Saddle Creek | The Faint | Reviews


Danse Macabre

Author: John Wolfe
8/21/2001 | Splendid E-zine | | Feature
You say you haven't heard of The Faint? Heretic! Trust us, you will. The Omaha-based band, part of the Saddle Creek crew, made a respectable splash in 1999 with Blank-Wave Arcade. Alternately nodding to and completely re-engineering the urgent analog sounds of keyboard-friendly new wave bands, Blank-Wave sex-obsessed anthems proved that punk rock could find a happy home on the dance floor.

With The Faint poised to issue their latest opus, Danse Macabre, later this year, we figured it was time we had a word with them -- so we sent John Wolfe to get the 411 from Faint frontman Todd Baechle. Their conversation went a little like this...

Splendid: Why don't we start by you telling me about your original motivation for starting the Faint?

Todd Baechle: Well, the three of us had known each other for quite a while -- skateboarding -- and I got out of it because of injuries. We ended up starting a band. We toured with it around 1993-1994 and just took it from there. We weren't really setting out to accomplish anything -- just to have some fun. Of course we were called Norman Bailer then, and not the Faint.

Splendid: Were you big Norman Mailer fans?

Todd Baechle: No, not really. A friend of ours used it in reference to a trick. When someone would bail out we'd say "Normal Bailer". Back then, though, we weren't really that serious about it -- I mean, we weren't even planning on playing out.

Splendid: Wasn't Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes in the band for a while?

Todd Baechle: Yeah, when we first started playing shows he was in the band. He sort of quit and then we wouldn't let him back in. He's always been a good songwriter, but it just wasn't a good fit. He was real sloppy and he would scream all the time when we would be sitting down and trying to play mellow music. But he's one of our best friends of all time; he's always been fantastic.

Splendid: What are all of your individual backgrounds with music?

Todd Baechle: Well I went to college for music and art. Most of the other guys went to school for art.

Splendid: Do you think your background in music really displays itself in the Faint?

Todd Baechle: I think being technically proficient is something we're new at; I don't think our last record represents any kind of proficiency or having a true handle on the electronics or anything like that. But I think on our new record, you'll see more of that come into play.

Splendid: What makes your songs better than other bands' songs?

Todd Baechle: I attribute any songwriting type of success to our local music scene -- the Omaha scene and -- the Saddle Creek approach to song writing. It has been a big influence to us. Like we talked about before, Conor was in the band and he gave us some direction and there were a lot of other bands -- Mousetrap, and a band called Slow Down Virginia who eventually became Cursive. They were all really key factors in our evolution as a band.

Splendid: You mentioned the Saddle Creek approach to songwriting. How'd the Saddle Creek label get started?

Todd Baechle: Basically it started out as Conor's brother's label, called Lumberjack. He put out a couple of tapes and eventually everyone wanted to put out the Slow Down Virginia record and we all just pooled money together and that's how it began. Since then it's been a voting system, and there are a couple of people who work on the label full time now that it has kind some relative success.

Splendid: Would you consider offers from outside labels?

Todd Baechle: We've had people from larger indie labels talk to us, but we're not really interested in it. I mean, it would just have to be a completely unfair deal to them. We've done all the hard work to make our own label and now that it's becoming known -- mostly from Bright Eyes, but also from the help of a lot of people -- it just seems stupid to quit now. Unless something goes wrong with the label or the bands quit, I think we are going to stick with it.

Splendid: Tell me about your songwriting process.

Todd Baechle: We don't work on ideas for too long unless there's a song in them; we aren't really a jam type crew. I'll come up with the melody and lyrics, or often I'll just come up with a bunch of parts that go together, and we'll all arrange them into some type of song. It usually takes a long time to get everything together.

Splendid: Do you end up with a lot of songs you don't use?

Todd Baechle: No, never. We throw out a lot of songs -- we'll say "This isn't as good as our other best songs," so we'll just drop it.

Splendid: How did the recording of the new album, Danse Macabre, go? Were you trying to achieve anything different than you did with Blank-Wave Arcade?

Todd Baechle: Well, first I should say that with Blank-Wave Arcade, that album was supposed to sound like a really good basement recording. Usually when you record keyboards you record them directly into the board, but we played them through amps and room-miked them to obtain that sort of feel. But this time we are purposely not doing that, and we're trying to give it more of a club feel. Several of the songs are dance club oriented. We tried to concentrate on a good mix and better sounding keyboards and synths. On the whole, it's dancier and definitely a darker album.

Splendid: Did you want to make more use of the electronics on the new record?

Todd Baechle: Well, now that we're getting a little better handle on making our own synthesizer sounds, it's nice to be able to have them sound just like we want them to. In that sense, we want them to sound clean -- not sterile. But I think the live cymbal and live bass keep it from being just a techno record. There may be more different drum sounds, too; our drummer plays a half-electronic and half-acoustic set. We also had a live cello and some other acoustic instruments on top of the electronics, because we're trying to be more than "just" an electronic group.

Splendid: Does the absence of guitars reflect a view that guitars are in some way outdated and completely irrelevant to contemporary music?

