Les Savy Fav on Six Finger Satellite, the White Album, Amp Modeling Pedals, and Other Inspirations Behind Their New Album ‘OUI, LSF’

    Tim Harrington grew the cover art for OUI, LSF, Les Savy Fav’s first LP in 14 years, out of a patch of grass in his Brooklyn attic. During the band’s hiatus, the singer (who interimly wrote and illustrated children’s books and became a creative director) built a studio there, and after a performance at Primavera in 2022, began using it to jam and record with four friends who have been his collaborators since 1995: guitarist Seth Jabour and bassist Syd Butler (who also play in the house band for Late Night with Seth Meyers), drummer Harrison Haynes (who transitioned into fine art), and guitarist Andrew Reuland (who worked as a film editor and writer). Like the new music they ended up recording – they initially had no intention of making an album – the artwork is bold and striking, but it’s also symbolic: “The record grew organically — literally and figuratively,” Harrington remarked. For Les Savy Fav, of course, growth does not necessarily mean scaling or polishing things up. There are moments on OUI, LSF that recall the playful irreverence, anguish, and propulsiveness of the band’s earlier material, but they share space with genuinely somber and celebratory songs that captivate and surprise in equal measure. That’s a new kind of freedom, and Les Savy Fav make the best of it.

    We caught up with Les Savy Fav’s Seth Jabour to talk about some of the inspirations behind OUI, LSF, including Six Finger Satellite, the White Album, amp modeling pedals, and more.

    Six Finger Satellite’s Severe Exposure

    You’ve specifically singled out ‘Pulling a Train for its frenetic guitar tone, and I related it to the song ‘Void Moon’ in terms of achieving a similar darkness. What was it like to go back to this album around the making of OUI, LSF?

    I feel like that album has always been in our orbit. They were a band in Providence in the ’90s when we were starting – they were one of the bigger bands in Providence, signed to Sub Pop. We saw them a bunch, we got to play with them, got to know them. I think their whole output of music is really kick-ass. ‘Pulling a Train’ is a great example of a song I go back to, however many years later, and still think, “Jesus, I still don’t hear music like this.” There’s something to the frenetic energy of John’s playing that reminded me a little bit of ‘Oi! Division’ and the intro to ‘World Got Great’ in terms of its glassy, cutting sound. Severe Exposure is probably my favorite Six Finger Satellite record. I don’t listen to it obsessively, but every time I do go back and revisit it, I’m always surprised at how much I love it and how important it was to us throughout our development as a band.

    Did you ever specifically reach to it for inspiration around the guitar tones on the new record?

    I think there were moments when Tim specifically called out this record. It might not necessarily be like, “We’re gonna go and chase that sound,” but it’s more like when you hear it, you say, “Oh, that sounds cool. That reminds me of ‘Pulling a Train’ by Six Finger Satellite” or something like that. It has the feel of that record. I think that’s the kind of thing that happens from having lived with a record for so long and having absorbed its influences for so long that it’s just always in the periphery.

    The Beatles’ White Album

    It had been a very long time since we came together and worked on a record. During that time, each member of the band had gone off and focused on careers, families, marriages, kids, moving, all of these different things. We each branched off and began to take our own separate journeys – very different from a time when early in our writing process, we were around each other all the time, and our journeys were very intricately entwined with one another. Tim referenced the White Album a lot. I thought, “Yeah, that’s cool.” It’s always a little dicey when you aim for the Beatles because they seem to be the holy grail of music, pop, rock, whatever you want to call it, but I know what he meant by that. I think what comes across in our songs like ‘Don’t Mind Me’, ‘Nihilists’, and even ‘Racing Bees’  – how did ‘Revolution 9’ make it onto the White Album? Clearly, it was one person’s vision to be like, “I want this song to be representative of who we are.” Maybe the other members of the band said that’s a batshit idea and didn’t like it, but then saying, “Yes, but trust me.” When you look at the whole package, those moments sit in there as well.

