Interview: Cathy Lucas Of Fanfarlo
Fanfarlo crept into Rivmixx’s consciousness slowly at first. Their name appeared at the beginning of summer as festival organisers began to announce their various coups. The band seemed to gather pace quickly though, rolling through show after show, blog after blog, and by the time their debut album found its way to this writer, they had become thoroughly intertwined with wistful thoughts of sunny days and sub-par festival foods.
This was no accident or coincidence – Fanfarlo are a band that works hard. Whether re-arranging an entire set in 45 minutes because half the band missed a flight, or driving themselves to swine-flu-suffering exhaustion, the group take what they do seriously and they do it well. They seem to have an innate understanding of how a 21st century group should operate. And, unlike the thoroughly-confused music industry, seem unafraid to dive right in, delightedly tearing up the industry rule book as they go.
Of course, all of this would be useless if Fanfarlo couldn’t put their melody where their mouth is – crafting beautifully melodic indie-folk songs is what they undoubtedly do best. One of the groups’ several talented multi-instrumentalists, Cathy Lucas, believes that – with members hailing from Belgium, Sweden and the UK – the band take influences from their diverse geographical background. They’re as much Beirut as (Peter) Bjorn and John,
“We’re into bands from all over and we’ve felt really welcomed as well in a lot of European countries, especially Spain and Portugal… The reception in the States has been amazing; they make us feel really at home outside of the UK.”
Having been influenced by many American bands, the sextet chose to record their debut album ‘Reservoir’ stateside as well, choosing Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) to handle desk duties. Lucas says that Katis’ pedigree was a big part of the reason they chose him, “To have the input of someone like Peter, who really understood what we were trying to do. It was actually really useful to have someone that – if you can’t quite put your finger on what a song needs – could help you find what that was.”
As is often the case, creative vision seems to require sacrifice and the group have since parted ways with their guitarist Mark West, a victim of that other great pandemic of modern times – musical differences. Lucas remains philosophical about the experience though. “In the recording process,” she states, “things you didn’t know before kind of show themselves in unexpected ways – but it was mostly very positive.”
Fanfarlo are not afraid to make the tough choices and, having completed ‘Reservoir’ under their own steam, have decided to go the whole hog and release it themselves. Unlike some bands – Boxer Rebellion, for example – it’s not a decision made out of any great animosity to the industry as whole, “We did talk to some labels and it’s a great thing to work with an indie label, because you get that family thing,” explains Lucas. “But we felt like we had all the resources to do it ourselves, so it just made sense.”
It’s not a decision that would suit every band, but Fanfarlo are quickly garnering a reputation for not giving a flying violin-pluck about traditional business models, believing that – in the face of industry inertia – it’s important for artists to lead the charge. The group recently put their very-talented genitalia on the line when they offered their album digitally for the criminal price of one American dollar, an experiment that seems to have paid off – particularly in the land of the free,
“We’d been to South By South West a couple of years running,” says Lucas modestly. “We hadn’t toured or anything, but I think the majority of those one dollar albums were sold in the States and it kind of set things alight and brought us to the attention of a lot of people.”
Unlike the Napster-fearing dinosaurs that are slowly sinking into the tar-pits of irrelevance, Fanfarlo have decided to treat the internet as a friend, and a close one at that. A cursory glance at the group’s website offers a wealth of content – from photo-blogs, bicycle tips and tour diaries to cover songs and living room jams. “The artist now has to offer more than just music,” Cathy proposes. “When you get into a band you’re looking for a whole creative package…You need to have a really strong identity as a band.” For Lucas, it offers a chance to show the group’s off-stage abilities, “[We want] to do more than the conventional album, you know, ‘This is our music and all you get is a little sleeve if you want more.’ We wanted to have a better connection with the listeners. It’s about expressing ourselves in more than one way.”
One of the many clever routes Fanfarlo have chosen to embrace the internet, and show off their “off-stage abilities”, is through their music videos. Their recent effort for ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’ (a taut, Houdini-themed carnival extravaganza), for example, offered a chance to collaborate with visual artists (and friends) Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. As Lucas explains, the group thoroughly enjoyed the process, “You get a completely different kind of excitement out of doing something that’s someone else’s vision. To be part of their vision of what our music is about and to have the full gamut of resources that become available to you when you work with professionals; it’s a whole spectrum of experiences that you get to kind of explore.” It’s a point that Fanfarlo have worked hard to reach and, having got there, the group are not planning to take the foot off the gas yet.
Currently preparing to take the plunge and (no pun intended) cross the Atlantic, the group will kick off their first US tour this month, “The whole thing is a little bit of a dream at the moment,” says Lucas, clearly enthused. “Just the idea that our first tour in the States is going ahead… There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of radio play and we’re playing some really interesting venues and going to a lot of exciting cities.”
The band look like they are about to hit that point where their trajectory suddenly takes a turn towards the vertical – when things go from busy to crazy. As Lucas lists their various tour plans – an iTunes session to lay down new tracks; headlining NY’s Bowery Ballroom; Beirut-member guest spots; Sigur Ros DJ sets – Rivmixx can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.
Written for Rivmixx