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Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint)

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It had been a slow few years for The Faint, filled with recording and monotonous studio time. That was until recently and now with the release of Fasciinatiion and a globe spanning tour, the Nebraska quintet couldn’t seem more pressed for time. Fortunately, Jacob Thiele, the band’s guru behind the synthesizer, found a few minutes to sit down with CoS and discuss a variety of topics, including past releases, the band’s new label, and some of the methodology behind its songwriting.

This one’s a little lengthy, so grab a cup of Joe.

CoS: It’s been like 4 years now since Wet From Birth, what took you guys so long to release your new record, Fasciinatiion?

Jacob Thiele: Mostly it was the fact that we bought a building and built a studio inside of it. The construction process just took a lot longer than we had hoped. Originally, we kind of made the decision that we were going to record in our new studio to be as cost affective as possible, since it’s kind of expensive to build a studio. It just kept taking longer and longer to be finished, so we just kept working on the songs and thinking about the ones we liked better so we could pick the songs for the album before the studio was ready.

When it was done, we went in and recorded all those songs. Studio construction, I guess, is the simple answer, but we spent a lot more time recording and mixing. Usually we feel kind of rushed through that process and we don’t really get to experiment and try a lot of ideas. Each album we’ve done a little bit more of that, but this time around we really kind of got to try a new thing. We had our own studio so we could just stay there all night working on stuff if we felt like it. We wouldn’t have to worry about when the next band was coming in.

CoS: Why did you decide to release Fasciinatiion on your own, through your new label, blank.wav?

J.T.: By the time we were done with everything, you know, we’d been working on this for like almost 3 years, so I guess it just kind of felt like the right thing to do because we had done everything else ourselves. We wanted to try something different and we really wanted to do something different, because you only live once and you don’t just want to do the same thing every time, or we don’t anyway. We didn’t know what that was or what we were gonna do until we weighed our options and talked to a bunch of different people about putting out the record and what might be the best way for us to do it. In the end, we just decided that we liked doing everything ourselves so we ended up putting out this record ourselves.

CoS: And how does it feel to have complete creative power over your music now?

J.T.: It feels good. I feel like we always kind of did over the music. Saddle Creek was never gonna say, “Oh, this song can’t be on the record cause the lyrics are offensive,” but now we have complete control over every aspect of the band. I suppose that’s what really feels the best, knowing that. It always kind of worked that way if we wanted to do some ridiculous packaging we could do it, we just wouldn’t see any profits, royalty wise, any sooner. Now it’s just sort of up to us. It’s like we have to deal with all that; you know how much money can we take out from a bank instead of how much money that the label advanced us. It’s really kind of the same except that there is nobody trying to convince us to not do things. Well, actually our manager does sometimes. We have a manager now, so that’s another big difference. We never had a manager before and I don’t think it would be possible to release the record ourselves without one.

CoS: Why did you not have a manager before?

J.T.: Well, when you are with a label they kind of like do a lot of the managerial stuff, but now one of our band mates, Joel Peterson, took a lot of that on. Once we were trying to find other options for this album we hired a manager because he had a lot of connections and knew a lot of people. Basically, he got us to have meetings with different people to kind of see different ways that we could release the album. Whether that be signing to a major label or a distribution deal or something along there, whatever. It’s kind of a learning process and he’s been in the business for awhile and understands how a lot of these things work.

the faint new Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint)

CoS: Were you scared that opening up your own studio and releasing Fasciinatiion independently might end up blowing up in your face?

J.T.: Yeah, I mean there are some risks involved. I think that there’s as much risk if a label decides to put out your record and it fails then I think ultimately they kind of take the blow. So no, not really. I don’t think any of us were. At least, I personally wasn’t too worried.

CoS: How did this methodology affect your work ethic? Did the experience aid/hurt your ability to record the album?

J.T.: I think it’s more of an affect than a cause. I think our work ethic dictates us doing everything on our own as a group, for sure. Different people in the group have sort of different responsibilities because they care about that aspect of the band more than the other people do and we are each individually motivated to deal with these certain aspects. As a whole, we kind of like thinking work. Putting it out ourselves, there’s been a lot more emails and we’ve been more on top of emails than before I guess. Other than that, I don’t know about the ethic. I mean we are still working as hard as we ever would.

CoS: How do you see Fasciinatiion compared to your previous work?

