The Fauves – Everybody’s Getting a 3 Piece TogetherBy Craig Smith • Feb 20th, 2008 • Category: Secret History of Australian Music
In a special expanded edition of SHOAM we spotlight Melbourne’s misunderstood rockers The Fauves and their “Everybody’s Getting a 3 Piece Together” single as well as interviewing main man Andrew Cox about that single, his top 5 Fauves tracks and his upcoming solo album.
The Fauves are the only band I’ve ever written fan-mail to. When you consider just how marginally relevant at the time this band was (not to me, oh no), it seems it was less mail-from-a-fan and more a letter of encouragement. The Fauves were an “arty band” (the band name something of a clue) made up of school friends from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula that rode into town on the back of a couple of promising EPs. As artists they were obtuse and uncompromising, a mixture of skewed riffs and bizarre time signatures, musically channelling the spirit of the once powerful Hunters and Collectors before quickly devolving into their own tempered styling. Their songs had a meaning only known to them, almost to the extent of “watch me write a song about this!” Live shows were a mixture of farce and spectacle (their performance at Sydney’s Big Day Out in 1993 comes to mind), but always entertaining.
The Fauves – “Everybody’s Getting a 3 Piece Together” (Polydor, 1995)
Far be it from me to tell a band how to go about their business, I felt compelled to at least break that barrier, unaware of how arrogant and disrespectful in hindsight it sounds. Following their dismally received debut album (proudly stated by them as the worst selling album in Polydor history) the letter went something along the lines of “what the hell do you call this?” Usually a debut album is a call to arms, but this was just a prolonged agonising listen under the pretence of exercising your art. I begged them to reconsider their direction, refine their madness, or at least unleash the antagonist/irreverent spirit that in a live setting was something they were famous for — encores where they demolished Frente songs, covered the theme to Gilligan’s Island and attacked each other onstage like rugby players. I received a polite and considered response from head Fauve Andrew Cox agreeing with some of my observations, giving his side of the story, though ultimately happy to take this advice onboard. No doubt they were copping it left and right after their first single on a major label, the jerky jitter of “Thin Body, Thin Body” disappeared into the ether and second single, the melodic but meandering and doomed for radio play “Marble Arse” fell on beyond deaf ears.
The Fauves (1995)
The follow-up The Youth Need Discipline was a more even and listenable affair but ultimately not much better. They teased the blinkered masses with songs about dwarves and roman emperors and made a few more friends this time round, but not enough to invite over for a bbq. The staunch fan as I was kept writing, insisting that the Fauves were like an onion and if you kept peeling back the layers, all will eventually be revealed — just as long as they kept the songs under 4 minutes, no more than 12 per album and easy on the dirge. I wanted to understand what drove a Fauve, so I asked for their favourite recorded moments, as I felt that the audience vs. the band were wanting wholly different things, and this was proven when Andrew wrote back explaining he couldn’t speak for the rest of the band but dutifully obliged, listing a handful of songs that only a mother could love.
Eventually having worn them down with my pseudo Colonel Parker career guidance, the band appeased my inner-jukebox and released their most succinct and spirited release to date, the three chord blitzkrieg that is “Everybody’s Getting a 3 Piece Together”. According to the band this track was originally recorded as a b-side for the “Dwarf on Dwarf” single, but label Polydor were impressed enough to release it as a stand alone single, complete with wholly unrepresentative cover of two muscle-laden meatheads toting guitars and an abundance of extra tracks.
“3 Piece” begins with a down-tuned guitar riff courtesy of the Doctor that sounds like an engine trying to start. Drummer Adam Newey chips in with a quick impression of Keith Moon, and by the time Coxy opens his mouth, he’s already in full flight, running headlong into the chorus. “Good things come in threes, you don’t have to tell me. Guitar, bass and drums. Hey honey, sounds like fun. Everybody’s putting a three piece together.”
