Interview: The Faint on escaping indie rock, synthesizing the 2000s, and tweaking perimeters

Over the past two decades, the Faint have always stood apart. The Nebraska-born band was ahead of their time with a rhythmic post-punk sound that rose way before the genre’s revival in the 2000s, and infused raw emotion and grit into blippy electronics and synth-pop long before everyone went out and bought synthesizers. The Faint’s 2001 breakthrough album Danse Macabre still sounds like it came out two months from now, and over the years the band has crafted their live show into a full-on punk-fueled dance party.

Recently, the Faint released a compilation titled Capsule1999-2016, which examines their catalog of material from the 21st century and dating back to the late ’90s, when tracks like “Worked Up So Sexual” and “Call Call”, both off 1999’s jilted Blank-Wave Arcade, sounded like they were sent to Earth by a sleazy sex-robot from another planet.

In support of Capsule1999-2016, which birthed vibrating electro-punk banger “Skylab1979”, the Faint will be rolling on through the Paradise Rock Club tomorrow night (October 5) as part of a stacked tour with legendary post-punk pioneers Gang Of Four and Brooklyn electronic artist Pictureplane. Ahead of what should be a wild time, Vanyaland had a chat with Faint frontman Todd Fink about starting a band with synthesizers during a weird era of music, performing on Yo Gabba Gabba, using video footage straight from NASA, the state of the DJ in 2016, and what the rest of the year holds.

Rob Duguay: The late ’90s were a weird time for music with the mainstream being riddled with boy bands, pop punk, and nu metal acts. During the Faint’s beginnings, what made the band want to use synthesizers for a particular sound and go that route while the artistic landscape at the time was completely different?

Todd Fink: Well, we were kind of from the indie rock scene and we were looking for a way out of it honestly. We just got bored of hearing ourselves playing guitar and we felt like we played it just like everybody else. With that feeling we were looking for the promise of what synthesizers could do, they say you can make any sound with them. We thought that we’d take our band money, go that way and see what happens. What sounded natural to us was to play melodies that reminded us of what we liked as kids growing up in the ’80s so we ended up mixing the style of that time with the style of where we were coming from.

When you hear a lot of electronic based bands, they sound polished while the Faint has always sounded very raw. The band has a bit of an edge and with shifting from relying heavily on guitars to using synth but keeping a similar technique exemplifies that.

We like the keyboards to have rawness so we would run them through guitar amps and we wanted to create the vibe of these electronic sounds but with the feel of a basement show. It was almost intentional making them sound kind of shitty [laughs].

I don’t think they sound shitty at all.

What I mean is to degrade them for character’s sake.

Back in 2010, The Faint performed “Teach Me” on the children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba. The show has had a lot of different acts such as Mos Def, the Killers, Weezer, the Roots… what was the experience like for the band?

We like to surprise ourselves sometimes and it seemed like something we would not do. Our vision of the band at the time was definitely something that didn’t correlate with playing on a children’s television show. We got familiar with what the show was and we saw that it was actually really weird, futuristic and fun so we figured that we’d see what would happen. We just went for it and worked on our song with some guy and it was very strange. The place is amazing, it’s in like an airplane hangar.type building with all of these different sets next to each other.

All of the employees are dressed up a certain way each day for work. There’s a calendar of each type of theme everyone is to dress as. It seems like a fun, fantastical place. It’s pretty cool.

This past August, the Faint released a music video for the song “Skylab1979” and the visuals consist of archive footage from space straight from NASA. How was the band able to obtain that footage in the first place?

When I had the idea to do an archival footage video for it, I had no idea that was legal. Maybe it isn’t, but I think it is. When I searched for the footage I ended up finding it from an informational video that I was able to download. I then started downloading different programs to run that footage through. I hadn’t made any videos in quite a while before that, we used to make two videos for every song we played live. That was when we were using projectors more so we don’t do it for every song anymore. So while making the new video I had to update all of my software. It was fun.

Did you have to sign any paperwork or contracts for legalities or is all the archive footage in the public domain?

As far as I can tell it was in the public domain. It was put out by NASA to show their appreciation for what they’d done with that mission or a series of missions.

That’s really cool. What also struck me with the video is the contrast of colors and how everything was all digitized along with having that analog visual feel that you see in old TV sets from the late ’70s and early ’80s.

When I was a kid you would have to adjust this dial on the part of the television that offset that kind of stuff. I like that look.

When it comes to electronic music these days, there’s been a little bit of a debate when it pertains to the DJ. With the rise of dubstep and EDM, there are a lot of DJs being formulaic and some of them don’t even do any live mixing with it all being prerecorded and acting like they’re turning knobs and pressing buttons when they’re just dancing around. What’s your opinion on all of that? Do you think the art of DJ’ng should go back to its roots?

I’ve been a DJ for a long time all throughout the time that I’ve been playing music. Technology changes and DJs are always at different levels as far as what they’re capable of, what they see as cool and the music styles can totally dictate how much control you’re going to want to have over the music. As far as what’s legitimate as a DJ, just like there’s crappy musicians or crappy artists of all types and great ones there’s going to be that in DJing also. I just love music, I want to share it with people and I like to tweak perimeters, play with effects and be expressive while I’m doing it for my own entertainment. It’s good for me and I do it in different ways. Last time I DJ’ed it was with old albums, other times I’ll do it with a computer and sometimes I’ll so it with beats and a drum machine. It’s a wild life, you can be as good or as cheap as you want.

Are there any DJs that you’ve been listening to that you’re a big fan of?

Living in Omaha, it’s not that kind of scene here. There are good DJs but if I’m going to see somebody DJ or dance to somebody DJing it’s because I like the music. In electronic music you’re a producer first of all, in my mind, and if you’re also a good DJ that’s great and it makes it worth coming out to see you.

After this amazing tour with Gang Of Four and Pictureplane, what does the Faint have planned for 2016?

Each of us are going our separate ways to vacation and do projects and whatever. I don’t know if we’ll get anything done before the holidays but we’re planning 2017 with music to write and record and we’re excited about that stuff. I guess we are doing a video still, a couple videos I believe will be done before the end of the year so we’ll be working on those as well. We have lots of stuff going on, I designed a bunch of merch for this tour that we’re on too.

THE FAINT + GANG OF FOUR + PICTUREPLANE :: Wednesday, October 5 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, $25 :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page