By Matt Pais
RedEye Sound Board
October 29, 2012
The increasingly bland, widely accessible pop-rock of the Brits in Coldplay have made them international stars. Relatively close by in Wales, Future of the Left has delivered three fantastic records—including this year’s “The Plot Against Common Sense”—of sharp, aggressive indie rock wrapped around lyrics both cutting and hilarious. Consequently: The more acclaimed but less popular band works day jobs, and, says singer Andy Falkous, don’t make much of a living from their work.
“I’m disappointed on our behalf, but I don’t feel anything toward other individuals,” says Falkous, 37, by phone from Cardiff in South Wales. “You can’t really blame bands for existing. If Coldplay didn’t exist, there’d be another band to appeal to couples in their 30s who want remember a special song on that rare night when the babysitter can stay with the kids until 2 and they’re out having Tex-Mex. If One Direction didn’t exist it’d be another bunch of plucked-looking children singing to screaming teenage girls.
Those bands exist because there’s a need for those bands. I think there’s probably a need for our band [Laughs]. It’s just a much smaller need.”
To these ears, Future of the Left is essential listening, though certainly not for everyone. Falkous says he was disappointed with the roughly half-full Bottom Lounge the band played to in 2009 but, whatever the crowd this time around, “I guarantee that every show is the same for us; we play like our lives are about to end.” He’s a wickedly smart, uninhibited interview. Here’s a large chunk of our 40-minute chat.
Future of the Left, 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at Bottom Lounge, $13
You just got home from work. What are you doing now during the day?
My job is working for my local council in various complaints departments. Environmental health, usually, dealing with various manifestations, some true and some borne of utter madness.
Anyone who knows your work would be happy to hear you’re working in another capacity that allows you to recognize what people have a problem with and do something about it.
[Laughs] I wouldn’t say necessarily recognize what problems people have. I think if you’re in the band world [and] most of your friends are musicians, you have what would be best described as a tenuous connection to reality. Whereas in our lives, believe me, we have a constant connection to reality. To give you an idea about our connection to reality--and again this is going to sound like a humblebrag, so do bear with me--I had two bits of news last Thursday. One of which was that we’d won this thing called the Welsh music prize, which is basically like the Welsh Mercury prize or something, and the other bit of news was that [we] found somebody to feed our cat while we were away in the States for a month. And even though the first bit of news was very sweet—like they said, just because you don’t do things for a pat on the back it doesn’t mean it’s not nice to get a pat on the back from time to time—it was far more significant to our existence that our next-door neighbor had agreed to feed the cat. A month is
a big ask. I have this unfortunate disease where anything I say sounds like a joke, and it has really got to the point where I don’t know if I’m joking or not when I say that.
It reminds me of people saying that to Jerry on “Seinfeld.” Have people pointed that out to you, or you realized it on your own?
They have. The first time I told a girl I loved her, she punched me in the face.
Because she thought you were kidding?
Yeah. She thought I was taking the piss.
Did you patch it up after that?
[If] somebody’s going to punch you in the face, that’s pretty much the middle point of a huge down-slope. Chances are that emotion was just brought on by really good whiskey anyway.
I’m talking to you from Chicago, where I believe you’ve spent a little time. What comes to mind when people talk about Chicago? Anything you particularly liked or didn’t like?
I think as a touring band there’s a danger sometimes that you don’t remember cities, but you shine a light on them in regards to how good the shows are there. If for some reason you played in Beirut to a capacity 800 crowd, had a great show and did loads of merch, and somebody said, “How’s Beirut,” you’d go, “Oh, it’s a [bleeping] lovely place. It’s great. The people there, they’re bang-on and honestly the architecture is inspiring.” So when I say my favorite cities especially in the States are Seattle and Chicago, that’s because they’re two of the better crowds. I have to say, Seattle wins.
I appreciate the honesty.
In terms of the United States, Seattle does win. Chicago, New York and L.A. are also fantastic places to play. The bigger cities there tends to be more of a groundswell, and also in the bigger cities there tends to be some younger people there I suppose. And younger people in the room give the room a kind of energy that even the biggest fan who’s in their mid-30s and a little more cynical isn’t going to bring, even with all the best intentions in the world. That’s one of the main differences of playing in the States. The vast majority of the shows are 21 and over, and as you well know 21 and over in your country means 21 and over. Whereas 18 and over in our country [means], “If you’re 15, give it a [bleeping] go.”
