Story by Chris Ruen
Photography by John Francis Peters
I was tempted to take Andy Falkous for an angry man, watching him lead his band, Future Of The Left, through a merciless set at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg last October. Falkous’ guitar lashed out from the PA, backed by Kelson Mathias’ sucker-punch bass lines and Jack Egglestone’s thunderclap drumming. Falkous’ unrelenting power chords swallowed the venue whole and might have bestowed a Medusa-like curse upon any local Chillwave devotees who happened to accidentally wander inside from the North 6th Street pavement. Practically frothing at the mouth, Falkous roared into the microphone, mouth gaping, veins bulging from the neck and spit flying off his tongue.
Lucky for this writer, Falkous assumed a markedly less demonic posture backstage before the concert. Mathias and Egglestone quietly sipped beer and killed time in their stale dressing room. Amid the couches, a mini-fridge, and a table covered with cans of Coca-Cola, Falkous mindlessly strung up his guitars. The band appeared weary, no doubt the effect touring from the Summer straight into Winter in support of their latest album, Travels With Myself And Another, a tightly wound collection of belligerent threats and insistent, soused up come-ons.
“When you go on tour for a combined eight or nine weeks,” Falkous said, “the mindset you go with is, ‘Please let me survive this tour. And please let me keep my voice.’”
To scream like the devil, Falkous lives an ascetic existence. He doesn’t smoke or drink on tour. He avoids air conditioning and even lowers himself to endure the Midler-esque stigma of vocal warmups.
“Laughably, you may term them ‘warmups,’” he said. “The first tour I ever did, I lost my voice after five or six shows. 2003 in Melbourne the temperature onstage was 46 degrees Celsius. I lost my voice on the stage. I had to get members from the support band to sing songs. That’s not really what you want to have happen.” Such lessons were born of Falkous’ early success in his first band, mclusky. The band’s second LP, Mclusky Do Dallas, was one of the most widely-praised rock albums of 2002 and studio help from Steve Albini (whom Falkous insists on calling “Stephen Albini”) didn’t hurt. Mclusky looked to build off the foundations of The Fall, Pixies, and Jesus Lizard-style post-punk while transient fashions like Electroclash and the Strokes-catalyzed garage revival ran their course. A devoted fan base converged around Falkous’ duality of aggression and gallows humor, but mclusky wasn’t meant to be. After gaining more and more attention, internal tensions between Falkous and bassist Jonathan Chapple contributed to the group disbanding in 2005.
The spirit of mclusky evolved when Falkous and Jack Egglestone (who also drummed in mclusky) joined with Jarcrew’s Kelson Mathias a few months after the split. Future Of The Left was born. Their first LP, Curses (2007), was met with somewhat tempered praise as they struggled to escape the shadow of mclusky. They were anxious to record another album, but writing and recording their second LP, Travels With Myself And Another, was “heartbreakingly hard.” The band’s writing process effectively involves jamming in their rehearsal space until they hear an idea worth building upon. Some rehearsals yielded no material for the band, others produced more material than they knew what to do with.
“It took about six months of playing before we even wrote the first song on this record,” Mathias said with tones of dejection in his voice, the memories of failure still fresh.
“Six months of nothing happening and two months where everything was written,” said Falkous.
For all the misery of the band’s writing process for Travels, the resulting material was considered finished and whole. They were ready to record immediately and did so at breakneck pace. The album was tracked and mixed in a remarkable 12 days. But the travails had only begun. Approximately two months before Travels’ release date, the band were informed the album had leaked. It was already being illegally uploaded and downloaded, offered for unlicensed digital sale through a Russian website, and put up for bidding on eBay. Falkous articulated his anger and disappointment in a MySpace rant on the subject. Frustrated and self-deprecating, he wrote:
It feels that getting annoyed about downloading in this valueless modern age is like taking issue with water for being wet or night for gradually turning into day because ultimately the entitlement that most people feel for free music completely overshadows any moral or legal issues and conflicts that may arise in the hearts and minds of better people, people who understand that actions, on both an individual and group level, have consequences far beyond that moment of instant gratification.
Anyway - please be careful, or we'll get the world we all deserve. Hobby bands who can tour once every few years if they're lucky, and the superstars, freed from such inconvenient baggage as integrity and conscience, running the corporate sponsored marathon of £80-a-ticket arena tours and television adverts til their loveless hearts explode in an orgy of oppressive branding and self-regard. Some of us, in all honestly, just want to make the music we love and play it around the world without living in poverty.
The rant caught fire, eliciting both support and criticism for being out of touch with technological realities. An artist-advocate organization called UK Music later paid for the rant to be printed as a full-page advertisement in the Guardian. When I asked Falkous about the issue, he was clearly tired of the subject, its circular arguments and accusations.
“The blog was written about leaks first and foremost. It can take the wind out of a band’s sails because a successful album is all about the momentum that builds up, which is kind of self-evident.”
This is especially unfortunate in the case of Travels and its warm critical reception. Instead of basking in accolades and playing to the rapturous crowds one might expect after a critically successful release, the band found themselves mired in the piracy debate. Most artists, like Bradford Cox, backtrack once their own leaking/piracy rants draw ire from their own fans, but Falkous became irate with music fans who run from their own responsibility in the matter. Sitting with him backstage as he spoke, his eyes grew wide and nostrils flared while we were on the subject. The furious energy he usually reserves for the stage was projected onto the defenders of piracy.
“You’re talking about music in general being devalued, you’re not just talking about a recorded product," Falkous says. "For example, I was standing in a bar in Cardiff and some man was going to see his favorite band a couple of nights later - some inconsequential band, skinny-jean bunch of cunts. And he said, ‘I can’t believe it man I have to spend 12 Quid to see those bastards.’ So what’s that 17, 18 dollars? Then he turned around and spent 24 pounds on drinks. So there you go. There’s the value. And people can talk all they want about how bands are going to be getting this mythical amount of money back from live shows. That is not my direct experience.”
Hearing “skinny jean cunts” roll off his tongue in the midst of an argument for consideration and respect of art, it’s hard to know which side of Falkous to take seriously. Is he fundamentally the Smart Ass, always with another snipe at the ready? Is he the Aggressor, looking to kick somebody’s ass for stealing his music or heckling from the crowd? Or is he someone who cares so much about what he does for a living that any perceived disrespect of that fact summons the kind of fury that leads Falkous to say he “will fucking kill” someone who takes his music without permission? Some clues were offered during the circus-like show at Music Hall of Williamsburg.
In between every guitar-wrenched songs, the band traded insults with the audience (Kelson told one fan speaking ill of their homeland, “If you come to Wales, they’d stab you in the dick”) to amorous laughs and applause. Kelson sprayed a mouthful of beer onto a circle of moshers then stage dove deep into the audience. The crowd propped him up and he tried to find his balance. Slowly, he straightened his limbs and stood up, supported by the fans below. Held seven feet in the air, Kelson carefully walked over the audience’s outstretched palms all the way back to the stage like some punk rock messiah.
Andy Falkous stopped to deliver one last message, sans profanity, before the set finally ended. “Thanks everyone, for reminding us what it’s like to be a proper rock band.”
His performative frustration melted all at once. The demon disappeared and left behind a sincere man, one who seems to fully understand the value of appreciation.