Indie rock's great innovator walks us through his gig history – from first and worst to biggest and best
Chris Farren just keeps getting better at power pop. Emerging with a solo career in 2014 after making a name as the frontman of punk band Fake Problems, the Florida artist has been in perpetual pursuit of the catchiest, most incisive tunes – from 2016’s debut full-length Can’t Die, to 2019’s Born Hot, and now his newest, Doom Singer. And this record, more than any of Farren’s others, is undeniable. Check out the Springsteenian rollick of ‘Bluish’, or the dreamy tropical yearning of ‘Only U’. Not only will they stay in your head for days, but they’re also sweetly moving accounts of fighting mental struggles while keeping together a long-term relationship.
Farren made this album by letting go of control. “I’ve been making records for a while, and I’ve tended to make most in a vacuum, just alone in my little studio. And it occurred to me that, looking back, I had no good memories of making any of my albums. I wanted to have a communal experience; camaraderie with other musicians.” He enlisted drummer Frankie Impastato of New York State emo band Macseal, plus producer Melina Duterte of Jay Som. Together, they made an album more thoughtfully and holistically put-together than any Farren could have made alone, and they had a better time than ever doing it. “I feel like it’s a bit of an elevation of stakes, and it feels a little bit more urgent,” he says. “I hope people like it.”
Through late August and September, Farren will be bringing the album on tour to the UK. Previously a one-man band who enlists the help of backing tracks and psychedelic projections, for the first time now he’s touring with a drummer in Impastato. “I think it’s the next logical step in the Chris Farren career arc,” he says. If the performances he’s already given on his own are anything to go by, you can expect a hell of a fun show.
The gig that made you want to play music
I was probably like 15 or 16, and I was at the mall, and somebody handed me a flyer for a show that was happening across the street at a community centre. I walked over there with my friends and we just walked in the door and there was a band playing on the ground, like just at floor level. To my mind, I was like, ‘bands are supposed to only exist in gigantic concert arena situations’. And seeing a band at my level, like at my literal sea level, just awoke something in me. It was like, oh, people can just do this? I think that kinda started it for me. That was a local Florida band called Jack Fendey.
What was the progression from there of you getting involved in the DIY scene?
So at that show, I forget how it happened, but it came up that somebody from there knew some really bad Napster, MP3.com music I had put onto the internet. They were in a band, and they were like, ‘hey, we lost our singer, do you wanna be the singer of our band?’. And so all of a sudden I was in some high school band. That band was called Excessive Behavior, the perfect name for a high school band.
I’m pretty sure it was a house show with Excessive Behavior. And the only real thing I remember about it is that afterwards I was coughing up blood because I had gone so hard. I was letting out 15 years worth of teenage angst. [Solo] would have been much later, into my 20s at some point – I don’t remember exactly what the show was, but I remember being extremely nervous. It’s kind of a totally different thing from being in a band to being the only person on stage. I don’t remember exactly the show, but I just know that I had to become so much better at communicating with an audience. That’s kind of what evolved into adding the backing tracks and the projections and stuff, because I wanted to be able to sonically and visually fill up as much space, as if I had a band.
I played Wembley Arena with The Gaslight Anthem, that would probably do it. That was just last year.
What was that like?
It was cool. I mean… it’s certainly one of those things that sounds really cool to say. And that’s number one for me. You know, the show was fine [laughs]. At a certain point, all shows kind of blend together, and just because they are in some specific special place doesn’t really change what goes on onstage. So there were certainly better shows and more fun shows on that tour, but the one that you want to tell people about is the one that they’ll recognise the name of.
Oh my god, there’re so many. I’ve played a lot more “smallest” gigs than I’ve ever played Wembley Arenas. There was this bar in Tallahassee many, many years ago called the Inn Between Bar, which was literally in between two other bars. It was like a hallway, basically, turned into a bar. My old band, Fake Problems, played there. It was so annoying. I think every band would get in a fight with each other’s band members just over the placement of where everybody would go, because it was so annoying.
Oh, I’ve got so many, of course. In New Orleans – this was when I was still playing acoustic – I was opening for some people, and I was first of three. I was playing, and there were like 15 people there. They were all at the back of the room, and they were all facing the bar and talking. Which, whatever… But this was the first time I had ever finished a song and nobody even clapped. I literally felt like I was in a hotel lobby.
Another one I played in Tijuana, Mexico, was when I had just started playing to backing tracks. Throughout my entire set the backing tracks just got quieter and quieter and quieter, because the PA was dying and it couldn’t handle it. That sucked, that was really bad. That’s the main one that comes to mind every time I think of a bad show I played.
Hmmm. Those are harder to remember. It’s so interesting how our minds work, that it’s so easy to think of all the terrible things that ever happened to you, but when you try to think of, ‘What are the moments that I’ve been working for my whole life and are why I do this?’, then I’m like, I don’t remember. On that tour I did last year, with The Gaslight Anthem, there was a Manchester show that was so good. Manchester’s good for shows, the crowds are just great. Same with Boston in America, and Chicago is really good.
What was great about that Manchester show?
People liked me! I mean, all those shows were very fun and the crowds were great. But there’s just kind of an energy that you can feel when you have everyone on your side. Gaslight fans are great and everything, but it’s kind of a challenge to support any band, especially a band that is so much bigger than you when so many people have no idea who I am. There’s so much convincing to do onstage. But that show, in particular, I just felt like I had already had them, so I didn’t have to spend time trying to get them on my side. I could just enjoy myself.
My old band, Fake Problems, played Taco Bell’s 50th birthday party and a mariachi band opened for us. We just hung out all day at Taco Bell. They showed us the test kitchen, and this was when they had just started making Taco Bell breakfast, so we got to sample that ahead of time. And got to like, walk the halls of Taco Bell headquarters and all that crap. That was kinda neat.
How did you get asked to do that?
In America there’s a thing called Feed The Beat, where Taco Bell gives gift cards to bands, it’s like their little thing. So we were on that, and somehow through that we ended up getting our song in a commercial. It was a commercial for the Doritos Locos Tacos, which was a big hit. Some would say probably not, because of our song in the commercial… But it didn’t hurt in Taco Bell’s mind, for some reason. So they took a liking to us for a small amount of time. It was ridiculous.
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