Les Savy Fav: indiedom's best-kept secret
A visit to Les Savy Fav's Web site reveals this proud motto: "Missing out on cashing in for over a decade." It's been the Brooklyn-based band's curse–or blessing–to be slightly ahead of the curve without ever quite benefiting from it.
"We're not really a career band," acknowledges bassist Syd Butler, reached in Washington, D.C., where he and his family are visiting his mom for Thanksgiving weekend. "We never signed to a major label, we never took advantage of the Brooklyn hype or whatever the trend was. We just kept putting along, like the Little Engine That Could. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Liars, they're amazing bands, but signing to a major label wasn't something Les Savy Fav was interested in."
Known for singer Tim Harrington's unpredictable live shenanigans–kissing audience members, dangling from the rafters–as much as for clever art-rock records like The Cat and the Cobra, Les Savy Fav has been one of indiedom's best-kept secrets for over 10 years. But extracurricular activities, including starting families and small businesses, have meant a dearth of new material since the band's last full-length, Go Forth. Happily, for those who feared that the 2001 release might have been the group's final salvo (not counting the 2004 singles comp Inches), the quartet has just released Let's Stay Friends.
On the new disc, Les Savy Fav's origins–the band's members met at the Rhode Island School of Design–are evident in the range of styles and ideas. The band experiments with basement-party dance-funk in "Patty Lee", dissonant punk fury in "Rage in the Plague Age", and spaced-out dub in "Brace Yourself".
"What Would Wolves Do?" hints at British postpunk thanks to Seth Jabour's Smiths-like guitar, while the tightly wound rock of "The Equestrian" and "The Year Before the Year 2000" acknowledges the influence of mid-'90s North Carolina bands like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf. (Covers of songs by each of those bands have worked their way into Les Savy Fav's live sets.)
Let's Stay Friends begins, hilariously, with "Pots and Pans", the story of a band with that name. With lyrics like "They made this noise/That people couldn't stand/And when they toured/All across the land/The people said, 'No no no,'" the track isn't meant to be a thinly veiled autobiography. Or is it? "Tim pulls his lyrics from many sources and experiences," Butler says. "His lyrics are very specific storytelling, but also vague enough so everyone can interpret their own meaning from them."
Anyway, a literal ballad by Les Savy Fav probably wouldn't be half as entertaining, especially now that the musicians have settled down and everyone's satisfied with taking things one album at a time and touring in short bursts.
"Three or four days away is great, and after that we miss our wives, our girlfriends, our kids, our jobs," Butler says. "So we're a pretty happy band all around. Being on the road for six months is not going to happen with Les Savy Fav."
Les Savy Fav plays Richard's on Richards on Saturday (December 1).