By Gary Marlowe
A name on many a tastemaker’s lips right now is FAMY, the London-based quartet met whilst living in the South of France and there’s no doubt that’s brought a certain arty je ne sais quoi to their music. September sees them release their debut album and embark on their first UK tour, which includes a stop in Brighton. We liked what we heard and were intrigued to find out more, so BN1’s Gary Marlowe spoke to FAMY’s vocalist, Bruce Yates.
Where are you right now and where were you last night?
Bruce: I’m going to a physiotherapy session because I slipped two discs in my back.
Did you do that onstage?
Bruce: I don’t know. I like to think it’s chronic anxiety, but it’s probably just my dickhead posture! And last night? I was just at home with my girlfriend.
You played The Great Escape in May, unfortunately as there were some 400 bands and musicians in Brighton, we didn’t get to see you. What are your memories of that gig and what exposure did it give you?
Bruce: We had a really good time. It’s always nice to go to Brighton and to see it so buzzy with so many people. I don’t know what it did for us, but if people have said we were good then I’m happy.
Did you get to see any other bands during TGE?
Bruce: We saw Blaenavon who are also on Transgressive and are buddies with us. We’ve played with them a bunch of times in London. Then we went with the Transgressive crew to see Dry The River and Pulled Apart By Horses.
Did you get the chance to have a look around Brighton?
Bruce: I’ve been to Brighton a few times. I’ve got friends who study there. I like it a lot. We feel at home by the sea.
The four of you met whilst you were living in the South of France, that sounds like an idyllic place to grow up?
Bruce: We all went to the international school in Nice. My brother Arthur and I were born in London and we moved there in 2001. Luca, our bassist, is from Milan. That part of the world was such a nice place to grown up in. We didn’t get to see many bands, but what did inspire us was the art that’s there. The Côte d’Azur is kind of the home of all the modern masters.
Did you always have ambitions to form a band?
Bruce: I always wrote songs, but we were kind of in a bubble away from everything. Even getting to see Q magazine was a big deal! We were always into music, but we didn’t really think about starting a band until we came back to London. Apart from myself, no one played any instruments!
Who were you listening to back then?
Bruce: I was into The Cure. We also listened to a lot of Arcade Fire, but we didn’t have much access to anything apart from MTV.
The Guardian recently described your music as being “Epic, bombastic and having a Spectoresque penchant for overload.” How would you describe it?
Bruce: I described it once as Mediterranean modernism which sounds a bit wanky, but it’s kind of true! We don’t really fit into any kind of scene. I suppose there is quite a lot of epic-ness in our songs, I guess we have a tendency for that.
I’ve read that among others, the Beach Boys were an early influence on your music. What in particular did you take from the Beach Boys?
Bruce: The Beach Boys are just like a reference for everyone, they’re so foundational. We certainly didn’t take their harmonies because only two of us sing, so I guess it was their melodies and their percussive sound. They showed us you didn’t have to have a full drum kit or play a hi-hat. We don’t have a big kit. We started with a bucket, that became a floor tom and then we added a tambourine and then a snare. Our drummer didn’t really know what he was doing! None of us did really, we just kind of built it up. We still haven’t added a hi-hat!
Your current single ‘Ava’ was my first exposure to your music and it immediately stood out as being something special. How representative is that song of the rest of your music?
Bruce: It’s kind of funny. I’m glad you asked and thanks for saying you like it. We put it at the end of the album because it was written apart from the rest of the songs. Our producer said that’s your big song so that has to be the second track because apparently the big song on an album is always track two. I felt it needed to go at the end as it’s quite different.
And what is the song about?
Bruce: I described it once as realising that you’re just a dick!
I was also intrigued to hear your version of ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ by John Fogerty. How did that cover come about?
Bruce: We’ve always been big fans of Creedence Clearwater Revival and bigs fans of (1980’s punk rockers) The Minutemen as well. They did a cover of it which I loved and so did The Ramones and I kind of had an obsession with entering the canon of rock music, so we thought let’s do our own version and give it our own spin.
Your debut album ’We Fam Econo’ is coming out in September. You recorded it in a church in Wales. How comes? And how did the church influence the sound of the songs?
Bruce: We wanted a cacophonous, triumphant, majestic sound. We were thinking about recording it somewhere where there was a lot of natural reverb. At first, we were thinking about a cave in Spain, but that proved too expensive, so we found this chapel in Wales. It’s a working chapel, but we had it to ourselves for ten days and it gave the whole album a special sound, a special vibe.
The album was produced by the renowned Radio 1 Maida Vale live engineer, Miti Adhikari, what attracted you to him?
Bruce: He did our Maida Vale session and was the only producer we’d worked with who we thought got our sound.
When it was finished Miti tweeted this about the record: “Some will hate it, some will love it. We just had a great time making it.”
Bruce: We had the best time in the world making it. Honestly, it was just so good! Miti’s like our father now, he’s become such a good friend to us and recording with him just felt like we were doing something really special.
Did you go in with all the songs written?
Bruce: All the songs were written, we even knew the track listing we wanted. We even knew which songs would end up as B-sides and not be on the album. We recorded a track a day and we did it in the order the tracks will appear on the album.
I’m intrigued how you replicate your recorded sound at your live shows. Do you rely on backing tracks, or do you play it all live?
Bruce: There’s a lot of vocal layers on the record, but we’ve tried to translate it so we don’t have any backing tracks, just a really great live engineer called Jim King who is just a genius. We know exactly what effects to put on everything. We do have a drum pad which triggers a few vocals which fill some choruses. As far as we can we play the record live.
I hear you have a backdrop featuring a poem and there are lots of white flowers on the stage, how important is the visual side of things to FAMY?
Bruce: We all bring different things to the table. To us, being in a band is about more than just the music. We want to have fun and we want to be creative. We do as much as we can to make it an experience for us and for our fans. My brother Arthur is also a really good visual artist, so he does quite a bit of that.
The new album cover and those of your EP’s feature very strong imagery…
Bruce: The EP cover was shot by a friend of ours who lives in Marseilles and then Arthur painted over it. The album sleeve is something we’re really excited about. When we first started and we put out demos, we used the work of a Californian artist, Robert Charles Dunahay, without asking him. When we got the opportunity to make an album and release it properly, we got in touch with him and asked if he would paint something for us. We sent him some demos and he really liked the project and half way through recording he sent us the artwork which was really cool.
As a young band, formed at a time when record sales are plummeting and many of us listen to our music for free, how challenging is it to make ends meet?
Bruce: We’re on an independent label, so trust me we didn’t get loads of money chucked at us! That’s why we all have jobs. We all have to work fucking hard just to survive. The album title ‘We Fam Econo’ is a reference to doing things at a low-cost and is also our take on a Minutemen documentary entitled ‘We Jam Econo’.
Having full time jobs must make it quite challenging being in a band?
Bruce: It is. Right now we’re just taking it week by week.
You’re going to be back in Brighton in September when you play the Hope, what can we expect from that show?
Bruce: We’re really looking forward to bringing the new music to Brighton. Expect good songs and a good musical experience!
FAMY play The Hope, Brighton on 24 September 2014
FAMY’s debut album ‘We Fam Econo’ is released in September
Follow FAMY at @famyboys
Photo courtesy of Transgressive, reworked by Images Out Of The Ordinary