Fanfarlo have had a whirlwind year. They’ve played giant festivals and toured Europe, and then headlined in the United States in support of their terrific debut LP, Reservoir.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas and drummer Amos Memon before their intimate December 12th performance at the Brillobox in Pittsburgh. In the wide-ranging interview, we talked about David Bowie, burglary, and bladder control.
Owl&Bear: How did Fanfarlo get together to become a band?
Cathy: It’s easy enough to meet other musicians; the Indie scene in London is not huge.
Amos: Depending on the type of band you’re in, you can easily find similar bands and people who are into the same type of music you are within a week.
Owl&Bear: I read in Spin Magazine that you guys were frustrated with the “copycat” scene there.
Cathy: Yeah, that was sort of a misquote. No, I think it was more that we didn’t necessarily fit in with the “now sound.”
Owl&Bear: You guys use a lot of different instruments. Are any of you classically trained?
Cathy: Some of us are. Leon, our trumpet player, is into sort of traditional grades. It is the normal method in England to classically train.
Amos: I actually have never had a lesson in my life—and that was self-taught without a drum set for the better part of nine years.
Cathy: Pots and pans, baby!
Amos: (Laughs) Yeah, but just listening to music and visualizing what a drummer may be doing is how I learned. I actually started off playing left-handed, but now I’ve moved on to play right-handed. I don’t know why; it was just the way I visualized it. But now I can’t play left-handed.
Cathy: Why did you do that?
Amos: Without having had any lessons, I thought it was how you approached the kit.
Cathy: You should have a symmetrical kit, and have the two kits connect to each other, and have all these crazy fills along the whole thing.
Amos: You do see that a lot in metal or pop.
Cathy: We are not really that kind of band though, to have this huge, mega, uber-kit, drum odyssey. (Laughs)
Owl&Bear: You guy aren’t planning on taking a Journey turn any time soon are you?
Amos: No, I don’t think so, but I do quite enjoy watching Neil Peart play the drums; it’s interesting. I can’t do anything like that, but it’s interesting.
Owl&Bear: How has it been, touring for so long?
Amos: It feels like it has been nonstop, but it really hasn’t been that long of a time. It’s been constant since about September.
Cathy: Yeah, since then, we have been heavily touring. Before that, we all had normal jobs.
Owl&Bear: What did you guys do prior to Fanfarlo?
Amos: I quit my job because of the band. I ended up doing a lot of temp work for universities based in London. Research for students and giving them advice about where their degree could take them. So I got to speak with a lot of different people.
Cathy: This is Amos’ passion, speaking to lots of people. (Laughs) No, we did all kinds of things. Justin was a bookseller, Leon was a travel editor, I was a English teacher. Simon worked for Beggars Group. So lots of different things.
Owl&Bear: Do you notice any difference between touring the U.S. and touring Europe?
Cathy: It takes 10 hours to get anywhere [in the U.S.]. We do about 50 mph in our van. Plus we do a lot of stops; Justin has a weak bladder. (Laughs)
Owl&Bear: I read that you were robbed recently.
Amos: Yes, that happened in Portland. Unfortunately. It’s such a cool city. We had a million things to do that day, and in our rush, Simon decided, “Oh yeah, I will just leave the bag in the van for a couple hours.” And that bag—the only bag taken—contained his laptop and Swedish passport.
Cathy: He keeps remembering things that were in it, too. Like “Oh no, my Allen Ginsberg book was in there.”
Amos: And some cool clothes.
Cathy: We’ve had to cancel the Canadian dates just because we were afraid we’d be hassled at the border about his passport.
Owl&Bear: I’m sorry to hear about that.
Amos: It was a very unfortunate turn of events.
Owl&Bear: Like you said, it takes forever to get anywhere touring the U.S. Since you spend so much time traveling together, are there any rules in the van?
Amos: Well, there are no rules. But I think we know each other’s personalities, so it’s like the characters get exaggerated.
Cathy: Yeah, definitely.
Owl&Bear: You become a caricature of yourself?
Cathy: (Laughs) Yes, you do.
Amos: You spend so much time together, the smallest things get magnified.
Cathy: We are just in each other’s faces all the time.
Amos: We get on fine, though. Our quirks are magnified, but if anything, it lets us all know that we are—
Cathy: Equally freakish.
Amos: Yeah, the quiet one will become more quiet. The one who is most antsy becomes even more antsy, and so forth.
Owl&Bear: Let’s talk about the recording process for Reservoir, which was in October 2008. Peter Katis produced the album; what was that like?
Amos: The whole thing was recorded in Connecticut, but it was a case of us being in England and coming up with a wish list of producers we’d like to work with. Peter was our number-one choice. The recording process was fairly quick; it was six weeks.
Cathy: Six weeks for a debut record is an amazingly long amount of time to record , we had a great studio to work in, and it went by really quickly.
Amos: It went a bit too fast. There was a bit of a learning curve; we had never lived and recorded in the same place before. It was essentially a detached house where there were living quarters for the band and living quarters for Peter and his family.
Cathy: There was a real taste of America as well, not only because it was this big wooden house in the suburbs, but also Peter has a TV as big as a wall. He has like four microwaves, two toasters. You could tell there had been a lot of grilled-cheese sandwiches and popcorn made.
Amos: You know, we ate dinner together every day, so it was fun. You could chill out for a hour or so and bond with each other, plus it was a exciting time. The elections were happening, Halloween, and all that.
Cathy: Living there and recording also helped us with our overall focus. You wake up, have a bit of breakfast, then head to the studio.
Owl&Bear: Reservoir is getting a lot of attention these days. David Bowie was quoted as being a fan of yours. Are there plans to collaborate with him in the future?
Cathy: That would be freaking awesome. Does he even make records anymore? Maybe we should call him up. No, we have been getting a lot of radio attention, which is really great. I think it was the whole $1 download thing that really got people listening.
Amos: NPR started listening to the band just around the time we played SXSW last year. We actually just recently did a Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR building, and that was really cool.
Owl&Bear: I look forward to seeing that. Well, Christmas and the New Year are approaching; how do you plan to spend those two holidays this year?
Amos: Simon is going back to Sweden, so the last show for us on this tour will be in New York. I will be going back to London.
Cathy: I will be going to Italy; my dad lives there. Justin is going to be in New York for Christmas, and I think we are all in London for New Year’s to hang with friends. London is like home for all of us; we very much like London.
Owl&Bear: Since it is the end of the year, I wanted to ask you if there is anything you would recommend from this past year that you’ve been listening to?
Amos: Hmm… There is this compilation album put out by Finders Keepers Records called The Sound of Wonder!
Cathy: Yeah, you should check that out!
Amos: It’s a compilation of 60s Lollywood songs from Pakistan. You won’t be disappointed.
Fanfarlo Tour Dates
Dec 18, 2009 – Webster Hall – New York, NY
Dec 19, 2009 – Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center – Westhampton, NY
Jan 23, 2010 – Ampere – München
Jan 24, 2010 – Studio 672 – Köln
Jan 26, 2010 – Magnet – Berlin
Jan 28, 2010 – Rocking Chair – Vevey
Jan 29, 2010 – Ziegel Oh Lac – Zurich
Feb 1, 2010 – Prinzenbar – Hamburg
Feb 9, 2010 – Thekla – Bristol
Feb 10, 2010 – Hare & Hounds – Birmingham
Feb 11, 2010 – Brudenell Centre – Leeds
Feb 12, 2010 – ULU – London
Feb 13, 2010 – Audio – Brighton