: They made the right decision.

Jacob Thiele: Yeah.

Todd Fink: I don’t know how to put it. I would say that sometimes it’s a better idea to hire somebody who does exactly what you want—if you don’t have the time to learn how to do it yourself. Some art like that would take a life time to become that good.

Jacob Thiele: I just think it’s good to try or at least try and understand. And that’s why I would have given that advice. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for bands or artists who are oblivious to what everybody else within their crew or the people who work at their label—what those people actually have to do on their behalf everyday for a job. I think it’s better to try to understand your surroundings and try to understand your surroundings.

Scott Wood: In that interview I mentioned in my previous question, you were interviewed by Eric Zsamada [the nerdy dude from CSI: Las Vegas]. What was that like? [You can watch the entire funny interview here:]

Jacob Thiele [laughs]: That guy interviewed us? That guy’s from CSI? I had no idea he was from CSI. I only have recently watched that show. I’m kind of like taken aback. I’ll have to go tell my wife. She likes that show.

Todd Fink: My wife [Orenda Fink] was just on that show.

Jacob Thiele: Oh really?

Todd Fink: Well, her music.

Scott Wood: Yeah! I was reading that, Todd, you took on your wife’s last name. [Fink was born Todd Baechle.] That is not done a lot, even today. Can you talk about it?

Todd Fink: She had a band called Azure Ray and they kind of split up—it’s two girls. She was going to put out a solo album under her name, Orenda Fink, and we were also getting married at that time. It didn’t seem like she should change her name and we didn’t want to have different names cuz we plan on having kids at some point. We wanted them to have the same name, so I took her name. That’s pretty much all there is too it. I would agree with some other opinions about it that maybe projected on to that decision by other people about feminism and all that kind of stuff, but it was pretty functional.

Jacob Thiele: I thought you just liked her name better.

Todd Fink: Her name is much shorter and easier to pronounce as well.

Scott Wood: How did your dad feel?

Todd Fink: I don’t think my parents liked it much.

Jacob Thiele: Puts a lot of pressure on Clark [Fink’s brother, drummer in The Faint].

Todd Fink: Yeah. Now Clark can’t do it.

Jacob Thiele: I don’t think he would have anyway.

Scott Wood: You said you plan to have children one day, can you talk a little about your song “Battle Hymn For Children?”

Jacob Thiele: It was kind of a reaction, I think, well Todd wrote the lyrics. Sort of a stream of consciousness reaction to the realisation that the country that we live in likes to perpetuate a cycle of war and it’s probably not going to end. It’s sort of a sad song in that way but I dunno you gotta face facts at some point in your life.

Todd Fink: Yeah. Just sing about what I am thinking about. I was having frustrating thoughts.

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