If you’re gonna be a dick, you’d better damn good at what you do. Fortunately for Andrew Falkous, he is both. Although to call him a dick is actually unfair. While the Future of the Left frontman has a reputation for being ornery, that’s not exactly an accurate representation. He’s actually quite personable and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. He also happens to have a short fuse and a low tolerance for bullshit, which is what throws people for a loop.
Future of the Left recently crowdfunded an album, How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident, and are about to release it this month along with an EP, Human Death. We talked to Falkous about this as well as the many, many things that annoy him.
How are you today?
I’m OK because I’ve got four days of work coming up. We’re traveling to Barcelona tomorrow night to play on Saturday night which sounds incredibly glamorous but this is easily the most glamorous weekend of our summer, with the exception of getting married of course.
Well, glad to hear you’re well because you have a reputation for being an ornery dude. Is that more of a character or is that an exaggeration of your personality?
It’s not a conscious thing, really. There’s a British comedian named Stewart Lee and I suppose the way stand-up works—you’re a bit more precise in the matter—but he says he plays an exaggerated version of himself on stage. You take facets of what you believe and then exaggerate them for either comic or intellectual stimulation or just to play devil’s advocate. Playing live has always been a real joy for me. I know it doesn’t look like it. I know it looks as though it’s some sort of exorcism but I genuinely don’t have any hidden demons to fling out of my throat. For me, it’s not a catharsis. When I first started playing, I’d just play. I wouldn’t know what to say in between songs. Whereas now, I have to remind myself to shut the fuck up in between songs.
I posted something about you once and someone commented and said, “This is one of those bands where you find out the lead singer is a knob and just try to look past it.”
That’s got a lot to do with what they perceive to be a knob. What I’ll say about myself is everything that you said to me is attached to my own name. It isn’t anonymously expressed. I’m all for violently agreeing or disagreeing with people but I have a lot of respect for them if they have the courage and convictions and attach their name to what they say.
On that note, let me ask: Your last album got a pretty scathing review from Ian Cohen at Pitchfork and you epically tore him down on your blog. You’ve gotten bad reviews before. Why take that one on?
Just because it was so significant in a way. Because Pitchfork does reach a lot of people and it probably would have been ignored if the record had been sitting in the world the way a record normally sits in the world. But the fact is that that review came out seven or eight days before any other review of the record. And even people of intellectually free minds are still easily influenced with criticism and with hype. There is a narrative that is often built and sometimes those early words can end up influencing people’s view. So I thought it was important to get in there and give a quick, dismissive “Fuck you.”
It was more than a dismissive “Fuck you.” You really tore into every aspect of that review.
Yeah I did because I felt like his castle was built in sand. It just didn’t stand up for me. You get criticized a lot for being in a band and you’ve got to ignore it and sometimes it’s the very nature of that criticism—who it comes from—that vindicates what you’re doing. I did see a really glowing review he wrote of the 20th anniversary reissue of Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness which explained a lot to me.
Are you not a fan of that record?
No. Honestly, I think the Smashing Pumpkins are the worst band of the last million years.
But I saw an interview with you on The AV Club where you had to pick your least favorite song and you went with that Mr. Big song.
Well, that’s just because there are particular memories attached to that song and frankly, particularly ludicrous anecdotes attached to that song.
So if you had to pick your most grating Smashing Pumpkins song, which one do you go for?
I don’t know. You see, by fully answering that question, I’d have to think about the Smashing Pumpkins and I just don’t want to do that. There’s a certain insularity to the Smashing Pumpkins which makes me want to never, never hear them. As much as I grew up loving bands of the post-Seattle era, the angle that really never washed with me was the navel-gazing. The introspection. The special pain. The self-pity. There’s a place in this world for self-pity, I just don’t want to hear it in my bombastic rock music.
So after your blog post ran, did you ever hear from Ian at Pitchfork about it?
That was the end of it?
Yeah, it is the end of it. I mean, it’s a valid piece of writing that reviews a valid piece of writing and it gets to be out there in the world. My response is equally as valid. No, we’ve never darkened each other’s doors since. I thought a lot of the statements in it were disingenuous. When somebody starts a review saying, “I’m a really big fan but…” You know, “I’m not a racist but I used to work for the South African Secret Police.”
Yeah, whenever someone says, “I’m not racist but…” there’s usually something pretty frigging racist coming up.
The Welsh way is to go, “I’m not being funny, right, but…” followed by something that basically implies that your mother fellates lamp posts.
Do you hope Ian reviews your new album?
Yeah, that’d be fun. Let’s us continue our game, D'Artagnan. Let us clash sabers on the mustached world of the Internet!
