London based five piece Fanfarlo are making waves with their individual mix of indie pop, folk and rock tunes. Their great melodies and unusual instrumentation have set tongues wagging and they have recently supported Mumford & Sons, the band are also set to play a summer show with The National. Contactmusic.com caught up with Amos Memon, the drummer for the band and Leon Beckenham who plays keys and trumpet at this years scorching Glastonbury Festival. With Leon slightly distracted as Sienna Miller walked past, I manage to keep them focussed. Sitting under Amos' umbrella for shade, they chatted about the band, their debut album, Reservoir, the summer of festivals and Leon's love of Shakira!
CM: You played your gig at the 40th Glastonbury yesterday, how was it?
AM: Yeah, it was pretty good. It was a very brief gig; we condensed the set down into nine songs - around 40 minutes, which I noticed a lot of bands had been commenting on as well. They have been cutting down sets and possibly leaving out songs that crowds want to hear but having to just keep knocking out easy to play songs I guess... They've been really strict with their time slots this year. We played the same time slot as Mumford And Sons who we toured with, The Big Pink who we're friends with, Vampire Weekend and Florence And The Machine.
CM: That's a really tough one isn't it?!
LB: Exactly, so with that sort of competition, we were lucky to get anyone! It was quite thin at first but definitely by halfway through, it filled up and it was a good set.
CM: So, it's the 40th anniversary, do you think the line up reflects that?
A: I didn't really think about it like that, but we've been to about 11 Glastonbury's between us, so.
L: I mean, there are some really great bands like Beach House, The National, Grizzly Bear.but some of the headliners, I'd say are maybe a bit predictable, you know, Muse etc but I guess it's those big acts that will get people buying tickets.
CM: Any others?
AM: Leon has a soft spot for Shakira and I mean that in a non-jokey way!
LB: In my defence, I lived in South America for a bit and it was before she came over here and was packaged up, when she was less 'Britney like', her early stuff was actually quite good!
AM: Yeah, he saw her in her homeland; I think that's pretty cool!
CM: Ok, thanks, I'll check her out! Moving on, you've toured with Mumford And Sons, do people put you in that bracket?
LB: Sometimes there does seem to be this association. It's a sort of fabrication really, journalist like to lump bands together. You know we're London based and there are folk elements. I guess they've been dubbed 'Urban Folk' and I certainly wouldn't describe us as anything like that.
AM: It's more like a flirtation with their sound, it's the same thing with Laura Marling, imagine a big Venn diagram, we're in there somewhere but I don't think it's fair to say that we're in the same bracket as they're heavily into country music and we're on a different tangent in that respect.
CM: So how would you describe your sound then?
AM: I came up with a good line recently.
LB: It's tricky, I dunno, it's folky, it's poppy, there's rock elements.
AM: Sort of like disco beats every now and then.
LB: In the Glastonbury programme they said something quite interesting; 'Hypnotic, upbeat, ground shaking folk' or something like that, it seemed flattering and accurate. I'd like to think it's very accessible, I think the songs have their pop element and are quite approachable, they've got hooks and they've got melody but there's quite a lot of substance as well.
CM: You all seem to play a lot of different instruments in the band, what do you usually include?
AM: There are five of us in the band but there's probably double the amount of instruments, at least two per band member, so there's quite a lot of chopping and changing of instruments. There's the usual rock line up, so there's electric guitar, bass and drums but then on top of that we've got keyboards, trumpets, violin, clarinet, mandolin.
LB: melodica, glockenspiel, tambourine.
AB: And then you've got five vocals.
CM: Do you all come from musical backgrounds? How did you all come together?
AM: I've never had a music lesson ever, so I come from the university of music life, but Leon's probably the most musical background.
LB: I started playing the piano and the trumpet when I was quite young but then I stopped for a long time before joining the band. I hadn't really picked up the trumpet for about five years before joining Fanfarlo, so I almost had to re-learn it. When I first joined the band I was pretty bl**dy awful at playing the trumpet to be fair, but now it's been about four years, thankfully I'm at a sort of level where I feel I can perform!
CM: So what's the formula with the band, do you all write together?
AM: Simon's the one that comes up with the lyrics and he'll often shape a demo around those lyrics and he'll email us an MP3, and we'll listen to it, then go into a rehearsal room and knock out some parts. But sometimes, depending on how late he stays up, he'll almost have a completed demo, but once it reaches the respective players it does change, other people maybe mix chords up or try other stuff, add instruments that aren't in the demo, transpose things, so we all have a part.
CM: You're turning into festival veterans, not just Glastonbury but also SXSW, how was that this year?
LB: It's always a lot of fun!
AM: We've played three years in a row and we'll definitely not go back next year, we didn't want to go back this year.
LB: I did!
AM: It's because we've been there before and it's quite hard work, if you imagine the amount of bands that play at Glastonbury but on one straight road in Texas. But yeah, it was a lot of fun, because we had played it before we knew the amount of effort you need to put into it, so we really just focussed on making sure the shows were good. Any down time we had, we were actually recording at the same time. And when we weren't doing that, we were being filmed because we were making a little half real, half dream like Fanfarlo featurette.
LB: It's sort of part documentary, part dream sequence piece of film making. I think we're releasing it in episodes, it's all on our website.
CM: That's a pretty unusual thing to do, whose idea was it?
AM: We got approached by a film maker and we've always wanted to make a short film but we didn't want it to be a straight up documentary or 'rockumentary', so we wanted to put elements of fiction on there and fit it around what it's like to be on tour. It centres around SXSW, you maybe wouldn't garner that if you just watched one episode but if you watch all four, you'll see it. There are moments that are quite surreal and removed, one where we drove away from the festival and found a creek and jumped in the creek and did some filming.
LB: It did mean we had to submerge ourselves in this freezing cold stream, I mean it was icy icy cold and we were fully clothed as well, it was not very pleasant.
CM: You were suffering for your art.
LB: Really, really suffering! Some of us made more of a meal of suffering than others!
CM: Are your songs and videos quite filmic then?
LB: The last video is quite filmic and cinematic. I don't know if you've seen 'Fire Escape' it's the latest single released off the album and we just did a video for that which is a very narrative driven story about a sort of anti-suicide cult and there's also an alternative ending to it as well.
AM: We try and move away from having to perform in our videos, we don't want to do what we do on stage; we want to keep that separate, it's the same with album covers.
CM: What's your plan for the rest of the summer; can we see you play more festivals?
AM: We're continent hopping now.
LB: Hopping backwards and forwards between Germany, Spain, Belgium over the next month or two, then we're heading over to Australia and Japan for a couple of festival in August and once that all draws to a close, we'll focus on song writing again, we're keen to get writing our second album.
CM: Great, that will give us something to look forward to! Thanks for chatting to us, have a good Glastonbury!
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Through The Cellar Door
Everything You Didn't Do (OFF SESSION)