by Ian Thomas
Just try to pin a descriptor on Philadelphia's Far-Out Fangtooth. The band proves itself a moving target every time. In a post-genre landscape, it fits right in. Though they borrow liberally from the best of many canons, catering to going trends is not part of their approach. Moreover, Far-out Fangtooth don't pick and choose when to make their influences known. These influences are always present and all at once in an unholy, bastard stew. The result is sprawling and dire, as appropriate to a jittery rainy-day drive as it is to a ritual of blood sacrifice. In this interview, guitarist and vocalist Nicholas Kulp talks about joining up with the band, ignoring lazy reviewers, and making the Philly scene with contemporaries like Kurt Vile, Purling Hiss, and the War on Drugs. Far-Out Fangtooth's new album, Borrowed Time, came out Tues., Oct. 29, on Philadelphia's own Siltbreeze records.
The band started as a two piece with a guest players moving in and out of the line-up. How and when did it become the four piece it is today?
[The band was originally] a recording project/performance act by Joe Kusy and Vinnie Alvaré. They were in a bunch of previous bands together, but were never really in bands in which they had complete creative direction. They recorded a cassette in early 2009. [I] traded Joe a screen-printed poster for it. In August, [I] joined the band and that October Tania joined on bass. We began developing existing songs and making new songs together, and also started playing a ton of shows.
There were still guests invited to play, but after Tania joined, [the four of us] became the core group.
What have some of the influences on your sound and group dynamic been?
When we became a four piece, we wracked our brains on what we were [and] wanted it to be. We [came together around] similar influences. The Velvet Underground, The Cramps, Jesus And Mary Chain were some, with the main influence being Smashing Pumpkins, a band we all had in common growing up ... Some additional influences were Christian Death, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, The Vaselines, and The Seeds. There were definitely more, [along with] some contemporary bands like Crystal Stilts, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Naked on the Vague, and Blank Dogs.
We definitely share and admire communal social movements and the idea of cult and ritual. Andy Warhol's Factory, The Source Family, Charles Manson, and the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky are common cultural interests. We played with R. Stevie Moore a few years back and after we played a dude came up to us with his wife. He bought three 7"s and told us that we were the modern version of the Manson Family band. We were flattered, but [we're] not about to go senselessly murdering anyone any time soon.
You've been described in a wide variety of ways, ranging from garage to all the way to goth. Are you comfortable with any of these designations?
This day and age your describers or "genres" are what people go off of to pinpoint what you are. There are lazy music reviewers who call everything "shoegaze" if it has a little fuzz and reverb. In the beginning, we were described more on the garage end of things, but have always gotten the goth tag. [It] might be because we primarily wear black on stage and had photos of us wearing sunglasses after dark. Goth is a genre with lots of variation in specific style. We play a kind of dark psych music, which could qualify as one of those variations. We're more on the psychedelic side of the garage, and the post-punk side of the goth, but no one can really pin-point us on one thing and we don't really care.
In terms of sonic layers, the new album, Borrowed Time, seems to have more going on than the last album, Pure and Disinterested. Was that a conscious choice or a natural byproduct of the experience the band has gained since the last time it recorded?
Definitely a bit of both. On this one there was an Engineer, Paul Cobb, and a Producer, Justin Pittney, who also engineered and produced The Thorns EP for Hozac. Justin is a friend who has known us since the beginning. He became focused on emulating our live sound. This record really does capture that more than ever. Also, there was the choice of recording on 2-inch tape, which really helped to create more room for expansion.
Borrowed Time seems to have been conceived and executed entirely in Philadelphia, the city whose recent exports also include Kurt Vile, the War on Drugs, and Purling Hiss, bands with whom you seem to share some common ground. Can you talk about coming up in the scene in Philly?
Yeah, we have been a part of this scene now for four years, and have been living here for the past eight to ten years. [We've] been a part of other bands and scenes and have seen things come and go. We feel like this city's scene has a lot of great people [in] it, even if they are hiding in their own pockets and don't really get the recognition they deserve. This city is dirty and gritty and most of the people here can see through the bullshit. This isn't New York, there aren't a million bands, although there are a lot more recently.
Since the blow-up of Kurt Vile, the War on Drugs, and even Cold Cave, there has been a huge shift in Philly. There's also been the recognition of Birds of Maya, which gave birth to what the world now knows as Purling Hiss and Spacin'. They've all seen daylight via Richie Records. A lot of bands are coming from here, and there's a fire going on, and we definitely feel positive about Philadelphia's scene.
Siltbreeze Records has also played a big role in our outlook on Philadelphia. To do our first record for [Siltbreeze's] Tom Lax was such a mind blower for us. We really wanted to make a record that exceeded his expectations of us. Most people in this city forget that his label even exists here. Siltbreeze is a huge part of underground music history and we are proud to be associated.
From what I've seen and heard, I assume that Halloween is one of the more important days on your calendar. Was the album's release timed to coincide? Besides celebrating the release, how did you spend your Halloween?
Our release show is on All Souls Day, which honors the dead and those spirits who rise from Purgatory. We will be celebrating Halloween this year as the send off for our tour to the Midwest and back.
Far-Out Fangtooth plays Brillobox Sun., Nov. 3, with The Night Beats and The Hidden Twin. $8.