INTERVIEW

Fair Ohs on gangs, making people cry, Birmingham and new album ‘Jungle Cats’.

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Since their 2011 debut album, ‘Everything Is Dancing’, London afro-punks Fair Ohs have grown physically in size, adding saxophonist Sam Ayres, and most notably in sound and scope. New album ‘Jungle Cats’ is less a collection of breezy tropical pop singles, more a showboat in how well the band can actually play, as each track progressively breaks down and jams out. And yet on the eve of their UK tour finale, their most enduring qualities remain – how little they expect, and how close they are. As singer Eddy Frankel puts it: “When you tour at our level it’s a really personal thing, because you’re not necessarily playing to big crowds. It’s not about the audience; it’s about the group you’re with. You can play to 30 people and as long as the four of you are happy, you’re good.”

… The Hustle

Matt Flag [bass]: “Sometimes sleeping on peoples’ floors is fun. It’s nice when you want to go and party and the people you’re staying with are like, ‘let’s go out and get wild’. But sometimes people are like that and all you want to do is sleep.”

Eddy Frankel [guitar and vocals]: “The alternative is being in a Travelodge, and I think the times when touring is hardest is when you’re forced into introspection, when you’re like, ‘fuck, I’m in a fucking Travelodge on a motorway near Glasgow, and everyone’s snoring and I fucking hate them!’ Whatever you can do to avoid that… The sleeping on people’s floors thing is fun, because you get to meet people. If you play to 12 people in Glasgow, or something, and you’re staying in a Travelodge, you’ve not seen anyone else, just each other, and that’s like, ‘this is a disappointing thing to do’.”

… The Fair Ohs curse

Matt: “I’m going to put this out there, I love my life – this is Eddy’s curse.”

Eddy: “I’m quite negative, and I believe that Fair Ohs are cursed. We have so much go wrong on such an incredibly regular basis. On this tour, things that should never have gone wrong have.”

Sam Ayres [Saxophone]: “Good things come out of it, right?”

Eddy: “What?! No! The curse leads to sadness. This tour: one bass amp, destroyed beyond repair; one guitar amp, just dead; one guitar, wood shattered; sampler, dead; sneer skin, died. Things just aren’t easy with Fair Ohs. I was going to write a tour diary, but after the first three shows, which were so abysmal, I thought, I’m just not doing this, I don’t want people to know how bad touring can be, but then it got really good.”

… Making people cry

Eddy: “My on stage banter has not gone down well on this tour. People do take genuine offence to it. For the most part, no one reacts, so it’s just me saying shit into a microphone.”

Matt: “We played Birmingham and no one said anything, and then we played Bristol and there was some girl shouting at Eddy, and after I came off stage she was like, ‘I hope you don’t mind me shouting?’ and it’s like, ‘no, it adds to it’, because she got involved. Some people feel they can get involved and can take it, some people don’t take it, some people look visibly not excited by it. But I know that some of our friends like to come to our show because of Eddy’s banter – it is a part of our show; we don’t look at our feet and play, because that would be boring. I would be more exited to see Fair Ohs with him screaming and shouting at people, and I wish I had the confidence to do that, but I need to be really drunk, and then I only shout at him, and then he puts me down and calls me Pugsley.  I like it, we all take the piss out of ourselves first before anyone else. It’s offensive to us, and then everybody else.”

Eddy: “In Birmingham, y’know those things that hold 4 cans of beer, those plastic things, I was like, ‘these kill dolphins, but fuck dolphins,’ and everyone was like, ‘why’s he saying fuck dolphins’. Because fuck dolphins, that’s why. The girl I made cry had just graduated, and I said, ‘welcome to a world of fucking unemployment’. Then I told her that she was stupid because she didn’t even get a First.”

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… Birmingham

Matt: “Birmingham was a weird high point for us. We went to a place that served 1 pound drinks to 18 to 20 year old kids… and us.”

Eddy: “Matt stood in the smoking area smoking cigars around a load of 20 year olds. It was a club called Snobs, full of 20 year olds listening to The Killers. Sam poured a beer on himself because he could, because it was a pound.”

Sam: “In my defence I had another pound in my pocket.”

Joe Ryan [drums]: “Then we went to this chicken shop that Matt’s cousin recommended, and she’s like, ‘it’s fucking shit’, and this is it [gets phone out for photographic evidence] – food, hygiene and safety: 4; structural compliance: 4; confidence in management: little.”

… Not fighting

Eddy: “You hear about bands fighting, and I get how bands could, but I think we’re very, very lucky that there’s a lot of mutual respect, and we know that we’re not going to be able to tour for four months of the year, because it’s not possible. We’re never going to be able to do massive things, so touring is such a nice atmosphere, and you’re with your closest buddies, and it becomes hard to let go of, because it’s like, ‘shit, I’ve just been having a really good time with my gang of friends’.”

Matt: “We’ve never had a fight because I think we know each other’s biting points, and when we get to that we try to push them a little bit further and then we back off. But we all know what annoys each other. Like, I know I have two lines that at a drop of a hat will wind Eddy up; he knows how to wind me up – something to do with my passport and being lost – but we know that we do it in jest. We’re like brothers. You take the piss out of your brothers, but we’ve never had an argument or got to the point where anyone has tried to hit each other or cried, or walked out.”

Joe: “Hang on. You two have had a grapple, I’ve hit Eddy, but it was all accidental, pissed nonsense.”

