An Interview with Todd Fink of the Faint: CAPSULE: 1999-2016, the Making of the Compilation and New
Photography: Bryan Yalta
In a lineup that consisted of modern underground artist Pictureplane and legendary post-punk band Gang of Four as the openers, the show at South Side Ballroom on October 14th put a spotlight on headlining band the Faint as they performed select songs from almost each of their albums in their repertoire. It was a night of club-oriented tracks and experimental sounds coming from all acts. Pictureplane opened up the night with a minimalist approach in equipment setup and performance. With only a work space of computers, samplers, and effect pedals, Pictureplane delivered his set of songs in a way not every one-person act can do. Dancing to each rhythmic punch of electronic drums and synths, he made it seem easy to take control of each song's spirit. As his set progressed, he took off his two hoodies in the same way the songs's sounds were also gradually stripped into a raw presentation. The reformed Gang of Four saw original guitarist Andy Gill accompanied by younger musicians keeping the spirit of the band alive. And alive it was. A performance that can best be experienced in person, the band's onstage charisma is both energetically familiar and foreign, paralleling the shifts of emotions in the songs and styles. The current lead singer kept on moving from side to side, making sure to use each microphone onstage at least once on every song. Gill, with his exquisite control of the guitar, also moved with the momentum of the songs, playing the classics and newer ones with the same energy he had since Gang of Four's inception. Having just released CAPSULE: 1999-2016, the Faint played the majority of songs that are in the recent compilation on their set. With an array of squared LED video panels behind them, the band's stage display was an interesting aspect of their performance. Experimental clips on the screens combined with directional lights under each band member created a serious, theatrical setting that went along with the moods of the music. The crowd danced and jumped as lead singer Todd Fink sang his words with passion, led by each note and beat in the background. We met up with Todd Fink before the show to talk about the Faint's new compilation album, the process behind the selection of its songs, and the new songs that are featured on the release. The interview has been transcribed below.
Uncanny Valley: Now, recently, you guys have released CAPSULE: 1999-2016, which is the first compilation album from the Faint. Why did you feel the need to release a compilation at this point in your careers as opposed to, say, earlier or later on?
Todd Fink: Yeah. No reason, not really. I mean, it's just something that we've talked about various times and we have--we had some new songs recorded and not enough to put on a full record, so we just thought we'd just combine the two ideas and get some new stuff out there and do the compilation at the same time.
U: What was the process behind song selections?
T: They're almost all songs that we've played a lot live over the years, the ones we like to play live. We fit most of those, most of the ones we like, on the compilation. There wasn't quite enough room for every single one that we wanted to put on, but that's kind of how we chose the old songs. We wanted to make sure they were songs from each record.
U: Was there a criteria for the "perfect" song? What sets these songs you picked apart from the others?
T: A lot of the songs we played live tend to be the sort of faster, upbeat dancier ones--better for partying, that kind of stuff, so I think a lot of the ones that made it on CAPSULE are like that.
U: Do you guys consider yourselves to be partying types of people?
T: I mean, I think we're trying to play the music for a partying environment, so we think of our shows as, everybody come and get the energy going in the room.
U: Did you guys argue about different opinions over what songs should be included?
T: No, I don't think so. I think we just sort of like--it was just kind of obvious which ones to choose for the most part. We've kind of come to the same conclusion about most of the songs. I mean, there are some that aren't particularly popular, and we don't play live. when we were going through it, looking through the catalog, looking for song choices, there were some that were like, 'Oh yeah, I like this one. I forgot about this one. This is cool.' But then, we all even agreed on those, which ones we like.
U: The collection doesn't just have old tracks but new ones as well. Just last month, the music video for one of the new songs, "Young and Realistic," was released, which you helped direct. So, what can you tell us about the three new songs included in the compilation?
T: Well, we wanted to make sure we had some new songs recorded. We gave ourselves a deadline and decided on these three songs that were the ones we were gonna finish, and we finished them basically. And I think we didn't really know which ones were gonna be--which ones we liked better or whatever--I think we tried to finish the one we were thinking was the strongest first. By the time we finished all of them, it wasn't so clear to us, but we'd gotten a good reaction for the "Young and Realistic" song and also for the video that we were just like, 'Okay, well, that song can be on the actual compilation and we'll put the other two on a 7" as like a bonus thing,' get all those songs on there.
U: Looking at the video, it's very experimental. The covers of the past Faint albums have been mostly all collages, and I see that in the video for "Young and Realistic," so was there something you were trying to go for in the video?
T: Just an exploration of simplicity--using simplicity and punctuality, like, timing-wise with the editing of the clips and using a simple enough color palette. Not having--we just kinda gave ourselves some rules, the same kind of rules that I like to go by when I'm making collage stuff, so it was a video version of that and we wanted to have certain elements of the songs represented thematically. Like, I think the bass line is represented by horizontal black bars, sometimes they'll turn white. They go up and down with the pitch. Sometimes there'll be other symbols going to the speedier, rhythmic elements and we're trying to make the video and song really go together to the point where, if you've seen the video, then whenever you hear the song, it's there. It's more likely to connect with your audio memory.
U: So you're trying to get your audience to remember it better.
T: Yeah, and you're kinda trying to do that with songs in some way, too. Maybe it's repeating a rhythm or a part or a set of words or a loud sound that's special, whatever--so we're trying to do that with the video.
U: You mentioned that you had rules for the video, just like you have while making collages. Is there a reason why you put these rules for yourself?
T: Yeah, because if you don't have any framework--just every idea is okay to do at any point--then you don't end up with a stylized, finished result. You just end up with kind of a chaotic mess of ideas that's hard to actually communicate with. Like, the person who sees it maybe gets a totally different set of thoughts from what it is you put out there and that's interesting to do sometimes, but it's not what we're trying to do.
