In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Started in 1995, The Faint were originally known as Norman Bailer, and included Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame in its lineup. With the name change also came a shift in sound as the Omaha, Nebraska band—now comprised of original members Todd Fink (vocals, keyboards) and Clark Baechle (drums), and guitarist Michael "Dapose" Dappen—transformed anxiety, sexuality, and social conscience into upbeat, almost aggressive, electro-rock with an occasionally retro edge. With the release of CAPSULE: 1999-2015, the band has condensed and, well, encapsulated the first stage of its career into a collection of songs that span the band's lifetime since the release of second record Blank-Wave Arcade. What better time, then, to find out what Fink makes of them all?
7. Media (1998)
Noisey: This record comes off as the blueprint of what you'd become but wasn't fully developed.
Todd Fink: That was the attempt. We were trying to do our album, our real CD, and we tried our best and I think we tried too hard in some ways. To me, it's just clearly the worst by any measure. It's just unlistenable. I hate it. I mean, I don't mind it when I hear The Faint come on on a jukebox or in a bar, unless it's this record, and then I'm like, "I've got to get out of here." We were happy when we were done making it, but we hadn't found what we were looking for.
6. Sine Sierra (as Norman Bailer) (1995)
You made this record when you were still called Norman Bailer, which is a great name.
Thanks! But we didn't even choose it. I think our friends that we would skateboard with just started calling us that, so that's what ended up on the flyer.
I know you hate Media, but why did you put this above that one?
I guess it's meaningful to me. It's the real start of us playing music. I had just had knee surgery that made it so I wasn't able to be a skateboarder anymore for a living, and I was looking to get more into music, and this kind of just happened. Conor Oberst started playing music with us. We had instruments, but we didn't really know what we were doing—we just booked a show with him at some place he was going to play and then we were a band. It all happened really quickly and I like that—I like that we were able to come up with an album in less than two weeks, we made a band, recorded an album, and had a date for a show, and there's something special about that.
Even if it was kind of short-lived, it was the first-ever thing you made, which presumably has a special place in your heart.
Yeah. And I think we got lucky recording ourselves with a four-track. When you first start playing music, you don't know how to work a four-track, you just hope that it sounds cool. In that way, I kind of can't believe it sounds the way that it does, b given how little we knew what we were doing!
5. Fasciinatiion (2008)
I'm surprised this isn't higher up your list, to be honest.
This is the point where all the albums are like children or your parents, where they're all pretty close to even from here on, in my mind, but that was a dark time for the band, and for that reason it's probably a little lower than some of the others. But I listened through it today, trying to remember what was on it, and I'm actually happy with it. I think it turned out pretty good, especially because it was the first album that we tried to record ourselves entirely and we didn't really know what we were doing with all the real studio equipment. I mean, some of us did, but I didn't personally. We weren't trying to make it sound good traditionally, we were going after something strange, just this dry production with no reverb on a bunch of things but still on my vocals, because that's how I like it and I wouldn't compromise on that. But it does have this strange sound to it that I like.
Why did you choose to spell the title the way you did, with the double "I"s?
It was the name of a folder that I was storing demos and stuff in on my computer, which had a problem with a couple of the keys. The "I" key would fire double sometimes and I think one of the "I"s was double and when we were naming the album I suggested we do it like that. There was no real reason. It kind of became popular around the same time, so maybe it was also this zeitgeisty thing.
4. Wet from Birth (2004)
This is our slickest record. It's got the best production—in my mind, if we had a major album like a lot of bands do, this would be the one. We included strings and real orchestra instruments—there was a lot of fanciness instead of the more stripped-down sound of some of the other ones. And I like that about it—it's different because of that. Although we're learning a song right now for tour that's got tons of strings on it, and I'm really liking not having strings on it right now. But I like this record. I was surprised, when we were choosing songs for this new compilation that's coming out, at how many songs from Wet From Birth were in the running for it. We had to choose less of them in order to not have too many songs from this record. So I think it's a strong album, but it's not as high as a few of the others because of what they mean to me, and that kind of stuff.
You were following up the success of Danse Macabre with this album. Did you feel any pressure as a result?
Yeah. I think, in hindsight, Danse Macabre was a bigger deal than I think we thought it was while we were doing it and while we were touring on it, because in my mind Blank-Wave Arcade was our breakthrough record, and what I was worried about was doing it as good as that one for Danse Macabre. So by the time we'd done Danse Macabre, doing Wet From Birth, we had to feel like doing something a little different. Which is probably why there's all the strings and orchestration.
One song that really sticks out—so to speak—is "Erection." What was your motivation for that song?