Matt: “Eddy was wasted and couldn’t even see straight, and he was like, ‘C’mon!’, and I pinned him to the floor and there’s this video of him being like, ‘you’re so big, you’re so strong!’.

… Knowing your limits

Eddy: “We’re aware that the way the record industry is we’re not going to make a shit load of fucking money. We’re just not. We’re not The xx. Y’know, we’re not going to be able to tour a shit load, we just physically can’t.”

Matt: “I wouldn’t want to make this my full time job.”

Joe: “I would.”

Eddy: “I probably would, but it’s so removed, it’s not a real question. That’s not us being pessimistic – it simply won’t happen. Independent band, with a bunch of dudes who aren’t that hot; it’s like we have nothing going for us. And also, we won’t do what anyone tells us. From the very start, whenever there’s been an opportunity for someone to give us direction, we’ve just gone, ‘nope!’. So it’s an unreal question. We will never, ever, ever be able to do anything on anyone’s level. We won’t be able to conform to anybody’s idea of what a band should do, and that’s why it’s enjoyable and why we’ve done it for so long.”

Matt: “You’ve known us from the beginning and look how much we’ve changed and done what we wanted. And you can’t always make those decisions if you’re basing that on if it’s going to pay your rent. Your artistic decisions are either based on money or what the fuck you want to do. My opinion differs to these two, but I don’t want to do that now. I feel old and grumpy, and this is my holiday. It’s the best hobby in the fucking world. I get to hang out with my best friends and slay!”

Eddy: “Look at all that hype that happened in London when we started, and there was Male Bonding and Graffiti Island and all that stuff – the band that did the best was Male Bonding and they don’t live off it. We’re nowhere near Male Bonding size, we’re nowhere near being signed to Sub Pop. It’s so far beyond the realms of possibility the only thing we can do is continue to create and enjoy the process.”

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… ‘Jungle Cats’

Eddy: “We wanted this record to be more considered. The first record is verse chorus, verse chorus. But we are really good musicians – we can own our instruments. The first record was built on this ultra joyful, youthful, ‘holy fuck! Let’s play loads of shit! That’s a song! Done!’. This time we were thinking about the bands we liked and we didn’t want to do verse/chorus 2-minute songs; we wanted to see what would happen if we let it unfold a bit more naturally. ‘Ya Mustafa’ is probably the best example of that, because it’s expansive and weird and jammy.”

Matt: “‘Jamming’ is a really good word to describe where we’ve got to from before, and I think Eddy’s vocals have gotten so much better. It kind of freaked me out. When you listen to the album, there are some things that are subtler and some that are in your face, but his vocals are amazing, and his lyrics. Yeah, yeah, yeah, his head’s getting bigger – he’s going to be an arsehole tonight – but I’ll say this once and once only: his vocals got so good that I was blown away when he was doing his vocal takes and laying down all these different levels. It was awesome to hear.”

… Feeling old

Eddy: “There’s an emotional side to ‘Jungle Cats’ that ‘Everything Is Dancing’ didn’t have, and that’s really important to me. The lyrics have continuity from start to finish. It’s a very personal thing that maybe isn’t shared, but for me I wanted it to have a purpose and meaning.

“‘Jungle Cats’ is about feeling old. Before this album was written and recorded, I lost my house, I lost my job and I lost my girlfriend of five years – ‘lost’, I know where she is [laughs]. So those things left my life, and a lot of people go through those mid-to-late twenties malaise, where you’ve just lost shit and you’re like, ‘what the fuck am I doing?!’. I’d lost my job and had a year on benefits, and it’s a really emotional thing to go through, and I was like, ‘fuck, I’m 26 and I don’t know who the fuck I am and it’s all just disappearing – those 26 years have fucking gone and I’m no different to how I was when I was 18, and that’s just fucked up!’. It’s a hard thing to go through.”

Matt: “One of the funny things is that he was writing these lyrics about feeling old, but I’m the oldest member of the band, and I had a bit of meltdown when I hit 30, and there’s one song where the lyrics were so relevant to what I was going through, I thought it was about me.”

Eddy: “Every song is about the process of realising, ‘fuck it, I’m not 25!’ and trying to figure out who the fuck you are. I’m glad that there’s that emotional aspect to it, and it’s quite sad that literally no reviewer has picked up on it. Everyone’s like, ‘this is such a party record!’. Well, fuck you!”

… Gangs

Eddy: “It’s not easy doing what we’re doing; it’s not easy releasing records, and we’re doing it completely by ourselves – every step of this process has been us, and we’ve pushed through it because we really like each other. It’s not like I need to speak to Joe or Matt or Sam every single day, but this is what we want to do and we like being around each other. It’s this gang mentality of let’s just fucking do this because no one else is going to be as good as us. We’re convinced we’re better than anyone else, and that’s what you need. It’s important to be like, ‘fuck you! We’re going to do this because no one else is going to make music as intricate or as difficult or as passionate as we’re going to make. Or as real!’”

… Musicianship:

Joe: “Touring this record we’re all like, ‘fuck, this is really hard to play’. Because we’ve let the musicality come out a lot more, whether it’s obvious or not, we know that we’re really playing our arses off and really concentrating for 40 minutes. It’s quite a cool thing to not care about musicianship, but we care.”

Eddy: “Yeah, it’s cool to be shit at your instrument. Like, ‘oh, this little song? I just shat it out’. Fuck you! We worked our fucking arses off to make an incredible record and you can’t play it, because only we can – all of our parts are so uniquely us.”

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