On the new record, you compare Chicagoan Billy Corgan to Voldemort. He’s a relatively confrontational person. What welcome do you expect from him when you arrive?
I expect total ambivalence and no idea that he even knows about it.
Why would massively successful, huge, giant Billy Corgan care about what some band who sells 8 records wrote about him in vague reference to the fact that in the right light he looks like Voldemort?
He could have a Google alert set up for himself.
I don’t think that’s true. At the risk of quoting a British TV show “The Thick of It,” why would you ever Google your own name? It’s like opening to a room where everybody says your life is [bleep]. Every so often I do a Twitter search “Future of the Left” and it’s an eye-opener.
People write negative things about you on Twitter?
Yeah, people write things about us on Twitter it turns out. I try not to look. It’s like scratching a particularly unsexy itch. Unless it’s being read by tens of thousands of people, it’s probably best left alone. Donald Trump could maybe take some of that advice. There was a film recently shown on British television called “You’ve Been Trumped” which is about his efforts to build a golf course in northern Scotland and basically the way that he ran roughshod over the local administration … What Donald Trump did by criticizing the director on Twitter was inadvertently promote the film to over 2 million people.
On the song that references Corgan, “Robocop 4-- Fuck Off Robocop,” you slam unnecessary movie sequels. What’s your favorite sequel of all time?
My favorite sequel wouldn’t be highbrow, and I realize this is an opinion which would make me a pariah in any film studies class. Even though it’s far less worthy of film, the performances are far less nuanced, the twists aren’t so much twists as bridges to the next action sequence, when I was a kid I enjoyed “Aliens” more than I enjoyed “Alien.” That’s not for a second to claim that “Aliens” belongs in the pantheon of great films ‘cause it’s like a processed cheese slice of flavor, isn’t it?
Why does that topic get you so worked up?
One of the words, and maybe you can correct me on this, that has a very negative connotation in Britain and it seems an almost neutral connotation in the states is the word “franchise.” When you talk about sports teams in the states they can be franchise in the sense that somebody can buy the franchise and then move the team to a different city, can’t they?
Whereas that’s happened once to my knowledge in Britain in football where there’s a team called Wimebledon that moved from North London where Wimbledon is to Milton Keynes which is barely a city really. … They’ll talk about the “Robocop” franchise or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, literally it’s so blatant to me, a franchise is something which is used to make money, isn’t it? That’s what it is. A franchise implies financial holdings. It seems to me there’s not even the pretense of art. There’s a blatant nature to the commercialism, and even looking into the dead eyes of the people involved, you can tell that the people involved in the film don’t think it’s a good idea.
I’m sure you saw that Johnny Depp said not too long ago that he didn’t even understand some of the “Pirates” sequels.
Right. The thing is, like a lot of our ideas, it begins just with the song title. With “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You,” I came up with the title first and we tried to write a song which was as good as that title for about a year and a half. There were four or five guitar songs, and two or three keyboard songs. There was something about that title which suggested to me that if it was a guitar song it would probably be too serious, and you don’t want a serious song with a title like that because then you’re the kind of the band who have a dirty beard and play in shorts. … But something about the anger or the fun in that song comes from a disbelief to a degree that this isn’t something which is more decried. I think there is such an almost, this winking acceptance of the [bleep] the movie industry pushes down people’s throats, I think on a mainstream level it’s subjected to very little critical thought. There’s something really embarrassing about the fact that there haven’t been any songs about it previously. I’ve seen a couple of comments saying, “What’s the point of writing this song, the sentiments are so obvious?” Well the sentiments aren’t so obvious because these remakes keep being trotted out.
And they make incredible money. The “Transformers” sequels are as good an example as you can think of. The second one in particular is unwatchable and made about $7 billion.
It’s bizarre, isn’t it. Just because a sentiment’s obvious doesn’t mean a song shouldn’t be written. “What’s Goin On” by Marvin Gaye, the sentiment is obvious. That doesn’t mean that the song [was regarded as irrelevant].
Where do your lyrical ideas come from? Is it generally things that strike a nerve for you? How has that process changed if at all for the course of the band’s three albums?