When a critic gets to you like that, does that in any way influence your writing process going forward? Are the critics in your head?
No, it was important for me to write as long as I was bothered about it but I always have to be thinking about the reach of the record. When you put everything in your life into a band, you want to reach as many people as possible on your own terms. And as I read that review, which was the first review I read of the album—because I don’t usually read reviews—I just look at the score. Reviews aren’t nearly as significant as when I was growing up. It’s not important in itself. If it had been, you know…Johnny Egg’s Fucking Music Blog, it wouldn’t have been worth the comment. And that doesn’t mean the sentiments contained therein would’ve been any less valid or real. It was simply because in that moment, I saw the record that we’d worked on for a year and a quarter not reaching those few thousand more people I wanted it to reach.
I’m interested to hear you say that you’re frustrated you didn’t get to reach a certain audience because to me, your music seems so insular, like you don’t care what anybody’s perception of it is.
The thing is, I don’t care what an individual says, it doesn’t bother me in and of itself. It’s…it’s weird, isn’t it? You want to be heard by people, but similarly, you realize that most people aren’t gonna like your band which is true of most people. Some of the best shows we’ve ever played have been when we’ve been loathed by an audience. I play a game where—if we’re supporting a band who are completely inappropriate and sometimes the crowd will just rest their elbows on the crash barrier and look straight up at you—you play a game where you try to get them to leave the room just by looking at them, by summoning arcane forces.
There was one girl who, we played with Against Me!, we supported them on two tours—once with Ted Leo in the States which went very well and before that we supported them in Europe. Most of the reactions were sickeningly bad but to the point where it became sport to see what we can get an audience who hated us to do. I remember one girl in Glasgow came right to the front and leaned on the barrier and just stared at me for the first five songs. I’m not a particularly rude person off the stage. I’ll move away from a fight, especially since I’m a little bit more mature than I used to be. But when I’m on the stage, that’s my fucking stage. That’s my fucking stage. Don’t come on that stage. If you’re gonna make me look like a fool, unless you’ve got like, an f-15, I’m gonna defeat you on that stage, that’s just the way it is. And so she’s just staring at me and I said to her, “If you’re bored, I would advise you to go to the back of the room until we finish playing.” And she just kept looking at me. After the next song I said, “I hope on a special day for you, like on your wedding day, someone lies to you and tells you you’re beautiful and spoils the day like you’ve spoiled this day for me.”
That is the meanest thing I’ve ever heard.
It was a real combination of—at first, she had to process the English language because she was a fucking idiot—and then after that, she looked genuinely upset and had to be consoled by her friends.
How old was this girl?
19 or something? I don’t give a fuck. If you don’t like it, there’s the back of the fucking room. Hide in the fucking darkness until your heroes come on. In the meantime, if you wanna make yourself visible and come to the front, there you go. That’s the way it is.
Completely shifting gears here, let’s talk about your new album. This was a Kickstarter-funded album.
PledgeMusic, right. Why’d you go that route?
Because we needed the fucking money. [laughs] And record labels don’t have any money for viable financial projects, let alone ours. We thought about it long and hard and how to do it without coming across as a bunch of pricks and I think we found the right tone for it.
So you’re not one of those people that gets down on crowd-funded albums?
I’m all for whatever works for the individual. I must admit that there are certain projects on Pledge where people say they just want to interact with the fans and it comes across as really fucking disingenuous. They don’t want to interact with the fans, they want their fucking money. They don’t want to interact with anybody really. But for some people, it is a real thing. I’ve got friends in bands who have done that kind of thing and turned up at somebody’s house with acoustic guitars and playing a song. It’s exactly the kind of thing they’d like to do whether they were getting money for it or not. So it works on that level. For us, it doesn’t work on that level. We wanted to make a record that people knew we weren’t trying to introduce some new model to the music industry. The viable currency for us is the record. That’s what we wanted to put out and that’s what people gave us the money for. As a result, they got a record and a half, should they so chose and we’re very, very pleased with it and we’re sure that the level of trust means that if we want to do it in another two years, barring a fantastic lottery win that means we don’t need to ask for money again, we’ll be more than happy to invest in it again.
Was it liberating to not have to answer to anyone but yourselves on this album?
It’s liberating in a lot of ways but I will say that although not all of my experiences with record labels have been positive, nobody’s ever really told me what to do. Nobody’s ever said, “This is the single, this is how this is gonna go, here’s your artwork, here’s how we’re gonna present the band.” People have made frustrating decisions, there have been crappy fucking useless delays, that kind of thing. But nobody’s ever sincerely tried to steer anything artistically. It’s been liberating in a lot of senses but it’s been a lot of work for me but also for Julia [Ruzicka] who has been emailing and calling people tirelessly, setting up releases. It takes a lot more work, especially with an international release than people would imagine.
