Interview with The Fatales

Two EPs from The Fatales have come across my desk, and both impressed me quite a bit. The first EP, Harajuku Hip, was an energetic garage-rock release, and the newest one, Pretty in Pixels, delved more into electronics and effects for a bigger, fleshed-out rock sound. Despite self-releasing each album and having members in New York and Virginia, The Fatales sound surprisingly tight and always inspired. So we got in touch with Ryan Vernon (bass – New York City), James Wu (keys, synths, cello – NYC), Wayne Switzer (guitar, vocals – NYC), Chris Lord (guitar, effects – Virginia), and Dan Sisco (drummer – Virginia) to find out more.

To be democratic, as every five-piece band should be, the questions were sent out to every member of the band, and each was nice enough to respond quickly. Responses were culled so they don’t repeat themselves, since interviewing a band over e-mail can result in such things. The band discusses the chores of self-releasing an album, why the latest album almost didn’t get made due to the big East Coast blackout, and more.

Delusions of Adequacy: Give me some history of the band. How long have you guys been together, and how did you form?

James Wu: We all went to school at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Wayne and I met at a party through mutual friends. It was love at first sight and we moved in together just a few months later. Wayne was playing in a band called in.the.red (a hyped up saccharin-sweet emofied upgrade of Wayne’s first musical triumph, the DVNTS). Ryan and I joined on cello and bass and probably broke the band up because we were awful. And by awful I mean awesome. Dan was working with Ryan at WUVT, our college radio station as a DJ, and Chris and Wayne were old friends. I think Chris actually taught Wayne how to play guitar. I think Wayne still needs a few lessons. We saw what was going on with the whole garage-rock thing with the Strokes and said, “hey, what the hizzo, we can do that.”

Wayne Switzer: We’ve been a band for about two years…but only six months of that has seen us all living in the same vicinity. I recruited Ryan to play bass in a former band, which after one show disbanded, leaving us to find new musicians. Chris and I have known each other since the first week of university. Dan was a friend of Ryan’s through the college radio station. James joined in, as he was my roommate at the time, and was wily enough to realize we could use some keyboard savvy.

yan Vernon: I went to a show a basement show in Blacksburg with a 40 in hand, and that is where I met Wayne. I don’t really remember the rest.

Dan Sisco: I was excited (and a little surprised) to play with like-minded music dorks. Uh…enthusiasts…I meant like-minded music enthusiasts. There was a lot of emo and hardcore in Blacksburg, and they were looking to do something different, which I liked.

DOA: Who came up with the name The Fatales? What does it mean?

JW: Our oldest and dearest fans will remember that we used to be called the Bangs. But, alas we didn’t know about the whole history of the Bangles or the band “Bangs” on Kill Rock Stars so we had to change our name. We started developing this whole dangerous bad-boy uncontrollable sex appeal thing. I mean, look at us, understandably so. A lot of our songs had developed these James Bond / Batman-esque spy riffs. We thought about the Femme Fatales in those Bond movies…at day…at night…we liked the image they conjured and decided to adopt the name, dropping the Femme.

No, actually, it was a pretty random process. We all came up with 10 band names, wrote them onto little pieces of paper and threw them into a hat. We picked each name out one by one. The very last name left in the hat was going to be the name of the band. Winners like “Smells Like Kindergarten” (Ryan’s) and “Hot Garbage” (also Ryan’s) were unfortunately eliminated in the early rounds. I can’t exactly remember, but I think the runner-up was something really creative like DVNTS or something. But, it worked out because we found out that name was already taken.

Chris Lord: I think Wayne came up with the name. It’s a reference to a Velvet Underground song. We were originally called The Bangs, but later found out that there was another band called Bangs. So we had an extensive name search, and voted on the finalists. I lost, because The Fatales was the name I wanted the least. It’s grown on me since then.

DOA: What makes the band tick? What drives you five guys to work together and keep recording and playing?

JW: I don’t know. It’s a very self-indulgent thing, playing in a rock band. It’s really a great feeling to have people respond positively to your music. But, I think more than anything else, we just feel that it’s a rare thing to have five guys who all get along, have roughly the same level of talent, the same level of ambition, and similar tastes in music. So, it’s almost like we owe it to ourselves to stick together and take risks and work on writing music that we hope will someday be as good if not better than a lot of the artists who’ve influenced us. It also helps our sanity to have something creative in our lives that’s unrelated to our day jobs.

RV: Creating music is fun. And all of the positive feedback we get affirms our work.

WS: Take five completely different personalities. Add various ticks and oddities. Spread all ingredients generously across the east coast. Serve chilled.

CL: For me, music is such an important part of my life. I love listening to it and playing it. My dad studied music in school, so I guess I got the gene from him.

DS: The same reason anybody does it – everything about music is fun…listening to it, making it. You hear potential in stuff you’ve written and you want to keep pushing to improve on it…until it’s perfect. Until it’s yours. And it helps that we all get along really well, and that we have the similar tastes…uh, well…most of the time.