They just usually begin with one line and that line will indicate something. Whether it’s a play on words or a topic or even less than a play on words, just something fun for the love of language, the alliteration or seeing what ridiculous words you can get into a song. I’m currently trying to get the words “truculent” and “supercilious” into songs but without making it sound like it’s being crowbarred in there. That’s the challenge … It’s about playing with notions. We have one new song which begins with the line, “Her c**k is so hard.” That song, the sentiments behind that song, simply began with that line and then they spiraled from there as it became, “Where do you see that line taking you? What does it suggest?” What it probably suggests is I should shut the [bleep] up.
What songs’ subject matter has surprised you in terms of the reaction it’s gotten out of people?
People don’t tend to get worked up necessarily. I mean, there are I suppose, that Pitchfork review, people getting the basic subject of songs very wrong. I think with almost any other song on the record it almost would have been forgivable but certainly with the song “Anchor,” thinking it was having a stab at alcoholics is quite a stretch really. I’m not sure what kind of person goes around writing songs about how lame alcoholics are. “Look at that guy with his disease. What a dick!” That’s quite a stretch. I think you’ve gotta be halfway through the process of demonizing someone to think that’s the kind of path that they want to follow. Some songs are written from a point of view of characters. You don’t sit down and go, “Let’s sit down and write a song about Caesar crossing the Rubicon from the perspective of a disabled souser.” But you find yourself choosing perspectives. It’s natural if you have a wandering or inquisitive mind to want to skip between those realities. Not every song is “I this person think X about Y and here is what you should do about it.” Somebody said to me, “What’s your problem? What’s your problem with action films, mate? You don’t like action films?” I’m like, “Action films are fine; I just don’t like you.” You’ve gotta be entirely and literally restricted by the content of everything in front of you to think that that song is some kind of takedown of action films per se. Unless at the end we go, “P.S. ‘Die Hard’’s a great film.” It would rather lose its concentric flow.
During Lolla this year I tweeted that you were one of the bands I wanted at Lolla 2013. Someone responded that would be ridiculous or wouldn’t fit. Do you have an interest in playing something like Lolla?
If we can come over and not lose money then potentially. I don’t really know a lot about—I mean I know obviously it’s a festival which tours around. I’ve been told by various people who I trust that the Warped Tour would be a very bad idea for our band. And that was the beginning [and] the end of the time I spent thinking about the Warped Tour.
Lolla is actually only in Chicago.
Oh, really. Did it used to travel around at one stage?
Yeah, but since 2005 it’s been just a 3-day weekend in Chicago.
All right. I honestly wasn’t aware of that. Yeah, I mean, potentially. Usually if you come over and do something like that off the back of that you play some club shows. For a band I guess unless you’re Coldplay or [bleeping] One Direction, club shows are definitely where the magic can happen in that enclosed space where everybody has come there explicitly to see you other than a couple hundred diehards in the front and maybe some people milling about on spec turning their noses up at you. Sometimes I’m sad to say the fees that festivals pay allows you to do things like fly across a gigantic [bleeping] ocean … The costs of touring the states are, I mean they’re not unbelievable; they’re far too believable.
The new album has a song “Failed Olympic Bid.” I’m talking to you from a city that recently had its own failed Olympic bid. Can you give us any insight into your perception of how the London Olympics went and if we should feel better? I was relieved we didn’t get the 2016 Olympics but many were disappointed.
The Olympics by British standards went far better than expected both in a financial, cultural and also sporting sense. Personally I really couldn’t give no [bleep] about the sports involved. My sports are football and cricket and it’s been fairly dark in those sports for the last year. Whereas Britain seems to be doing very well in every sport which isn’t a sport that I enjoy, so there you go. Make of that what you will, cruel fates. All the news stories at the minute are how London 2012 came under budget, which is [good] if you forget that the original budget was tripled.
What was that budget?
I’m not entirely sure but I do know that if you look at the original budget it came in over 200 percent over budget. But if you look at the revised budget it came in under budget. Which is a brilliant way of household accounting. The song “Failed Olympic Bid” we started introducing it by saying, “This song was written for the Olympics but that turned out to be quite popular so we like to imagine it’s about the Queen’s Jubilee instead.”
Because that’s not quite as popular?
