Syd Butler – Les Savy Fav – Frenchkiss Records – Interview Syd Butler – Les Savy Fav – Frenchkiss Records – Interview

Les Savy Fav

Les Savy Fav

Les Savy Fav – Let’s Get Out of Here Pinpoint Music recently got a chance to sit down with Syd Butler, Bassist of Les Savy Fav (Currently Pinpoint’s top rated album) and head of Frenchkiss Records. Syd opened up to us to talk about the birth of LSF, Frenchkiss, the future of music and a brief history of piracy and mix tapes.

PPM: So, to start, I’m pretty interested in hearing about the band prior to the creation of Frenchkiss. Les Savy Fav was self-released — is that right?

Syd: The first record we put out was on a really small label that’s now defunct called Self-Starter Foundation.


Syd: And, then, after we did one record with them, we realized that we just wanted to start our own label and really learn the business side of things and be a part of that world and that side of the business. There’s so much to the other side, and we wanted to maintain control as much as possible. And creative control was really important to us.

So, I had grown up in D.C. and had hung out at Dischord a lot and sort of tried to follow that motto and that mold to start a label, and I had a lot of help from Corey from Touch and Go and Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop and even got advice from Ian (Mackaye) from Dischord. So, we had a lot of nice peers and people we looked up to that we respected highly that had successful labels that helped us form Frenchkiss.

PPM: Can you describe the experience going from working on someone else’s label to doing your own thing? Your album, Early albums likeCat and the Cobra are pretty different from your new stuff.

Syd: It is. It was sort of the… Les Savy Fav started… I actually still do take the songwriting process very seriously, but then we sort of focused on, like, writing very different kind of songs. And I feel like the Cat and The Cobra was the end — even though it was a very short life — of that sort of, that time. But, 3/5 was like verse, chorus. You know, we thought we had to write songs a certain way on that, as well as The Cat and The Cobra.

And then when Gibb Slife, the original guitar player left the band, we went down to a four piece, and then we did the EP Rome [Emor: Rome Upside Down]. And I think that’s really when Les Savy Fav — its current form, its current creative ideas, and songwriting process — was born, during that Rome EP.

And I think we sort of looked at song structures and looked at how we created songs from that EP. We came out of that recording process, and we actually were like, “that was more fun than anything we’ve ever done before.” And I think that sort of way of thinking about things helped us get to where we are now. That sort of defined Les Savy Fav. For me, and I think the rest of the guys, that sort of birthed Les Savy Fav.
Les Savy Fav – Appetites
PPM: Moving from the past to the present, at the beginning of the album Root for Ruin you made an unmistakable declaration with a song that proclaims, “We still got our appetite”.I know, lyrics are more Tim’s (Harrington) deal, but was that the band’s deliberate message?

Syd: I think so, for sure. I think, you know, Tim takes a lot of pride in his writing, but I think, for sure, that we’re still here. We still have our appetites and we’re still having fun at this.

PPM: Do you think it’d be a fair assessment to say that Root for Ruin is a little closer to Let’s Stay Friends than some of the other projects that you guys have done, or albums that you guys have put out in the past?

Syd: I definitely think it’s closer to Let’s Stay Friends just in terms of our maturity in songwriting. It’s like, we sort of, when we were a young band, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We never set course to be a band. When we were at college at RISD, we all had majors that we studied, and we thought we would sort of go into those majors, and the band was sort of something we did in between classes. And we’d hang out and drink beer and make a lot of noise. So, we never sort of said, “oh, you know, we need to make it as a band. We need to sign to a major label, make it.” That never was on our plate.

But, in terms of answering your question more specifically, I do think Let’s Stay Friends and Root for Ruin are closer, maybe, to brother and sister or brothers, versus some of the older records, but I think that we’ve learned so much from the last 15 years — both live and recorded — that it’s sort of a more mature version of some of the earlier songs or song styles that we tried to write. Like, 15 years later, like, “oh, this is how we write this kind of song.” And, 15 years ago, we had no idea.

PPM: So, what has that writing process evolved into? If there is a typical writing process for you guys, what does it resemble?

