Future of the Left

Rising out of the ashes of seminal punk trio Mclusky in 2005, Welsh outfit Future of the Left have spent almost a decade garnering a reputation for their distinctive, nuanced brand of alternative rock, blistering live shows and notoriously charismatic frontman Andrew ‘Falco’ Falkous. Ahead of an Australian visit next month, Killyourstereo.com chats with Falco about new album ‘How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident’, crowdfunding and the band’s creative process.

Hey Falco, how are you?

I’m good thanks, yeah. I’ve just recovered from a bout of tooth pain so I’m relieved. Mainly not to be high on painkillers all the time, so it’s fantastic. I now have perspective on life.

‘How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident’ has been out for about a month now, and response has been pretty excellent. How are the new songs translating live?

Fantastically. Even though people are somewhat familiar with them, to a degree people will still stand back listen to them, as opposed to throwing themselves around to the old ones. Reaction-wise, we couldn’t ask for any better. The setlist at this point in time is pretty much 50% old, 50% new which I think is about the ratio you want if the album is anything less than an embarrassment. I think we’ve got the setlist just right now, though it is about an hour and ten minutes. For Australia, since people pay so much money, we feel honour-bound to add at least another fifteen minutes.

It’s the first full-length you guys have released through your new label Prescriptions. Having the run of the show like that, how did you find that process? Was there a level of freedom that came with that?

Not necessarily. Even though we haven’t always had uniformly superb experiences with labels, one aspect which has never been an issue is that no one has ever tried to control the sound of the band in any way. I don’t look back with a lot of fondness on the time spent on 4AD and Too Pure, but I can honestly say the reasons for that are more personal and business rather than artistic. Nobody ever told us what order to put songs in on a record, nobody ever asked us to put out a particular song as a single that we were uncomfortable with, nobody ever told us to write a pop song in order to break the band into a bigger market. So, the freedom’s always been there. The music’s all fallen on its own basis, so it would be disingenuous for me to pretend that we’d been plucked to freedom and that we now fly free.

Without the financial backing of a label, you turned to crowd-funding for the album. I was reading that the target was reached in around five or six hours. A lot of people are pretty quick to shit on crowd-funding but it seems, given that response as an example, it just provides a more direct and immediately helpful way for the listener to support the artist – so long as the band isn’t charging fans $1,000 to have dinner with them or something. I’m curious as to your thoughts on crowd-funding as a practice on a whole?

I feel two ways about it, really. You can talk about crowd-funding generally, which is what you make it as far as I’m concerned. For example, I wouldn’t contribute to any, say, Amanda Palmer campaign – I’m picking the most famous one off the branch there. I also certainly wouldn’t pay anyone $2,000 for a limited edition of wanky art prints. However, some people genuinely want to engage with artists like that in that way. So, who am I to say that’s pure bullshit? In terms of my own value system, it absolutely is, but in another sense someone like Amanda Palmer, or that guy that used to be on Scrubs that raised a couple million for a film…

Zach Braff.

Right, yeah. They’re giving people want they want, in a certain sense. More importantly, they’re giving people that feeling, that idea that they’re involved. One thing we came aware of during the process is, while I would say we’re equally popular in Australia, Britain and so a slightly lesser extent the States, most of the funding came from Britain, and I think that’s because there’s a particular culture of crowdfunding in Britain. There’s a particular excitement that surrounds it and a particular worthiness, which I think in part is there to alleviate the guilt some people feel about downloading music for free for so many years. On a more practical level, it’s also to do with the insane postage costs to Oz. A poster, for example, would be costing around $20 to send. We certainly learned from the experience ourselves. There were certain things we were very happy with, there were certain things we were very unhappy with. We would have definitely gone a different route if we’d had more time. If we were a full time band we would have done more of those things ourselves, but we had to use a mailing company for the PledgeMusic orders, which is something that we would have done ourselves if we could do it again.

I think, in general, crowdfunding is what you make it, if you treat people with respect – I hesitate to use the word ‘customer’ because that makes it seem really clinical, the relationship – but if you treat people with respect and say ‘Listen, we’re going to do this thing. You know the state of play with the music we’ve made, you know our aesthetic even though it isn’t explicit, here’s what we want to do’.

I’d be very surprised if anyone who contributed to the record was disappointed with the record. I’m sure those people exist, but hopefully we’ve built enough good faith that if we went down a similar route again people would be more than happy to continue to watch our spectacular dive into credit card debt.

You guys are headed to Australia next month for some shows. It’s around the hottest time to be in Australia at the moment, and I understand it’s fucking freezing in Wales at the moment.

(laughs) It is, yes.

Are you looking forward to spending time here? You a sunny kind of guy?

As long as I don’t have shit to do, I love hot weather. If you’re working an office job or you’ve got some manual labouring to do then hot weather is the worst thing in the world, but yeah, I love some hot weather. It’ll give a chance for Julia, our bass player, my wife to see her family, she’s from Melbourne. It’ll give me a chance to see a couple days of the cricket, I’ll probably see a day in Melbourne and a day in Sydney. It’s also a chance to meet up with old friends. We’ve toured Australia now, I don’t even know. In terms of both Mclusky and Future of the Left, maybe seven times now? It’s always a fantastic experience. It’s a shame we’re not playing Perth, but the three venues – The Annandale, The Zoo and the Corner – I think we’ve played all of them about six times. It’s like going back to a place you have very fond memories of and then shouting at a bunch of people though PA.

