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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Column 202 -- Catching up with The Faint; Team Love gives it away; CD Review: 1090 Club...

I can only imagine what Todd Fink was looking at from his Portuguese vantage point when we were doing our interview Saturday. "I'm in the most futuristic building I've ever been in," he said, asking if I'd ever seen the George Lucas film THX 1138. "Everything looks like that everywhere, outside, inside. Everything is super strict. You have to have cards to get in here. It seems to be an art school or music academy. We were told it cost $77 million to build."

There was a lot of commotion in the background as Fink learned he was supposed to be at soundcheck. "How come I'm finding this out now?" he asked a ghost on the other side of the phone. In fact, he said he hadn't even known about the interview until only moments earlier, which made sense as the publicist said I'd be talking to Jacob Thiele, not Todd. Here's what happened next:

Column 202: Camel-Towing the Line
The Faint talk about music, money and cigarettes.

I was more than a bit surprised when I got the e-mail from Carla Senft of Press Here Publicity, the publicist for a variety of top indie artists, including The Faint.

“The Faint will play in Omaha on 12/19 and 12/20 at Sokol Auditorium,” the e-mail said. “I would love to hear your thoughts on speaking with the band or previewing the show!”

First I laughed; then I wondered what was going on. About two and a half years ago – March 22, 2006, to be exact – I had written a column that asked if The Faint were leaving Saddle Creek Records and headed to American Recordings to work with producer Rick Rubin. I was trying to confirm a deep-throat rumor from a reliable anonymous source. I left a message with a member of The Faint, but heard nothing back. It was Saddle Creek label exec Robb Nansel who confirmed the rumor, saying that The Faint had negotiated with American and that Rubin had expressed interest in working with the band.

It seemed like a fairly innocuous column at the time, except that it represented the first instance that one of Creek’s core artists was considering jumping ship. Word got to me that the band wasn’t pleased with the article. Months later, when I tried to line up an interview with The Faint, my editor passed word that Saddle Creek had been instructed that any reporter could interview the band, except me. And then recently I was told by a friend of the band that the column had resulted in a potential deal with a major label falling through.

But I wasn’t telling Carla any of this. She set up the interview for last Saturday morning. After some misconnections, I was talking to Faint frontman Todd Fink via Skype from Portugal where the band was on tour. My first question: Had the column really caused fall-out with a potential suitor?

“Something in that article, I don’t remember what, did affect how things went down on some level,” Fink said. “Ultimately we were in some negotiation. Once you write anything now, everyone will pick up on that kind of stuff. I don’t think it actually fucked things up.”

So had the band blackballed me? “I don’t know if we made a stance like what (Saddle Creek) told you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if (band member) Joel (Petersen) made that stance on our behalf.”

Other than not getting interviews, the situation never affected how I covered The Faint. I still reviewed their music and their shows, and continued to enjoy both.

Anyway, through the static-crackle of our Skype connection, Fink said the band’s self-released album, Fasciinatiion, was living up to their expectations sales-wise. “I think it’s doing what we figured it would do,” Fink said. “We told ourselves we’d put as much money into it as we needed to. We also had to come up with a bunch of money to go on tour and make the CDs and to finish paying for building the studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if we kind of went light on it in some way, but I haven’t noticed any difference. It seems about the same to me as far as promotion and sales. The whole business is down from four years ago. This record will sell 30 percent less or half as much as the last one did. With that in mind, we’re about where we figured we’d be.”

Had releasing it themselves made a difference? “Everyone is still learning by making mistakes,” he said. “A record label that’s been around longer has already made mistakes and figured things out. I haven’t felt any kind of regret. I don’t think anyone in the band has.”

Fink said self-releasing may be the wave of the future. “More bands are doing this," he said. "It depends on what size band you are. If you have to take out a loan to put out a record, if you have no idea if anyone is going to buy it at all or if you don’t have an agent to book your shows, it could be a bad investment.”

