Les Savy Fav - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Les Savy Fav (pronounced “lay SAH-vee FAHV”) is a New York-based art noise rock band that has felt several shifts in their musical career. The group has roots in hardcore, punk, and noise, but has increasingly shown an aptitude for outlandish dance-infused punk more closely associated with bands like Bloc Party. The band currently consists of Tim Harrington on vocals, Seth Jabber (sometimes Jabour) and Andrew Reuland on guitar, Syd Butler on bass, and Harrison Haynes on drums. Butler is also the owner of French Kiss Records and Jabber is an accomplished illustrator. Previous members include guitar player Gibb Slife and drummer Pat Mahoney, who currently plays with LCD Soundsystem.
The band formed in 1995 while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Coming together over a mutual appreciation for Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, and Nation of Ulysses, Les Savy Fav seemed to be headed down a road of punk aggression. They have managed, however, to reel that energy and tension into their music while creating something that is decidedly not derivative of their heroes.
Les Savy Fav started out the old fashioned way, playing small shows to few people until enough of a buzz was created to make Sub Pop stop and listen nearly two years later. In 1997, Sub Pop released their 7” single “SubPop7.” Later the same year, Les Savy Fav released their full-length studio debut 3/5 on Self Starter Foundation. After the release of 3/5, Haynes replaced Mahoney on drums and The Cat and The Cobra (1999) was issued by Butler’s French Kiss Records in 1999.
Led by Harrington, Les Savy Fav’s stage shows are full of sexual aggression. The rest of the band is known to play as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening while Harrington kisses and gropes audience members, and performs various costume changes. It has been argued that the fervor of these live shows was finally captured in a studio recording with 2000’s EP Emor: Rome Upside Down (Southern Records).
In 2001, the band released Go Forth (French Kiss), their third full-length album. Critically, the album was well-received but perhaps bore too much of a resemblance to the band’s greatest influence, Fugazi. While Fugazi’s style had always crept into Les Savy Fav’s music, it seems to have infected nearly every track on Go Forth. Of course, if there is a band from which to borrow, it is arguably Fugazi. Go Forth is a solid album that straddles the line between punk and emo, and makes for an incredibly self-assured delivery by the band.
Six years passed before Les Savy Fav went to work on another full-length album. Several singles and EPs were released in the interim, including Yawn, Yawn, Yawn (2003 Tiger Style Records), Accidental Deaths (2003 Rococo), We’ll Make a Lover of You (2004 Suicide Squeeze), “Knowing How the World Works” [7” single] (2004 Cold Crush Records), Fading Vibes (2004 Rococo), Hold onto Your Genre (2004 Rococo), Vice & Connect Presents 4 Ways to Rock (2005 French Kiss), Plagues & Snakes (2006 French Kiss), and What Would Wolves Do? (2007 Universal).
Their return to the full-length with 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends (French Kiss) marks a significant shift stylistically. The small leap taken from über-aggressive hardcore to more emo-punk on Go Forth gets a run for its money as Les Savy Fav narrows in on a sound that employs horns, piano, and even dub delays, making for a wholly different auditory experience. Many notable musicians contributed to the making of Let’s Stay Friends, adding not only incredible indie street cred, but also an immeasurable amount of talent to the 12-track offering. Joining Harrington on vocals are Nick Thorburn of Unicorns, Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces, and Toko Yasuda of Enon. Emily Haines of Metric plays piano and Joe Plummer of Black Heart Procession and Fred Armisen of post-punk band Trenchmouth (but perhaps most well-known as a cast member NBC’s Saturday Night Live) play drums. Tracks with particular appeal include “The Equestrian” and “Slugs in the Shrubs,” which call upon Harrington’s manic yelping.
Most recently, Harrington has teamed up with Pitchfork for a new video project called Beardo, which is set to air on Pitchfork.tv. Beardo got its humble start at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival when Harrington was followed through the festival with a full camera crew. Unsure what would come of the idea, Pitchfork was pleased with the resulting footage of Harrington dressed as an old-time barber offering two dollar haircuts and deep tissue massages to festival-goers. The bits ended up as fantastic indie-comic genius, prompting Pitchfork.tv to officially go about creating episodes with Harrington. The show’s name clearly comes from the appearance of the weird – and bearded – Harrington, who claims to have been called this for much of his life. The debut episode calls in comic Kristen Schaal who is best known for her work with The Daily Show and Flight of the Conchords. Despite Pitchfork’s focus on the music industry, Beardo is set to deliver more comedy than music, utilizing Harrington’s rich sense of humor and impeccable timing. Musical guests are expected to make appearances, but at the current time the focus is centered more on making humorous webisodes – and leaving the arty noise punk to French Kiss.