I wanted to ask you about that. How will self-releasing this new album affect its distribution? I tried to buy it through the Kickstarter and it ended up being something like $36 to get it to the U.S.
We are gonna ultimately be making it cheaper for people in the States, like subsidizing the postage ourselves because it is incredibly expensive. But we are looking for a label to distribute for us in the States. It looks like we found one in Oz, we’ve got one in Britain, so it’s a question of finding one in the States. We’ve approached lots of labels but we find the same answer every time. And that’s got nothing to do with not liking the album. It’s got to do with having no money and certainly not wanting to spend it on us. It is expensive. I think as well, people are used to paying a little bit more for physical music over here than they are in the States. When we’re touring over there, we’ll sell a CD for 10 bucks. And we’ll sell them for 10 pounds over here, which is in effect is 14, 15 bucks. I guess 10’s a round fucking number. But when we were touring a few years ago, interestingly enough—well I find it interesting anyway, talking about the perceived value of things—we had a live album called, Last Night I Saved Her From Vampires and we were selling it for 10 bucks and we’d sell maybe 10 a night. And we said, “We just wanna sell some copies, get some interest in the band, why don’t we sell it for 5 bucks for a few nights?” And we did that and we sold about 5 copies a night. So when people see 5 bucks, they assume it’s just a shitty little recording. So we put it back up to 10 and it sold more.
You should’ve charged 20.
[laughs] There are limits. You have to find the precise value for an album. I nearly called it a “product” there but I would’ve had to punch myself in the face.
That’s an interesting experiment that you accidentally ran. Are you guys gonna tour in the States for this album?
If we can do it and not lose money, yes. It was fantastic to tour last year. We supported the band Andrew Jackson Jihad and that was a fantastic tour.
Lastly, since you have a song called “Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, have you seen the trailer for the new Robocop yet?
I haven’t, no. Obviously, the first Robocop film is a classic. The reaction to that song was quite revealing to me because it shows how people can half-read and half-understand. The first reaction I ever had to that song was, “I can’t believe this guy hates action films.” And you know, the first question you asked me—that would be an exaggerated version of my personality because it was written from the perspective of a character. For example, I pronounced “Cannes” as “cans.” I was writing in the voice of a particular kind of lunkhead who reduces everything to a very simplistic notion. But you guys are comfortable with the word “franchise,” aren’t you? Like sports team being franchised. You’ll have sports teams that will just move cities, won’t you?
Right, just move loyalties.
Yeah, which to a British person…there was a football club—as in soccer club—which moved from Wimbledon, which is in London, to Milton Keynes, which is just outside London, whenever the fuck it was, 15 years ago. And that was an outrageous thing. It was a seismic event. And there’s just something about that blatant franchising. I can understand as a kid, if you want to watch things exploding, fuck, sure. There are levels on which those things can be appreciated but just something about Robocop, I don’t know.
I’ll just say that your prophesy came true because it looks pretty shitty.
See, and I think I remember
not being so bad.
Right, I think you even slammed Robocop 3 in that song.
Yeah, I seem to remember Robocop 3 sucking the shit off a dead dog’s cock.
Are there any movies coming up that you are actually excited about?
We went to see—I saw it twice—once with Julia and once with Julia and my mother, a film called Alpha Papa, which is about a British comedy character called Alan Partridge played by a guy called Steve Coogan. It’s very British comedy but that was exceptional. Kind of low-key. They didn’t try to Hollywood it up which was a good thing. Sometimes British comedies, they’ll try to appeal to an American audience in a really obvious way.
Speaking of, I just finished that Ricky Gervais Netflix series.
See, The Office is the most perfectly awkward thing which has probably ever been broadcast and the American Office probably went on for 53 seasons too long but genuinely very funny as well. But I haven’t really liked anything Ricky Gervais has done since.
There was an Extras special that was a commentary on Big Brother which was very good. I remember the David Bowie episode was pretty good but the rest of it again, no. I’d like to find a parallel universe through some kind of wormhole which is exactly the same as this world but where Ricky Gervais just didn’t exist.
Andrew then downed his pint and left to run 12 miles. Follow Future of the Left on Twitter. They have the greatest handle of all time: @shit_rock
Dan Ozzi is a contributing editor at Noisey and is in absolute awe of Andrew’s contempt for everything under the sun. Follow him on his less awesomely chosen Twitter handle - @danozzi