Todd Fink is the voice behind influential indie rockers The Faint. Since deciding to move in a different musical direction, he (alongside three other members of the established Omaha, Nebraska natives) has set-up Depressed Buttons to focus on creating more electronic sounds to fuel parties across the globe. We wanted to share a few words with Todd about the ideas behind his new venture, touring and the future of his first band.
“Limitations spur creativity”
S] I suppose the most obvious question first is how is the inspiration different with Depressed Buttons in contrast to The Faint?
TF] It feels like an entirely new game. It’s different as it could be really, from The Faint. It may not sound too different to the listeners yet, at this point, but the approach is different – we have a lot to learn. I mean, we have learned a lot for the last couple of years playing around with different types of electronic music in The Faint – we’ve used a lot of synthesisers on this new material.
S] Do you have a song that you have recently created that you feel will translate well to fans of The Faint?
TF] No. I don’t think there is a whole lot of crossover, really. I don’t know exactly what our fans have grown into over the years. I figure that some of them have gone the same direction with their musical interests that we have, but I wouldn’t expect that most have. Because, The Faint is more like a pop band – I don’t mean that in a dismissive way at all, but I think that the reason we can make Depressed Buttons feel and sound different, and refreshing and limitless is because…well, I guess if we were concerned with what Faint fans think we wouldn’t be able to have that freedom.
S] Would you say that you have completely stripped away the punk elements of The Faint for this new, much more electronic-orientated project?
TF] To me, the ‘punk’ element is more about us being able to challenge ourselves and what we can get away with. That is what we like about electronic music in general – each track can introduce ideas and musical sounds that you start out hoping will be something different – something that’s not already out there. As an electronic musician, I want to expand people’s ideas about what music can be, as much as I can, but it needs to work, be listenable and good to party to as well!
S] You dealt a lot with the relationship between humanity and technology on the most recent Faint album, is there any major theme running through DB’s follow-up to the ‘QWERTY’ EP?
TF] I think that a strong theme that we have always been interested in is, ‘what is the future all about?’ and with the last Faint record, we wanted to explore life and what it’s really about. These were big ideas and things that are very challenging to sing and talk about. It was very much about the future, and time. Those are things that constantly stew in my mind and don’t go away, I am still thinking about them. But, with this project we are really questioning ourselves and what else we can do. The three of us have been working on The Faint for so long and we want to let any expectations of us disappear, and just go out with Depressed Buttons and party as DJs. In order to do that, we need some custom music. [laughs]
S] How has your attitude to electronic music changed over the course of your career?
TF] It goes in chapters. Right now, with Depressed Buttons, it’s been a year of building the EP and remixes – we have been siding towards electronic sounds – part of that, is just because there’s new tools in that realm to explore. I don’t think we are married to the idea that it all has to be electronic. I mean, we do record with a microphone while we are creating. I could see us going all acoustic with club music – I know that sounds a little nasty or stupid almost, but I really like that kind of sound when it’s played in a room. You can’t recreate that with electronic instruments, but it is fun to try! There’s still a lot of clever experimentation being done with keyboards and drums. It’s nice to bring those acoustic instruments together with electronic music.
S] So, you’d like to push the boundaries of what people expect from an electronic music set?
TF] Yeah, and I think that it will happen in general, not just in our group. Interesting acoustic sounds, whether it’s a string being plucked or something being hit in a certain space, goes in and out of style even if its done as part of electronic music. But I think we will see it taken to extremes in the future as well, and we are very interested in that and what is going to happen.
S] What do you enjoy most about taking the DB material out into the live arena?
TF] It’s really different for us. At this point the idea is that we are just going out and messing around with the tracks that we have already made, using electronic equipment – cutting things together and creating momentum that fuels a party. We haven’t yet begun to play the music as a band, and I think that will change the sound when we do. We do plan to do that. It’s really hard in electronic music to put on a show – that’s kind of the joke in the name of Depressed Buttons. It’s hard to be interesting or look entertaining when we’re just poking at a device and that is what electronic music is. I think, in The Faint that was an intentional hurdle and we knew that was the way, but live it seemed like rock music and a rock band, but it was mostly electronic music – or at least half of it was.
S] Is electronic music your passion then? Something that really drives you forward when creating music?
TF] Yes. We love synthesiser sounds and we love drum sounds, bass guitar sounds and cymbals and everything you can do with those things, but we’re not snotty about whether it’s purely electronic or not. For us it is more about what we can do with all of these different elements. Of course, there’s a need to put good sounds together – ones that go well with each other and that give off a certain mood, but we also need to find out what happens within the music and whether that strikes a chord with us? If it doesn’t then we will ditch it, and we have ditched a lot of stuff!
S] You started off Depressed Buttons conducting a series of remixes – can you talk us through the creative process for a remix and how you approach that differently to writing?
