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Les Savy Fav: Live, From New York...

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Nov. 7, 2001















What's the deal with all the hip, new New York City bands these days?

Before they even released their latest album in the states, NYC's The Strokes have managed to capture the mega-hype generated by last-year's great indie-rock hopes At the Drive In. Now along comes Les Savy Fav, another NYC-based band with all the energy of ATDI or The Strokes, but targeted in a distinctly D.C. direction.

Makes you wonder if there's a "Brooklyn sound" bubbling, waiting to take on America like those great CBGB bands from the '70s never did. "If you're in a band and you live here, it's hard not to be affected by it all," said Les Savy Fav bassist Syd Butler from the austere offices of his record label, Frenchkiss Records, located in an old apartment in Manhattan. In addition to releasing CDs by The Apes (another NYC favorite), Lifter Puller and Sean-na-na, Butler's label just put out Les Savy Fav's new long-player, On Forth, which brings the band to Sokol Underground Nov. 10.

Living in NYC, it's impossible not to be influenced by a scene that virtually spawned the first American punk rock movement, with seminal resident bands like the Velvet Underground and The Ramones. "You can literally see Iggy Pop hanging out on the street," he said. "I've seen so many rock icons, all of whom live here. I was out running the other day and got passed by David Byrne -- he's shorter than I expected. You're surrounded by legends."

Maybe so, but few have influenced Butler as much as those he grew up listening to in Washington, D.C. "I grew with the Dischord sound," he said. "Bands like Bad Brains and Rites of Spring heavily influenced how I play music. But everyone in the band has been influenced by East Coast rock and '70s punk."




Les Savy Fav (the name apparently is loosely based on a group of French artists characterized by the rejection of form dubbed Les Fauves, the wild beasts) formed in '95 while studying art at Rhode Island School of Design -- just like Talking Heads. They moved to Brooklyn two years later and gigged along the East Coast, garnering a reputation, according to The New Yorker, as "The downtown aesthetes of guitar-based rock." They wound up releasing a couple singles on Sub Pop and DeSoto, as well as a full-length on Self Starter Foundation before releasing two LPs on Butler's Frenchkiss label.

Despite the obvious acknowledgments to those old, great NYC bands, there's something sleek and black and clean and new about Les Savy Fav. Their music is a chiming wall of guitar post-punk by way of neu-prog, with nods to Modest Mouse's quirky recklessness (On Forth was produced by Phil Ek, who has worked with Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, among others) and At the Drive In's hollow violence. Butler's D.C. roots are evident in the obvious residue of bands like The Dismemberment Plan, Fugazi and Jawbox, but just as obvious are the sonic markings of Boston-spawned powerhouse The Pixies.

Mostly, you get shimmering layers of guitars -- some playing jangled, arch, angular movements while others are ringing chimes played clean, loud and fast while Seth Jabour and Tim Harrington trade crowing vocals, bouncing like circus barkers off Harrison Haynes' machine-gun drums.

Released Oct. 21, On Forth, is a grab-bag of styles, ranging from Jawbox riffage and call-out vocals (the New Wave-ish "Crawling Can Be Beautiful," the angular, Pixie-flavored "Disco Drive") to Dismemberment Plan storytelling sung over a sheer valley of guitar (the clever "Adopduction,") to downright dance rock (the bouncy "The Slip," the Cake-like "Pills"). Through it all is a strange sonic disturbance that echoes At the Drive In in their heyday.


"At the Drive In are friends of ours. They had so much money pushed to them and they toured a year and a half straight. I don't know how they did it."


Les Savy Fav at Omaha's Sokol Underground Nov. 10.

"Because of my girlfriend, I've been a block away from ground zero. I don't think I should have gone. It's so awesome, but not in a cool way."



Butler sees how The Strokes have stepped up where At the Drive In stepped out. "The media loves to have their darlings," he said. "They quickly move to the next hot band that's going to be pushed hard. At the Drive In are friends of ours. They had so much money pushed to them and they toured a year and a half straight. I don't know how they did it."

Though it hasn't been officially reported, Butler said ATDI indeed have broken up. Omar and Cedric have formed two new bands together -- Mars Volta and Defacto (who Les Savy Fav will be joining on tour in mid-November), while Jim, Pall and Tony formed Sparta. "The breakup was a complete burnout situation," Butler said. "We tour six months out of the year, and they were touring double that. It got to the point where they hated playing their own songs. If you want to be a big rock star you have to tour your ass off. We don't want to be big rock stars. We like to relax."

Now it appears to be The Strokes' turn in the fame barrel. "I wish them the best of luck," Butler said. "All the publicity they're getting is gonna trickle down. No one ever seems to grab us up. We've always stayed slightly under the radar, which is attractive to us because it gives us a lot of freedom. There's no preconceived notions about who we are and what we should do on stage."

Butler said the tour's Nov. 1 kick-off show was a benefit at NYC's Bowery Ballroom for the family of a New York City firefighter killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. The tragedy remains in the forefront as the band hits the road.

"I was talking on the phone to someone inside the World Trade Center when it happened," Butler said. "I was on my way down there to pick up plane tickets when he told me it blew up. I went up to the roof of my building with my girlfriend and freaked out. We sat there in disbelief. It was a real intense situation in that she works with the fire department and knew a lot of people involved.

"Life has changed here in New York," he said. "I used to be the guy who was frustrated with police. I was not into cops growing up. Now I love them to death. I want to walk up and hug every one I see. They're people who wouldn't think for a second about putting their body in front of a bullet."

Butler lives only a mile from ground zero, where the smell of "burned, plastic hotdogs" still hangs in the air. "Because of my girlfriend, I've been a block away from ground zero," he said. "I don't think I should have gone. It's so awesome, but not in a cool way."

He said it will be good to get away from the city for awhile. "I'm the most sensitive member of the band about this situation," he said. "I'm the most affected by it. People in New York are processing it in different ways. Some are volunteering to do anything they can. I'm looking forward to getting on the road."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 7, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.