Seth Jabour of Les Savy Fav
One year on from their last release, Let's Stay Friends, our writer caught up with Seth Jabour of Brooklyn's Les Savvy Fav recently...
Les Savvy Fav
SoundsXP: First things first, you recently released a live album After The Balls Drop. Does the album title refer to a newly attained level of maturity for the band?
Seth: No, it’s because it was a New Year’s show. You know the ball drops in Times Square? Then we were just being cheeky about it, you know. Use your imagination and then you can kind of figure it out. (laughs)
SoundsXP: That’s what I was doing. That’s why I asked. (laughs)
Seth: Of course. It’s about us coming of age. We’re no longer toddlers. We’re fully equipped.
SoundsXP: That’s good to know. Last year’s album Let’s Stay Friends was released after a long hiatus after Go Forth. What kind of projects were you guys involved in?
Seth: You may be familiar with Inches, which was the first thing we ever recorded, a 7-inch for SubPop in 1996. Then we did another 7-inch. The idea was that we wanted to record a collection of 7-inches that would all fit together like a puzzle. There would be nine all together and they would complete this big picture kind of like the wacky packs we used to buy. Every 7-inch we wanted to put out differently. We completed that in 2004. A few of the songs that appeared on Inches, especially the first songs upfront on the disk we worked on with Chris Zane in Gigantic Studios, which is where we recorded Let’s Stay Friends. We wrapped that up in 2004, and then we were sort of officially on hiatus. We wanted to take a break from touring and not to be so active in the band anymore. However, we did go to Tokyo during this time, and we went to Australia twice. We did a couple of shows here and there as well. Then sometime in 2006, we started approaching the idea of putting out another full-length record. And that became Let’s Stay Friends. During that time our singer Tim and our drummer Harrison got married and moved to North Carolina. His wife and him started up an art gallery down there. We’ve since had two babies in the band. Two of our members are pops. Not me personally, but other people in the band wanted to focus on other aspects of their lives, including other artistic endeavors, and domestic life as well.
SoundsXP: As for you, is your main project still music?
Seth: I have a fulltime job, actually. I’ve been working for a fragrance company for three years.
SoundsXP: It’s a nine-to-five corporate job?
Seth: Yeah, pretty much. I work as an art director for the marketing department, so what I get to do is creative. God forbid, if I had to sit behind an IBM think tank or answer emails all day, I’d probably want to kill myself. My job is not quite the same type of outlet as music, which is my main passion in life. There are less parameters involved when we’re making music and performing life. It’s a more liberating feeling that I get out of it than I do in almost any other aspect of my life. This job is a way for me to afford the lifestyle of living in New York.
SoundsXP: You have quite a following on the indie scene. I saw on your website it was written “Celebrating Ten Years of Not Cashing In”. Is it still true that you’re not cashing in?
Seth: That was also meant to be kind of cheeky. For a band to be around as long as we have and to gain the sort of notoriety and fan base that we have, there were many opportunities along the way where we could have signed to a larger label than Frenchkiss Records and gone on tour aggressively for months at a time. We could have cashed in on the popularity of our live shows. For us it was always a sort of joke. We are the most un-professional band. But we retain largely a level of professionalism in terms of what we do. We’re in charge of our own destiny in terms of what we do with Les Savy Fav. We get to dictate the terms, and part of those terms are that we’re not going to be a fulltime band and go on the road six months or more out of the year. We wanted to retain some semblance of a normal life and not have it all be a rock star lifestyle.
SoundsXP: Was that the plan from the very beginning? You didn’t set out to become rock stars and tour the world?
Seth: In 1995/96, we all were naïve towards the whole thing. We were very much rooted in indie rock, not the sort of commercialization of what indie rock has become today. We weren’t around when it was necessarily a genre, we were around when it was more of a lifestyle. The post-hardcore kids that we were, we were going to see punk-rock shows when we were in high school. I think we were very anti-rock n’ roll lifestyle at the time. And we’ve retained a lot of that DIY ethos.
SoundsXP: People know you as the band that puts on the crazy live shows. I will see you live for the first time at Pitchfork. Do you get excited to play smaller venues as much as you get excited to play huge festivals like Pitchfork?
Seth: We love them all. Some of our most memorable experiences have been in small venues. When we’re on a big stage it feels like Syd is 30 feet away from me on the other side of this giant stage. There are ten thousand people in front of you and you feel like: “Oh yeah, so we’re the band and you’re the audience.” We’ve always tried to blur that barrier and make it feel like it’s an inclusive experience. The more fun the audience has, the more into it we get. When kids get up on the stage with us, I’m in heaven. When we play smaller venues, there is more of a chance that anything is going to happen. We can command an audience from a large stage, but I think this is where we are most comfortable. It’s way more fun when you’re in an intimate setting. You feel like you’re connecting with people on a totally different level.
SoundsXP: The funny thing is that I’ve read that Tim is usually the one who is French kissing people and socking someone in the face with his fist, while you guys calmly play on. What’s that all about? What are you thinking when you’re playing and Tim’s carrying on all these mad antics?
Seth: Occasionally, I find Tim really amusing, he can do some genuinely really funny things. When we were in Norway, we were performing and I look out through the audience, and he’s riding around on a BMX bike. It really made me start laughing. It just looked so funny. There’s Tim on a little BMX bike with a wireless mike in his hand. Our music is very tight and intricate, there are all these little things going on. So when we take it to the stage, when do I have time to take my clothes off and run around the audience while I’m trying to play my guitar, hit pedals, and do all these other little things? Our job is to keep the beat going while Tim is completely airborne.
Seth: I think it’s a lot more interesting, that juxtaposition of four guys that are calmly holding it all down, while one person goes bananas, as opposed to if everybody was crazy on stage. It would probably ruin the contrast if all of us were going apeshit. The music might suffer for it.
