Qu’est-ce que c’est?
Fa Fa Fa
Good music is often a balancing act between conflicting impulses: tension and resolution, noise and pop, atmosphere and structure, beauty and filth. The Reno rock band Fa Fa Fa explores conflict and balance in their songs: “Camden” is a pop song underlined by washes of white guitar noise. “Cities” begins as a loose, spacey ambient soundscape before transforming into a tight, percussion-heavy groove.
“We try to find balance, but keep it cohesive,” says drummer Elliott Olson. He and bassist Matt Davidson bring an early ’00s dance punk energy, like The Rapture, to many of the songs.
Julian Chang and Jordan Morrison are the band’s primary songwriters, though all the band members, including new recruit Tiffany King, help with arrangements and writing instrumental sections. King plays synthesizer, samplers and miscellaneous percussion. Chang plays guitar, piano and keyboards while Morrison focuses primarily on guitar.
Chang and Morrison both sing and write lyrics, but their approaches differ. Chang sings with a New Wave pop inflection, and Morrison drenches his vocals with reverb, echo, delay and other effects. Chang writes his lyrics based primarily on the content as it appears on the page. Morrison is mostly concerned with the sounds of the words.
“I’m pretty into atmosphere—maybe too much—but Julian is the opposite,” says Morrison.
The overall sound of the band is surprisingly cohesive, and the mix of angular guitars, high-pitched, off-kilter vocals and funky, danceable grooves is reminiscent of another band notable for their adept balance of conflicting impulses: Talking Heads.
“Well, our band name does come from a Talking Heads song,” says Chang, “Though most people don’t pick up on that.”
It might seem obvious once it’s pointed out, but “fa fa fa,” is, of course, part of the chorus of “Psycho Killer,” one of Talking Heads’ signature songs.
Other audible influences include bands from the same era, like The Clash and Joy Division, and—in another seeming contradiction nicely reconciled—the band’s atmospheric interludes often sound like nothing so much as Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. Strange bedfellows, maybe. Punk and prog sittin’ in a tree.
Fa Fa Fa evolved out of the poppy local indie rock band The Touques and played its first show in 2009. The band recently completed its first record, a full-length titled What Made Those Hoes & Rents. The album was recorded and mixed by Montreal-based producer Howard Bilerman, a man responsible for a number of critically acclaimed records, including records by Wolf Parade and British Sea Power, and Arcade Fire’s Funeral, on which he also played drums.
In preparation for recording, the band practiced relentlessly for hours every day.
“We didn’t want to be unprofessional around the guy who recorded Arcade Fire,” says Chang.
The band members credit Bilerman with really pushing them in the studio, prompting them to do take after take of songs until they hit the right vibe. The result is a record that finds the right balance between punk and prog, pop and noise, old school and New Wave, sonic atmosphere and structured songcraft, sounds and words.