The Faint were dance-punk before there was dance-punk. Before every rock band added a four-on-the-floor beat to their guitars, The Faint were pulsing out their moody, dark music from the indie rock epicenter of Omaha, Nebraska. After 10 years and five albums, the band took a hiatus citing burnout. Now, four years later, The Faint return with their new album, Doom Abuse, their first since 2008’s Fasciinatiion. A couple of weeks back, our own Nick Freed spoke with lead singer Todd Fink about the recording process of the new album, the band’s live shows, and his thoughts on EDM.
What’re you guys up to right now? I know you’re working on some videos for the new album.
Well, yeah. We’re working on three videos right now at the same time. Along with merch, shirts, and all the things that aren’t the making music part. [Laughs.]
Wow, yeah. Understood. Have you been filming all those videos in the past week or so?
Yeah, we’ve been filming this week with our friend Nik Fackler, who is a talented filmmaker from around [Omaha]. Yeah, it’s all been coming together really fast. Planning another one this weekend, and making editing changes on a different one. Should get a final cut soon.
With this new album, Doom Abuse, you’ve been going kind of full-on and blasting through everything. You did that with the recording process, too. Was that a reaction to not having worked together in a while and just wanting to get it all out and not have it sitting in your brains?
Yeah, I mean, we were so excited to play again. We didn’t want to wait around to spend forever making a record. We just wanted it to be more of an immediate situation. Feel like it felt before where nothing was precious in the early days. You know, as time goes along, it was just, like, “We did this thing before, and it worked. Let’s do that. Then if someone wants to try some other thing, then do that.” Every part is trying to commune with each other. Everyone has a say in what needs to change and what might be better and so on and so on. In the end, we just said, “Let’s just play some music!”
Is that where the idea to record the tracks live came in as well?
Yeah. I mean, the tracks weren’t recorded “live.” We set up the band and mic’d up things, so if we were playing around and exploring stuff and we liked something, then we could hit record. It’s not going to be studio quality really or anything, but then we can remember everything. Then we listened, and thought, “This doesn’t sound that bad at all.” [laughs] We knew we could clean it up in the studio afterward, so we just kind of built the record like that.
That’s really interesting. I know that on your most recent albums, Wet from Birth and Fasciinatiion, the songs were more plotted out. Then on the songs that I’ve heard from Doom Abuse, there is a more chaotic, rough-around-the-edges sort of sound. Like you said, it’s back to the sound of your earlier albums. Was that what you were looking for, or did it just kind of happen that way?
Well, that was the mindset that we had. We had the same mindset, all of us, between what we’re doing recently and the early stuff. Where we have a keyboard, but we’re making rock music. We’re putting these things together. I don’t want to say in a specific genre because then I’ll start thinking specific to that genre [laughs], but… now I’ve distracted myself from the question I was answering [laughs]…
No, that’s fine! It’s just the idea that this album is a bit more chaotic and rough around the edges than the previous two albums.
Right! Yeah, we wanted to put out a higher energy, more excitement on the record. We wanted it to be part of the excitement that we felt playing again. Which is kind of the exact opposite of what we felt when we stopped.
You guys have been back in the swing of things for two years now after a four to five year hiatus. Has the dynamic of the band changed? Has the nature of how you all communicate changed? Or was it like riding a bike, and you just kind of fell back into it?
We pretty much just got right back into it. I think we’ve all learned what things we can say as we’ve gotten a little wiser [laughs]. It’s basically pretty similar [as before]. My brother [drummer Clark Baechle] and I, we’ve had a good dynamic for a long time. At some point it has come to trusting that he can run all technical sides of things, how everything should run and all that, which I have no idea. [Laughs.] So, we have a good relationship because the responsibilities are spread apart. It’s a good balance, I think.
While the band was on hiatus, some of the guys had side projects. You had Depressed Buttons, and Dapose had Vverevvolf Grehv. For you, was that a way to kind of work through some musical thoughts you had in your head and clean the slate?
Yeah, I mean I was tired of songs. I didn’t even like songs anymore after the last record. Not that I didn’t like them, I just wasn’t into it–into finding new songs and artists that had an interesting melodic vocabulary. So, I just went full into listening to electronic music and learning how to record electronic music and learning how to use myself, not relying on other people, which lead to: “Oh, here we are. We have a whole different set of priorities, balance-wise, instruments,” all things I was interested in. I’m really glad that I learned that stuff. I think all of us learned a lot of stuff in the hiatus.
