Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds: Simon Balthazar of UK Indie-Pop Tarts Fanfarlo

Reservoir, the debut album from London's Fanfarlo, is the kind of album that immediately grabs your attention with its unique and joyful spirit. From the stumbling, heartfelt swoon of songs like "I Am a Pilot" to the droll and upbeat wit of songs like "Harold T. Wilkins, Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time," it's a gorgeous work dripping with smart melodies, sweet harmonies, and lush arrangements.

Fanfarlo mastermind Simon Balthazar was good enough take some time out of his tour to talk with Rocks Off as he made his way down to Houston.

Rocks Off: Fanfarlo is based on London, but you are originally from Gothenburg, Sweden. Did you leave Sweden for greener musical pastures? Do you feel that your background, coming from a different country, gives you a different sensibility from other London bands? And how did the band come together and what influences does each bring to the band?

Simon Balthazar: To be fair, I didn't specifically move to London to start a band, although of course it's a big and exciting music scene to move to. Gothenburg has a great music scene too, but it's a small place and I had been living there for some time. We used to get a lot of comments about us sounding 'Scandinavian' from people who didn't even know I was Swedish. But in general it seems we tend to have more in common with American bands.

Both Amos Memon (drums) and Justin Finch (bass) joined the band after coming to see early incarnations of the band play. We'd go the same clubs and gigs and got to know each other that way. Leon Beckenham joined early on after we spoke on the internet about stuff we were into, and finally Cathy Lucas used to be in a different band that I went to see... oddly, I was specifically looking for a girl singer who played the violin and mandolin, so she was the missing piece.

As a collective our influences are pretty eclectic, but I think we've made this progression together from dabbling with a naiver, more twee sort of thing to a more ambitious and serious side. Out of new bands we listen to stuff like Dirty Projectors, Abe Vigoda, Ponytail, Thee Oh Sees, but what kind of influence they have on our music is always hard to say. We listen to a lot of old music though - Springsteen, Talking Heads, old folk, country and rockabilly.

RO: You released quite a few singles before your album and a few of the songs reappear on Reservoir. 7-inches have had quite a renaissance here in Houston. Why did you choose that format, and what is its appeal?

SB: We love 7-inches and have lots of friends in London with tiny indie labels, so we ended up putting out quite a few singles with them. The single format in general isn't that interesting, but the 7-inch format is great, it has so much history and great connotations. The fact that it's on vinyl means you can do interesting things to the actual pressing, and it's really good looking. Sevens are the best thing to DJ with by far.

RO: How do you approach songwriting, and how did the studio affect that process?

SB: I'm always writing songs in my head, so I use a dictaphone a lot to record ideas. So I'll have this pool of melodies and stories swimming around in my head and sometimes they jump out and form a song. I often record as I write as well, so demoing is important. Recording our album was the first time we were able to spend some time in a good studio and realize our more ambitious ideas, but recording and demoing is a really important part of writing songs even when it's just at home in the bedroom.

We love big, lush arrangements and layering things up. As does (producer) Peter Katis. The combination of the two definitely meant we went a bit nuts on some songs, like I'm A Pilot which has layer upon layer of doubled takes of all of us stomping, clapping and hitting whatever was at hand.

We wanted to work with Peter. He's a good producer and seemed a really good match but it was kind of scary flying over there without having even met the guy though, knowing that we were going to live for six weeks in his house.

RO: How do you see the live experience and the studio experience - different, similar, complementary?

SB: They are two very different sides of making music. Being in a studio is an introverted, often quite intellectual process. Whereas playing live is all about the experience, expression and emotion, about connecting with people standing directly in front of you, and of course there is a theatrical element to it.

RO: I believe this is your first tour of North America which likely means many people may not have heard of you guys just yet. How have you found the audiences, the clubs and the cities thus far?

SB: If we count the short six-date run we did a couple of months ago this is actually our second tour, but they sort of merge together into one... the people coming to our shows have been incredibly enthusiastic and so many people know the songs and lyrics, it's pretty mind-blowing actually.

RO: Lastly, complete the following sentence: The purpose of making music is... SB: I don't really see it as having a purpose other than itself. Beauty, I suppose? We make music 'cause we can't help it.

4 p.m. today at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth (free) and with Freelance Whales, 8 p.m. tonight at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington, 713-862-2513 or

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Ramon "LP4" Medina