It may come as some surprise that for a band who always seem to be on the cutting edge The Faint have actually been in existence for over a decade, combining punk attitude and guitars with a hellava lot of synthesizers and electronics. Static’s Chris Berkley sits down with The Faint’s keyboardist, Jacob Thiele, and shoots the shit about the delay between discs, building a studio and starting their own record label, reading Tape Op Magazine and the, er, fascinating reason behind the spelling of long awaited new album Fasciinatiion.
It’s great to be sitting on a couch with Jacob from The Faint. Waking up there?
Yeah [laughs] I’m a little tired. Just didn’t get enough sleep last night.
So Brisbane was fun then?
Brisbane was a lot of fun. We had to get up early for a flight here [Sydney] though. So I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I had thought I was over the jet lag, but I don’t know.
It’s good to have The Faint finally back I mean it’s been nearly four years. It has been four years in fact since the last record. It’s sort of been a slow orbit hasn’t it?
Yeah, unfortunately. The reason it took so long to do this record is because we built a studio. The idea behind that is that we’ll be able to make albums quicker and have less time between tours.
I was actually amazed that The Faint didn’t have your own studio up until this point. All your previous records were done on someone else’s space.
Yeah, there’s this guy Mike Mogis and his brother Ajay. Mike plays in Bright Eyes with Conor. We’ve always recorded with them at their studio which has changed locations and now they have a new studio. The guy who designed their studio, while he was Omaha we kind of twisted his arm and had him design a studio for us as well.
Is it hard for a studio designer to give up their secrets? Do they not want to give you what they’ve given other people?
No. He kind of has a thing that he does. He’s really good at it, it’s kind of mathematics — figuring out how to make the space with the least amount of parallel walls and then there’s just other weird things, like the drywall is not exactly mounted to the studs it’s kind of hung.
So it doesn’t reverberate?
Yeah, I don’t know, it’s probably technical and boring to talk about but he knows what he’s doing and we paid him handsomely.
The studio is called Enamel is there enamel used in the construction of it? I need to know what it looks like.
Ah, no. For me personally I have this obsession with teeth and like the idea of enamel being polished. In the studio you bring a song that is rough and sort of polish it and make it more durable so hopefully it will last for years. That’s sort of what we were thinking when we made that. But we just liked the word too.
Hopefully the studio will last a long time as well?
Yes, it’s a cool space. It’s in an old warehouse, well old for Omaha, I guess like 100 years old.
Well you guys have been building not only a studio but an empire, you’ve started your own label blank.wav. Was forming a label always something that you had in the back of your mind?
Yeah it was really. People in the band have other projects so hopefully we’ll make it the home for them as well. We didn’t set out to do that when we started building the studio but by the time we’d finished the record we done everything else ourselves and we thought — well why not? The timing seems right.
And you didn’t get run out of Omaha for leaving Saddlecreek Records? There are no people with pitchforks and burning torches chasing you down the streets for leaving Saddlecreek?
No [laughs]. ?I hope not. It’s funny you say Pitchfork. There’s that website in the states that have probably reamed us for that move. But no, we’re still friends with the guys that run the label. Hopefully they won’t be too upset with us.
Well I guess all of this is an extension of The Faint’s DIY principles from way back. It’s hard to take the punk out of yourselves sometimes?
Yes absolutely. I think that’s ultimately what we’re really talking about. We just like to do everything. We feel that’s the best way to experience life. Just do it yourself, get your hands dirty and you’ll have more fun. Even though it might be harder work, you’ll have more fun in the end.
Are all you guys in The Faint still as technology savvy and interested in new equipment and technology? When it comes time to make a Faint record are you still trawling for new synths and that type of things?
Absolutely. Unfortunately or fortunately today it’s a lot more about software, which I don’t find quite as fun. I like to twist knobs and get in there and tweak things. Our philosophy is that new technology goes hand in hand with new music and new styles which can produce sounds that haven’t been made before, which makes it easier to create unique music and be innovative. I think it’s crucial to what we do.
Does that mean you have to be on the mailing list at every software company so you’re snapping stuff up before other people do?
Yeah unfortunately it kind of does. My inbox is full all the time. We read a lot of Tape Op magazine and that kind of stuff too.
It must be a fun tour bus sometimes, all sitting around reading Tape Op.
[Laughs] Yeah some people probably think it’s pretty boring.
Was the new record, Fasciinatiion, a bit more of re-focusing on using technology? Wet from Birth in some ways felt like a more sprawling kind of record, away from the stuff you’d done on the previous record. Were you sort of embracing the stuff again on this record?
Ah yeah, kinda. Wet from Birth sounds the way it did because we collaborated more with Mike Moggs and with Nate Walcott, who did string arrangements, who also plays in Bright Eyes. That’s what we were looking for at the time; we wanted a lot of embellishment and lot of lavish sounds and textures. Mike and Nate are, respectively, geniuses at what they do. With this record, doing it all ourselves, with the technology aspect we like to get in there and be really precise about every little aspect of it. We have very unusual approaches when it’s just us working on it I think. For example I’m the synth player and a lot of the parts I didn’t record, physically; I didn’t record the actual input. First I recorded a midi take so then I could run that take to whatever synthesizer I wanted and try several different sounds for every part.
It’s a strange way of recording, it’s almost like you’re saying you make a virtual recording in some ways.
Yeah it’s a very geeky thing to do. I don’t expect all your listeners to understand what that means really but it’s much more efficient and makes for many more possibilities. It’s really fun for me. I have to admit I’m fully a nerd when it comes to this kind of stuff.
It’s probably something that would make Joe Meek spin in his grave but it works for you guys. The other aspect of Fasciinatiion which needs to be asked is the million dollar question – why the extra “I”s in the title. Have people been pestering you about it?
Yeah, it’s not every interview but people do ask. I have a short answer but I already gave that one on a different interview today.
I’ll take the long one.
The long one is that when we were writing the album, Todd (Fink, vocals/keyboards) keeps all these demos and little bits of recordings – guitar riffs, drum beats – in folder on his computer. Todd doesn’t abuse his computer as such but he tends to have a lot of problems because he travels with it everywhere and it doesn’t really leave his side. Something happened to the “I” key, every time you went to type an “I” it would get stuck and fire a bunch of them.
That was my theory! It looks like a stuck key.
That was sort of the working title and it’s one of those examples when the working title doesn’t really seem to make any sense at the time but in the end it’s like, “yeah, it does make sense”. We felt like it really fit the themes of the record and the overall feel of it and our attitude toward art and being creative.
Have you had to explain to typesetters and people like that time and time again when putting the record out yourself that it was deliberate?
I’ve noticed a lot of people have just done away with the double i’s.
They’ve spell checked without checking with you?
Yeah. But we’re not trying to imply a different meaning to the word; it’s just this happy mistake that just seemed to aesthetically fit.
I think it’s okay that you’ve only done it with an album, if you’d done it with the band name you’d be explaining it for life. Like Panic at the Disco dropping the exclamation mark or something.
Yeah they’ve grown up.
Well you’re all grown up too and we are going to see you tonight at the Metro. So I might let you have a bit of a rest and recover from Brisbane so you can amp yourself up.
Thanks for having me.
First broadcast on Static on 25/09/2008. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3FM) and via the internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening 7.30-9pm (AEST).