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The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Dinosaur Sex: Family Fodder Interviewed
Glen Mcleod , November 15th, 2010 08:06

A chance encounter on a mix tape led Glen McLeod (of the Clan McLeod) to track down Family Fodder. All pictures courtesy of Lucy Johnston

There used to be a certain romantic mystery surrounding musicians. Before the widespread use of the internet, and before PR companies concocted a suitably interesting back story to accompany each new release (or perhaps we were just naïve to the fact this was going on), was a time when imagination seemed to play an integral role. Sometimes you only had a record sleeve or an interview in a magazine to piece together a mental picture which more than often was much more interesting than reality could ever be. It was therefore refreshing a few years back to stumble upon the band Family Fodder who seemed to still exist within a veil of mystery.

I was given a mixtape containing their song ‘Dinosaur Sex’- a nine minute psych/pop/dub/rock masterpiece which sparked my curiosity – who were this band? An internet search yielded very little– there was no Wikipedia entry, no Myspace page – just a few blog posts by fans which yielded little but a few clues. There were reports of members of This Heat contributing to recordings, a French Chanteuse named Dominique Levillain who was in the band for a period and was also the girlfriend of the man who seemed to be at the centre of it all - a character aptly named Alig Fodder. The purchase of a best of compilation did little to clear the murky water - the sheer variance of each song was startling. ‘Playing Golf (with my flesh crawling)’ sounded like The Residents crossed with Zappa, ‘Savoir Faire’ had surely been heard by Stereolab when they were trying to find a sound. Add these to the warped vocal loops of ‘Darling’ and the deconstruction of Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ – and you couldn’t even attribute the band with a particular sound.

In the ensuing years more information about the band has filtered through, slightly chipping away this mystique. But the news that the band were to release a new album called Classical Music this year was still a surprise. What was even more intriguing was that a new member Darlini had joined the band, who just happened to be the daughter of none other than Dominique Levillain. So when the opportunity came to catch up with Alig and Darlini, The Quietus jumped at the chance to join some of the dots. Meeting them on a rooftop in East London on the last hot afternoon of autumn, the first thing noticeable about Alig is the huge smile which adorns his face for the majority of our time spent together. He is softly spoken, but captivating and highly intelligent.

Darlini has a natural beauty, perhaps indebted to her half French half Punjabi background. Just back from a year in India and she seems to have a certain world wisdom sitting somewhere behind her eyes. The two have a certain familiarity with each other – an almost father-daughter bond. They joke around a lot – especially when a camera is pointed in their direction. I wonder if this is another smoke cloud protecting Family Fodder and if my questions will be able to penetrate it…

There was always a certain mystery surrounding the band – was this something you were consciously trying to achieve?

Alig Fodder: There was always the mystery of who was in the band!

But it is primarily yourself?

AF: Yes - there have been times when there are a lot of people around, and times when it is just me or just me and one other person, but I have always been there.

Darlini Sing-Kaul: He's the daddy.

AF: I'm the daddy.

Do you normally write the songs yourself or do you collaborate with people and that is how the songs form?

AF: I write a lot of songs myself and a lot of the Family Fodder stuff on record is mine, some are collaborations. There's one or two that I don't have anything to do with. I started working with Darlini and we've got another guy in the band and I think there will be a lot more collaboration, but I am definitely the main songwriter.

So how did you two start working together?

DSK: How did we start – um…

I mean because your ex girlfriend…

AF: Yeah.

Is your mother.

DSK: Yeah.

AF: And her mum was one of the main singers in Family Fodder for 2 or 3 years back in the 80’s and in a couple of reunions we have had since. So basically I have known Darlini since she was a foetus. She was better looking back then.

DSK: Really tiny

And Darlini you are a singer in your own right?

AF: And a multi instrumentalist.

DSK: Yes I play different instruments – piano, guitar and drums.

Is that under your own name?

DSK: Yes and I have collaborated with different musicians too. At the moment I am obviously working with Alig and also working on my own songs.

So this came about because you needed someone to contribute vocals?

AF: It came about because we were both living in Totnes in South Devon.

DSK: And Alig asked me if I wanted to do some recording and I said yeah why not – let’s try....and we did. That's how it came about and I guess for me there is some kind of family thing going on as well, where it is continuing the work of the family.

AF: Well that probably put you off in the beginning.

DSK: In the beginning it did. I went to Norwich to do some recording and there was one song and I was like 'Oh god, I sound just like my mother'.

Does she still sing?

DSK: In the shower! She is a violinist as well and she still plays.

AF: We will probably do something with Dominique in a while, not straight away.

So you have a new album called Classical Music - was it called this because it is composed with primarily classical instruments?