J.T.: It’s an extension of everything else we’ve ever done and I think that people kind of looked at our other albums as groundbreaking, unique or inventive. I feel like what we do still is, but for some reason people that know our sound aren’t as surprised by it anymore. I don’t feel really like it’s a great departure from anything that we’ve done. To us, it’s more of an actualized version of our songs and our craft because we did get some people in particular, to help us out during the process of writing and recording while doing that ourselves. To me, this album represents all the different methods we have for creating songs and I enjoy that aspect of it because I know some songs were written just us in a room playing together and some songs were really crafted at the studio. So far as our live performance, we kind of learned that later. I think that it’s a record of a lot of our different techniques, manipulated to the finest tier. I’m really proud of it because we spent so much time and tried so many different ideas and made sure that what we ended up with was something that we could get behind, something that we feel really represents where we’re at now and what we are looking towards for the future.

live21 Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint)

CoS: I read on your new website that “the band gives the world the realest representation of themselves to date” on Fasiinatiion, do you agree with that? Why?

J.T.: I think our publicist probably said that, but she knows us as people. I think that it’s true, but everything else that we’ve done isn’t any less real, it just isn’t as finalized. Some of it is more spontaneous and some of it is more raw, so it’s not as refined and Fasciinatiion is. That’s the one thing I think is probably missing a little bit from Fasciinatiion; that there’s nothing there that isn’t or hasn’t been completely considered and sort of decided on as a group. There is nothing there that was just kind of an accident. Well, that’s not true. I guess there are these little accidents that happen in the studio that are better than anything we had planned, so we just leave them in there.

In terms of the whole overall structure of a song or something, I think that we did a lot more of that in the past; where we just kind of had to have something so we left it how it was and later thought, “Well, this could be better.” In the sense of what that quote means, it is much more thought out and much more experimented with and decided on.

CoS: Who do you consider to be the heart and soul of The Faint?

J.T.: It’s hard to say, I think that we all have got heart and soul. Mostly we are trying to inspire songs for Todd to sing, so in some ways, you know with Todd being the mouth piece of the band, he has to be really able to get behind what it is that he’s saying. In terms of heart, it’s him that ends up wearing his heart on his sleeve a little bit more than the rest of us. I think most of the ideas that he puts forth in the songs are ideas that the rest of us agree with or at least can get behind though.

There are different people, like I was saying before, it’s team work, it’s a team effort; different people take on different roles in the group. There is a lot of work done by Clark, for example, that most people will never appreciate because it’s the stuff that ends up looking effortless, which is all like programming and synchronizing stuff that is designed like a makeup to seem like it’s not there. He programs some of the lighting for the floor, thelive2 200x300 Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint) LED lights on the stage and he programs the sequences that we use for the live performances.

He does a lot of sequencing and programming and engineering type stuff in the studio, as well. I mean we all have a hand in that, but he’s really the best at it and he’s the one that makes sure it’s done right in a lot of ways. And I feel like a lot of times that he doesn’t get as much credit as he should for that kind of thing, but that might make him more of the brains behind the operation rather than the heart and soul. I’m trying to fit different aspects to that analogy, but I don’t know. I think it really is a team effort; we really do work on everything together. So, I think combined we are like one beating heart with different atriums and centricals graphing it all together.

CoS: What were you listening to while recording Fasiinatiion? Do you think it influenced your music in any way?

J.T.: Yeah, I think that it did. Well, when we are recording I guess that I’m listening to other things while other people are recording their parts. I’ve said it before, but my influence at the time was Mr. Wazo, or Wazoo as the French say. I’ve been listening to a lot of his stuff because I realized he uses some of the same equipment that we do. I really like the way his records sound and I wanted to think about things and sort of put myself in his mindset. I was thinking, “What do I do with this part knowing that he has some of the same technical abilities?” Maybe not rip him off, but he’s a really creative and unique artist, so I found his music really inspirational.

CoS: Could you explain the processes you use for writing new music? Does one person come up with something and bring it out to everyone else or do you collectively create it?

