Have No Fear: Detroit Quartet FAWN Will Morph Into Kittens And Save The WorldBy Tess Duncan
Photos by Alicia Gbur. Clockwise from top left: Christian Doble, Michael Spence, Matt Rickle, and Alicia Gbur
FAWN are no noobs to the Detroit indie music scene. Alicia Gbur (of the Von Bondies and the Nice Device) and Christian Doble (of Child Bite and Kiddo) started FAWN in 2010, bringing in Matt Rickle (of Javelins and Thunderbirds Are Now!) on drums shortly thereafter. Finally, Mike Spence, former member of Those Transatlantics, was asked to add his noisy guitar talents to the mix. Their impressive histories have combined to create the infectious power-pop tunes of their first and newly-released full length, Coastlines. Mike tells us about the inspiring beauty of the Michigan landscape, FAWN’s collective fascination with visual art, and the most famous deformed cat they've ever recorded with.
I know you guys are from Detroit but how did you all meet? Matt was your labelmate at Suburban Sprawl, but what about Christian and Alicia?
I was the fourth person to come into the band. Alicia and Christian started the band. They actually met on Facebook, which I think is funny. Christian had Matt in mind as a drummer. Matt was selling his van and he brought Christian along for his muscle, in case the guy from Craigslist turned out to be super creepy. They were sitting there eating chicken nuggets and talking about having Matt in the band. Matt and I were on the same label in different bands and we’d always wanted to play together. When they thought of adding a fourth member, I guess my name was at the top of the list. That’s when I met Christian and Alicia. I didn’t know them then, but now we’re the best of friends.
What’s the writing process like for FAWN? Is it mostly Alicia and Christian or a joint effort?
When the band started, Christian and Alicia got together and wrote a few songs. I think that primed the pump a little bit. Now, I’d say it’s increasingly more collaborative. The arrangements are a full band thing. We kind of give Christian and Alicia what they need for the song. [Laughs] That’s probably the least quotable thing I could have said. But yeah, it’s a pretty collaborative thing. We work at it together. We’ve all been in a lot of bands, so it’s not a lot of work for us. I don’t mean that in a chest-pumping way, but we all sort of know what we want. We don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining to each other. It all happens naturally.
Album cover for the band's first full-length, Coastlines
How does being in FAWN compare with Those Transatlantics and other projects you’ve been involved with?
Those Transatlantics will always have a place in my heart because it’s the first real band I was in. I love that band, but it’s easier when you’re not all learning how to do things for the first time. FAWN is at this point where things come easier to us just because we aren’t having to figure it all out for the first time. It makes the fun stuff funner and the stressful stuff less stressful.
Images of nature recur when it comes to FAWN. Are you all drawn to that theme in some way?
I think that’s pretty perceptive. When you’re living in Michigan, there’s so much natural beauty here, with the Great Lakes and stuff, and being cooped up in the city during the week really causes your mind to long for some of the natural beauty that you know is only 45 minutes from where you live. I see that in a lot of Michigan bands. Even though we’re in a city, it feels sort of remote. We’re always so close to such immense natural beauty. It’s hard to imagine how it couldn’t influence the music somehow.
I grew up in a rural area so I know what you mean.
Yeah, and of the four of us I grew up the furthest from the city, in Northern Michigan. For me, when I go home and visit my family and I look up in the sky and don’t see that ugly orange glow and can actually see stars…There’s something about standing near the edge of the water. It almost recharges your soul. [Laughs]
What Michigan bands did you have in mind that you feel are influenced by the landscape?
I can’t really speak for other bands’ influences, but there’s a feeling that I get when I hear other Michigan bands. In terms of my favorite Michigan bands generally, I love this band called Zoos of Berlin from Detroit. They’re super cool. Our drummer, Matt, is in another band, Javelins, and they are for sure one of my favorite bands. And there’s this new band that we just played with at our record release show called Jamaican Queens. They have former members of Prussia and a couple of other bands from around here. They’re excellent. I think they’ve played two shows and they’re already mind-bogglingly good.
A lot of people have compared your sound to bands like Pixies, Sonic Youth, and the Breeders. Do you feel like this is accurate? Who else would you cite as influences?
Bands like that are definitely influences on us. A band like Sonic Youth does things with guitar that are really innovative. We have some pretty broad based influences too. All of us got into this Japanese techno band called Yellow Magic Orchestra. They started in the late ‘70s and I think they’re still together. We were freaking out about their first (self-titled) record for a while for sure. Every night, we would be hanging out and, toward the end of the night, people would be starting to get tired. We would put that record on and it would be an instant dance party. There’s this band Warpaint that we found that we’re really into. We all have pretty broad stuff we’re into and we overlap in some ways. We’re really pumped about the new Tame Impala record. They’re from Australia and they’re a great band. Their record Inner Speaker came out a year or two ago but they have a new record coming out in October and we’re all biting our nails waiting for that one.
