For the past few years, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Chris Farren, who makes music under his own name and also with Jeff Rosenstock in Antarctigo Vespucci, has been cultivating a simple yet entertaining act. He writes songs about depression, anxiety, insecurity and failure, but performs and promotes them under the guise of comical self-obsession and narcissism. The result is pure performance art.
What started as referring to himself as a punk-rock celebrity and proclaiming that he's "perfect in every way" quickly became more grandiose.
To promote his new album Born Hot — the cover of which is a crudely drawn self-portrait of him lying on his side — Farren bought a billboard in Silver Lake, his neighborhood in L.A., and advertised “The Born Hotline” (1-810-BORN-HOT), which fans can call to hear clips from the album, tour dates and a message from Farren, or they can leave one of their own. The billboard is no longer up, but the phone line is still active.
“Last time I checked, I’ve received around 4,000 calls,” Farren says.
In addition to "The Born Hotline," Farren has released a calendar of “candid” photos of himself every year since 2017. He has an Instagram filter of his face, and he paints portraits of himself in comical situations that he uses as posters for shows. His favorite depicts him as a cat about to eat from a bowl filled with tiny versions of his head.
“I started behaving this way because I felt so nervous about putting myself out there. My band is called Chris Farren – that’s my name,” he says. “It came about as a way to disassociate myself from my act in a humorous way. The fear of criticism looms so much more than the reality of criticism. I wanted to appeal to a person like me, who thinks confidence is inherently a foreign concept,” he says.
This act, which paints Farren as the world's most popular and successful rock star, is beloved by Farren's fans. One fan on Twitter sent Farren a Photoshopped version of Obama's best music of 2019 list, this one instead listing all twelve songs on Born Hot.
On stage, Farren plays solo in front of a projector that shows his self-portraits and animated movies in sync with his music. These are accompanied by flashing neon lights, glitter and other visuals. He doesn’t actually have a band; instead, he plays over a backing track and a drum machine. This is far removed from when he first went solo and had nothing but an acoustic guitar on stage.
“I got bored with playing acoustic pretty quickly, and I didn’t feel like I was doing anything remarkable,” he says. “I wanted to be able to put forth a more entertaining experience for the audience."
Farren has spent the past few years opening for other artists, not letting an opening slot detract from his elaborate and involved act. This changes with his Born Hot headlining tour, which hits Denver on January 21 at Globe Hall. He doesn’t offer too many details on how headlining will expand his performance, but he does confess he has 1,400 balloons with his face on them.
On his new album, Farren’s clever self-promotion combines with his knack for writing deeply personal yet catchy songs that focus on insecurity, fear of failure, depression, and love. Farren’s writing shines when he juxtaposes these heartbreaking and confessional lyrics with earworm pop hooks and instrumentals driven by eclectic power pop, the foot-tapping grooves of the Strokes and the balladry of modern emo rock. For every feeling of emotional paralysis and sadness he sings about on Born Hot, there’s one of brief reassurance — even if it’s short-lived.
“When people approach me saying they relate to my songs, I feel a version of the way the person coming up to me feels," he says. I feel seen, heard, and less alone. It’s a mutual thing where we’re acknowledging these feelings are normal."
There are so many comedic layers to Farren and how he presents his music, but he doesn’t want that to detract from the seriousness of his songs. He emphasizes that everything he does — no matter how comical or ridiculous — is in service of his songs, which strike a deep emotional core not only in him, but in his listeners.
“I don’t want people to think I’m more of a humor act than a musician,” Farren says. “I don’t make music for the sake of being funny, even though humor is an important part of how I present myself.”
Chris Farren, Retirement Party and Macseal play at 8 p.m. on January 21 at Globe Hall, 4843 Logan Street. Tickets are $13 and available on the Globe Hall website.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.