J.T.: Well, there are a few different ones I suppose. We haven’t really created any kind of scientific method, but on this record we started out trying to play everything together; clicking it off with Clark’s sticks four times or whatever and then playing the song once again. We’d just play our parts and then when we wanted to work on this part, we’d take it from that chorus or whatever. We took that as far as we could, but then you realize there’s shortcomings to that method and that there’s advantages to working your music in the studio and to utilizing the studio as an instrument. So, we all seek a different method of kind of just having a song with chords and maybe a tempo; building it from scratch in the studio sort of trying a part at a time until the arrangements seemed right. Usually the method works best if Todd has the vocal melody and some words and some chords that he likes for us to try and use for creating a rhythm for Clark to use as a basis for a strong beat. Anything can get turned into a song. Something as simply as just a keyboard bass line, drum beat or a guitar riff or something or just some chords you know; some chords on guitar with no real rhythm, just chords that sound nice one after the other.

CoS: What impulses fuel your work?

J.T.: I don’t know. I think that we have a lot of creative impulses, it’s just a matter of which ones end up becoming what would be considered our work. We have impulses to just kind of throw paint on the walls or glue pictures to the walls or design a video. The impulse in general that gets turned into a song has something to do with a desire to say something, whether it’s literally through the lyrics or with the mood or style of the music. I guess I don’t know how to pinpoint what those impulses are exactly. I might be listening to something and go, “I want to make something like that,” and be emulating the other artist’s style or it might be just jamming on the chord progressions for lack of a better word, or reading some poetry and happening to come up with a melody that fits the words.

faint Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint)

CoS: Do you have an opinion about today’s music scene? Where do you see yourself fitting into it?

J.T.: Well, I don’t have any strong opinions about today’s music scene. I’m pretty excited about a lot of new music that’s being made and there’s a lot of bands that I’ve barely [been able] to listen to, but they really kind of like prick my ears. There are a lot of younger bands that I’m kind of into and I’m excited when I reach out to them and they know who we are and maybe they aren’t fans, but at least they are interested in what we do.

At the same time, there’s like this other world of music, the dance and electronic scene where we are outsiders to, but we’d like to be more a part of. In terms of the indie world, we are kind of established and people know who we are. A lot of people still come to the shows and a lot of them still respect us as artists and then there are some that have sort of written us off. I really have no idea what the general consensus is, but we kind of fit in with that world and we somewhat fit in with this electronic and dance world. Luckily, we’ve got some people that are helping us do a little better, like Noise putting out our singles from Germany. And I’ve noticed that’s changed our music or at least whatever we’ve put out with him so far on a lot of DJ mp3 sites and stuff, so that’s cool.

I’ve also noticed that more of those kinds of people that use those websites are kind of into that world; like MySpace messaging and that sort of thing. So, I feel like we are branching out, which was part of the decision to not release the record on Saddle Creek. We knew that we were still just kind of servicing our music to the same audience. We try to be loyal to those people, but at the same time we do want to try other things and we do want to get involved with other scenes and maybe play different kinds of shows occasionally.

the faint 231x300 Interview: Jacob Thiele (The Faint) CoS: Which do you prefer: recording or touring?

J.T.: I mean they are both a lot of fun. They are materially totally different and I don’t really have a preference, they kind of go hand in hand with our style. Both of them are equally interesting for completely different reasons. I like performing and I like being creative, so a tie in my book.

CoS: And how are things going on your current US tour?

J.T.: The tour is going great. We just got back from Australia and Japan and we are getting ready to go back out in the U.S. again and Europe. Everything is going well, but we are having some difficulty getting some bands to play with. I think we weren’t very organized when it came to asking bands to play with us, and now everybody that we wanted to play with us is got other things going on. Like I was saying, there are a lot of great bands, a lot of cool new bands out there, so I’m sure we’ll find somebody to do it.

CoS: I hear you put on one hell of a theatrical live performance. Anything exciting planned for this tour?

J.T.: Well, it’s kind of the same as the last time we were in the U.S. because we are doing a lot of different cities this time. We’ve tightened up though, like we did some MIDI light programming for our floor LED lights, which tighten up the LED aspect of the lighting. And we’ve finally found a good fabric for projecting the videos on to, like the brightness in the black reflective fabric didn’t really compete with the stage lighting, so we purchased new, larger, brighter projectors. Everything is kind of being upgraded. We have some close circuit cameras that also go to the projectors, so we are just going to use the programming to tighten and edit between the live video and the kind of free edited projections that we have already been incorporating into our show for the last 2 years now. For some people they’ll say it looks the same, but they are probably drunk. This time around it will be a lot more precise and I think a lot more effective and bombastic.

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