Syd: It changes every time. For a couple records, we said, “Oh, this is how we write.” And then, with Let’s Stay Friends, we came in and had real basic ideas. Like, here, let’s play an F here or G there, and then build on that. As before, we’d write the songs and then practice bass completely, and then go in and just record them. Let’s Stay Friends is really… it came with bare-bones ideas and then really built on top of them. And Root for Ruin was definitely the same way. We sort of had basic structures of things, went in and kept adding on to them, and sort of forming the sculpture from the ground up. And I think, in the past, we’d start with a big giant mess and try to scale down. And the last two records, we switched that. We started and sort of built the skeleton, and then put meat on the bones, and veins and skin and hair and eyes to, you know, become the record.

PPM: On Inches, you guys actually included some of the live materials, but are known to definitely segregate a lot of live and recorded stuff.

Syd: We do. We sort of think of them as two different mediums… that, you know, people come to our shows and we want to be a part of their process, as going to a show, and we want them to be part of ours. And that’s really important to us, and recording is different. They’re two different situations. When we’re in a studio, it’s a little bit more controlled. We sort of have to pay attention to different things, and different needs arise. But, basically, yeah, they’re definitely two different beasts.
Les Savy Fav – Sleepless in Silverlake
PPM: I caught you guys out at the Echoplex when you guys played in L.A. in May and I was pretty surprised you chose not to play your new song Sleepless in Silverlake – a song that has got to be the anthem for Los Angeles right now. Was it not done or was it just not the time to put that out there?

Syd: Yeah, we didn’t know the song yet. We had recorded the song and then we sort of took a break. And there were certain songs we still didn’t know how to play at all.

PPM: So, what’s behind that song? Is it looking upon L.A. with reverence, some disdain or somewhere in between?

Syd: We love L.A., and we don’t like L.A. I think that there’s the parts of L.A. that are amazing and that everyone loves about them and there’s parts that… (are) a hard pill to swallow. That being said, it is sort of a nice nod to L.A. and the greatness, I mean, we always have the best shows in L.A.; the audience is always really great to us, so that’s all great.

Les Savy Fav @ Echoplex L.A. May 2010:

PPM: I’m interested in hearing about the time leading up the release of the new album, scheduled for September 14th. I understand that the album was leaked. I’m assuming that’s why the release was moved up to Mid-August, is that right?

Syd: That is absolutely correct. We knew that the record was going to leak. And, I’m personally a little frustrated that it leaked so early. What more sort of pissed us off or frustrated us is not so much that it leaked, but that we had this huge press campaign and this really creative publicity campaign that was going to go attached to the record, and now we can’t do that. So that’s what bummed us out. We were really excited to do these really cool projects to get our fans involved in and those just sort of got thrown away because it leaked. So, it’s not so much like, oh, darn, our record leaked and people are going to steal it, because they were going to steal it whether we had it out or not. The part that bummed me out was the fact that we all this, you know, we had meetings and we were using this to really bring fans into our lives and our lives into the fans’, but more than ever before, and using the record to do that. Not sort traditional ways like, “hey, here’s some posters on a wall. Come check out the record.”

It was all really sort of… I don’t want to… it sounds totally silly to say — it was a complete viral marketing campaign that really would bring all the people over for dinner to Tim’s house. One of the sort of rewards was a reward system of one person would win something and could come to Tim’s house and take anything from Tim’s house that he wanted. We were really going to bring, literally, fans into our life through the record and surprise people on the way. Like four weeks before the record comes out, you get to win this, and, you know, three weeks before the record comes out… We had this whole campaign, actually, that we still might do for Sleepless in Silverlake, which is a bunch of picnics and films that we we’re going to make around L.A. around Silverlake.

PPM: It seems like an album leaking is almost an inevitability at this point — Do you think anyone has figured out a way to use that as part of a campaign to actually promote the album, rather than detracting from it?

Syd: Piracy has been around for generations. I mean, it’s been around and it’s going to be around. And, I mean, when I was a kid, I had a Blink double cassette player. Put tape over the cassettes and dub the tapes, and make mixtapes, and the whole mixtape culture basically rips off of things… You have this friggin’ radio, the radio plays free songs. So, free music is a great thing. And I think that people are sponsoring free music. The funny thing is that the songs that are given away the most are actually the ones that are purchased the most — at least for Frenchkiss. It’s almost like a drug dealer like giving away free drugs, and people come back for those drugs.