Todd Baechle: Well, the synthesizer does have a lot more possibility, but the reason we got out of guitars was that the way we played them, we felt our style was too "indie-rock" and too dated. Both our guitarists were influenced by Sonic Youth and Archers of Loaf -- just a kind of off-kilter quirkiness. We wanted to get away from that. We ended up getting away from that in between the albums. We do have a full-time guitar player now, but he doesn't play in that style -- he is from a death-metal band called Lead. They were the premier death-metal band in Omaha, but they broke up and he ended up with us.

Splendid: Did he play on Danse Macabre?

Todd Baechle: Yes, he did.

Splendid: So are you doing anything different with the guitar work for the new record?

Todd Baechle: Well, they're just kind of mixed in. Every now and then there's a heavy metal solo or a fantasy metal solo, but it's mainly synthesizers.

Splendid: Now let's talk about the relation between the studio process and re-creating the songs live. When you're recording, do you worry about creating songs that you won't be able to reproduce live?

Todd Baechle: Right now we have one song we can't play live, but we haven't really tried to turn it into a live song yet. Basically what we do is write all the songs and not worry about whether we can play them live or not. After we record them, we sit down and try to come up with a live set from that, and if things aren't sounding quite right, we can add backing tracks to the sequence. Our drummer listens to a click track to make sure the lights go off just right.

Splendid: Many of the lyrics on Blank-Wave Arcade created a dialogue on sex. Was that an intentional underlying theme?

Todd Baechle: We originally were going to do an EP with all the songs having sex in the title and dealing with different aspects of sex. They're not really "Hey, let's get some"-type songs. I usually write social observation songs. I try to figure out my opinion of a certain things, and sex is sort of hard to figure out. It's not dealt with as much as love. I think the reason we chose sex was because we were trying to get away from an "indie" sound, where the lyrics aren't really important and you're just saying words. We wanted more character to it.

Splendid: Is it important for the lyrics to be politically pro-active?

Todd Baechle: Yes, I think it's nice. When lyrics say nothing I lose respect for the songwriter to some degree. It doesn't have to be much at all, as long as it means something to somebody. Even if it's just one basic idea they are exploring, great. Even if it's a story. But yeah, I do care about that.

Splendid: Does Danse Macabre have any particular themes?

Todd Baechle: Well it has several themes, but I think I want to see which ones people pick up on. They're not as blatant as sex -- it would be heavy-handed to do something like that again. Yet, definitely the songs have some thematic elements running through them.

Splendid: You talked about the new songs being darker. Do you feel the feel the need to be consciously dark or morose to differentiate yourselves from other bands?

Todd Baechle: Not really, not to distance ourselves now. I don't feel particularly akin to any groups that we play with. We definitely like lots of groups, but I don't think there's anyone so much like us that we would need to move away from them. The only thing we've ever tried to move away from would be things we have already done.

Splendid: Any chance of Danse Macabre having an accompanying remix album?

Todd Baechle: I don't know yet, but I hope so. It's a matter of getting the separated tracks. It's a hassle, but I really liked the experience of reworking the songs.

Splendid: It seems like the underground press has portrayed the Faint in much the same light as the Locust or the San Diego scene. How much emphasis do you consciously place on your image?

Todd Baechle: Well, we are familiar with those bands, so we must have something in common with them, but nothing as far as image. We do have a 12" coming out on GSL with some of the songs we didn't use on our new record and some of the older remixes we haven't used. It will probably be a limited vinyl release.

Splendid: Your website and artwork seem to share concepts and themes. What's behind the artwork, and how does it relate to your perspectives on the band and life in general?

Todd Baechle: Well, the website is sort of a tricky one right now. We had an offer from someone to do the website. We saw what he had done and it seemed like it fit with our ideas and the person pretty much designed it all -- which is strange for us, because there is no way we would let anyone do all the art for a release. I guess we all think we are artists so we just argue and argue to come up with what we think is right for the album art. It's fresh in my mind because we just finished piecing the artwork together for the new album and it was a real chore -- it took us months and months to agree. We want it to reflect the attitude of the music and our artistic styles. We want it to be immediately like, "Hey, this is different." We want it to stand out and stand on its own.

Splendid: I know a lot of the early '80s new wave bands added a futuristic slant to their design. Have you considered that approach?

Todd Baechle: Well, first of all I should say we are pretty much opposed to retro in general. None of us likes any of those decades or tries to emulate their style, but being the age that we are, I feel that the '80s were more important to us than the other decades because we weren't old enough to appreciate them. The '80s were interested in modernism and forward thinking like "What can we do with all these synthesizers that we just acquired?" Then the '90s sort of reacted against it -- back to dirty rock n' roll. I feel the '90s were a lost decade, and I think that now we can continue on to the future and try to find new styles by mixing.

Splendid: Do you see electronic music taking over in the next ten years?

Todd Baechle: Yeah, I think that's definitely clear at this point. Even Top 40 wouldn't sound like it does now without electronics.
Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre

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