Fuck Buttons Interview

Arch dukes of experimentalism
Fuck Buttons
Yes, you heard. FUCK BUTTONS! Band names are best when they double as both an endearing insult and a great activity.

These twin bumps of cursing are in fact two arch dukes of experimentalism. Their debut album ‘Street Horrrsing’ sprinkled lavish promise across 2008 allowing 2009 to be the site of a true manifesto in sound. Their new album, ‘Tarot Sport’, is here and it may just be one of the best albums of this year.

They weld intense cortex frazzling sounds with walls of psychedelic noise and driving rave rhythms that bubble up from beneath their lysergic landscapes. It’s a challenge to achieve this these days, but they are sonically unique and thus have a moniker as challenging as their choons.

Clash cornered Ben Power and Andy Hung to push their bits in search of answers about the occult, breaking children’s toys and just exactly what’s going on with all the ‘Fuck’ bands peppering our ’pods.

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Fuck Buttons - 'Surf Solar'



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The new album is called ‘Tarot Sport’ - where’s the name from?

Andy: We’ve been delving into the psychic world and the more we researched we learnt about this gathering between people who play each other off and we thought it was quite a resonant activity.

All the previous journalism concerning Fuck Buttons seems over the top with songs sounding like ‘collapsing suns’ and ‘apocalypse’. Why this fervour towards the hyperbole?
Andy: When we write a song, the great moment for us is afterwards when we discuss the imagery we get from writing it. It’s really important for us to get imagery from music in general, it’s the criteria of whether we like something or not.
Benjamin: It’s quite hard to put into words. We both really enjoy seeing how people have interpreted something - for the first record, there was a lot written about the party at the end of the world. I do really like it that people can get that from it.
Andy: I get imagery of really vast landscapes, if people are getting that as I am then that’s great.
Benjamin: One track called ‘Olympians’ we weren’t like, ‘Let’s write a song that could be the soundtrack to the Olympics’, but just as we were writing it and we’d got the structure together Andy was like, ‘This song makes me think me of the Olympics’. I completely agreed then later I went passed the 2012 site on the train and the song was on my headphones and it just made sense; it was quite a nice moment.
Andy: We’ve already sent it to the Olympic committee! No, not really! (Laughs)

What did you do differently on this album to the first LP ‘Street Horrrsing’?
Benjamin: “I think there are a lot more complex sounds on the new record. I’m not saying in any way the first one lacked anything, but I think it could be perceived that there are more than two people in the band now just because of the nature of the sound - we’re triggering a lot more stuff than we did with the first record, a lot more live instrumentation as well.”

What is your live-set up? Is it a big trestle table with lots of pedals and so forth?
Andy: Anything goes as long as it can be amplified. What’s on the table at the moment? A lot of crap keyboards and a lot of expensive stuff now as well.
Benjamin: A lot of pedals. It’s a lot of manipulation of sounds in the first instance. I wouldn’t like to describe the schematic of what happens on that table - it takes us ages to set up before a show!

Do you use kids’ toys so you can short circuit them in the name of circuit bending?
Andy: We used to collect them with the intention of doing that, but I just couldn’t do it, it’s too boring. I was more interested in making music.
Benjamin: I did it once with a really crappy keyboard that I bought for £10 from a car boot sale. I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go cos I haven’t paid much for it.’ I just destroyed the thing and I couldn’t use it afterwards. You said that your new live set-up is more expensive - is that due to the rigours of touring or just generally having more money?
Andy: When I say more expensive I mean they’re more than £2! (Laughs) They’re still really cheap synths - paying a hundred quid is nothing really compared to how much people pay for their guitars, but I still find that expensive.

‘Tarot Sports’ seems a lot more driven than the first album ‘Street Horrsing’, which seemed more contemplative - why is that?
Andy: The first record took us a long while to gather all the pieces. During that time we weren’t fully concentrating on the music - we had full time jobs and it was a hobby. It was something we were very passionate about, but it wasn’t something that dominated our lives, whereas it is now; it’s definitely something that’s on our minds all the time, that’s the reason for its directness.