DOA: Pretty in Pixels seems to have a more electronic approach than your first EP, which I thought was more garage-y in sound. Tell me about how your music has changed and progressed?

WS: The new record almost didn’t have any electronics (or electricity, for that matter) at all. We drove up to Brooklyn the day the infamous blackout ended – with the juice coming back on only 25 minutes before we pulled into town. The music has changed for the better, in my opinion. More care in arranging the material and more time to learn how to play our instruments.

JW: I think with any new band, you go through a pretty lengthy identity crisis where you don’t know what you want to sound like and more or less toy with the sounds of a lot of different artists that you’re influenced by. I think it’s also natural to want to have your music accepted and accessible. So, it’s no wonder why we started off sounding like a garage-rock band in early 2002 and went through a new-wave / factory records phase in 2003. There are things about all those styles we enjoy and we just try to learn and build by picking out the best elements. I can safely say that we are all very interested in electronic music and its complement to shoegaze-influenced pop.

RV: I guess you could call us Fusion, ha. But really, we are synthesizing electronic and rock music.

DS: We were wanting a more…ambitious sound. We each tend to want individual parts, and indeed entire songs, to be perfect…to be thoughtful. That electronic approach gives the recording a more hi-fi feel, which is where our songs are definitely moving…

DOA: It sounds like the band has really found its sound on Pretty in Pixels. How has the reaction been to the new EP? Are you guys excited about it?

RV: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We are excited, and I am giddy to record again.

JW: Pretty in Pixels was a great learning experience, but I think we’re still working on finding “our sound”. Expect a foray into arena rock and klezmer music with a little splash of soft jazz thrown in for good measure. The reaction to Pretty in Pixels has been overwhelmingly positive. As with any band, we’re pretty critical of ourselves. Of course, it’s easy to be critical of something in retrospect. I think we’ll do a lot of things differently next time.

CL: We’re definitely excited about the EP, and about the reaction we’ve been getting. It’s been almost entirely very positive. Up until recently it was completely positive, and finally someone gave us a luke-warm review. It was actually refreshing. I felt like we were getting away with murder.

DOA: I hear a lot of comparisons to bands like Radiohead and Interpol. What are your influences, and how would you describe the band’s music?

JW: I really hate descriptions. I always end up sounding incredibly generic or cliché. But, I think that’s actually okay because I think it would be really asinine to say that what we are doing is original or to attempt to describe ourselves in a way that sounds unique. I’m fine with being derivative. I can only dream that we come close to what’s been done in the past. My only hope is that we can continue to build on different genres in ways that are interesting to listen to. Radiohead’s the greatest and I really love what Interpol has done so I can’t complain about those comparisons. Personally I grew up on stuff like New Order, The Smiths, and The Cure. Other all time favorites include Bjork and Belle and Sebastian. I listen to a fair amount of Stereolab, Air, Blonde Redhead, and Rachel’s too.

WS: Of course those are bands we admire. But I think their respective ways of arranging songs is even more notable than whatever pastiche is typically derived from them. I really enjoy listening to compelling vocalists: David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg, Jarvis Cocker…etc. Elvis Costello is one of my favorites.

CL: Yeah, sometimes I think our influences are too obvious. For instance, it’s pretty obvious that when we wrote “Ministry of Defense,” we were listening to a lot of Interpol. The connections are something I’m trying to diminish. Right now, if I write something that I or someone else can point quickly to what it sounds like, I throw it out or change it. But, on the other hand, I love Radiohead and Starflyer 59, and I think influences are very important. Interpol would not be successful if they sounded exactly like Joy Division. People would listen to the original.

DS: Man…this is a fair question but super hard to answer. Between us, we listen to anything and everything. We try to, and need to, listen more to ourselves…but there’s so much good stuff out there! Yeah, we all love Radiohead. They’re heavenly. And Interpol…well, except for Ryan and James maybe, but they’re weird and don’t count. Chris and I love spacey shoegaze sounds, and Wayne’s writing is a kind of spooky sexy britpop….I crapped my pants with glee when a reviewer recently compared us to the Chameleons UK!

DOA: So three EPs so far – the two I’ve heard are quite excellent. Are you working on a full-length?

WS: Thank you! We’re working on new material-which will hopefully culminate in a full-length. This might be the first time we’ve started arranging songs with a thematic record in mind.

JW: Eventually yes, we’ll have a full-length. But, not until we have the backing of a label. I tend to enjoy EPs. They’re easier to digest leave you wanting more. LPs have so much weight behind them. They rarely deliver as a whole.

DOA: Why have you chosen to go the self-released route so far? Is it an expensive, difficult process?

RV: I don’t know if you would call it a choice. It is expensive, but it is a great learning experience. We like having the control of our booking and working it is the natural way to mature. After three self releases we have decided to start look for a label.

