Only Fanfarlo can make the proposition of going extinct sound so appealing! In their new album Let’s Go Extinct (out February 10th in the US), Simon Balthazar, Cathy Lucas, Leon Beckenham, Justin Finch and Valentina Magaletti provide a refreshingly intellectual exploration of the perplexities of human thought within a vast universe. Fanfarlo’s extremely talented violin/keys/mandolin player and singer, Cathy Lucas, took the time to talk to mxdwn about the inspirations behind their music, their friend Inga Birgisdóttir and the role that not driving had on their new album.
Extinction is a recurring theme throughout your music, ranging from the line “Let’s not worry about going extinct / We’ll be preserved on a shelf somewhere” from “Shiny Things” to the name of your new album. Where does the band’s interest in extinction stem from?
We are interested in stories of human links to the universe from a little bit outside ourselves. I think that’s basically where it comes from. There isn’t a direct link between those two songs, but I guess we believe that there is a much bigger universe and bigger story going on in which we are just a tiny little strand.
Prior to forming Fanfarlo, all of you held jobs in different fields: you were an English teacher, Simon worked for Beggars Group, Leon was a travel editor, Amos worked for universities and Justin worked as a bookseller. How would you say your diverse knowledge backgrounds have affected and shaped the music you’ve produced?
Probably in several ways. One of them is an interest in anthropology and how culture is meaningful to people and how that fits in with biology and the ways in which we started out as amoebas and become human beings. You know, just all of these interesting interactions and that definitely is an interest for all of us. We’re just sort of quite interested in intellectual stuff like philosophy, politics and things like that.
That’s absolutely apparent through the music, as well.
Yeah, I think that does come across, probably in the lyrics more than anything. It’s a little bit intellectual, maybe sometimes a little bit too much.
No, it’s perfect. I mean, the lyrics of your songs definitely take me back to my college days of studying Biology and Chemistry (but in a pleasant way) with the mention of molecules, cells, organisms and extinction. I find it refreshing that your music explores some of life’s greatest complexities through ideas of sciences. How did the band decide to take on that approach?
It’s also about the poetry of that, so I guess it’s not all about science. It’s about giving those ideas in a kind of human context and that’s sort of what it means for us. I think that is, hopefully, one of the things that sets us apart a little bit from other bands. It’s that this record, especially, has gone down the rabbit hole in that regard and tries to explore these ideas fully.
It’s ironic to me that “Let’s Go Extinct” is the title track, the last track of the new album, mentions that “the dust will rearrange itself” and comes directly after “The Beginning” and “The End.” Perhaps this only sticks out to me because of my 12 years of Catholic schooling, but can you walk me through the decision to have the title and last track share names and the arrangement of the track list?
I think the process of sequencing a record is always very fluid; not to sort out, more like trying to feel out a progression that works. There aren’t rules, I guess, about how you do it. But one of the ideas that we did play around with was having the first part as the more “pop-y” tracks and then the second half developing a bit more flow, a bit more atmospheric and then ending with a sort of huge, grandiose gesture of “Let’s Go Extinct.” And, of course, the fact that the song title is the title track and also ends the record sort of fitted together in that way. There were a lot of elements that dictated it, but there is no secret code, unfortunately.
All of the music flowed so well together and I even thought that all of the track names, when you see them on the queue, seemed to flow together as well. It’s a really good album, I enjoyed it so much, especially “Landlocked”; it’s definitely one of my favorites off the album (I was listening to that track on repeat for a couple of days)
Yeah, I think that is one of mine as well!
And you released it as a music video recently on January 22nd. It is full of gorgeous visual and spacial elements that provides a trippy, psychedelic feel to the pop infused song. How did you come to work with director Inga Birgisdóttir?
She is one of our Icelandic friends. We have lots of connections to Iceland, mainly by the band Sigur Rós. And I don’t know if you know this, but the woman on the cover of our first album, you know there are actually two girls in white dresses, the one on the left is actually Sigur Rós the girl because the band is named after the singer’s sister. And I believe the photo was taken by Inga, who is the director of this video. She’s an artist; I think mainly she does video art, but she seems to pop up all the time. I think for a little while she was modeling some of the North Face coats so you would always see her if you were in Reykjavik airport. So, we were aware of her work through those connections. She does an incredible job– it’s all based on animation and I think she films things, but then she sort of makes them into stop motion. She also animates post cards, so if you check out some of her other work, it’s really amazing stuff.
Yeah, I’m definitely going to check that out! It’s amazing that she animates post cards.
Yeah, I think that was the Sigur Rós one that she does that with. It’s beautiful!
Space seems to have played a very important role in the production of this new album, both ideologically and physically. “Let’s Go Extinct” was recorded in 10 straight days, in which the band did not leave the house once. Can you tell me about this experience?
We tend to isolate ourselves quite a lot during recording. There’s studio where we like to go in North Wales; none of us drive, so we get a van to drop us there and then we are kind of stuck there. We order our groceries online, we don’t have a bike or anything, so we go for walks, but we can’t really just cruise off to the beach or anything.