SoundsXP: I watched a couple videos where Tim was going completely nuts and you guys seemed so serious standing there and doing your thing. It was a really comic sight.
Seth: Yeah, you have to have that kind of backdrop in order for something to have that punch to it. We never came together and said: “Ok, you’re going to be the crazy one that runs around on stage.” It was kind of an accident. As a guitar player, I don’t ever want to sacrifice what we do on stage in terms of the music department.
SoundsXP: Your lyrics make references to history and topics that are not necessarily known on a mass level. You have to read a bit to understand all the references.
Seth: Tim is in command of the lyrics. He’s a smartie pants that reads a lot. He reads Pinch and things like that. We’re in our thirties, we read books and watch movies, we went to college, so we accumulated quite a bit of knowledge over the years. Tim’s references are pretty incredible, nothing you would ever expect any normal rock n’ roll band to throw together. The stuff you hear on the radio deals with things like girl problems and other things. I think Tim talks about issues that are a lot deeper in terms of life and culture and anxiety and whatever goes through the mind of a 30-something year old man. Really interesting stuff, I think.
SoundsXP: Is a midlife crisis going to be one of the song topics soon?
Seth: Yeah, definitely.
SoundsXP: I’m joking.
Seth: We’ll get Turbo Maseratis to get away from it all.
SoundsXP: I watched videos of your performances before I started carefully listening to your lyrics. When I did, they kind of floored me, especially because of the backdrop of this crazy madman prancing around the stage in skintight pink Lycra pants and then singing about these profound and poignant topics. As a writer, it’s hard to categorize what your band is all about. I think you’ve created a real niche with your music.
Seth: That’s good. That’s the way it should be.
SoundsXP: Exactly. I watched a video that Tim was in that was a tongue in cheek warning against the harmful effects of using cell phones. It talked about how anyone who uses a cell phone for more than ten minutes a day is destined for brain cancer.
Are there other pressing social causes that you are committed to as a group or individually?
Seth: I don’t think we like to mix our politics up in our music. As they say, you should never discuss politics or religion with people that you don’t know that well. Obviously, the cell phone thing was just a put on. Whatever our personal beliefs may be, they don’t have place in the world of Les Savy Fav. We try to create an atmosphere of fun and unexpectedness, not to get up on the stage and start preaching at somebody about this, that, and the other thing.
SoundsXP: I’ve been to festivals like Bonnaroo where the performer would talk about ending the war, for example, and the audience responded very positively. I wasn’t sure if people were just high, but it can be exciting to hear idealistic things when you’re in a certain state of consciousness and when you come back down you go about your day as usual. You reach a large number of people when you’re on stage. Are there personal beliefs that you could put out there or you’re bent on keeping that separate?
Seth: I think the latter. To touch on a topic like the war in Iraq, what percentage of the audience at a festival like Bonnarroo would say: “No way man, I think we should be there!” That’s a scenario that’s never going to happen. It reminds me of every hardcore show I’ve ever been to and the person gets on stage and says before each song: “This is about a friend who overdosed on drugs” or “this is about the bullshit welfare system” or this, that, and the other. Why trivialize important topics like that? You have to bring enough knowledge with you to get into it deep enough.
SoundsXP: I know what you mean. I’ve gone to shows where the singer would dedicate a song to a friend who had drug problems.
Seth: I’m sure your friend would really appreciate you telling thirty thousand strangers that he or she has that problem. Nobody buys the ticket because they say: “Oh, I can’t wait to hear about the troubles that this person has.” They say: “I want to see some good rock n’ roll and I want to have fun while I’m doing it.”
SoundsXP: That’s true.
Seth: I don’t want to discredit anybody who uses the stage as a platform. For me, I like music because it doesn’t concern those things that take place in my daily life. That’s the fun of it. The escapism, the energy of it.
SoundsXP: Do you still get nervous before shows or is that completely gone now?
Seth: It’s completely gone. We’ve been doing this for 14 years now. At the beginning, I was very nervous and stood there like a stone, playing my guitar. Now I feel pretty excited to get onstage. I feel psyched.
SoundsXP: You have five shows lined up until August. Did you want to have a relatively easygoing summer? Do you think that since the two of you have had children that will steer the band in a new direction?
Seth: A lot of it has to do with the fact that we have jobs, so we can’t say: “Hey, I’m going to take a month off to go tour.” We are actually in the process of writing a song for Yo Gabba Gabba, which is a kids show.
SoundsXP: That’s great!
Seth: It’s funny that you bring that up. When Syd signed up the offer, he said: “You guys are asked to make a song for Yo Gabba Gabba” and it’s his daughter Lila’s favorite TV show. He said: “You guys have to do this. It would mean so much to me, because Lila loves this show.” And we said: “Sure, why not.” That’s kind of funny that you mention that, because two of us are fathers in the band and all of a sudden these opportunities pop up for kids shows. It adds a deeper meaning to it.
SoundsXP: How do you feel about that, not being a father yet?
Seth: I think it’s fun. I feel like I’m a big kid sometimes. I still watch Sesame Street and they have little musical numbers to it. You don’t really think of it as adults being responsible for that. You think puppets are responsible for that. Now, it’s fun to have this opportunity to make music that’s going to be really cute and get animated to, little kids are going to watch it and they’re going to know Les Savy Fav, and be like: “Oh, this is a cool little song about shoes.”
SoundsXP: Actually, I never thought of it that way. You forget that behind the puppets, there are grown men and women. Do you have any plans to go back in the studio after this summer?
Seth: We don’t know yet. We have our schedule up until October. We want to take a break after that, so I think we will wait until 2009 to see what happens in our career.