It’s one of the truly funny songs released that year, not because of the fact that it was an inspired, sarcastic attack on the rise of the three piece band in Australia (You Am I, Snout, Pollyanna etc) but also because this was the last thing you expected from them. Most people had given up the Fauves as almost-rans, destined to put out middling releases that end up unwanted in second hand stores on Pitt St. From the consumer point of view, it felt like it was released as a stab in the dark, the band expecting it to be given the same invisible treatment as previous singles, but instead this one was welcomed with open arms. I could picture Coxy in a confused daze wondering “they like this, but they don’t like ‘Arbuckle at Glenrowan’? I mean, come on!” The lyrics here over the middle eight where Andrew goes into ad-lib overdrive is when I basically lost it and fell about in a fit of laughter. Whether it was intentional or not, the Fauves, like Frampton, had suddenly come alive.
I wrote back voicing my unrestrained approval and wondered with a raised eyebrow what this meant for the direction of the band, eager to hear the results of the album they were currently working on. I begged for a cassette (oh, the days of advance cassettes) and Andrew again dutifully obliged. The dozen or so songs on display here (the j-card complete with song titles showing liquid paper indecision) sounded like a band that had finally mastered the art of songwriting. It made the primitive sounds of Drive Thru Charisma seem like a bad dream. I felt proud that The Fauves and I had finally come to agreement, making the album that I knew they had in them. The downside of this, being after the considerable success of the album they entitled Future Spa, The Fauves were then viewed forevermore as a “joke band”, because of the two singles chosen to promote it, the canine-loving “Dogs are the Best People” and the hand-loving “Self Abuser”. Success can be reflection on talent and perseverance, but success can also be a bitch. The Fauves got the recognition they pined for, but with it came a fair amount of dickheads who misunderstood the band entirely.
I’m sure they probably could’ve existed as an avante garde noodly art band that occasionally dallied with a little melody and charm and filled the fringes of rock artistry with their integrity intact, but Andrew Cox was always the vociferous humourist with a punishing intellect. It seemed a waste for this not to cross-over into their music (unless you consider Drive Thru Charisma album track “Let Me Be Your Toilet” to be humour, then by all means they were with you from the start). I probably take some blame in that once they dropped the art in favour of the heart the critical fall from grace would be inevitable, but hey, it got them nominated for an ARIA award for “Best Alternative Album” in 1996. Unfortunately, they got to walk the red carpet in, but had to take the back entrance out.
For a band which has had such a varied career it’s incredibly hard to pick a definitive representative track, but for many reasons, “Three Piece” could be seen as the precursor to the tipping point, the calm before the storm, and the moment at which they turned an accident into an incident. I still love this song. What’s not to love about this song?
In carrying on the tradition of Fauves (1993-2008) correspondence, I invited Andrew to join the party and answer a few questions about “3 Piece” and the rise and fall of the Fauves. This is what transpired…
What was the genesis of “3 Piece”? How did it come about? The music is reminiscent of your extended encore jams, while the lyrics are free-flowing genius. Did you have a preconceived idea about this song going into it?
You have hit on the essence of the song. Doctor had a riff — to my way of thinking he was Australia’s number one riff guy at the time — but no words, he never has words. We had to record some B-sides so I wrote the words the day before we recorded it. In that sense it is about the most spontaneous, unrehearsed thing we have ever committed to CD.
What were your feelings when Polydor suggested for it to be a single? Did you consider the blatant jokey vibe to be at odds with your “guitars as paintbrushes” and obtuse lyrical palette?
The jokey vibe was definitely a product of it having been intended as a B-side. We, however, had no problems with releasing it as a single. Our career was fast going down the toilet, we thought the song rocked, we were naïve, we thought it would be a smash! In the event it barely got played. All we got back from JJJ was that they hated the CD cover featuring two muscle men holding guitars. Strange excuse for what is, after all, a purely aural medium.
How did the modest/moderate/minor success of “3 Piece” influence the recording of Future Spa? Did Polydor turn around and say “yes please, more like that”? Future Spa was something of departure in style. Was it your intention to make a more coherent and approachable album than your previous releases?