It’s really interesting because when we came back, we didn’t really use any of that knowledge directly on this album. [Laughs.]
You can definitely hear it, though, on the album. The thing that has always differentiated you from other electronic or rock bands is that, while there is a level of chaos, there is still a solid core of melody and structure. On this new album, that core is still there, but there’s an underlying rumble of almost flying off the rails.
Yes. I think one thing that I’ve learned from getting deeper into electronic music is restraint, ya know? We used to make up a million parts. When we first started in The Faint, before even Blank-wave Arcade, we were just putting every little melodic flourish and every little part. There would be 20 parts per song it seems like and all these versions. Then over time, I think, we’ve realized that it feels better with less. We have to have some structure, something is constant throughout the song, some mood or something.
When you guys are playing those earlier songs live, do you have a lot of room for improvisation or adding to them? Or does it have to be pretty strict and on point?
We’ve always kept the live versions pretty strict. Everyone is free to do whatever impulse hits them, but the structure stays the same. The song will be exactly the same length for instance. That’s because of how the light programming is and the video programming we use. Also, because we have a lot of parts within the song, and the keyboards need to change rather than having 10 different keyboards. So the keyboards will have a MIDI change at a very specific point in the song to come in with a different sound. So it sort of forces us to have a pretty rigid structure.
Is it the same for percussion, too? Are there certain triggers that kick in at certain points?
Yeah. Over most of our history, we’ve run our timing and key changes off of a computer or hardware, which isn’t the best way to do it, really. [Laughs.] There are calculators involved and all that. It’s annoying. At least it looks annoying to me. My brother does it. Anyway. So, we’re able to, if there isn’t a playable part or another layer… we have the ability to just run a loop or a sample into the mix. That kind of stuff is part of what was making the band become too distracted from making songs and moving along, having those options. So, our answer to that is making this record. [Laughs.] I’m actually still interested in making more overtly electronic music now. Now that we’ve got this record out. Now that we’ve got out what we were going after.
So, this album will make the live shows be a little bit less complicated?
I think it’ll be easier than when we come to the older ones. [Laughs.] Oh, my god. How does this work? It can happen, but it takes forever [laughs]. But I think we just wanted to have songs that were exciting to play and can be exciting to experience.
Yeah, seeing you guys live is definitely a different experience from what’s on record. I’ve seen you a few times in Omaha at Sokol Auditorium and here in Chicago at The Metro, and it’s a whole different take and feeling on the songs, which is great.
That’s great. I think you picked the good shows! I think those are two of my favorite venues that we play.
So, this album is coming out on SQE Records and not on your longtime label, Saddle Creek. What was the situation with that?
There’s nothing ominous about it. [Laughs.] Our manager right now had an assistant named Zane, who left to go work for SQE in their press office. It was just deciding whether to go with Zane and SQE or do another one with Saddle Creek, and we just said we’re going to go with Zane. [Laughs.] We’re probably going to do more with Saddle Creek; we’d like to. There’s not hard feelings, and we’re all still great friends.
Whenever someone mentions The Faint in juxtaposition with the new EDM craze, you have always stuck to the fact that, when it comes down to it, you’re a pop band making melodies. With EDM happening and people like Skrillex and Calvin Harris becoming popular, is this album that has more of the punk aesthetic…
A reaction to that? [Laughs.]
Right, yeah. Is there a conscious reaction to that?
I suppose so. I mean, I really like dance music. I’m a fan, but I’m not really a fan of the things that are… popular. [Laughs.] That sounds really pretentious. [Laughs.] But it’s true. It just doesn’t really appeal to me. I find myself running in the other direction. Most of the groups that I like are really minimal and dark and repetitious — industrial-like. You know who’s poppy that I really like? Gesaffelstein. I’ve been following him for a while. That’s about it who is popular right now. [Laughs.]
Yeah, it’s interesting hearing your new songs because I’ve been listening to the new Liars album, and they have a similar aesthetic in a way. You can hear that the inspiration is coming from a different, darker wing of the dance music craze.
Yeah! Yes. There is something just timeless about the human body’s attraction to repetitive rhythm and basically an impetus that comes in these little phrases to your brain that makes you want to move your body in a healthy way physically. There is a lot of different ways to do it. You can do it all slick and powerful and macho pop star or put bass on it or rap over it, but I think a lot of us are finding a way in which these pieces fit into music. Right now, it’s working for a lot of people.