I caught Future of the Left last time you were here and it was the first time I’d ever been exposed to you guys whatsoever, and one of the things that particularly struck me was your “stage manner”, both insofar as your energy as well as the way you handle hecklers. As far as that goes, is that something you play up onstage or is that an organic response?

It’s definitely not something that’s played up, it’s something that happens naturally. When you walk onstage, all your senses are heightened and you’re very much on display. If you’ve got a microphone in your hand, you’re the hunter but also the hunted to a degree, you know? If someone’s a dick to me on the street, I’ll just shrug and walk off. If someone’s a dick to me onstage, in one sense, that’s somebody challenging my privacy.

At the end of the day, I’m a singer in a rock and roll band and there’s a real belief and passion to what we do. I mean, you want to go on stage every night and make it really good fun, and for that hour and half or however long it is, you want to make all other rock music irrelevant. I’ve always had that mindset. I’ve known people who are really good musicians, really good people, really big fans of music who’d be so happy to play on a bill with a band they like and to be the second best band on that night. That, to me, you’ve already lost if you’re playing rock music in that sense. It’s not a polite, back-slapping kind of convention. You want to go on that stage and absolutely obliterate people. I’m not saying that always happens, and I’m not saying that’s the way everybody in the crowd will feel, but that has to be, for me, the mindset right from the start. It’s like a total intensity, but also fun as well. It’s meant to be purely and completely joyous. If there appears to be anger there, the anger is playful.

That’s definitely what comes to my mind when I think about your bands. It’s a kind of aggression that’s done in a way that’s quite lighthearted, there’s no pretense of legitimate rage.

I mean, for us, we love to see people dancing. We love to see a great moving crowd in front of us, but we’re never going to be one of those bands who try to get some kind of "wall of death" going or encourage people to stage dive. I mean, stage diving happens at shows sometimes – as long as people are careful and don’t step on our fucking effects pedals we’ll probably allow them to get away with it, to a degree. There are people who just want to stand and watch a band as well, everybody gets to have a good time. Sometimes, you’re at a show and there’s somebody who – either by virtue of talking a lot of shit or by flailing their arms around like some fucking psychopathic helicopter – decides they’re going to injure people either emotionally or physically during the show. You don’t pay $45 so some massive meathead can elbow you in the eye, as far as I’m concerned. As a band, for us, it’s all about creating the right atmosphere. We’ve played for long enough that we know how to play our songs, and we know how to play our songs with passion and meaning, so it really is all about the crowd. If the crowd can reflect that back onto you then you can end up with some magic night. Where did you see us, last time?

That was in Melbourne, the venue escapes me…

That’d be The Corner, yeah. You see, we didn’t enjoy that show very much. We found it was a bit strange. Our previous show in Melbourne at The Corner had been fantastic. We couldn’t quite put our finger on it, but there was something that missing that night. The rest of that tour and the show at the Meredith festival had just been fantastic and magical. I think there’s something very particular about Australian crowds on weekend nights. If you get them a little bit too late, just that little bit too late – I think we went on stage about midnight – they can be a little bit drunk and surly. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a condition particular to Australians. I live in Britain, the home of binge drinking, but going on at midnight when people have been drinking all afternoon, I mean, some people are half way through their hangover by that stage, you know? I wouldn’t want to spoil anybody’s memories of a show that a lot of people enjoyed but for us, we would like our Corner show in particular to be twice as good as that one.

Sure. Just to wrap up, you guys have been particularly prolific in the last couple years in terms of releases. Anything specifically on the cards for next year in that regard?

Not as this stage, not at all, but at this time last year, there was nothing on the cards for this year either. Before we went to the States – we did about a month in the States a year ago – we just decided to write a couple of songs for an EP and the songs just started flooding out, you know? Something I’ve learned as a musician, the thing to remember for anyone engaged in any kind of art, is that even when things aren’t working, when nothing seems to be quite right, you are still doing good work. You’re laying all the groundwork for when you have that moment of realisation, and that’s just how it’s worked for us as a band. Being part of a real creative process, even having done it for so many years, still just feels like the most amazing thing in the world.

I think that’s all you can really ask as a creative person.

It is, but this is the thing. It helps when you’ve been through writer’s block a few times and then having things really happening really easily to realize that it’s cyclical. It doesn’t always work. Certainly in the case of Mclusky, we did the record ‘Mclusky Do Dallas’, which loads of people loved. We didn’t realise at the time, but it had a kind of blueprint and we couldn’t just do the same record again. It was difficult on a conscious level, but that didn’t make it any less rewarding, it just made it a slightly more difficult process.

Future of the Left play Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in January. ‘How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident’ is out now.

Thursday January 2, 2014 – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday January 3, 2014 – The Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Sunday January 5, 2014 – The Zoo, Brisbane

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