I think there's a part of the band's personality that really wanted to surprise ourselves and play with something terrible to see what happens—do something that we like that may be a bad decision and see if we can pull it off anyway. So I guess that was us just making sure we weren't living in fear or playing it safe. And I love the song, so there wasn't a good reason not to do it.
I always look at this record— both the cover and the songs— as a kind of dissection of the human body. And then you have the final song, "Birth," which is a very vivid depiction about the start of life. It doesn't hold anything back, that's for sure.
That last song was supposed to have a different feel, but it ended up sounding very serious because of the heaviness that we did on the verse, which was mean-sounding and serious. But the lyrics are just ridiculous. They were originally spoken in the demo—it was a Leonard Cohen tribute song in my mind but I think we overstepped ourselves! But it's fun to play live. The demo is on the "Desperate Guys" single.
3. Danse Macabre (2001)
Wet From Birth and Danse Macabre are kind of one the same level for me, but I put this slightly higher because it felt like we were imagining what clubs in Europe would be like if we had any say in it. So the songs aren't as dancey as dance music is, but we were sort of envisaging what it would be like in Berlin in 15 years. I guess it's been 15 years! It's sort of theatrical in my mind. That era is special to me—we wrote it in the basement of the house I'm in right now, actually, a room that we had painted theater red like the album cover ended up being. I guess I put this pretty high because I was really excited about "Agenda Suicide" and "Glass Danse" and was really happy about how they turned out.
It feels like a very cohesive album.
Yeah, I like how the artwork and the music feel like a package. I think they do on the other ones, too, but this one especially just makes me really feel like that.
It's also a very dark record. Were you in a dark state of mind when you were writing it?
No. I think we'd just realized that we liked darker melodies. We'd made enough major key songs and played them, and those were always the ones we got tired of first. So we'd come to terms with that and decided to just do what we liked and forget about making it happy or poppy or whatever. Embracing that mood just felt right, and at the time I was also pretty critical of the injustices of the world, but I think that's normal when you're young.
2. Doom Abuse (2014)
This came after a bit of a hiatus, and it was the first record without Joel [Petersen, bass/programming and original member]. What was it like getting back together without him?
It felt good. We were not planning on being a band during the hiatus and I just happened to move back to Omaha, not even to do the band, and we were all just watching some show and thought, "We should be playing together!" Just for the love of it, we got back together, whereas I think there was a lot of pressure before, where once you were done with a tour it was time to start writing again and we didn't feel like writing anymore. So we decided to not do it until we felt like writing again, and we didn't know if that was ever going to happen—and I don't think any of us were very concerned that we might not play again once we took the hiatus. But there was just a moment where we all back in the same city and just thought, "Let's do this for fun." Two of us have been doing a lot of techno-related stuff. I didn't even listen to songs the whole time we were on hiatus. I didn't like songs and I didn't listen to them, so coming back to play music again felt very invigorating. It's a rock record, in my mind. And we're all stoked to be playing in a room together again, and not poking at the computer and discussing every note and all that stuff.
Did it remind you of being in The Faint in the early days, when there were fewer external pressures and you weren't caught up in touring cycles, you were just doing it for the love of doing it?
Yeah. It felt more like Blank-Wave Arcade, even though some people were different. It had that spirit.
1. Blank-Wave Arcade (1999)
Speaking of Blank-Wave Arcade, that's number one on your list. Does it feel weird to put an album that's over 16 years old at the top spot?
It does, but the reason it's that high is because it's when we found what we were looking for. It's when we understood what our sound was in the first place, like what it was we'd been trying to do, and all of a sudden, when "Sex Is Personal" and "Worked Up So Sexual" were written, it was like, "Forget everything else—this is what we've been after the whole time." So it's really special for that, and I was also just really happy with "Worked Up So Sexual" in general. We've played that song at every show we've ever played since we wrote it. Literally.
That's one of three songs that mentions sex in the title—why was sex on your mind so much?
I think that at that age, I was probably more obsessed with sexual stuff, for one thing—that's kind of a peak time for boys—but it's really just what some of the songs started being about. We weren't preaching anything, but just thinking to ourselves, "What is the deal with strip clubs?" and wondering about the mentality of humans. I was just discussing it with myself and that's how "Worked Up So Sexual" came out, and I liked the combination of provocative lyrics and strobe lights and smoke. It was so uncool to have strobe lights or smoke or keyboards in your band at that time, and we all wore black outfits when onstage and it was pretty over the top to do that at that time.
Do you recognize yourself when you listen to this record now? Are you still the same person, or does it feel like this was another version of you?
I would like to say it feels like a totally different person, because I'd like to think that I've made profound progress, but honestly I feel pretty similar to the person I was!