Unable to rely on CD sales for revenue, touring has become a primary money maker for some bands. “We’re going to be touring longer than making sales from records,” Fink said. “I don’t know how you make money from selling records in the future, but you can still have an event, and that’s what we do on tour.”

But keeping a band alive also means sometimes taking money where you can find it. The Faint has augmented its income in the past by taking sponsorship gigs, including shows sponsored by Camel cigarettes. “That stuff comes up here and there,” Fink said, “and sometimes the bills are high enough that we need to find a way to have money come in. We did that one, but I doubt that it will be the end of it. It would be great to do everything without any kind of sponsorships that weren’t charities, but it doesn’t really add up. Being in a band is expensive, and there has to be money coming in. Whatever the offers are, we need to consider them. If they’re not going to ruin the band and they pay for that year for writing songs and recording, we’re going to do it.”

Fink said Camel gave away tickets for their sponsored shows or only charged $5; and the tour gave The Faint a chance to play smaller rooms in cities they hadn’t been to in a while.

“It’s not a Faint show. They’re having a party to promote their brand and they need people to show up at the party. They’re paying a lot of money for bands to show up and make it cool or something,” Fink said. “If you have enough money, you can get anybody, that’s what it comes down to. If you’re getting a million dollars to do a show and you’re Fugazi, you’re going to take it. That’s too much money. It’s too selfish to not do it. You could give the money to the charity that means something to you.”

I told Fink that there was a perception by some that The Faint had become millionaires off of their music. “If anyone thinks we’re doing it and getting rich, they’re wrong,” he said. “As a matter of fact…actually I don’t want to talk about that.”

And with that, Fink had to leave to join the band for sound check. As of deadline, The Faint's Friday night show had already sold out, with tickets going fast for Saturday night.

There were a couple other things from the interview that didn't make it into the column. Among them, Fink's discussion of Enamel -- The Faint's new state-of-the-art recording studio. Is Enamel another revenue stream for a band that's doing everything on its own? "It may be a wise investment," Fink said of the studio. "Maybe not. We'll have a place to record, and it's worth it that way, but we can make some money renting it out when we're gone that could help pay for it in the long run."

Then there was the question as to why The Faint even bother recording new material. They've consistently sold out large venues over the past few years without having released a new album. "We tour enough that people keep coming whether there's an album out or not," he said. "It's easier to tour when you have a new album; there's more things working together to get people there, the advertising, the publications, whatever."

Seriously, if you're thinking about going to the Dec. 20 show (the 19th is sold out) you better get your tickets today (online here). Opening on the 20th is Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance (opening the sold out show on the 19th is Brimstone Howl and The Show Is the Rainbow).

* * *

Team Love announced yesterday that it's "reshaped" its free download policy by introducing the "Team Love Library," where they're offering a rotating selection of TL albums for download, along with exclusive content, unreleased tracks and remixed versions, etc. Users first have to register (here). Current titles include Capgun Coup's Brought to you by Nebraskafish, McCarthy Trenching's self-titled debut, Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat, The Berg Sans Nipple's Along the Quai, Dave Dondero's Simple Love and Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children.

* * *

And now, the intern (I got nothing to add to this as I haven't heard this CD):

1090 Club, Natural Selection (Sidecho Records) -- They've always carried an interesting approach to writing rock music, partially due to their instrumentation. While piano and guitar are at the core, a violin weaves beautiful, flowing melodies throughout this Billings band's sophomore effort. Tasteful, technical and precise drumming propels the recording and keeps the orchestration consistent. This is a more focused product than the band’s debut, Shipwrecked On Shores, thanks to tighter instrumentation and more prominent vocals. Opening track, “ITSON,” delivers a musical punch with a hook that'll stay in your head for days. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

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Tomorrow, an interview with Criteria's Stephen Pedersen.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--

posted by Tim at 10:41 AM

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