Under no pressure
Sacto’s Far together again and working on its first album in more than a decade
In 1998, a little band out of Sacramento called Far released a record considered in some circles a masterpiece. Water & Solutions took elements of punk, post-hardcore and pop and crammed them into 41 flawless minutes in which heart-on-sleeve lyrics cross ugly riffs and drumming that rattles your teeth.
Less than a year after the album’s release, and after eight years together, Far was gone. And the funny thing is that the band became more popular in death than it was while alive and playing shows with Incubus and its Sacto brethren the Deftones (or the occasional mismatched bill with Sepultura or Monster Magnet). Even as Far enjoyed a sort of newfound cult following, probably no one thought the band would ever get back together. Especially the band.
That all changed last year. The members (all of whom have gone on to other projects) reached out, recorded a cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony” as an inside joke and played a handful of UK dates as a way of—as vocalist/guitarist Jonah Matranga put it—“getting to know each other again.”
Matranga has been the most outspoken about keeping things pressure-free, which manifested itself in the band’s initially returning under the moniker Hot Little Pony. The song “Pony” ended up getting tons of play on rock radio. Some stateside shows followed earlier this year, and the idea was bandied about to possibly record some more covers for fun. You know … keep things low-pressure.
Matranga’s philosophy must be working because they’re still performing shows, and despite their intentions of avoiding pressure, everything else in the world of Far has accelerated considerably over the past few months: In March, the band signed to Vagrant Records—a label that includes everyone from emo specialists Saves the Day to the working-man’s rock of The Hold Steady—and the group is putting the finishing touches on a new album slated for a summer release.
While Matranga admits that a new label and a new record have added an interesting wrinkle to the entire thing, he’s still feeling comfortable with the idea.
“I’m going to do what I love and [myself and the people who listen] will both know that it was a pure attempt,” says Matranga. “On a commercial level there’s no pressure because we were never that popular to begin with.”
Guitarist Shaun Lopez admits he was nervous early on in the writing process about following up an album that many people hold dear. Lopez, who’s also producing the new album, spent late February and most of March holed up in his L.A. studio writing the riffs, usually emerging as the sun came up.
“Guys in the band call me ‘the vampire’ for a reason,” Lopez jokes. He and Matranga exchanged songs and ideas by e-mail (Matranga lives in San Francisco) before ending up with a batch of almost 20, including a song called “At Night We Live”—a title both members have taken a liking to.
Lopez says he wanted the new record to be more diverse than Water & Solutions, and that many of the songs were written with drums in mind more than guitars. Now that the band is deeper into the recording process, any apprehensions Lopez may have had have disappeared.
“I’m sure there will be people who say, ‘I like their old stuff better,’ but there are always those people with any band,” he says. “I could care less; I feel more than confident about this record.”
Which comes back to the members of Far being comfortable with themselves. It has always come across in the music and in the performances—which makes it easy to separate the band from the mob of cookie-cutter acts that followed, sporting skinny pants and funny haircuts.
Matranga’s stock response when asked about Far influencing a decade’s-worth of bad mall-rock is that he doesn’t blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake and he doesn’t want to be blamed for Fall Out Boy.
“It was never a point to be sensitive, or nerdy, and try to turn it into a comic book,” Matranga says. “It’s just us.”