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FW Weekly Francophiling

Spastic Brooklyn band Les Savy Fav proves it definitely has Gaul.

By Lisa Garrett

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Kaleidoscopic guitars, solid beats and wild vocals uttering French phrases here-and-there fashion - Brooklyn's Les Savy Fav. This picture coming to life on canvas would be in bold, bright colors - accenting the sky in fiery red, oranges and yellows - painted in short meaningful strokes. For the final touch, the band's name, subliminally encrypted, finally links the music to the Fauvists, a 20th century French art clique, from which they are named.

In the artist's vein, Les Savy Fav's new cd, 3/5, sports a cut up, decoupage-style picture of the five band members displayed like a children's picture book where each page turns to make a new animal or person. These imagination-born beasts mimic the band, who take a visual oddity and turn it into something real. "Somewhere in between Fugazi and Devo," as an unnamed hardcore band once dubbed them, the L.S.F. sound brings to life the connection of art and music. "All of us went to Rhode Island School of Design," vocalist/lyricist Tim Harrington says. "We're two film makers, a sculptor, a printmaker and an illustrator. [But] we've all been into music as long as we've been into anything else."

For a small place like Providence, being influenced by art as well as music is not unusual. In the big picture, infiltration of both creative outlets is not that easy, especially while skating the line between art and commerce. "We're into using plants [not the green stuff]," Harrington comments about the key to both genres. "Like one time we got someone from Melrose Place to wear our t-shirt on the show." Billboards and in the backgrounds of magazine ad photos (Reactor+ apparel) also play a part in this artistic permeation.

The lack of exact aural comparison helps in L.S.V.'s scheme of dual scene domination. Describing the sound is possible; saying they sound like a particular band is next to impossible. The words "wacky," "spastic" and "discordant" have all been used to describe the quintet, but debate arises when "emo" is applied. True, with song titles like "Je t'aime," "False Starts" and "Scout's Honor" (on 3/5 from label Self-Starter Foundation) one could conjecture the lyrics have an emotional theme, but then lyrics like "We rock the party that rocks your body" sneak their way in, also. Harrington attributes this as being "reasonably subconscious emo: Some people get emo and some people listen through that and hear a little more subconscious."

Subconscious delineates the lyrical style as well the musical, telling a stream-of-conscious story injecting other evasive thoughts in the process but pulling them together in the end. For example, "Je t'aime" tells a story of a rich man who falls in love with his servant at the risk of losing his fortune if discovered. One of the slower numbers, the song's guitars loop around the lyrics rhythmically, stopping for the dramatic pause, crashing down when the singing begins again, then circling back-and-forth to the dirge - opening with one distorted guitar, another muffled, then relinquishing with the words, "Je t'aime," French for "I like you."

While the lyrics are easy to follow, the name of the band, even if you speak French, seems elusive. Fauve, an anglicized French derivative of "wild beast," from which the art movement took its name, goes along with the band's sly, savvy waiting-to-pounce theme.

Quickly, he changes the subject ever so covertly, saying that the band lives in what used to be a Knights of Columbus Hall. Explaining the decor of their house/practice space, he describes an ancient bar with "religious decorations all over it." The sign is still up on the building - their secret hideaway.

Self-proclaimed francophiles, Les Savy Fav utilize as much of the culture as possible to carry their message to the world from their hidden HQ. "We're educated francophiles; we like the French panache but we don't up raise the whole culture."

With one and a half French-speaking people in the band, they are not in danger of allowing the French theme to go too far. "Our bass player, Gibb [Slife] speaks French, I speak franglais," Harrington adds. He goes on to mention the French spoken introduction to their cd, "Gibb was having trouble with the translation because I wrote it in English. But we eventually got some help from this French guy that works in the rare book room where the track was recorded." In addition to the French and their culture, L.S.V. does admit to having other influences such as Fugazi, New Jersey hardcore, and Providence's Six Finger Satellite. Harrington even mentions the heavy metal influence even though no one grew up listening to it. "Hopefully all the best aspects instead of the worst ones," he says after mentioning Van Halen. "But I think any band that gets up and performs gets tagged as wacky. We're not full-out wacky, though. The original intent, I think, was more relaxed as if you're hosting a party."

Recorded or live, Les Savy Fav does rock the party they host. The same creative energy that goes into their concept bursts upon the stage at shows. Shaking the foundations of the normal live show experience, Harrington usually gets in the crowd, taking pictures of the audience, sometimes joined by guitarists Seth Jabour and Slife. But for every show, Harrington says he likes to be surprised by what props they can use. "There was this life-size dog, and I ripped out the stuffing and got into it" Harrington says of one improv prop. "I said, 'Oh, I'm going to be a puppy dog when I play tonight.' It was such an absolute disaster." He describes how equipment got messed up and nothing was played because he couldn't see anything, knocking over everything. Spontaneity has its rewards, and disadvantages, but as Harrington says, "It's hard to ignore all the possibilities of a bunch of people standing around."

At the next show, don't be surprised to find Harrington, camera in hand, maybe this time followed by video camera, entertaining the crowd and giving them a chance to be in their next "plant," a film about indie bands. Coming to a club near you.

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