PPM: So, Les Savy Fav had a real tongue-in-cheek response to this as far as putting up the “pay us for the album you stole from us” webpage on your site. What type of response did you get to that?

Syd: I would say the majority of people thought it was really funny and clever and took it with a grain of salt, and understood it had a sense of humor to it. And some people didn’t get the joke at all. And some people were really offended, and were like, “yeah, I stole your record, and I’m not giving you any money.” It’s almost like, “yeah, I punched you in the face, now deal with it.

It sort of had a funny situation of people, like I’d been arguing with a guy about him stealing the record because he’s like, “why would I donate to your page? That’s so passive-aggressive.” And I was like, “well, you don’t think it’s crappy that you stole my record? This is how I make my living. And you just took it and now you’re giving me shit because I’m asking you for some sort of donation, a tongue-in-cheek donation? You could give 25¢.

PPM: So, did people donate?

Syd: Yeah, people have been really generous and sweet and donated. I collected their email addresses and thanked them personally and made a point of responding and thanking everyone for donating no matter how much they gave.

PPM: I mean, it’s got to be profitable, or else people can’t make music for a living.

Syd: Yeah, I mean, or just enough. I’m not a greedy person, and I don’t have to live in a palace and drive around in a hummer, not that I would ever ride around in a hummer, but, the point is, I’m just trying to provide a service, and hopefully people will enjoy the music that we provide. If you’re a major label, you’re hurting right now. But if you’re Frenchkiss, we have a great relationship with our artists and we try to have a great relationship with our fans so that they support what we’re doing.

PPM: Were you approached by most of the artists that are on Frenchkiss or do you actively recruit?

Syd: No, I chased Local Natives — I mean, I went to London — I chased Local Natives anywhere they were. And if they took a step, I was right next to them. I went to see a band play and actually ran into the Dodos and was like, “you guys are the best band I’ve seen in a long time,” and then actively pursued them.

Sometimes, managers send or lawyers send me stuff, but, you know, definitely sometimes I discover them. Or people at Frenchkiss bring stuff to us, or we happen to follow up, you know, “hey, wow, I heard this great band last night; you have to check them out.”

It’s a pretty good mix, but, you know, I think we work very differently. Our approach to bands is like, “hey, we don’t have a lot of money, but we can give you everything we’ve got. We will support you 100% day and night”

PPM: You have some relatively big bands signed: Antlers, Passion Pit, Local Natives, Dodos – is there any temptation to see what they’re doing, and incorporate that into Les Savy Fav?

Syd: No, we’re completely autonomous. I mean, we just do our own thing and whether we sell 10 records or 100, or 1,000, or 10,000, or 30, that’s just what we do. When we’re in the studio and we’re writing, we don’t think about anyone else’s success. We just want to make the best song we can.

PPM: It seems like, at that point, maybe other bands are drawing from you guys then?

Syd: Yeah, I don’t think they’re sort of following us or copying us in terms of their music style or their writing style. Everyone on Frenchkiss has the same sort of creative aesthetic, which is I want to have complete control over my life and my music both financially and creatively, and I want someone to help me support that. And that’s what Frenchkiss is. We’re just basically like a support system for our bands.

The band’s like, “I want to do this for the artwork.” I go, “OK.” “I want to write this song.” I say, “OK.” “We want to make this video.” I say, “OK. It’s your video, it’s your song, you’re taking responsibility for it. I’m not telling you to do anything. I think Frenchkiss is a place where bands feel they can be themselves 100%. If they ask for suggestions or if something is just awful, then I might pipe in and say, “I really don’t like that cover, but you can keep it.”

In fact, of the 50 records we put out, it’s only happened twice that I said, “I just want to go on record that I think this cover is really ugly, but it’s your cover, so if you go on tour and this record doesn’t sell because this cover is so ugly, that’s not my fault.”

PPM: So, what’s this tour going to look like for supporting Root for Ruin?

Syd: This fall is sort of speckled with random dates and then early in 2011, we’re really going to be on tour a lot, probably most of the year.

PPM: The speckled dates, are they U.S. dates? International dates?

Syd: They’re international dates. We’ll be doing some West Coast stuff in November, and then we’re going to Europe in November, as well.

PPM: Great. We’ll definitely, catch Les Savy Fav in November and certainly appreciate your time Syd: No, I appreciate you paying interest to us. It’s nice. Thank you.

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