All Work and No Play with The Faint

thefaintFrom the PLAYBACK:stl Archives:
“We were looking for a space we could call home,” Petersen said. “We were looking for a place we could afford with relatively high ceilings. Todd found this place, but we couldn’t afford it, and as he was leaving the guy told him, ‘All, right, I’ll cut [rent] in half.’”



Where I went to college, the university was the city. The population swelled when school was in session and went back to ghost town status once it wasn’t again.

The five two-block-long streets that crissed to compose our downtown area, just across the green from the cluster of lecture auditoriums and classrooms where we spent out mornings and afternoons, were lined with bars, record stores, and book shops. And there were no further options. It’s all there was to offer.

At the far end of one of those streets sat the seedy rock ’n’ roll club that shared a wall with a many-storied retirement home and was the ideal stopover between Omaha and Chicago or Minneapolis and Chicago—or anywhere and Chicago. Because of the lack of breadth of our humble town full of Hawkeyes, it wasn’t uncommon to see Jonathan Richman, Vanilla Ice, or the entire Dismemberment Plan thumbing through bins of used records or getting an eyeful of coed chest while walking the sidewalks before a 10 p.m. show.

The Faint, those tellers of the danciest tales of dark-nectared high drama from Omaha, the pride of Nebraska, wouldn’t have the luxury of such dalliances were they to pass through. They couldn’t pick up a dusty jacketed copy of a Vonnegut they’ve yet to read, take in a post-soundcheck movie at the nearby theater, or even have a dinner that consisted of anything more extensive than a couple bags of Chili Cheese Fritos and a draft beer to wash it down. They’d be a little too fucking busy for playtime, thank you very much. Oh, and after-parties—forget about it. No time.

“ I wish we lived it up on the road. We tend to take on a lot more than maybe we should,” bassist Joel Petersen said recently before the band left for a European tour.

Bringing along an elaborately impressive light and visual show—designed, erected, and operated by the band members themselves—with no help but what they can give with their own 10 hands adds considerably to a load-in time that usually entails unrolling some cables, plugging in the amplifiers, and rehearsing a song or two.

“We’re not going to bring more people out with us because that starts to cost a lot,” Petersen said. “We’re showing up at venues at two or three and sound-checking for three hours. We kind of lose that whole live-it-up attitude after a show because we have to tear everything down and load it up again.”

But it’s odd hearing them tell of the work-a-day rigors of the traveling life, as their latest release, Wet From Birth, seems to revel in the adventures and misadventures of time outside the crowded van of men. It begins with “Desperate Guys” and the story of a romance—believed to be achingly hopeless—that lies in the wings for lead singer Todd Baechle as he applies black eye makeup at the merch table and sees the fem in question later at a party on a yacht docked in a swamp. Replete with a violin necking with the juggling drums and signature, though readjusted synthesizers, it’s a powerful way of saying, “Hello, we’re back, and we don’t feel like the same people despite our familiar appearances.”

There’s a misconception commonly adhered to by those familiar with the band that they might have personalities that shift, but slightly, from gloom to a state narrowly gloomier. Baechle’s lyrics rarely suggest at an agreeable seemliness. His are the words of the lost nights and the empty early mornings that the band swashes with bass lines and synthesizers to make a sea of sound that nears the level of thickness that a pot of Campbell’s tomato soup would have were it to sit out, cooling on the counter all day long. But unlike the over-the-top, wave kissing wave of monstrously dense keyboard action that could be found throughout every fiber of 2001’s Danse Macabre, Wet From Birth moves away from the sound of a sect of gravediggers with Texas Instruments exploding from their instrument-playing fingers like ink emancipating itself from its pen in the washing machine.

“ I was under the impression that the general Faint listener had the opinion that we’re darker and more depressed than we actually are. We’re not,” Petersen said. “I’m not exactly that way. We’re all just sort of easygoing people.

“The darkest part about us is that [guitarist] Dapose has some scary tattoos, but he was in a death metal band, so I think he had to get those as an initiation.”

On Birth, The Faint show their humor, an enhanced and seasoned storytelling ability, and the mischievous wit of Baechle. Petersen said that the band got interested in sounds that happened in real life and went about cashing in on them in. They let the heavy layers of manufactured sound take a nap.

“It was something we were going for—something different for us,” Petersen said. “And yet it’s still us. We didn’t, all of a sudden, become amazing jazz musicians in the last year. It was just spending more time on the little things. And [Saddle Creek Records producer extraordinaire] Mike Mogis did an outstanding, amazing, amazing job. We were happy with what we had when we were done. It was a good way to go out of the studio. Generally you’re happy, but you’re generally reserved about it. You’re always thinking, ‘If only we had another week.’”

Looking for a place to write and test out video projections for live show fodder, they eventually holed up in an old warehouse they affectionately named The Orifice. Located a handful of blocks from the cute Old Market portion of Omaha, The Orifice—which found itself particularly messy on the day Petersen and I spoke, partially because he said the band isn’t particularly neat—sits above a Lutheran thrift shop where old, moth-balled clothing and expired candy and chips are sold. It’s not pretty, but the price was good.

“We were looking for a space we could call home,” Petersen said. “We were looking for a place we could afford with relatively high ceilings. Todd found this place, but we couldn’t afford it, and as he was leaving the guy told him, ‘All, right, I’ll cut [rent] in half.’”

And what came from between those warehouse walls was a record that suffers in no area. It has a handle on the typical Faint sound that would have prompted a riot among believers had it been abandoned and it’s gone beyond the safe replication of it. They refused to let their reputation precede them, straying from the simple autopilot, doing-what-we-always-do method of record making. And they manage to make time to attack the current state of punk rock, or at least the bands—Good Charlotte and Yellowcard—seen as punk rock on the song “Drop Kick the Punks,” where Baechle drops in with a, “What the fuck is this?” near its completion. God bless indignation.

“ I generally steer clear of that,” Petersen said of even listening to those faux punk bands. “I don’t think we really put it into our lives. We’re more, ‘Let’s learn from what we imagine are the mistakes here.’ We just try to learn from the things we don’t like. This doesn’t appeal to me, but why?”

But really, there’s not much available free time for any of the Fainters to check out the shit they don’t like. They’re got a light show to set up and tear down. |Sean Moeller

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