U: So you wouldn't say you're a fan of a stream-of-consciousness style?
T: I am, but I would put that in the lyrics, not in which notes I choose in the bass, for example. I mean, I don't play the bass, but you know what I mean. I mean, maybe that could be an idea for a song. I don't say that the rules that I was saying, that they are rules that I like to go by. I don't mean the same set of rules for every song, but more, like--we choose a color palette for a painting, and so we would choose a color palette's worth of ideas to stick into one song and that wouldn't be the same for the next song.
U: So the rules are different each time.
T: You'd like to keep some of them the same, so that you feel you have a set of songs.
U: Now, this collection also brings you back to partnering with Saddle Creek. The band has been with the label all the way back since Media up until Fasciinatiion--
T: Even before Media actually. I mean, before the label even started, but it was the same label. It was called Lumberjack Records, the first tape that we did called Sine Sierra. But we didn't have a name yet, so we were going by the name Norman Bailer. But's that's basically the same, Saddle Creek.
U: And you guys departed from Saddle Creek in 2008. What brought the band and the label back together for this release?
T: Oh, it just made sense. They own all the rights to a bunch of the songs. We'd have to license those to do them ourselves or to do it with another label. I mean, we were looking to get back with Saddle Creek at about this time anyway. We're planning on putting out more music with them, and it definitely made sense to do the compilation with them since they have all the songs, you know what I mean? They'll probably take the two albums we did not do with them onto Saddle Creek Records at some point, hopefully soon. Get those back in print.
U: Did the departure make you miss what you had with them?
T: Well, I mean, we all live in Omaha together. We're all friends. We started as part of the label, not even just a band on the label, but we were part of the label. Yeah, we don't have a label, 'cause ours went out of business. On the last record cycle that we did, we did Doom Abuse and by the time we were done touring, I think the label had folded, that we had just signed to. It was weird. We just didn't have a label, so it made sense to go back to our hometown.
U: That was SQE, correct?
T: Yeah, I mean, they might still be a company outside of the U.S., but they had just started a U.S. office and our friend was running it, so we were like 'Oh, let's try it.' And then...
U: What happened, do you know?
T: I don't know. I didn't even talk to him. He didn't even talk to me. It was, like, 'Oh, we heard this.' Okay. They gave us our rights to our record, so that's fine.
U: It all worked out.
U: Seeing as how CAPSULE is a retrospective album, we'd like to know if there is anything you've learned from going back through your whole catalog, maybe a change of perspective or some new insights?
T: Like I said, I think we found some songs that we had kind of forgot about and that was fun to hear again. I don't know, I guess I hear the songs a little bit differently now than I did. I mean, I don't wish they were any different, but I wouldn't do them quite like that now. Production-wise, I think you could make--we now know how to make the music even more like we were trying to do then, and I can hear that difference in our new songs. It sounds more like what we are like in right now.
U: Were you thinking about what songs stood the test of time while you were listening to them?
T: The ones we chose, really. I mean, I think all the ones we chose stood the test of time. We didn't use anything from Media or before, because those didn't--we didn't get to the point of sounding like we were trying to sound until 1999. That's why that compilation starts then at Blank-Wave Arcade.
U: Was there a sense of nostalgia going through that?
T: Not as much as there was--I didn't notice much nostalgia. It was just sort of, like, things that needed to get decided, how long the art that needed to get made, things that needed--just band-work stuff. But I did feel nostalgic when we did the Danse Macabre reissue album. We had gone through tons of old video, Polaroids, news articles, that kind of stuff to lay out this mini-page collage of stuff. That was fun to see.
U: Is there anything new you guys are looking into experimenting with some time in the future, maybe with a new album or video or changing some live performance aspects maybe?
T: We're planning on getting together when the new year starts, hopefully January or February to make some new songs. So that'll be fun. I mean, we have a couple of things started, so I'm interested in seeing how it turns out. There's a video being made right now for "ESP," the third new song on CAPSULE. I don't know, I mean, it would be interesting to mess around with scoring something at some point on the side. I don't know if it would necessarily be the Faint or what, depends on what kind of movie it'd be. It'd have to meet the Faint-type of music in order to do that. I mean, we're pretty much open to whatever opportunities arise.
U: So would you say that maybe there's an album that's being planned?
T: We're just gonna start making songs and as soon as we have enough songs, we usually just call that an album.
U: Since you mentioned the "ESP" video that'll be coming out, what can you tell us about it?
T: It's being done by the guy that I worked with on the "Young and Realistic" video, Nik Fakler. He and his girlfriend have put together a modern dance ensemble. She does modern dance and she agreed, so it's gonna be hopefully a bunch of modern dance stuff with some of the video editing techniques that we worked together on for the "Young and Realistic" video, so we'll see how it turns out. They already filmed it the last two days, so it'll just be editing for the next week or so.
U: I liked the techniques in the video for "Skylab 1979." The distorted footage of satellites and astronauts floating in the air--
T: Yeah, that's a pretty lo-fi--I did that in iMovie. (laughs) Yeah, [keyboardist] Graham saw what I started for that video and had some good ideas, so we just started making it more into a real video--
Graham Ulicny: A lot of blood, sweat and tears on the iMovie screen.
T: iMovie is not--
G:This is why people don't make music videos in iMovie.
T: Yeah, it's been like many, many years since I've tried to make anything in iMovie, but I only started in that, because I was just going to compile video clips that already existed from NASA or wherever.
U: Well, we think it turned out really good, as many fans would agree.
T & G: Thank you.
Thanks to Todd Fink and the Faint for taking the time to chat with us. Make sure to get CAPSULE: 1999-2016 out now via Saddle Creek Records. Check out some photos from the show below.