Artists are funny people. There are the struggling, the certifiably insane, the eccentrics, the faux-eccentrics, the drunks, the pretentious fops, and those ubiquitous "starving" artists. Then there are the artists who catch you off-guard by creating a collage of new beats out of old sounds at once genuine, poetic, and irreverent. Take the Fauvists, for instance. They created a whole new approach to art in 1920s France based on the radical use of unnatural colors. Throw in some anglicized French words and blur the lines between dangerous and fun, empty and full, delicate and indecent, raw and programmed and you get Les Savy Fav. In the center of this musical decoupage is singer Tim Harrington, an unobstructed firehose of energy with an airtight flair for the absurd. Can a band play forward-thinking rock 'n' roll that is entertaining and creative and kicks apathy's ass? Les Savy Fav knows the answer. To wit:
"What holds you up when the Earth lets you down/what holds you up when gravity's corrupted/I hope atoms are enough/'cause Eve sure ain't coming."
If this question from 2000's Rome EP is any indication, Les Savy Fav's songs have a penchant for splattering a canvas with a musical landscape and filling in the empty spaces with Harrington's frantic finger painting. They are abstract stories interwoven with globs of color. Not surprisingly, the band met in 1995 while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. It was in the nascent stages of practicing in cramped rehearsal spaces and playing local gigs that the band started working on its musical design project. Harrington, wearing the hats of visual artist and musician, designed the cover for a seven-inch before they'd recorded anything, then decided there should be eight more. The result: a nine-part series of seven-inch singles. Six of the nine have been released on Sub Pop, Desoto, X-Mist, and Tiger Style. The rest will be released over the next few years. But Les Savy Fav's art-school training did pay off: When all the singles are collected, they'll form a poster-sized puzzle with a secret message.
"The way we approach music and the way I write lyrics isn't exactly traditional," Harrington explains. "I have a journal, and once it reaches critical mass, I start browsing through it. Words and phrases from random pages start fitting together. It's kind of like a puzzle. Then it's up to the listener to decode them."
But decoding Les Savy Fav would spoil the fun of Harrington's philosophical streams of thought, which teeter perilously between smart-ass brilliance and hyperactive insanity. It would spoil the mechanical melodies of guitarist Seth Jabour, bassist Syd Butler, and drummer Harrison Haynes as they wrangle to bust out danceable songs about cyborgs, the Roman Empire, chaos theory, the Autobahn, and abduction attempts gone awry.
"Adopduction" from their latest full-length CD, Go Forth, is a golden example of Harrington's talent for constructing a story out of random pages: "The haggling went on for days/the days went on for weeks/and weeks for years/Riding in the trunk was never fun/but soon I plum ran out of tears." Surely this wasn't a personal experience, Mr. Harrington? "I've always been intrigued by people's weird, sadistic relationships. The idea of a rich kid who gets kidnapped and has to stay with the abductors because his cheapskate parents won't pay the ransom seemed to embody the concept of a nuclear family gone whack. I'm going to write a sequel to that song where the kid hits puberty and wonders 'Is this weird?'"
Harrington, ever the multitasker, also reveals his idea for a "Punky Brewster meets Ally McBeal" sitcom plot. "Whenever we play L.A., I pitch the story on-stage hoping some big-shot producer's in the audience."
Les Savy Fav migrated from Providence to Brooklyn in early 1996, when the music scene was still relatively pure and "no-wave" was still just a glimmer in the media's beady little eyes. "The whole art-rock label doesn't bother us, since we approach our music from a very art-school standpoint," Harrington states. "The weird part is when we go to other countries, like Germany, and they're screaming 'Emo-core! Ve love you!'"
Times have been tough for the trend-shunning bands in New York. The media frenzy descended upon the Big Apple, sinking its talons deep into the malleable masses and carrying them off to a land of leg warmers and fingerless gloves.
"I smell failure in the air," Harrington says of his co-opted borough. "Failure as an ultra-hipster place, that is. When the whole '80s fetish hit Brooklyn, it hit hard. I was stressed out for a while when people were like, 'Oh, you've gotta see this band.' Well, we'd been around for four or five years, as had many other noteworthy bands. But the media weren't hounding us because we didn't buy into the fashion or wear those vertical-blind sunglasses from the Doritos commercial. So that was nice."
OK, but Harrington has been known to flaunt leg warmers, jogging shorts, and unitards on stage. He makes it a point to wander around the audience like an affable derelict during the set. He has coerced packed-shoulder-to-shoulder crowds into doing jumping jacks and once reenacted the water scene from Flashdance (complete with off-the-shoulder sweatshirt). The same creative energy that fuels Les Savy Fav's writing process damn near incinerates its live shows. It may seem like a gimmick, or perhaps a lack of Ritalin, but it's all part of the Favs' master plan to kick complacent crowds in their collective crotch.
"Our live show is a party to combat Boring Audience Syndrome," Harrington declares. "I always want an audience to feel psyched, like there's something immediate happening. Who wants to watch a band where the high point of the night is the guitarist doing a kick? We try to convey a narrative and improvise. One minute I'm singing; the next I'm wondering, 'What can I do with this broom?' or 'I bet no one's ever climbed up there.'"
You heard it here first, kids. Apathy is sooo last year.
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