    In terms of the relationship between the White Album and OUI, LSF, we all individually started bringing ourselves into the process instead of just showing up and being in a practice space for three hours a night, three days a week, bouncing ideas around that way. It was like bringing something personal and saying, “I have an idea, it’s going to be this.” ‘Don’t Mind Me’, I love that song, I think it’s so beautiful, honest, and stark. I remember when Tim presented it, nobody thought, “How can I play on it? What can I do? Do you want me to add guitars?” I was like, “It doesn’t need anything. It’s done just the way it is right now. It’s perfect.” When you look at the White Album, ‘Blackbird’ is a great song; that’s just Paul. ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ is also a strange aesthetic choice for them to make. But then they still stuck to writing the kind of music that they were known for, which I think encapsulated their history together. And I think OUI, LSF has a lot of that. Songs like ‘Void Moon’ or ‘World Got Great’, I’m like, “Yeah, those sound like Les Savy Fav songs.” And ‘Nihilists’, that sounds kind of like a Les Savy Fav song – it sounds like Les Savy Fav starting to play someone else’s song, passed through the lens of the band, but it doesn’t bring the chaos and all the other elements that we used to heavily rely on for all of our earlier releases.

    I think it was Tim who said that the guitars on ‘Legendary Tippers’ were like “if ‘Taxman’ wolfed down a bottle of Adderall.” Different album, obviously, but I wonder how a specific reference point like that helps you reconstruct what may sound like disparate elements into a coherent song, or if it’s again something that comes up later.

    Honestly, I don’t know how that song came together; it was such a strange and unique process. But I think moments like the “Taxman solo on Adderall” were probably more of an accident or an afterthought. That one in particular I worked on at home on my home setup – I was just farting out weird ideas around this thing that Tim and I had been working on prior to that, and he just started being like, “Dude, that was fucking cool, there’s all this cool shit in here,” and just started chopping it up into this really wacky song. I think my hands were just moving while I was thinking about something else on my way to the next “significant” part of the song, and Tim was smart enough to say “That is the significant part of the song. That’s the cool little thing happening in the song.” So yeah, that’s another Beatles reference.

    ‘You’re So Cool’ by Hans Zimmer from the True Romance soundtrack

    You’ve referenced this track as a spiritual predecessor to ‘Racing Bees’. How do they relate to each other in your mind?

    That was kind of a wild card for me. ‘Racing Bees’ was the one song on the record that I was like, “Why are we putting this on this record?” I think it was recorded on somebody’s phone during a rehearsal session one day, and it’s just grabbing loops on a pedal. Very little thought, very little production, but again, Tim was like, “I fucking love this one, I think it’s great.” We had even debated on whether or not it deserved a track listing, like maybe it could just be an interstitial, like something you would find on Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Tim was like, “No, absolutely, I want to give it a name and a track listing.” I know ‘You’re So Cool’ has that steel drum vibe, but there’s something tropical-sounding or island-like about it. When I hear it, I always think about the backdrop of gray Detroit with this really sunny music underneath it, and I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition. I always loved that music because I thought it somehow hinted at a brighter future against a film that was very much tense at all times. When ‘Racing Bees’ comes on, there’s a brightness to it that makes me think about that. There’s no lyrics to direct you one way or another, but there is something bright and hopeful about it, and I’m very appreciative now that it is on the record. It’s a nice segue into the latter half of the record.

    It also creates this space in the middle of the record, allowing you to sit with what’s come before.

    Yeah, like a nice palate cleanser. There are a couple of moments that I think speak to what you’re saying. In the past, I would say that there had always been a real density to our records, to each individual song, in terms of cycling through so many different parts within the time span of three minutes. Taking a very long hiatus, coming into releasing a record 14 years later, and having maybe some wisdom and foresight to have a little moment here and there to just sort of breathe, to have it all clear out for a little while – I think ‘Don’t Mind Me’ also sort of achieves that same thing, where suddenly it’s very empty and there’s very little for your brain to have to process, so you get to really appreciate the things that it is focusing on.

    Hot Snakes’ Automatic Midnight

    Similar to Severe Exposure, I’m curious if listening to this record actives the same visceral response as it did two decades ago and whether it inspires you in different ways.

    I would say that record activates a visceral response every time I hear it from the first time I heard it. It’s just one of my favorite records. I pulled out the songs ‘10th Planet’ and ‘No Hands’ in particular because I love how the guitars drive, and I really thought something like ‘Void Mood’ had a bit of that – it’s very driving. There are moments at the end of ‘Limo Scene’ where Andrew is playing things that I think are kind of evocative of the end of ‘10th Planet’. There’s a particular line during the bridge of ‘World Got Great” – “Born losers, late bloomers/ What luck to not bloom sooner”– where I came up with this guitar line, and I remember when I was putting it in there, I thought to myself, “This feels like something John Reis would play.” It’s like a downstroking, very rhythmic, kind of percussive part. Another reason I put down Hot Snakes was because I think John and Rick had this really uncanny relationship of weaving their guitars together in such a unique voice, to where I can’t tell who’s playing what – it doesn’t matter. There’s just this great chemistry happening in there, and I think it’s something that we strive to do, being in a band with two guitar players, finding a way to have a nice harmonious balance between the sounds.