Your drums seem more aggressively sequenced and much more present on this album. Is that a result of trying to be more dancey or from playing live more?
Benjamin: I definitely don’t think we were trying to be more dancey, but once again this goes back to the new equipment, the sum total of us messing around and seeing what all these things can do and having all of these things in front of you; it’s just more exploration.

How would you characterise the last year? Have you changed in your personal lives?
Andy: I’ve seen more than I ever could have imagined in this last year; I feel like I’ve changed. Benjamin: I didn’t really expect I’d see this much of the world, and there’s more to come. I guess it changes you somehow, I’d have to speak to myself a few years ago to find out how; I don’t feel that I’ve changed but I’m sure those around me would say that I have - hopefully it’s positive.

What does each of you bring to Fuck Buttons that the other one lacks?
Andy: Charisma is my weakness. (Laughs) One of the most interesting things I thought which came to light in the studio was the lack of roles we have in the band and what comes with that. What’s necessary for that to work is there needs to be a lot of communication. We don’t know what each person’s gonna do, and we’re presumably working towards the same goal, so we’re having to communicate with each other and be malleable at the same time and being able to go to different places. We cover each other’s backs but not in a specific area.

The overall sound design of ‘Tarot Sport’ seems much more advanced and visceral with way more space within the music - do you play it all live?
Benjamin: I’ve had to ditch the one laptop that we had on stage just because it was giving people the wrong impression that we weren’t playing everything live, which we pretty much are. We’re not a laptop band, we never really have been.

‘Tarot Sport’ was produced by Andrew Weatherall - whose idea was that?
Andy: He did a remix for us, and from then we could see that he had a good grasp on where we were coming from. We approached him and he was down with it.
Benjamin: I’m quite eager to hear his new album [‘A Pox On The Pioneers’]. He loves his stories. He told me a story about the road I live on in Dalston, that fishermen used to get their throats slashed there. I’m not saying the name of the road though! (Laughs)

What was your knowledge of him before you met? Were you aware of his work?
Andy: My perception was a guy who’s been there, done that and always been on the front line.
Benjamin: He very rarely produces bands so for him to agree to produce our record was an honour and an exciting thing.

What was the most significant thing he left you with knowledge wise?
Andy: He had this immense understanding of space. I remember him saying that when he starts thinking about something, that’s the time to stop working on it - he doesn’t want to labour on things, and I completely agree with that. He had these little techniques: he’d step out of the studio and into the communal area and listen to it from outside, even though he wouldn’t get the fidelity - it was more important that he got the feeling of the music. He was able to reproduce some kind of distance from the music - he was really interested in space and distance around the music.
Benjamin: Even coming down to the actual sounds on the record, he’s obviously been doing this for years so he’s clued up on where frequencies sit together and you can really hear everything that’s going on. The separation of sounds is spot on - it’s spread over quite a wide plane, it’s really great - you can tell he’s been doing it for years, he knows how to not make himself go absolutely insane from such intense studio time.

How do radio presenters refer to you on air?
Andy: ‘F Buttons’ usually.

Did you ever think the name might be a hindrance?
Andy: It was never a consideration! (Laughs)

What do you make of the other ‘Fuck’ bands? Why do bands come out in the same year that have been developing at the same time?
Benjamin: I think that’s something to do with the media - we’ve been around for a while, maybe you just notice it more cos it’s there. I can’t really answer that question.
Andy: Animal names are very popular with bands.
Benjamin: I wonder if these bands actually came out at the same time.

You speak of wanting your music to “allow the listener to create their own narrative” - is that why you make your music so epic?
Benjamin: I think you should be able to visualise a piece of music any way you’d want to. We don’t have lyrics not necessarily because we’ve decided not to have them for that reason so that people can make their own mind up about what’s going on - we hope that surely the listener will throw up some kind of mental picture. And with that Clash are off, as we fly at red walls of towering clouds with an army of honeyed bees at our side whispering urgent malevolence into our buffeted ears.

Fuck Buttons are back. Make of their grand and expansive sounds what you will.

Words by Matthew Bennett

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