Danse Macabre, the group's follow-up release in 2001, connected with an even broader audience with its brooding yet electrifying sound and insistent rhythms. We recently caught up with one of the band's founders, frontman Todd Fink, who spoke with us about the band's early days, the switch from guitar to synth-driven music and the life realization that he had which served as the subject matter of the album's lyrics and its title.
Westword: What got you into skateboarding?
Todd Fink: I think I always knew how to skateboard -- or as long as I can remember. I think that whole pop culture of skateboarding hit around 1985. Back to the Future got in on that with ["skitching"]. The ten by thirty boards with the really bright graphics and all that stuff -- I think that sort of kick started me into doing it all the time.
Were there skate parks around when you got into it?
No. Not really. There were skate parks a few years later.
Was music part of the culture of skateboarding for you as well?
Yeah. Now I see skaters always wearing headphones. For us, you'd just bring a boom box, and someone would bring some tapes. A lot of punk, not pop-punk, but old skate punk stuff and even metal and rap. We had friends that were into each kind of thing, so we kind of kept up with what was happening and all that. I liked Bad Religion, Operation Ivy, Beastie Boys, thrash, a lot of rap music, too. We kept up with that stuff at the time. I lost track of it years ago, but we were there on release days, and we had friends that were addicted [to that].
Obviously you've been interested in music your whole life, but what kind of music were you and your friends that formed the Faint with most interested in at that time?
Sonic Youth, Pavement, Archers of Loaf. I guess we started playing together in '94, late '94. At the time, we were sort of losing interest in the things we even liked, but had found a local music scene here. It wasn't happening, really, but there was a band called Slow Down Virginia that kind of changed the way that I looked at what you could do by being in a band -- how personalized you could be, how expressive you could be or something.
I saw them at the Cog Factory, a hole in the wall warehouse space that was an underground music venue. No real P.A. so much, but they had shows all the time. I think they ended up putting Omaha on the map, as far as touring bands and bands that booked themselves and all of that stuff.
The most known bands from Omaha might be Mannheim Steamroller or 311. But those were kind of the only ones. I guess there were others like Zager and Evans who had that hit in the late '60s, "In the Year 2525." There were some cool punk bands, but a lot of it didn't make waves outside of town much.
Other than the Cog Factory, what kind of local music climate existed in the early days of the Faint in terms of places to play, other bands you could play with, labels and press?
It was kind of folky, indie-ish, a lot of it, around the town at the time. Our first show was at a coffee shop called Kilgore's. Then it was called Blue Barn. It's actually still that. I only live a block away. I think we played with Simon Joyner, who's kind of a local folk songwriter classic in town. The room was about as big as a living room. I think we sat down and played. It wasn't exactly folk music; it had noise.
I think Conor [Oberst] from Bright Eyes was in the band and just played pedals. I don't even know if he had an instrument. He had a megaphone and some pedals. No, he might have played some guitar but it was just all racket. It was sort of in a folky context, lo-fi, I guess.
How did you meet Conor?
One of the first times I remember hanging out with him was going to see that Slow Down Virginia show that I was talking about. We had a friend in common. It was kind of weird for us to hang out with this kid because he was like thirteen years old or something, and we were like twenty. I don't know. He was really young, and he looked really young, but he was super cool, and he was a great songwriter. He had several records, or tapes, out by the time I met him. So it was, "Alright, this is our little friend."
When you toured here for Danse Macabre eleven years ago at Tulagi's in Boulder, Cindy Wonderful of Rainbow Sugar described you guys as something like a "new wave/heavy metal band." Would you say it's fair to comment that Blank Wave Arcade was mostly written with synths and keyboards?
Yeah, it was. We still used guitars probably because we didn't have enough keyboards to play together. But I think the guitar really added something to that record still. I'm glad it wasn't all keyboards by that point. Though I guess we've never gone all keyboards. That was the big switch. That was the time we thought if we move just to keyboards we're bound find something different and exciting. Whereas if we continued playing guitars, it's just gonna be just like it has been -- just typical.
Was there anything else that inspired that change in direction after or even before the release of Media?
I think that up until then, we'd been trying to figure out what it was we were after; what we had to contribute to the world. We tried a bunch of different kinds of things, but it didn't feel right until all of a sudden, it did feel right. That, all of a sudden, was related directly to us getting another keyboard.