Fujiya and Miyagi are what cool sounds like.
For 4 albums the Brighton UK quartet have been perfecting their stealthy brand of ambient krautrock for the enjoyment of sexy French robots and humans alike. Bubbling under with songs heard soundtracking ads for Miller Lite and Jaguar the band’s latest, Ventriloquizzing, finds them cuddling up with their electronics (and the occasional acoustic) to create a hypnotic monument to lush meditative minimalism.
Knee deep in the demands of touring and new fatherhood, we were lucky enough to get a hold of whispered genius, singer, guitarist and founding member David Best, to talk about the band, yoyos, and whether he fears ventriloquist dummies attacking him in his sleep.
Rocker: The first thing I thought of, when seeing the ventriloquist dummies of the band you’re using in your promo photos was how Kraftwerk once sent out mannequins of themselves on stage. Was that in your consciousness when conceiving of the mannequins of yourselves? Do you think the dummies might play for you on stage? Who made them? Are you afraid these dummies will come to life and attack you when you sleep?
David Best: Well, the Kraftwerk dummies were the cause of a slight hesitation in using our dummies for a visual image. But then we thought, Kraftwerk’s dummies were so immaculate and shiny, which reflects perfectly their music, and ours are scruffy and scuffed, which reflects ours and us. I like that comparison between the two sets of dummies. Also, to a doll fetishist, they are completely different. Mannequins, string puppets and ventriloquist dummies are all very different from one another. The idea that they could take over promotional duties was one of the main reasons why we had them made. I would love for them to tour the world instead of us but they would still need someone to operate them. A woman called Claire from Brighton made the dummies. I think she did a great job. I’m not afraid that they will attack me as they are inanimate objects without a hand up their backs.
Rocker: Once I dug into the new album I thought the title, Ventriloquizzing, paralleled a lot of the song lyrics contained. I’m wondering what experiences led you to explore the themes you are investigating lyrically on this record.
David Best: The words for Ventriloquizzing were the first I did for this record and I think the ideas behind that song seeped into a lot of the others. Those ideas were born out of a few things. Firstly there is the act of us performing the songs and the perception of us by the audience. Then there are reviews where you have no means of reply if you believe what is written about the band is inaccurate or completely misses what we were trying to do. Music journalism at its most vicious is quite hard to take because it’s not a dialogue it’s just a faceless statement that claims to be the truth. Then there is the relationship between the members of the band. We are all quite different personalities and deal with things in opposite ways. The perception of a band is that they all think and act the same and that’s not the case with us.
Rocker: How do you see your music evolving from record to record?
David Best: Ventriloquizzing is far less reliant on a computer than all of the others. There aren’t really any loops or samples so in that respect it’s a far more traditional album in it’s conception. The next record will be more electronic and probably more upbeat. I feel we’ve got some frustrations out on this record, and there’s no need to repeat those sentiments. Working with Thom opened my eyes to different ways of recording and arrangements, and I think we’ll incorporate that into how we have worked previously on our next record. Transparent Things and Lightbulbs had many similarities and we don’t want the next record to sound the same as Ventriloquizzing. There’s no point because we’ve made that record already.
Rocker: When first I met you, Matt was just coming on board, then there was Lee, do you think the band will keep on expanding?
David Best: We couldn’t afford to expand the group any further even if we wanted do. We need four people to play our music live. Having a drummer, especially when we are theoretically an electronic group, gives the songs so much more energy and dynamics live. I hate it when I see two blokes standing behind some laptops. It’s pretty dull to look at.
Rocker: More than maybe any other band I can think of, F&M have maybe some of the strongest visuals out there. The video for “Yo-yo” is no exception. Do you, the band, come up with ideas for these videos or is it that you find people whose work excites you and go to them, or are they finding you?
David Best: We have been lucky inasmuch as we have worked with very talented people, whose ideas we like. When you do a video you get some proposals put forward and choose the one you like best. In the last two videos our only stipulation was that the dummies would be in them. Then you have to trust the video makers.
Rocker: How much input does the band have to the look of things? Did you start off saying “we definitely want ventriloquist dummies made of us” or “Be sure to get a strong man posing next to a yoyo expert”?
David Best: We had the dummies idea, but the strong man is nothing to do with us. I learnt that you can’t control everything, and you have to pick good people to work with and let them get on with it. The only thing I’m ridiculously possessive over is the music.
Rocker: Do you ever revisit your own songs after the visuals are in place and find the visuals themselves inspiring?
David Best: Not really, because when we play live the visuals are always behind us so i can’t see them to be inspired. However, I did want yoyos to play a visual part in our set up before we had a song about them. So the image idea came before the song, which sounds quite post modern at best, and vacuous at worst.
Rocker: Is it a conscious decision that the band not really appear in your videos?
David Best: I’d rather not be in them. What we look like has no relation to how we sound. If I was 23 and had a full head of hair I’d do them.
Rocker: I loved watching you be interviewed as puppets, by strange inanimate objects. I was surprised to see one of your questions being “Aren’t you to old be in a band?” Do you actually get that question in interviews? Or is it something you deal with yourselves?
David Best: I don’t think we’ve ever had it put to us in an interview, but when I look into their eyes and into their jaded souls, I know that’s what they think.
I’m fine with how old I am. My twenties were pretty miserable and now things are much better. Serge Gainsbourg recorded l’histoire de melody nelson when he was forty. Terry Riley still makes great records, Robert Wyatt also.
Rocker: I know in the past your music has ended up in commercials for things like beer and cars how do you feel about having your songs put to use that way? If you could have a song on the new record paired with an advert for anything in your dream commercial what would your songs be the music bed for?
David Best: For a group of our size, those syncs are a blessing. If people have a problem with it, well, stop downloading albums for nothing . I suppose my dream song/advert pairing would be sixteen shades of black and blue and an inkjet printer company. That would be magnificently shit.
Rocker: I know you’d told me previously that the band does better in the US than in the UK, is that still the case? Was the reason to record in the US as an excuse to be closer to the source of American hamburgers?
David Best: I think in terms of sales France and the UK are doing better than the US at the moment. We only recorded in California due to Thom living there. We were on bagels more than burgers. The original title of the album was going to be Ventriloquizzing: Fueled by Bagels, Toasted the Sacramento Way.
Rocker: and where do you see it going next?
David Best: We’ll be doing the next one ourselves and probably we will work in a similar fashion to how we made Transparent Things, which was working on two songs at a time over a longer period.
Rocker: How unconventional the instrumentation gets with your recordings?
David Best: Thom put a cork in a tin and swirled it round on the beginning of Yoyo. Other than that it’s more a case of manipulating synth or guitar sounds rather than getting a couple of lutes on the record.
Rocker: When will you next be in the US for a tour?
David Best: We may be back in May/June. I have just become a father and so has Steve so the idea of being away from home for three weeks isn’t that appealing at the moment. We’ve got lots of ideas for the next record so I’d like to get on with that.