Oh, don’t worry, I don’t drive either so I completely understand.
That’s great, that’s rad for an American.
And I live in Los Angeles.
Right, I was gonna say..
Yeah, I just graduated from college and moved back and I didn’t drive when I was living in Seattle.
Oh okay, I just read a book set in Seattle. Are you familiar with Tom Robbins? He’s one of my favorite authors and I just read “Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas” and I feel like frogs are my new spirit guide.
Actually there’s a really wonderful passage, it’s like two or three pages, where he talks about evolving back into the sea as sea creatures, which is the subject of our song “The Sea” (which is not on the album, it’s on the EP). I keep meaning to put it on our website because obviously it is complete coincidence because Simone wasn’t aware of the book when he wrote the song. It’s funny how sometimes things fall into your lap when you’ve been thinking about something for a long time and developing your ideas in a certain direction. And then, all of a sudden, something falls in your lap that kind of completes it for you and expands it and makes it even more interesting and exciting to think about and explore. It’s a little bit like that for me!
How do you feel the production and recording process of the album were influenced by your decision to escape the outside world and focus purely on the music for a while? Did you see any grave differences from the processes you followed on past albums?
Well, we were in the same studio a lot of the time before, but I think the main thing was that we didn’t do it all in that studio; we also went to a house also in Wales. Wales is kind of a magical place and it is a good place to isolate yourself. A friend of ours has a house there and we went there and we pretty much didn’t leave the house. It was really cold outside, it was really cold inside, but moderately warmer than it was outside. We did a lot of work on it ourselves outside of the studio, which makes a huge difference to how you approach things because there is a lot more time for playing with ideas or kind of going down the rabbit hole a little bit yourself. When you’re working with an engineer, there’s always one step removal between you and what’s going on, with regards to the technical aspects of the recording. I think we’d learned enough at this point through doing a lot of that stuff ourselves, so we did work with a producer and engineer and this guy, David Wrench, who’s an amazing dude. But, I think the fact that we did a lot of it ourselves was an opportunity to really take control of the sound and try out things we hadn’t really tried before without worrying about time, money, all those usual stuff you worry about in an expensive studio.
You mentioned exploring a lot with your music and you offer a variety of sounds in each of the songs. I think your voice is so beautiful and I’m blown away by the fact that you are so proficient in several instruments, including the violin, mandolin and keyboard. How are you and your bandmates so musically talented? Are you classically trained or self-taught? How did it all come together?
It’s sort of a mix of different pedagogues. Definitely, I took violin lessons as a kid, but I didn’t really train in a traditional sense and ultimately learned how to be in a band just from being in a band. Leon- he was classically trained, they did it properly with him- he’s very good, he’s very technically talented. Our drummer she has a jazz background, she studied with a guy from Goblin actually which is quite the accolade, quite cool, she’s Italian, so that’s where she was coming from. She said she used to practice like crazy, there was a music school next to her house. When she was about ten, she saw someone drumming and thought “that’s what I want to do” and did not stop until she achieved it. And then Justin on the other hand, he had never played bass before he joined Fanfarlo, so he kind of learned as he went along. I think that’s how a lot of bands work, especially when you’re young, you just kind of do it lots and then hopefully get good at it.
All of you work so well together and it makes it interesting that all of you can bring in different elements and techniques. You are going to be starting a tour soon and I absolutely can’t wait to see you perform Let’s Go Extinct at the Troubadour in March. Are you excited for upcoming international tour?
I love touring America, it’s really exciting. It’s always fun. We’ve gotten to know people along the way now since we’ve been over quite a few times, so we see old friends when we go places. We buy records as well, because they are way cheaper than in the UK; record shopping in America is great! Yeah, it’s just really exciting, I love it!
We’re gonna be in an RV again this time, so you kind of just make it your home. But yeah, no, I’m really excited. The Troubadour should be fun, that’s where we did our first ever LA show. It’s such a legendary place, it pops up in all the Laurel Canyon documentaries.
On your website, you’ve created a creatively fun time capsule feature to which you pose the question “What would you leave behind?” to your fans and ask them to answer with a picture, video or song post. With that said, I can’t help but ask, aside from your music, what you would leave behind?
We did actually contribute some ideas to that, but I haven’t actually seen it, but I know I did actually write some stuff down. I put a book, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which was actually given to me on tour, it must be two years ago on the US tour. We did a kind of book-guest list swap and so people were to bring books that we put on guest list; I think I actually requested that one because I really wanted to read it and it is kind of a life- changing novel. It’s so deep and complex and interesting and you never want it to end, it’s a whole universe in those pages.
That’s fantastic and it’s a great idea that you did that with the books, too!
Maybe we will do it again because it was really fun! You meet people that way as well and talk about the books. It’s an interesting exchange with the people who are fans of the music. And I also put Todd Rundgren, “A Wizard, A True Stars” in there because it is one of my favorite records; everyone should hear it!
The time capsule is an awesome idea to get the fans involved.
Yeah, it’s fun, it’s just a way to just connect with people to see what’s going on for them. It’s cool!