TF] I like limitation. That’s one of the things that The Faint had trouble with because we had access to all of this electronic technology and rock instruments and we had enough people to make anything happen. So, sometimes it was hard to decide what to do, it was like a blank canvas and that was a problem for us. Limitations, I think spur creativity. I mean, if you just have a plastic bucket and a pair of scissors, then you are going to have to come up with something interesting if you want to make a techno song! I am really interested in limitations and imposing them on this band, but that is hard to do! I guess we will have to rely on each other for that.
S] How is the band dynamic now? This project is 3/5 of The Faint – how are you as a group inspired in different ways this time – what’s the writing process like?
TF] It’s different. Every other band that I have ever run across or read about has some sort of system for how they make music and The Faint just never got one! There was no workflow, just tendencies. I would sing, Dapose would play guitar, or bass or keys – I mean there were so many ways that we could work. So far, it’s the same with Depressed Buttons. We’d like to have it become a little more streamlined where each of us is turning in something every month maybe, and then we could each work on the other one’s stuff – we could be some kind of music-making machine. Right now, it’s ‘I came up with this, what do you want to do to it – any ideas?’ Two of the tracks with Depressed Buttons [out of the four on the ‘QWERTY’ EP] have had all of us working on them at the same time and the other two were more one-sided.
S] Is there a new song with Depressed Buttons that you feel represents the state of the project right now?
TF] There’s one called ‘Mighty Putty’ that we all like and that is an older one, I think it’s the second one we made. That one feels good. I don’t think that it is what we want to say Depressed Buttons is, but we’re happy with how that turned out at the end. The first song that we did together was called ‘Superstructure’ and that one is special to me because it was the first thing that we did and it set the tone and put us all on the same page for what we wanted to do. I don’t think that it will translate into millions of people being excited because we don’t even usually play it when we DJ, but it set the attitude and set the mood.
S] Do you have a favourite place to write, location-wise?
TF] I like to set up a little world wherever it is I live. I tend to move around a lot. I always dedicate a room to just making music. That becomes ‘my spot’ and I have been pretty lucky to be able to feel like that about each of the places I have lived over the last few years. Then, when we all meet in The Faint’s studio in Omaha, it is comfortable, it’s got a nice control room and it is perfect because we designed it – that’s the ideal place. There we can make music, mix music and listen to music. When I am in town, a lot of times I will spend the night listening to music in the control room because I can turn it up as loud as I want! I am a ‘music fiend’ for sure.
S] Do you have a set technique for writing?
TF] I like to get a microphone out when I sing. It has always been like that for The Faint. I will just sing until something comes out that has a good melody, and I won’t judge anything about it. I use the same technique for Depressed Buttons even though there’s not really any singing! Some of the more melodic parts, chord changes and rhythmes are still coming from me just singing these melodies and then doing some programming around them.
S] What are your biggest plans in 2011?
TF] I just found out that I am going to be going to Europe in February to travel around by myself going to parties and DJing for that whole month. That is great because my wife’s band is going to be there the whole of February and so, if I have any days off which I should have, then I will probably be meeting up with them. I’m stoked because it’s been a while since we have been to Europe. We were never too consistent about making the trip! We would go and then, just let it go for three or four years! It’ll be nice to go back.
S] What have been your biggest challenges in getting the DB project off the ground?
TF] It has gone well so far. It’s fun to start over and to not have any expectations. We hope that we have put something together that is worth listening to in a style that’s new. Our first ‘break’ came when our friend who goes under the name Boys Noize released our first remix that people will have heard in a club so, that was cool. Then when Diplo decided to put out our EP, that was a surprise because we didn’t send it out, so it was a real stroke of good fortune and now, here we are, you know? We’re interested in bringing the music to the people.
S] Do you feel like Depressed Buttons and the material that you are working on will influence The Faint and any material yet to come from that project?
TF] I do, but at the same time, Depressed Buttons is…I’ve said it’s really different and there are new styles and all that kind of stuff but it’s also what three people in The Faint have in common – the drummer, the keyboard player and whatever I do! I think the three of us are much more like-minded musically. I mean one of our guitarists [Joel Peterson] does movie sountrack-type stuff as Broken Spindles and Dapose does electronic death metal [as Vverevvorlf Grehv]. It’s not that they wouldn’t like Depressed Buttons, but that’s not a direction that we would have wanted to go in with this project. It’s three of us that see eye-to-eye the most and are just continuing to make music and this is what it sounds like.
S] If you could take a song that you have been working on with Depressed Buttons and then put that into a film, what would you choose?
TF] I think I would probably go with ‘THX-1138‘ because I think that would go perfectly with our music and also ‘El Topo‘ by Alejandro Jodorowsky would be perfect in terms of the images, but the pace of it would have to change because it is very slow moving…maybe we could cut it up with the music?
S] What are your plans for Christmas?
TF] This is my first Christmas down south in Georgia, and I think it’s going to be a snowless Christmas. I am used to lots of snow!
S] It’s terrible here in the UK and Yorkshire, it’s -10 degrees outside…
TF] I’m going to get some of it because I am going back to Omaha to throw a party at New Year’s, so I will get a little. It’s going to be me, my wife and my dog until then!
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