AF: I had done a bunch of songs and I listened back to them and one time I thought- oh, some of these are like classic songs, like classic rock songs even - like a collections of songs rather than just a sound so I started playing around with the name classical music and it's a kind of joke.

DSK: Is it like when you say 'Classic - innit'?

AF: Yeah in that sense, but also because the way the project started there were a lot of strings on it. The whole thing was kickstarted by a commission by Tomlab records.

Was that the track for the David Shrigley, Worried Noodles compilation?

AF: Even before that - I was contacted by Tomlab and they wanted me to write a song - my own song but work with strings or string samples as it was and that's how the first song came about which was called ‘Death and the Maiden'. Then they asked me to contribute a song to the lyrics of David Shrigley for Worried Noodles, and I think Shrigley is an amazing songwriter - I think his words are so much better than a lot of songwriters or songs. I don't know how successful he felt that record was - it was kind of a mixed bag.

On that project you used your name as opposed to Family Fodder - was that for any particular reason?

AF: Well yes because when it started it was just me - and then I started doing the songs with Darlini and we called ourselves 'Idle Fodder' and when we finally got round to putting it all together, so many people were saying – ‘Why isn't this called Family Fodder?’, so we got the band back together again.

To me it sounds like more of a complete album compared to previous recordings. It has quite a stark sound overall and plays from start to finish quite well.

AF: It was quite a long time in coming, recorded over a period of around 3 years - which the old Family Fodder records wouldn't have been. It was probably because there wasn't much of a band around at that time, there was just one or two collaborators playing on one or two tracks so it was a more studio based record. There wasn't a lot of live playing, getting a bunch of people in.

Is that what would happen previously, you would jam a song?

AF: Well yes a long time ago - in the early days of Family Fodder in 1979/80 - that was much more about instruments in a room but we didn't have digital recording then for better or for worse.

Darlini, you have just come back from a year in India, what were you doing there?

DSK: I was studying music - travelling - taking bits and pieces of sounds from India - trying to connect that with my own singing.

AF: You were doing a few gigs as well.

DSK: Yes I did a few gigs by myself and then played with a band who were doing kind of Middle Eastern music and then I went off singing with one other person who was playing the oud, that was really amazing.

Do you think it has changed the way you approach writing music yourself now?

DSK: Yeah sure, I mean it always changes and grows. I guess taking more space, I felt less self-conscious and opening more and being louder.

Are you trying to convey an overtly political message with the song 'Whatever happened to David Ze' on Classical Music ?

AF: No not particularly.

DSK: It kind of comes across like that though.

AF: Well sure it does but I think you can make much stronger political messages - it is a bit personal as well. David Ze was assassinated by the Angolan generals in about 1976 which happens to a lot of African musicians. You can find this information now but I wrote that song in about 1999 when I was saying to myself 'Whatever happened to David Ze?' He was a singer we used to listen to in the late 70’s and I looked him up on the internet and you couldn’t find anything about him.

So you were literally wondering what he had been up to?

AF: Yes - well I had always suspected he had been murdered but I didn't actually know it at that time. When I put the song up on Myspace the David Ze tribute page got in touch with me. It is a slight homage to him in the guitar sound - the vocals are not as beautiful as his own but you know. I think people in the West don't really realise that people actually do get killed for their music. Not just in Africa, also in South America and it goes on all the time.

There is another song on the album ‘Primeval Pony’, which is apparently going to be in a film?

AF: Well my sister's working on a film which is about Pzrewalski’s Ponies in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. There are these Ponies - there are a few of them in Poland but they are mainly in Central Asia. They are actually the closest relative to the prehistoric pony. When there was the atomic explosion in Chernobyl they cleared out all the people so it is desolate, but the animals and the vegetation are just getting on fine because all the people have gone so even if there is radiation around it is a very supportive environment for animals and they are thriving. I was doing a piano improvisation and I recorded it and listened and started getting these words coming into my head 'My little pony' - so it started off as a really cheesy thing but it had a kind of tender core to it. After about 3 days of listening to it and these words constantly coming up I just thought, "Don't fight it - this is what it wants to be." So I phoned up Darlini and said – "I have this song for you to sing." She got into the studio and she looked at the lyrics and said, "I'm not singing that!" I eventually persuaded her and she did it very deadpan which made it even funnier and then strangely enough I played it to my sister and she said, "Oh I want to use that in this film I'm working on. Could you change the words a bit?" So I changed the words to 'Primeval Pony'

One last thing – both Quietus editor John and I think that your song ‘Dinosaur Sex’ is amazing

AF: Ha - I am glad that people still listen to that!