The fax of life
A fairly accurate way to describe music is to compare it to drugs. Some songs sound like black coffee, some songs sound like mescaline, some songs sound like Froot Loops.
“Runnin’ Away,” by Reno band The Fax, sounds like you’ve drunk a bit too much of something sweet, like brandy, say, and then somebody hands you a joint and you think, “what the hell,” only to kind of regret it a minute or two later because you start feeling dizzy. The chords fly by in a blur, and the rhythm seems to lurch from side to side. It’s not a bad feeling—warm and pleasant, just a little disorienting.
Over the top of this lilting music, a young man sings with a croaking moan, joined on the choruses by a young woman with a soft, jazzy croon: “So don’t you tell me that you’re runnin’ away from me.”
Joe Little, the guy with the croaking moan, is one of the guitarists of The Fax. He says “Runnin’ Away” is an autobiographical song about turning down sex and then regretting it later. “Which is funny,” he says, “because ‘Struggle’”—one of the band’s other tunes—“is all about the struggle of not getting laid.”
Keyboardist Ruby Fradkin, the woman with the croon, also sings lead on some of the songs, like “Blue.” Her voice has a jazz timbre to it, and she sings in a folksy way, but her nonlinear songwriting has a lot of big, weird melodic leaps, so she comes across almost like a rootsier Kate Bush, or a Joanna Newsom raised on show tunes ragtime. Fradkin was a piano prodigy as a child, and recorded albums of ragtime music before entering her teens.
The group is rounded out by Jonathan “Joni” Cohen, a fingerpicking guitarist with a classical background; his brother, Guy Cohen, a bassist with bluesy, Southern style that adds a lot of bounce to the group’s songs; and drummer Warren Anderson, who also has a solo electronica act, Fax8e.
“I really like how things synthesized in this band,” says Little, meaning the cohesion of the disparate musical elements, not the use of electronic instruments.
The overall sound of the music is very rooted in classic, late ’60s, psychedelic-era rock ’n’ roll—melodic, psychedelic sounds over blues and jazz chords. This impression is reinforced by the band’s practice room, the walls of which feature a collage of ’60s icons like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Neil Young and the Velvet Underground.
“Personally, I try to rip off Bob Dylan,” says Little, only half-joking.
Anderson’s drumming adds an upbeat contemporary twist to the music. He plays dance beats and post-punk beats that belie the old-school flavors of the other instruments—but it all coheres reasonably.
“I think if somebody came to one of our shows expecting a dance band, they’d be sorely disappointed,” says Anderson, with a laugh. “We stand by our songwriters.”
It’s a songwriting band, not a party band. Though Little and Fradkin are the vocalists, all the band members contribute ideas, and they all agree that the variety of perspectives helps keep things interesting.
“I really like our Myspace photo,” says Anderson. “We’re all looking in different directions.”