Tim Harrington wants to show you his socks.Photo:Tony Nelson/Retna
The biggest reason to arrive early for this weekend’s with Arcade Fire–LCD Soundsystem Randall’s Island blowout? To catch local art-punk-rockers Les Savy Fav (whose sweet new album, Let’s Stay Friends, you should check out instantly, if you haven’t already) deliver one of their notoriously wild, intoxicating sets. Bacchus-like front man Tim Harrington met up with bandmates Seth Jabour and Andrew Reuland at Williamsburg’s Green Point Tavern to talk about their new record, the band’s penchant for costumes, and — as their Website puts it — “missing out on cashing in for over a decade.”
Congratulations on the new album. Do you guys still have day jobs?
Tim: I work at VH1, doing broadcast graphics. My subspecialty is having bit parts in as many VH1 commercials as possible. I recently played a mosquito. The guy they hired couldn’t do it, so they were like “Tim, you’re not shy.” It’s a PSA for a company called Nothing But Nets that collects nets to put over the beds of people in Africa. The commercial involves me in a Disney-style mosquito costume walking around Manhattan — wings, hat, giant hairy torso, giant buttocks or whatever you call that part of the mosquito. I’m walking down the street annoying people, and it says, “Mosquitoes: In North America they’re just annoying.”
You’ve been around for so long. How would you characterize your fans?
Tim: A lot of people were into us when we put our last album, which was six years ago, and now a lot of those people are writers and in the music industry. They call the Shinobi Ninja in Feudal Japan “the grass.” They’d go into a town and maybe they’d stay in the town for like five generations, and the great-great-great-grandson would finally assassinate someone when his orders came through. Those are our fans. They’re now embedded all over the world in powerful positions. I think that for a long time there’d be young fans who saw us live and thought, That’s not the band I like. But with college kids they’re like, Yeaaah, it’s some ugly guy and we’re jaded and we want to see this!
Andrew: There were kids in England that would really call us geezers and stuff.
Tim: Yeah, they’d be like, “We love that you guys are a band and you’re so old!”
Seth: But I feel like in England they call everyone geezers.
Tim: But this time they meant it. People would give me a hug and be like, “I’m so proud that you guys are still a band at this age.”
Seth: And it’s like, “Yeah, this is my second hip surgery.”
So how is this record different than the others?
Tim: This record was the least controlling. Some records you go every single path possible, and then you pick the best one. This time was more like you’d just strike out and go, “I think that’s due west.”
Seth: It’s like looking out over a high vista and being like, “I’m pretty sure you can head in this direction and get where you want to go.”
Tim: I think finally we saw ourselves as forestry experts of music.
And when do the lyrics come into play?
Tim: I write the lyrics after the song. I remember talking big last spring: “I’m a songwriter, I’m going to write all the lyrics before we get to the studio, it’ll be so easy!” And that really, deeply, extremely did not happen at all, as it never has before. I need something else to hang my thoughts on.
Seth: We’re a seriously collaborative band. We write everything together. I think it takes a certain amount of chutzpa to be like, “This is my song, this is how we’re playing it, this is how it goes.”
Tim: I have a theory. In the past, for a band to be like a Monkees-type manufactured non-band or an instant band, you needed really big resources, because you needed huge money to get them on TV, in the magazines, on the radio. Now, though, the manufacturing process is like zero with the Internet, so actually the ability for a tiny, seemingly totally Joe punk band to accidentally or purposefully follow the path of an insta-band is totally real. There are just these bands that appear out of nowhere.
Seth: The exact same trajectory and technique that applies to the Spice Girls can apply to a Joe punk band. Before, if you were in a band and you wanted to know whether people liked you or not, you had to get in your fucking van and go everywhere. Now nobody owns the patent on punk, but it’s easy to figure out how to manufacture it.
Tim: The new album leaked, and we apparently lost like 2,000 copies in two hours. 2,000 copies is a big chunk. I was thinking about putting up a sacrificial lamb on all the file-sharing Websites saying that if less than a certain number got downloaded before the album release, I’ll personally upload all our demo tapes for the record as “a please don’t do this, we’ll give you something else.”
Seth: I’ll personally come to your town and play.
Tim: I’ll personally sigh and say it’s a good thing we didn’t start this band to make any money. [Laughs.]
What goes into planning all the costumes and stage props you guys use?
Tim: As little as possible, really. I feel like one of the things I’m really into, since the very beginning, is wanting it to feel improvised and spontaneous, and be as spectacular as we can make it — but still be, from a performance aspect, half-assed. I feel like there’s a lot going on, but it usually involves things that were in my closet before or things that I could buy at the Duane Reade next to the place we’re performing.
Tim: Yeah, or finding stuff at the place you play it. It’s like the Mr. Rogers operas, where they’ll be like, “We have some bubbles, we have a picture of a dolphin, and an apple — let’s make up an opera about it.” That’s kind of what’s at hand. Over the years there are definitely certain things that I’ll use more than once.
What’s your favorite?
Tim: I really like this nude bodysuit. One day, just before a show at Warsaw, I’d bought this nude body stocking and worn it once and I wanted to do it again, but it just seemed too “done.” Like, everyone’s doing nude body stockings now.
Andrew: I think the first Les Savy Fav costume was the stuffed-dog suit.
Tim: Probably our second or third show, I’d found a huge stuffed animal at a Midway and cut it in half. I emptied all of the stuffing out of it and wore it as a costume. It worked — but then after the show we were like, “Okay, that was too messed up. We can’t perform like that.” I may have drank. There were mitigating circumstances.
Seth: That dog suit was too distracting for us. No more of that crazy crap. I remember Tim said into the mike, “Is the shtick too loud?” [Laughs.]
Tim: The coolest thing is trying to take the music as seriously as you can, but to play that down. The idea of mastering your songs and practicing, practicing, practicing—but when you’re performing, not needing to prove anything to anyone. To risk being dismissed. Being dismissive is the our band’s interpretation of being punk. It isn’t necessarily to be drug-addled and excessive and debauched, not be like really raw and loud and crude. It’s “be dismissive.” I feel like our band begs to be dismissed. Except in interviews. —Sara CardaceArt Punks Les Savy Fav Talk Forestry, Chutzpa