Interview: The Believers, Fol Chen

Yet to be mistaken for Foals' Yannis Philippakis, his doppelganger and leading man of Californian (experi)mentalists Fol Chen Samuel Bing talks Williamsburg fault, five vocalists and broken vacuum orchestras...
Dots: On first listen Fol Chen may not come across as the most coherent of lo-fi pop masterpieces, yet following repeated exposure it's exasperatingly evident that a masterpiece is just what Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made is. Were you shocked at yourselves to some extent with the off-kilter unfiltered pop that wound up on there?

Samuel Bing: First, thank you very much for that assessment of our debut!  Second, yes - we were always surprised by how far the songs would stray from their original incarnations.  Listening back to the earlier mixes always made us laugh.

Dashes: Influences for the LP aren't all that clear... What's been blended together to rustle everything up?

SB: We wanted it to sound like a spaceship loaded with all of our favorite records (Prince, Amon Duul II, Hot Chip, Pink Floyd, Gwen Stefani, Pere Ubu, Danielson Famile, Scritti Politti, Boards of Canada, The Blow, Pulp, etc.) crash-landed on the moon.

Dots: We've come to expect American musical innovation to come from high rise dives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn over the past few years. As Californians, are the times a-changing?

SB: Ha, well, the reason Williamsburg seems like the hub of innovation is that it is the hub of indie journalists and bloggers..! Lots of great stuff is coming from there for sure, but all the Brooklyn hype really drowns out a lot of interesting stuff from the rest of the country.

Dashes: America seems to be perpetually under fire from all angles. Musically at least, is this a decent age to be of the starred and spangled nationality?

SB: I thought we were the ones doing the firing...

Dots: If 2009 were the year of the girls, this year seems to be that of boy/girl duos, rather conveniently for the dual vocal harmonies of Fol Chen. How does the dynamic of shared vocals and thus dispersed focal points function in reality?

SB: It's like choosing between similar, yet different instruments: sometimes the piano sounds right, other times you want the Rhodes sound.  For us, it's not even really a Boy/Girl thing - we have five lead vocalists on the new album (Patrik-Ian, Sinosa Loa, myself, Karin Tatoyan, Simone White), so it's just a matter of figuring out whose voice is best for the song.

Dashes: Not all that many contemporary artists incorporate trumpets. In the words of Jay-Z, we really ought to "bring the horns back in". How vital a component is such brassy, lavish instrumentation to the evolving sounds of Fol Chen? Would playing alongside an orchestra be something you feel you'd benefit from?

SB: One of the challenges we set up for ourselves was to use horns and orchestral instrumentation in a way that doesn't sound precious or like "classic," or "organic".  Plus, tubas are rad!  As for playing with an orchestra, it would have to be made up of broken vacuum cleaners and drunken cash registers.

Dots: Have you ever been mistaken for Yannis Philippakis?

SB: Ha, no.  But he's a handsome fellow, so I will take that as a complement!

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