Father Figures (members of Man Man, Matthew Dear, Antibalas & Empress Of) the band that just will not die, has been a band for four years, starting from the humble rumblings improvising in a Brooklyn basement.
The quintet recently released their EP Bad Bad Birds and are heading out on tour to share their new tunes! We caught up with the band to ask them about the new EP, their funniest memory as a band and their dream gig! Check it out below.
Where did the name Father Figures come from?
ADAM: Sadly there’s no magic story. We formed in 2007 playing weekly parties where we improvised in the basement of a coffee shop that our bassist Spencer worked at. We started as Riot??, had a brief stint as Porridge Brain, and eventually settled on Father Figures. It felt right, it still does.
How do you connect with a crowd during a show?
ADAM: We play our music differently every time and have an extraordinarily fun time at it. That truly seems to connect with an audience, how much we enjoy what we’re doing and how novel each performance is.
What is one of the funniest memories you have as a band?
ROSS: One of my favorite memories goes back to the band’s first nationwide tour, on a lonesome night in Echo Park in LA. We performed in a curiosity venue (the now defunct Echo Curio), with a lineup of cursed musicians straight out of a William Burroughs novel. The opening act was a middle-aged Rastafarian who knew very little about where he was or what he was doing. The prayer he recited was very long, as was the joint he was smoking. Then we witnessed a jazz band with the oldest drummer on Earth, barely capable of movement. His choice of promotional material was printed photos of his YouTube channel, which he handed out after his set. The chaos continued during our set, as the power continually turned off and on throughout. Finally, the grand finale, the event which gave the entire night it’s wonderful meaning, was the folk performer who shouted his way through the final set. He had just returned from the liquor store across the street. The fruits of this trip didn’t last long, and it soon became clear that he was timing his set to end before this liquor store closed. He chugged beers between songs. Our drummer Ian Chang joined him on tambourine, and I remember clearly seeing him drop to his knees during a particular song, not out of drunkenness but sheer emotional force. He shouted the phone number of his ex-girlfriend again and again during this song. The night was not different than some surreal dream, except for we all shared the experience.
ADAM: In general, when you spend every hour of a day with the same people for many days throughout your lives, you start to develop a fluent language that is absolutely hilarious to no one but yourselves. I could make a list of all the things that makes us laugh until we cry when we’re together, but it would probably just work against us.
All the members are a part of other music groups outside of Father Figures, what is it like when you all come together to play?
JAS: Everyone in Father Figures is a multi-contextual musician. We all play in many different bands, and there isn’t one of us that could be pigeonholed as “the jazz guy” or “the rock guy”. Considering this, when we improvise together, having all been in different musical situations, say, the night before, there is an amazing sense of group listening that we all participate in. Usually what happens is a kind of controlled explosion, a release for us all to play freely, but with the focus of striving to be one musical unit, instead of five parallel units.
ROSS: It’s true, all the members of Father Figures are busy as hell, but when we come together to play, it is like rabid animals released from our shackles. We unleash the monsters inside of ourselves, exorcise our demons, and relinquish to the improvised flow of communication, at once perfectly familiar and entirely unique. We have grown up together, both on stage and off, and musically we are very comfortable with each other. Each person has a recognizable musical personality, and this has forced us to keep challenging each other with contradictions and surprising choices. It is a balancing act that makes Father Figures the most consistently interesting band that any of us play with.
So you guys were invited this past February to play a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR’s offices, what was that like?
IAN: Bob Boilen’s desk is actually huge (as far as desks go), leaving very little space for the musicians, which forced us to set up in a hilarious way (Ross’ keys were on the famous desk). We’re used to playing DIY spaces and rock clubs and bars, so playing a short concert in the early afternoon for an office is definitely strange territory for us. Because of the unique circumstances, most bands completely change their setup for Tiny Desk concerts, but we did our thing, just quieter and with some help from office supplies around us. I’m really happy with how it turned out and we can’t thank Bob Boilen enough for having us.
You guys just released an EP called Bad Bad Birds, how is this different from your albums in the past?
ADAM: This EP is some select recordings from a session live in a studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Before this our only release was our Father Figures LP, a double LP that consisted of 18 tracks culled from 5 hours of improvisations to 4 track cassette that we then pawed over and grabbed the segments we were really excited about. That was done in 2008, so the Bad Bad Birds EP is much more representative of Father Figures now, featuring compositions that are vehicles for a lot of improvising. It also has been released on a USBeak device, that we make. It’s a little stuffed buddy, with a USB drive tongue holding the album. It’s groundbreaking. Like the light bulb. But for weird music.
Have you guys ever played a show in Atlanta, if so are you excited to return to the Big A?
ADAM: We actually played 529 Bar last December so we’re so excited to come back within a year. That show was a real highlight for us, one of the best we’d ever played and the audience was crazy receptive and excited to hear us play. We shared the bill with this band Babar who were just unbelievable, and this time we’re playing with the band Currency featuring one of the guys from Babar so we’re hoping for a repeat victory.
If you could choose any venue and any band/artist to perform with, where would it be and who would it be with?
ADAM: The Flaming Lips at Red Rocks.
JAS: Fania All Stars at the Sydney Opera House
SPENCER: D’Angelo anywhere
ROSS: David Bazan at the Outpost (Albuquerque)
IAN: Bjork in Iceland
Check out Father Figures playing at 529 this Saturday, August 17 with Ruination!