Power And Vodka: An Interview With FEWS

Sweden-based four-piece FEWS have been pricking ears with their debut single, 'Ill'. Singer and guitarist Fred talks to us about their obsession with Zlatan Ibrahimović, why vodka's key and Flux Liquid Ambience

FEWS are a band spread far and wide. Three Swedes and an American, they’re split between Malmö and Gothenburg in Sweden, despite playing most of their shows in the UK. While their style of psych-inflected post-punk has yet to fully puncture the indie blogosphere, they’ve attracted the attention of Speedy Wunderground’s head and producer, Dan Carey (whose resumé includes work with Bat For Lashes, TOY and Franz Ferdinand), resulting in a recent single, ‘Ill’, on the label, one of just two songs, alongside last year’s ‘The Zoo’, the band have online.

Forming after singer and guitarist Fred (the band are keeping quiet on surnames for the moment) moved to Sweden from San Francisco and began making music with fellow guitarist David, who was then a member of another band, having previously been in touch over MySpace. Recruiting drummer Rusty and bassist Lulu, Fred cites Interpol and Big Noble man Daniel Kessler as an influence – "his guitars are like the best guitars you could ever imagine" – while David picks out Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy as an inspiration, with the enigmatic disclaimer that, "If you’ve read it, you’ll understand why".

Talking about his first impressions of the band, Carey says: "I was blown away when I first heard the demo of ‘The Zoo’, particularly at the point at which it first turns from major to minor. The song did it in such a subtle and unusual way that I immediately decided I wanted to make a whole album with them… they have an incredibly open, glassy and clear sound, even when they are hitting it really hard. In my mind, this creates possibilities which aren’t there for most bands."

Carey’s right – despite FEWS’ restraint, they’re a heavy band, their stomping rhythms punctuated by screaming vocals and tinnitus-inducing guitar reverb. If there’s an angsty and aggressive edge to the music as well, it’s not one shared by the good-humoured Fred, who, when we hold our wi-fi-straining Skype conversation, seems faintly surprised at the cusp-of-success predicament the band – who’ve just toured with Ghostpoet and are hoping to regroup with Carey this autumn to shape the 30 songs they’re working on into an album – find themselves in.

Can you tell us about recording ‘Ill’ for Speedy Wunderground? The whole thing was done over two days, right?

Fred: Yeah – it was done in one day actually. Recorded in one day, Dan mixed it the day after. Shit like that. It was so intense… there were smoke machines. He pushed us to the limits: we wanted smoke breaks, I wanted to pee – he was like, "No, you don’t get to do that shit. You need to do this. You need to do this right now." And we did it! He recorded it as well, and he played this instrument, I don’t know what it’s called, he referred to it as "the bomb".

Is that the Dewanatron Swarmatron, the crazy tape synth?

F: Yeah! Um, he used that and it was insane. Basically just one take.

It seems quite different to your previous songs. Does the harder sound signal a new direction for the band or more a consequence of recording like that?

F: It’s a mix – we’ve always had that tendency to go into darker phases. But when David and I recorded our demos, we did it just really quick, whereas this time, well, Dan just understood completely what kind of music we wanted to do. He just helped us direct it all… You should hear the other songs!

Have any of you been in any other bands?

F: No, this is my first legit band. I’ve always done music for myself, but I haven’t really taken it further, in a way. It’s getting out of hand, this band… The whole thing started because I knew PIAS, the label. They have so much good music, but I just got an email and sent the link to ‘The Zoo’, with a message saying "work with us". And they replied! And we were like, "Okay, let’s do this". We got introduced to Dan, and then Ghostpoet invited us to support him on tour. Everything’s gone so quick.

Photograph courtesy of Johanna Giudice

Speaking of touring with Ghostpoet, you’ve played quite a few of your shows in the UK. Do you see yourselves as fitting into a scene in Sweden?

F: We’ve never performed in Sweden. Ever. The thing with the Swedish music scene is that there’s so many bands. Every single person has a band and they sound the same and it’s really really boring. People that go to shows here in Sweden are the lamest people you could ever imagine. No, I’m not kidding – it’s insane. They’re just like zombies. They’re just standing there, and you give so much… I don’t know, they’re mostly people that know so much music, that read so many music blogs, that know every single new band that’s up and coming, and it’s just really stiff.

So you feel more at home playing in the UK then?

F: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I’d love to move to London, it’s just too expensive at the moment.

Tell me about it. And you’ve got a Speedy Wunderground party coming up in Brixton next month?

F: Yeah, it’s really exciting. I think we’re the second band playing and the goal with the whole thing is to perform with Dan on stage. He doesn’t know that yet, but we’d like to drag him up.

What about non-musical influences?

F: I’ve always been a huge fan of a painter called René Magritte. I don’t know why, I’ve always compared my music to his paintings, it suits it very well for some reason and I’m a huge fan. Writers, I don’t know – that’s David’s speciality. I don’t read that much, not any more.

I found a clip of a really old show you did in Paris on YouTube where you played a song called ‘Zlatan’. Is that about the Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimović?

F: Oh yeah! We love him, it feels like he can do whatever he wants, and just get away with it. You know what I mean? It’s almost like he could murder someone, and no one would ever stop him. "Like, okay, that’s fair enough, that’s Zlatan." He’s such an interesting person to us, and he’s also from this city, he used to have a house here and we’ve been to his house. Not in it, but outside. It’s a special thing, we took photos…

Going back to touring, say your tour van sets on fire. What’s the one thing that you’d save first?

F: For me? Or for the band? I think for the band the most important thing would be the vodka. Not so much the gear, that shit can always sort itself out in a way. The UK has different power to the rest of Europe, and the first show we played with Ghostpoet in London the power fucked up so much and it was a disaster. It was insane, some shit didn’t work and we rely on pedals so much. So that’s power, and vodka. They’re the most precious things for us. And the pedals.

Say I gave you up a couple of grand, what would you buy?

F: There’s a pedal I really want, they just made it in New Zealand. It’s called the Flux Liquid Ambience. It’s probably the best pedal I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It’s kinda cheap as well, like $299. It can do so much shit, mostly reverb, but you can have different octaves and control the reverb manually.

Do you have any more plans for the future other than the album?

F: Yeah, we’ve got loads of plans. There should be a new single in October or November and more UK dates. We just wanna play live, as much as possible, at this stage.

FEWS play the Speedy Wunderground Summer Party at the Brixton Windmill on August 21, along with "secret headline guests" and Peluché; for full details and tickets, head here

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