JW: It can be done cheap and it can be done expensive. The first two EPs we did were done on a dime. We recorded in Ryan’s living room and mixed things up in his bedroom. I know that sounds dirty and it was. Pretty in Pixels cost us several limbs. But, it was worth it. We never wanted to approach labels until we felt like we had a presentable product to show. We feel like we’re starting to come into our own and with Pretty in Pixels we can confidently say that we’re ready to talk with labels. Financially, it’s hard to imagine having to self-release another record.

DS: Yeah, It would be nice to get someone to help us out with the next recording! Do you have any friends? Seriously…I still owe Ryan and James some money. It is expensive and difficult, but so rewarding if you take your time…I really want to spent a lot more time on the next recording.

DOA: Have you had interest from any labels?

RV: A couple but none that we are interested in. Labels are kinda like girls.

JW: A few. We haven’t really started the whole shopping around for a label process yet. It’s on my to-do list after “call grandma” and “go to dry cleaners” – two things I’ve been neglecting for a long long time.

DOA: The production on your releases has been stellar. Who did the production work, and how did you guys manage such a fantastic sound?

JW: For our first two releases, we can credit Ryan for most of the magic. Pat yourself on the back Ryan. For home recordings, using the ghetto equipment and software we had, they weren’t too shabby. For Pretty in Pixels, we worked at Headgear Studios in Brooklyn (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). For one reason or another we decided that doing the recording in NYC was going to be the most logical and convenient thing to do given our work/school commitments and geographic spread. They have a really nice setup. Dan Long (Say Hi to Your Mom) was really excited about the demo I dropped off with him and his enthusiasm about our music and working with us is what sold us. He kinda went the extra mile to show us he cared if you know what I mean. Seriously he did an amazing job. We tried a lot of really fun stuff for this record. Hooking the vocals up to a moog filter for “The Cosmonaut”; recording all of Chris’ Kaos work through a stereo amp setup; heavily gating the percussion in “You’re Not the Lunar Type”; bringing in my brother who lives in the city and plays violin to add some string tracks; eating a lot of panang curry. And Alan Douches from West West Side Music mastered the album. He was as amazing as everyone made him out to be: a true wizard and an outright legend.

WS: We’re more than satisfied with this recording, although I think we’ll be a bit more discerning the next go.

RV: I think recording and mixing ourselves in my bedroom helped us gain a lot of the knowledge of what to. If anything it told us what not to do. So we got out of my bedroom and into Headgear Studio with Dan Long in NYC. Our sound is in Dan’s heart and we feel it is important to record with someone that really believes in our work. We were in the studio with him all day everyday for about a week.

DS: Wow, thanks. We’re just about entirely self-produced! Ryan is particularly good at tweeking effects and things…y’know, studio tricks. He’s a real tech-weenie that way…the good kind of tech-weenie. Each of us will have ideas as to subtle touches and cool electronics…and sometimes we’re even able to pull them off.

DOA: What are your future plans, in terms of recording and touring?

RV: We are going to do a little mini tour hear this summer. And we are still working on an arsenal of songs for our next recording project.

JW: I’m hoping we can setup a little mini weeklong tour of the east coast this summer, but it’s going to be really difficult to coordinate our schedules. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t see us going back into the studio anytime soon, but we are talking about some producers we’d like to work with. Our next recording is going to depend heavily on what happens with the label search. The nice thing about our band right now is that we’re not really in a rush to do or be anything. I think we’re just comfortable with working on our music, improving our songs, and figuring out how to be super efficient and happy in this long-distance relationship of ours.

WS: Writing better material is a priority right now, over touring or pushing the EP. That, and allowing more time for the songs to gestate, without rushing the process. Oh, and getting signed would be nice.

CL: Our main focus is pushing the EP to labels and radio stations. We’ve also been talking about working with Andrew Prinz (Mahogany, Auburn Lull) on some future material.

DOA: What are you guys listening to right now? Any local bands to tell us about?

RV: I keep singing about tractor beams because I heard Say Hi to Your Mom featuring Dan Long on 3wk.com.

JW: I’m in love with the new Blonde Redhead and am really enjoying the new Air and Broadcast albums. Dan keeps talking about a band called Pacific UV that I’m supposed to check out. My friends are raving about some band they saw open for the Wrens called Arcade Fire? I dunno. It’s hard to keep up. We all can’t wait to hear the new Auburn Lull and Mahogany records coming out this year on Simdisc and Darla. Also be on the lookout for our Blacksburg (VA) brethren Bernard Farley, aka Outputmessage, on Ghostly and Echelon.

WS: The Dresden Dolls from Boston are the best live act I’ve seen in the last two years. Fantastic performers.

CL: I’ve been listening to Air, Stellastar, Ester Drang, Pacific UV, Elbow, Clearlake, and the Lost in Translation soundtrack, to name a few. As far as local (sort of) bands, one should check out Gregor Samsa and Canyon.

DS: I just stumbled onto an Athens, Georgia (not really local I suppose) band called Pacific UV. Very dreamy, very delicious. Outputmessage from Blacksburg is good…and I love all the Andrew Prinz (NY)-affiliated projects – Auburn Lull, Mahogany, and Kanda.