I heard that you guys are into visual design, like with your record covers, photography, posters, websites, and video. Is that a joint effort as well?
It’s pretty true that we all bring different things to the table. Christian and Alicia are visual artists by trade. As a band, we’re always very aware of opportunities to be creative outside of the music because we’re not a band that’s solely interested in music as an art. We all have a pretty great appreciation for a lot of the visual arts too. I think as we progress as a band and we coalesce our skills and our tastes, I can imagine us actually producing more visual art. It’s a challenge in the digital realm, because the physical copy of the record used to be so important. We’re trying to wrap our minds around how to give people that same visual experience with a record, even if they don’t end up buying the physical copy. We released the single for “Pixels” before the full-length came out and we did a 10-page booklet. We love stuff like that. It’s all about trying to make your band a band that you would like if you weren’t in it. And I think all of that stuff plays into it.
Can you tell me about the booklet?
Yeah it’s kind of a cool booklet. A lot of the images are stills from our "No Wave" music video. So there were stills from all of those shoots. It’s about 10 pages and it contained bits and pieces of the lyrics to the song “Pixels,” which actually conceptually fits with the song. The song is about taking a cohesive picture and zooming in so close on it that it fragments into pieces, so it was a play on that.
Speaking of the “No Wave” video, are you guys working on a video for the next single, “Cobra on the Beach”?
Yeah, actually we are. Our friend Colin, who is one of the dudes in the “No Wave” video who’s dancing in the end shirtless, is making the new video. Right now, he’s prepping costumes. It’s very different from the “No Wave” video. It’s about the band and we morph into kittens and save the earth. We control giant robots to save the earth from an evil red witch that resides on the West side of the city of Detroit. Colin is a brilliant guy and we really don’t know what we’re going to get other than that but we’re pretty sure it’s going to be sweet.
I don’t see how it couldn’t be.
Yeah and the “No Wave” video was a product of our collective minds coming up with ideas. But this video is us literally turning over the reins to someone else. It’ll be really interesting to see how another person takes the music and runs with it, obviously very differently than we did for our other one.
Speaking of cats, there are quite a few in your “The Making of Coastlines” videos.
Mike, who owns Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana (which is a great studio), is definitely a cat man. I think he’s has six or seven cats, which is awesome. As long as you’re not trying to do vocal takes and are allergic to cats. [Laughs] He has this one cat now. You’ve got to check out the Facebook page for it. Her name is Lil Bub and I think she has some sort of birth defect, but it makes her the cutest and most well-known cat in Bloomington. I told him the other day he’s building an empire around this cat. He holds events and parties that the cat is the featured guest at and stuff like that. Her eyes are super disproportionately big for her head and her tongue is always hanging out. She looks like a computer animated cat. Check it out for sure.
I definitely will. So I know that the Pixels EP was also recorded with Mike from Russian Recording. How was that?
Pixels had a B-side, "Hip Parade," which is another song we recorded in Bloomington, which wasn’t on the record. And then it had two remixes as well. Everything we’ve recorded to date has been at Russian Recording. Christian had worked with Russian Recording several times before with his band Child Bite. Our friends, Destroy This Place, recorded there. Mike is an awesome guy and he gets a great sound. He’s pretty well-known outside of Bloomington, for sure.
Cover of FAWN's Pixels EP
How did you guys get involved with Arranged Marriage and Coyote Clean Up for the Pixels remixes?
In some ways, that’s sort of an extension of what we were talking about before. We’ve got this core of ten songs and you want it to become part of this bigger artistic…bundle? I guess? [Laughs] For lack of a better term. I think the remixes are part of that because remixes are great for being played in settings that maybe our music isn’t. Obviously dance parties and that sort of thing. It’s just really interesting to hear other musicians that you respect breathe a whole different and new life into stuff you wrote. Arranged Marriage are a great band that we love. Coyote Clean Up is great. It’s giving new momentum to that music and helping it spread as far as possible.
And you guys play acoustic shows too, right?
Yeah, actually last month we did an acoustic show. It’s good for us; it’s good exercise to have to re-think the way your songs are arranged and performed. Those exercises are good for us as we gear up to write the next record. We’ve definitely started writing it already. For a band like us, it forces you out of our comfort zone and it’s ultimately going to pay off in the long run with the new record.
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