Jonah Matranga on new single Pony, the inspiration of Chi Cheng, and the latest studio news on comeback album At Night We Live
When Far announced that they had reunited in late 2008, all at Midget Towers squealed with delight, like some sort of purity ring-touting prepubescent girl in the front row of a Jonas Brothers concert. Needless to say we swiftly jumped at the opportunity to question the band about the hows, whys and whens behind the reformation.
A little more than a year down the line, the initial tentative plans to play a few shows together have evolved into the recording of a fully blown album, their first since their seminal 1998 long-player Water & Solutions, and a phenomenally successful cover of a 90's R&B hit. The Californian outfit's take on Ginuwine's 'Pony' - a longtime favourite of the band – is said to be downloaded up to 19,000 times a day on P2P networks and has received over four and a half millions plays on MySpace, as well as gaining heavy rotation on radio stations in both the US and UK [Click here for the RM Review of the ltd edition vinyl release].
So in order to get the lowdown on the 'Pony' phenomena, the band's comeback album At Night We Live and their plans to follow Rage Against The Machine to the top of British Christmas chart, Dan Jones whisked some questions across the Atlantic to vocalist/guitarist Jonah Matranga and received the following response:
Hi, how are you? What are you up to right now?
"Workin away at home. Crap weather outside. San Francisco is perpetually damp and bone-chilling, even when it's not that cold. Kinda like the UK in that way, actually."
Last time we caught up with you at the tail end of 2008 you hadn't been working on any new material, with Shaun saying, "If we do, like everything else lately, it will have to come naturally". So when and how did the new songs start flowing?
"I swear, I don't really know. I wanted to just do a little covers EP, just bang somethin out, but Shaun had bigger ideas. He sent me a bunch of riffs and such, and I started carving them up, and he liked what I was doing, so we kept going. In many ways, it's the most collaborative thing we've ever done. And it really did just come naturally."
The album was recorded at The Airport studio with Shaun at the helm. How did the writing and recording process go? How long were you in the studio for?
"The actual time in the studio was pretty short. After months of writing and arranging, Chris laid his stuff down, then Johnny went down there, then I did a couple of vocal sessions. That was it, really. Then it was up to Shaun to put it all together and mix it. He did an incredible job. So, it took a long time, but if it had been recorded traditionally, with the clock running and all, it'd have been done in a few weeks. And I don't think it would have been as interesting as it turned out to be."
So I understand At Night We Live is all done and dusted now, what can you tell us about the record? When do you expect it to be released?
"Looks like it'll be out in May, with lots of cool pre-release stuff happening. We're gonna be letting listeners make videos, remixes, all sorts of cool things to let you be involved. The people that have listened to our music over the years are the lifeblood of this record, so we want them to be right there with us as we put this record out."
Given that your last album Water & Solutions has been touted as such a seminal record, did that put any extra pressure on you? How would you say the two compare?
"No pressure at all. There's a song called 'Fight Song #16,233,241' that addresses that in a really fun way. After all we've been through, this just feels like fun. We're all just grateful anyone still gives a shit, and mostly, we know we like it, which is all that should matter to an artist. As much as we love W&S, and Tin Cans and the other stuff we've made too, this one is its own animal. We've never felt tied to any approach as a band. We just want to make stuff that's interesting and sincere and exciting. I think we've done that this time around."
The title of the album is named after one of the tracks, could you explain the meaning behind it at all? Am I right in saying the song in question was wrote for Chi Cheng?
"Yes, it really did come from a dream I had about Chi. It was a very spooky but sweet dream, almost like a visit from him. I just woke up and wrote it down. Shaun had already named the song 'At Night We Live', just from his feeling about the music, so it was eerily perfect. Also, while it's about Chi, it's about other people that are gone or in serious trouble, just about missing them in the 'real' world, and being able to always have them in our thoughts, to really get to be with them that way."
Back in June you asked for fans to participate on one of the tracks by sending in files of them screaming along to the song, how did you come up with the idea? Was it as difficult and time consuming a process as it seems?
"I loved that idea. Apparently so did 30 Seconds To Mars, since they copied it :). Basically, I knew I wanted a big, punk-rock gang vocal on that tune, and at first I was just gonna invite people in the area down to the studio, but then I thought of a simple, fun way for people to be a part of it no matter where they were. We have voices from just about every continent on there, hundreds of them. Shaun had the real work of putting it all together, but he pulled it off great."
Did all the songs from the sessions make the album? Is there anything left in the vault?
"There will be some non-album tracks that will be released in various cool ways, and there are a couple ideas that could still be finished if inspiration strikes."
There's said to be a DVD that will accompany the deluxe version of the album, can you tell us what kind of things feature on it?
"Probably some thoughts on the making of the record, some early demo stuff, maybe some live footage. Just a nice little love letter to the listeners."
In the day and age we live in when so much music is downloaded illegally, do you believe it's essential to include extras such as a DVD to encourage fans to actually buy a physical copy?
"I suppose it's a good idea on a business level, but I've always been interested in having cool, personal interaction with anyone that cares to. It creates a feeling of trust and community that I think is part of art itself, in a way."
So the album comes out on Vagrant Records, how did that deal come about then? Was there a lot of label interest?
Yeah, lots of folks sniffing around, but Vagrant just seemed cool. They come from the same community we do, so they get it. And they've been smart and done quite well in a crazy business, so that's a good thing to have on our side."
It's been twelve years since Far released their last record, how would you say the alternative scene in the US has changed over the intervening years? Would you say it’s in a stronger or weaker position now?
"Weaker. Things get sucked into the mainstream too fast. On the other side, art is so diluted now. Too many people half-assing it for attention. There's too much Content and not enough Art. Big difference."
'Pony' was already a big hit when we last spoke over a year ago, and yet it still seems to be getting bigger and bigger with over four and a half million plays now on MySpace alone, what do you put this down to? Did you ever expect the success at all?
"It's the biggest surprise of my creative life, honestly. It was a total goof, just having fun doing a silly cover of a song that I love, and all of a sudden it's a hundred times more popular than anything I've ever been a part of. Strange world. Sometimes you've just gotta laugh and say 'thank you'."
So what are you plans for 2010? Have you any plans to head on over to the UK again this year?
"I'm not sure how much touring we'll do for the record, but you know the UK will be at the top of the wish list. Start a campaign to get us on Reading/Leeds and stuff :) And while you're at it, let's have Far be Xmas #1 in 2010! :)"
Far release their limited edition picture disc cover version of Ginuwine's 'Pony' [RM REVIEW] on 1st Feb through Bright Antenna Records. The band's fifth full-length, At Night We Live, is due out in May through Vagrant Records.