    The Roger Linn AdrenaLinn III Guitar Pedal Multi FX

    Our drummer lives in North Carolina; I live in New Jersey, which is about 14 miles away from the city; the rest of the guys all live in Brooklyn. It takes a fair amount of effort for even just the four of us, as grown men with all these other responsibilities, to come together and do things with that time. A very streamlined and productive use of that time was tracking everything in Tim’s attic. Tim has this incredible setup of technology and gadgets, all sorts of ways to bring music into his computer. Obviously, when you’re talking about hanging out in somebody’s attic studio, you don’t think of miking things and doing all that shit – that’s studio territory. I just brought my pedal board, and Tim’s like, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll just go into my AdrenaLinn.” I’m like, “What the fuck is an AdrenaLinn?” As you know, amp-modeling pedals have become way more state-of-the-art now. We were also using the Strymon Iridium for a while; that made its way a lot onto this record.

    Tim had a very clear sense of how he wanted sounds to be produced on this record. The pedal had all manner of different guitar amps incorporated into it, and as we were writing something, Tim would dial though and he’d be like, “Oh, that sounds cool. Let’s use that one.” And it would be some weird hard rock amp that you would never think, “I want a hard rock amp sound.'” It was fun and liberating. You just get to scroll through a catalog of sounds and let your ear say, “That doesn’t sound like something that I’m accustomed to hearing all the time. Let’s explore that a little bit.” So we wound up relying heavily on that, and it got to the point where I acquired one for myself so I could have it as part of my home setup. All the guitars were recorded in Tim’s studio on three distinct tracks: one track was dry so it could be reamped, one track was coming through the AdrenaLinn, and one track was coming through our pedal board coming through the AdrenaLinn. This is getting a little too technical, but basically, it was allowing us to have ultimate flexibility about what sounds we wanted to use and how we could manipulate them further. A lot of records, when we go into a studio and we set up, you’re like, “That sounds great,” and that’s going to be your sound for the next ten days, or certainly for the duration of a song. And Tim’s approach was, “Let’s always have the option and the flexibility to go back and treat any of this later and not be tied down to spatial effects or amp effects.” That’s why we were working in these boxes, and I found that one to be my favorite out of all the digital ways of working with stuff.

    Tim Harrington’s attic studio

    More broadly, in what other ways was working in Tim’s attic studio inspiring or liberating for you guys?

    We had total control over what was happening throughout the production of this record. When you go into a studio and work with a producer – and we’ve worked with great producers in the past – there’s always going to be a little intervention from the producer. With us doing it in isolation, this effort is 100% us. Tim took the bull by the horns – he was the one who was up till like 2 o’clock in the morning, going through stuff, repurposing things, manipulating things. There were times when I thought we were writing a demo, and then, little by little, it dawned on me that, like, “That’s not a demo. That’s the song.” We’re not going to take this stuff later on and, like, go into a fancy studio and blow a bunch of money with expensive stuff; we’re going to use this. Tim was like, “I’m going to use this, and I’m going to manipulate this, and I’m going to wrangle the shit out of this into something that sounds cool.” So, Tim’s attic was an instrument in a lot of ways. It was one of the main reasons why the record has the sound that it has and the mojo that it has. That’s not something that could have been achieved in a studio space, unless you’re like the Rolling Stones and you have an unlimited amount of money to spend, sleep in some place and work on it that way. But Tim lived and slept in his own space, and this is what came out of it.

    I read that there’s a piece of artwork in the studio that reads, “Can’t do it how you want. Don’t want to do it how you can.” How did you learn to adapt to that?

    Hopefully with experience and wisdom, at the very least you learn that sometimes you have to make concessions and give in to the way something is. You need to feel less precious about constantly wanting to manipulate and control things into what you want them to be. The saying – obviously, it’s a bit of a paradox. There’s a struggle there; I think that’s at the heart of this record.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Les Savy Fav’s OUI, LSF is out now via Frenchkiss Records.

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