We were already moving into another phase before “3 Piece” came out. We were finally starting to work out how to write decent songs. It is important to remember that the clutch of so called jokey, light hearted songs upon which we made our name were never seen in that light by us. To us they were genuine songs, expressing real feelings and it remains to this day a sore point that we became known as this ironic, piss take band. None of us thought “Dogs Are the Best People”, for instance, would become some kind of minor novelty hit. I wrote it thinking it was a straightforward statement on man’s duplicity. So much for my high flown intellectual musings! Future Spa was where it all began for us — the first really good thing we had done. Every subsequent album has been rolled gold as far as I am concerned.
I made an impassioned plea (in writing) post Drive Thru Charisma to stop being so damn difficult to love, and asked by way of finding out whether we were on the same wavelength, what your favourite Fauves songs were. Unsurprisingly you picked all the ugly children (in my opinion) from the Fauves school line-up, and this just reinforced my belief that while public opinion mattered, you weren’t striving to be adored. So if you please, in tribute to the old days, list your five favourite Fauves songs, past to present with a suitably pithy explanation to go along with.
This list is a little contrived as I can’t honestly narrow it down to five…
“The Charles Atlas Way” — Lazy Highways
This felt like the first really good song I had written, only about 14 years after I first started trying to write songs. How can I explain it? — it seemed like a song that a real songwriter might have composed.
“Write What You Know” — Thousand Yard Stare
I chose this because I think it is our most perfect recorded moment, one of those rare times when a song turns out exactly as you dreamed it would. It’s a really simple song but all the little instrument parts blend so perfectly. We wanted everything on Thousand Yard Stare to sound exceptionally dry. We were ready with a leather strap any time anyone’s hand went near a reverb unit. I think this is our most non-contrived, upbeat sounding song in a catalogue that is pretty resolutely downbeat. I could have chosen 3 or 4 other songs from this album.
“LA ’86″ — Footage Missing
This is my other candidate for our most perfect recorded moment. When Ted came up with the idea for the harp glissando leading into the choruses I nearly cried it sounded so good. The song marries everything music, lyrics, mood. I’m really proud of it but was disappointed that the graphic artist left the full title off the CD cover. It’s supposed to be “LA ’86 – In Free Fall”. It was a caption to a photo of Demis Roussos I found looking really overweight in the 80s.
“Nairobi Nights” — Footage Missing
This song to me is the Fauves, a little bit different to other bands. I would stack these lyrics up against anyone — Dylan, Reed, Le Bon. Bring ‘em on.
“We Sleep In the Afternoon” — Nervous Flashlights
I always say (well I would if anyone asked me) that if you want to understand the Fauves listen to the last song on every album (not including bonus tracks). They are much more representative of us than most of our singles. I would never want to release a compilation, but if we had to I would make it comprise only final tracks.
In the age where record companies are more a hindrance than a necessity, why didn’t the Fauves quit while they were ahead (figuratively) and just self-produce and distribute? For the amount of records you sell, wouldn’t it be better releasing your music through Australia Post?
Going it alone requires at least some attention to business, irrespective of how minor the scale. It sounds wanky but for us it’s just about the art. So long as we have been able to keep finding people who would stump up the cash to help us record then we have taken it. We realised long ago that music would never make us rich. We are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion, hocking product, bleating to the world about how great we are. On a record label you can do one day of interviews and then shut up. Self production/ distribution involves engaging the industry in a much more hands on way. We don’t have the stomach for it.
To bring things up to date, you’ve recently been given a Victorian Arts Grant to record a solo album. How did this come about? Were you surprised? How does this sit with the Doctor? What do you plan to do on this album (other than record as cheaply as possible and pocket the money)?.
I just put the application in on a whim and they went for it. I wasn’t too surprised — they were good songs I demoed for them! Doctor and the other guys are cool. I am exceptionally loyal: they will be the only other musicians on it! I am the only one in the band without a job. I just want to make music and in the Fauves we only get to do an album one every couple of years. I have scores of songs that have not been accepted for Fauves albums for reasons of space, democratic decisions or style. Some of these tracks have endured and still sound good to me. Plus there are the songs I keep writing. There will probably only be room for 5 or 6 of them on the Fauves album we are recording in March. I’m tired of binning everything that fails to make an album track list. I can be a bit more indulgent on a solo album and include songs of a more personal nature. Plus, after 20 years, I will finally get my choice for the name of an album!