By all accounts, it appears that Omaha, Neb., is quickly becoming the musical mecca of the United States. Who would’ve thought that a state known mostly for (um…?) corn would also be the birthplace of a blossoming independent music label known as Saddle Creek Records. Alongside labelmates Bright Eyes, Cursive and Desaparecidos, art-rock New Wavers the Faint have been rabidly taking over dance floors across the nation and causing even the most crossed-armed shoe-gazers to shake a tailfeather or two. Formed in 1994, the band has accumulated a solid fan base off the success of Media (1998), Blank-wave Arcade (1999) and Danse Macabre (2001), and is currently launching a five-week headlining tour across the map. Danse Macabre Remixes hit shelves in early April, featuring a bevy of prominent DJs (including – ahem – Paul Oakenfold) in an attempt to melt together two musical cliques that are often on opposite sides of the fence. While much of the country hunted eggs and ate neon blue Peeps this last Sunday, Artsweek sat with lead vocalist/keyboardist Todd Baechle before their show at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in L.A. and got the skinny on the Midwest’s finest export since White Castle.
Artsweek: What are you all up to right now?
Todd Baechle: We just did a couple weeks in Europe, supporting Placebo, and then started this tour, which will be about five weeks long. We also made a bunch of videos for our live shows, to run in the background. They go with the music so it’s something sort of in between lighting and a video that we’ve been trying to do for years. But it takes money and time that we didn’t have until recently. Also, we just put out the remix album and wrote a couple new songs for the Saddle Creek 50 compilation.
How did you guys get connected with Paul Oakenfold?
There’s something called the Short List and apparently it’s a fairly prestigious award. It’s more artistic-based than how many records one has sold. They have a panel of musicians that get to make the decisions and he’s one of them. He nominated us, and we ended up realizing we might have a chance of getting him to do a remix.
In a nutshell, how did you all come together as a band?
Well, Clark’s my brother so I’ve known him for his whole life. He’s the drummer. Joel [Peterson, on bass], Clark and I have been friends for 14 years and we knew each other from skateboarding and high school, mostly. We went through a bunch of members and became the Faint, with the lineup we have right now.
Was Connor Oberst [of Bright Eyes] in the band at one time?
Yes. I met him through a mutual friend when he was 10 or 11 and actually the first day I met him, he came over to my parent’s house where I lived and recorded a song in one take … and it’s a really good take! I knew who he was ahead of time because he had performed [in Omaha]. He had some solo tapes out. He was pretty young but really little for his age, too; a Harry Potter-ish looking kid.
Are you all still in touch?
Of course. He was in the band while I was in college. He wrote probably half the songs on our first tape that was before Media. He got us shows and we’d all go down to a little coffee shop and play terribly – noisy, lo-fi stuff. It was kind of like Pavement or Lambchop, but Connor was such a spaz – and we had all these insane effects on everything. We’d just plug an instrument into a whole bunch of pedals and play. It was sorta folksy and sorta all over the place.
We’ve known that he was good for a long time so it’s just nice to see that other people are finding out about him. The same is true with Tim Kasher of Cursive. He’s been a big influence on everyone for a while, especially on Connor. That’s why, at first, all the Saddle Creek bands sort of sounded like his band.
Speaking of finding a sound, how does the Faint work out the creative process of putting together an album?
We don’t really have a certain way. Sometime we’ll just have a line or a lyric and other times I’ll write the whole song. It might just be me singing into a tape recorder, or [playing] on a guitar or a little toy keyboard – snapping my fingers and stompin’ my feet.
There’s a pretty noticeable shift in sound from the first two albums to Danse Macabre. How come?
It’s just the process of trying to figure out how to make music that we like that represents our individual taste and artistic character. That stuff changes as well, usually for no reason. You can kinda tell what’s worked and what didn’t work after having gone through the process of recording the song, mixing it, playing it live. Then once the record is made and people know the record, you can just judge what songs are making a connection with the crowd.
Will the next album have much of a shift in terms of an overall sound?
Well, since we’ve only done two songs, it’s hard to say. But I feel that the new songs are fairly different, though I don’t think they’ll come across all that different in our live show because, well, we’re the same band that just played the last songs. But I feel like we’ve moved on mentally from [Danse Macabre], considering we wrote the songs three years ago.
So, to throw out the clincher: What are your musical influences, personally and as a band?
When I was a kid, it was early MTV, New Wave stuff. Then the Violent Femmes, the Smiths, R.E.M. and the Cure. I guess I also had more of a hardcore punk phase too with some Shelter, Fugazi and all the other less-known bands. We were listening to and liking [indie rock] when making Media, and maybe some Elvis Costello and Shudder to Think. And then we just got bored of all that. We felt like everybody else and wanted to get away from the indie rock/post-punk thing. Not for any good reason. We just thought it would be cool not to be indie rock. Could we be anything else? Or do we have to be because we’re middle class white dudes in a band? So we got a keyboard and tried to make music. It was New Wave-y and really uncool at the time. We wrote a bunch of the songs for Blank-wave and it tended to get darker. Recently, I’ve been trying to find more specific inspiration, which I hadn’t been able to find before. I’m trying to find it in classical music from between the Romantic and Modern Periods, with the really beautiful instrumentation.
So what lies on the horizon? What are you all looking forward to?
The new Radiohead. We’ll write a new record as well. That’s pretty much the whole future that I’m worried about right now. I’m not looking forward to the tour being over anytime soon.
For more information on the Faint visit www.thefaint.com or www.saddlecreekrecords.com.