That’s not as popular, yeah. You’ve gotta be blatant about these things. One thing which is quite worrying to me was the largely uncritical acceptance of the sponsorship logos and maxim of brands like McDonald’s and Coke. I’m not comfortable with branding myself, but I’m hardly some kind of anti-branding campaigner. But I found it really difficult to take the idea that professional athletes would be anywhere near a McDonald’s. And I find the juxtapositioning of those brands with the kind of figures that impressionable young people like as being so wrong as to seem like it was a concept beamed down from an alien world. Jimmy, who’s the guitar player in the band for the last few years, he used to be a professional athlete. He ran the 800 meters for Great Britain. He was in the world championship final in I think 2005, the world indoor championship final. And he talks about how I think it’s the Ethiopian athletes, at all the training camps they would have free McDonald’s for the athletes, and these Ethiopians were allowed to eat whatever they wanted. Since they hadn’t seen anything like McDonald’s, they’d all eat that. And their times over a week would go down from about one minute 45 to about one minute 49, one minute 50. They’d go from leading the races to trailing a couple of seconds behind everybody else. And that is the accepted fuel for athletes. That and sugary drinks. I’ve run a lot myself, but I also drink enough beer to keep a Scandinavian economy going. I’m not trying to claim the moral high points on “My body is a temple,” but I would never run around the block and go, “Thanks, Heineken!” because that would be an affront to [bleepin’] nature. And I think there are a lot of people in this world who should be ashamed, but the international Olympic committee I think they’re probably right at the top of shameless [bleeping] idiots who would do anything for money.
Yes, though I don’t see many commercials for 4-star restaurants. If I did they wouldn’t have Derrick Rose promoting them.
And I get that, but there’s something very particular about the nutrition that sports stars need and certainly the baseball players--what they probably want is a face full of steroids, am I right? … Sports nutrition is a very particular thing, and even if it wasn’t a very particular thing, burgers and milkshakes would not be the way to improve your time in the pool. Unless by your time in the pool we’re talking about the time it takes you to sink to the bottom.
You’re playing here the night before the election. How do you think that will impact the show and how do you think the next day will go?
A more important question should be, “How do I think that will impact the election?” I have no idea. I’ve actually been on tour in the states, that will be three election campaigns in a row. In 2004 with Mclusky we had our stuff stolen in Phoenix on election day, which is still one of the worst days in my life, and financially we still haven’t entirely recovered from it. Which is mad when you consider it was eight [bleeping] years ago. And the last election I think we left about four or five days before but we were on tour with Against Me and Ted Leo for pretty much that whole campaign. So I don’t really know to be quite honest with you. One thing is definitely noticeable even as you pass through the red states is the people who come to our shows, and not just cause we’re called Future of the Left, but because it’s the constituency of indie rock music, 99 percent of the people who come to our shows are going to be left-leaning as it is. They’re going to be voting for Obama; there’s going to be very few people who will vote for Romney in the crowd, and even if they do they’ll have the good sense to shut their [bleeping] mouths.
What is increasingly clear, American politics is far more entertaining than British politics because it’s far crazier. If somebody in a British parliamentary debate mentioned God, they would be laughed out of the house. For example if you oppose abortion, just to relax the tone a little bit, in parliament if you said you opposed abortion because God opposes abortion, that wouldn’t be considered as a legislative argument. Whereas in the states in some places it is. Don’t get me wrong, in some places I know equally it isn’t. But this is the complex thing about looking at the states from the point of view as an outsider, there isn’t a monolithic truth about it. What is increasingly clear even having watched the debate the other day on foreign policy, obviously Obama knows a lot more about foreign policy, and obviously I incline a lot more toward Obama myself because he appears to be a real person. The difference to me only seems to be the spin on the policies. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between the candidates if you look at on the ground reality. The difference is how the other countries will look at a nation that has a black president as opposed to an old white, usual model president ,but apart from that I don’t know if there will be any real difference. That doesn’t make the billions spent on this bizarre competition between two men any less entertaining but also obscene. I’m very much looking forward to being there for the process, and hopefully we won’t have all our [bleep] stolen on the day of the election.
Guilty pleasure movie: “Bugsy Malone.” “My mother raised me with musicals, and even though I detest most of them—‘West Side Story’--makes me want to punch unconscious tramps, it really does. But there’s something about ‘Bugsy Malone.’ We’ve been trying to do a cover of the song ‘Bad Guys’ from that for years but we can’t find the right kind of honky-tonk piano … ‘Bugsy Malone’ is really funny. It’s got Scott Baio in it. It’s got Jodie Foster in it. And it’s got lots of little kids in it whose parts are very disturbedly sung by adults without so much as an indication as to why.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC