Farflung are one of the heaviest—especially adjusted for Earth gravity—bands in Los Angeles and have learned well from the explorations of ancient astronauts like Hawkwind and Chrome. They will be performing a rare hometown show this Saturday at Nomad Collective. Farflung is currently Michael Esther on guitar, Tommy Grenas on synth and vocals, Ryan Kirk on guitar, Andrew Scott on guitar, Rodney Rodriguez (once of Indian Jewelry) on drums and Paul Hischier on bass. This interview by John Henry.
Now what were you saying about those DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL bumper stickers?
Paul Hischier (bass): I laugh every time I see those because I think drum machines have tons of soul!
Tommy Grenas (vocals/guitar/synth): There’s millions of drum machines out there—white-noise-generated drum machines, crappy digital drum machines, fucking Pong chips! There’s more fucking drum machines then there are styles of drummers. Even if you wanted a good drum machine you could go to a thrift store and rip one out of an old Hammond organ or granny’s mildew covered keyboard. Think about it.
PH: Drum machines are a great building block so why not?
You used drum sequences on your newest record A Wound in Eternity, right?
TG: We just didn’t have the facilities to record a drummer. And because the album was pretty much done between three people—me, Michael and Ryan—it was a lot easier for us to stay creative and work on our sound.
I’ve read articles about Farflung referring to the band as stoner rock as opposed to space rock—what do you feel closer to?
TG: Most stoner- ock is built around bands that try to sound like Black Sabbath. I like that but I never wanted to play that. Our roots are stuff like Chrome and Hawkwind and Amon Düül II and Kraut-rock music—and that was before it was hip. That was just the music that me and the main guys in Farflung liked. Hawkwind, early Pink Floyd and Amon Düül are the lords of space rock. The first space-rock album is Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and ‘Astronomy Domine’ are the first space-rock sounds. My ultimate Hawkwind experience was being a punk rocker and going to see Blitz and Flux of Pink Indians—it was part of the squat scene and Hawkwind always adopted the anarchy sign. John Lydon was a roadie for Hawkwind and was influenced by Bob Calvert. He was very different from the other guys in Hawkwind—he had short hair and kind of leaned on his microphone. Lydon got a lot from him—but anyway I saw Hawkwind by accident and they created this thing I had never seen before called the standing wave. They were in a freestyle jam—they would hit these drones and just keep it going with oscillators pouring over the top of it and every adrenalized corpuscle of my body would just explode and I would feel just totally orgasmic. Everything else bad that they ever did is forgiven for these moments of pleasure that they gave me.
PH: There’s a big crossover too because of ‘Master of the Universe’ by Hawkwind. That’s a stoner rock song. There’s always a crossover between the two.
TG: When I heard Hawkwind—when I grew up I didn’t even own a Black Sabbath record. I think I owned Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. I was into the electronics. I wasn’t into the rock part at all until punk exploded. Synthesizers with guitar melded together was exciting. I really embraced that kind of music. When I was young I listened to John Peel and the only reason I knew about a lot of that music was John Peel played Public Image and then he would play Can. Then I would go to the record store—being a young punk—and go like, ‘I heard these great fucking records by this band Neu and Can the other day.’ There was this hippie guy at the record store and he would say to me, ‘There it is over there,’ and I would pick up the record cover and it would be all these dudes with long hair and I’d be totally bummed because it was some hippie shite—‘I don’t want to buy this.’ After I put my prejudice aside—maybe about four years later—I started buying these records and realized the correlation and developed my respect for the history of music. I was educated in the fact that—why listen to music because it’s new when there’s so much old music and music that’s still to be discovered? Every year somebody discovers some band—something you find in a thrift store or some amazing piece of art. Maybe Farflung will be one of those bands because people sure as shit aren’t buying our records. The classic example is the Monks—a band that was obscure until the Fall covered one of their songs and then DJs in London started playing ‘Complication.’
PH: The first Hawkwind record I got was out of some thrift store used bin somewhere in Medford, Oregon—a mint copy of Space Ritual. Even my Chrome box set came from a thrift store.
You got a Chrome box set at a thrift store? Come on!
PH: Twenty bucks in Modesto. I turned down the Throbbing Gristle box set. My friend bought it.
TG: Way before krautrock, we used to call it eurorock—so you go into a record store and have to look in the section called ‘eurorock.’ I was just very disturbed and fascinated by the whole thing because I knew these records were important but there was nothing out there—there were no guides. It was basically all forms of forgotten music. It was a great moment of discovery for me. It made me want to play music. I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael Rother from Neu when I was touring with Cluster. Michael Rother told me the importance of one note played beautifully—played right with the right tone, it can be more important than a hundred notes or a hundred chords. That was what was weird about the kraut-rock movement. I was hearing Public Image, Captain Beefheart, Cabaret Voltaire and early Ultravox—I was hearing krautrock in it. I was like, ‘Fuck, these guys must have been listening to that!’ I’ve always been an aficionado of krautrock. I’ve brought a lot of bands out here like Cluster—I’m very close friends with Roedelius and Moebius and Michael Rother from Neu. I played in a band with Damo Suzuki from Can. I also did the Chrome revivals with Helios. I actually got Helios to play in a version of Hawkwind with Nik Turner. That music was always so important to me—but whenever the previous is sounding exactly like the old, you have to start thinking about it and that’s why krautrock is very different from rock ‘n’ roll. I mean—you listen to the first Cluster album or like Throbbing Gristle—it’s just pieces of metal, and Faust hammering angle grinders into things. That’s what shattered me about krautrock at the time. To me the Hawkwind thing was just great music to get absolutely out of your skull to. When you said you were going to drop acid when I lived in Ireland, you had to put on Space Ritual. ‘Let’s just freak ourselves out and see how much of it we could take!’
I actually saw that Hawkwind show you mentioned with Sleep opening up. What was up with the guy playing the axe? He looked out of his mind.
TG: He had an axe but there was actually one guitar string on it and he had it hooked up to EMS synthies. It was like a pitch-to-voltage thing which he actually did in Hawkwind. He’s a lumberjack by trade and he lives in Canada and spends most of his life planting trees. He’s a total recluse. His name’s Del Dettmar and he thought to use his axe that he cuts down trees with as a controller for these synths. There was one night when we were playing and he was getting some abuse from the audience and he got so pissed off he started chopping down the support beam in the club until the club owners forced him to stop. He got thrown out of the building and they had to put temporary supports to keep the club from falling down.
I couldn’t see a string on stage and I thought he was air-guitaring an axe on a lot of acid. How hard was it to get LSD in Ireland when you were growing up?
TG: We used to have to go down to the docks and buy it. Because of the war going on in Ireland there wasn’t really a big drug culture in Ireland. I think the paramilitaries were controlling hard substances, but as far as psychedelics go I remember having to go down to the docks and buy it off of Armenian and Russian sailors. The acid would have like Superman on it or a pineapple with an antenna on it but we didn’t really need it because there’s so much sheep and shit everywhere that there were liberty caps growing everywhere. We used to fill bin bags full of liberty caps and eat them all summer long. We used to get up in the morning and eat them with the dew still on them, and then when the winter came and they all dried up and got manky, we stuffed them into our dad’s pipes and smoked them to get off.
You got to smoke quite a bit to make them work, right?
TG: We were young—ha ha ha! Of course there was glue. That’s how I got into Rudimentary Peni and Chrome. When we couldn’t get mushrooms, we would huff this stuff called Evil Stick which was heavy industrial adhesive. You had to have Rudimentary Peni and Half Machine Lip Moves by Chrome. It just seemed that those albums were designed specifically for huffing.
PH: I remember talking to Helios Creed and telling him that people I knew really liked to listen to Half Machine Lip Moves on nitrous and he was like, ‘Yeah, so did we.’
TG: I think the early Farflung albums encapsulate a lot of that tweakiness—like if every kind of psychedelic was melded. We didn’t even consciously try to write songs. It was basically jams that turned into albums. A lot of times were weren’t even aware if we were recording coherent rock songs. It’s not experimental—it’s definitely rock ‘n’ roll. We had no budget and it was pretty lo-fi but it was kind of grandiose lo-fi in a way.
PH: Compared to stoner-rock Farflung is a little more amphetamine-driven neurosis.
TG: I know Chrome was an important band—even the Damon Edge solo stuff. Some fucking Chrome fans hate the Damon Edge. The Lyon Concert and the Alliance album—I like those albums even though they’re not as great as Chrome albums.
PH: It’s very polished new-wave drone. When I was younger I didn’t like it because I thought it was too new wave, but I don’t dislike it anymore.
TG: I like the Spits. I really like the Spits. I really love good lo-fi rock music. It’s a lot more pleasing than the more produced stuff. I like a lot of electronica too.
PH: I grew up listening to metal, you know? And classic rock and then punk and industrial. That’s what kind of pulled me back into metal—industrial noise and the really early black metal like Bathory and stuff like that. I used to listen to a lot of Bathory and Slayer and Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and Chrome and the unifying theme was industrial noise and the fact that they were doing it mostly with guitars.
TG: To me metal is like the Benny Hill of rock ‘n’ roll—it’s funny. I’m not into it at all. The way metal has gone now is very exciting because it’s not metal anymore. People are making the excuse and calling it metal but it’s not fucking metal—it’s experimental. People are making the excuse to call it metal because people like the clothing and the way metal is instilled with the dark forces and the cooler things that the youth like, but metal is not metal anymore. Metal is experimental music—it’s tweaky and it’s getting more lo-fi. I heard this metal band the other day—I can’t remember their name but it sounded to me like Red Mecca or early Cabaret Voltaire. I was like, ‘It sounds like Throbbing Gristle and they’re calling it metal.’ At this point I’m fucking confused, but I do like what these bands are doing.
How about the newest record A Wound in Eternity—has it been getting out there?
TG: It’s been a little bit of a slow start because Farflung—though we have a cult following—is not a well-known band by any means. We’ve been slogging this band out for ten or fifteen years and there is a steady fan base. I think it’s just the fact that we put out quite a few albums. This is like our sixth record. We’ve always been on very small labels like Flipside and Brainticket and people found them pretty much by accident in used bins and thrift stores.
That label Meteor City that put out your last album seems to put out a lot of metal and heavy music—where does Farflung fit in?
TG: We don’t really participate with that but we’re very, very grateful that they like our music enough to put it out and very, very respectful to them. To me it just means that, ‘Wow, maybe people that are into metal are broadening their minds a little bit more.’ Maybe they’ll go back and listen to some of the music that influenced Farflung. Or influenced the metal bands by accident.
PH: You go back far enough and there’s crossover. There’s like Sabbath and Sir Lord Baltimore and Flower Traveling Band. Flower Traveling Band is like Sabbath but it’s also hippie psychedelic rock but it’s from Japan.
Tell me about the festival and squat scenes in Europe when you were growing up.
TG: The free festival scene had no boundaries. At that time my country and Northern Ireland were involved in this huge war with England. I had to bail out of there when I was very young and I had to move to London. I became aware of the free festival scene because it the punks and the new-age travelers and the hippies were all a part of this same unit and it melted into this same kind of person that accepted there forbears in music. Going to a free festival would mean you would see all those bands together. You know—Crass would play and then Discharge would play and then Conflict and then Hawkwind would hit the stage that night and it was a community feeling because the message behind the music was the same so there was an acceptance. I think that was the difference with America—they don’t have free shows of mass communities.
It sounds like Burning Man co-opted that idea but you to have pay.
TG: That’s a fucking trap and it’s annoying and there are a lot of fruity people prancing around with costumes and people massaging people and people with huge amounts of money driving their SUVs out there. Like you’re a businessman and you can go and buy a Harley and become a biker. America’s changed dramatically, though. I think people are making their own clubs again like the Smell downtown. I think they’re doing very important stuff there.
UPDATE: The Chrome box set was actually purchased at a used record store in Modesto, not a thrift store, but the store did have used copies of both the Chrome box set and the Throbbing Gristle box set in stock—in Modesto—in 1985. Go figure.
FARFLUNG WITH NIGHT HORSE, IMAAD WASIF AND TWO PART BEAST, WEIRD OWL, ANCESTORS, SPINDRIFT AND RADIO MOSCOW PLUS DJs SHORT SHORTS AND NC STEELE ON SAT., JULY 4, AT THE NEW WEIRD AMERICA FESTIVAL AT THE NOMAD GALLERY, 1993 BLAKE AVE., LOS ANGELES. 2 PM / $6 / ALL AGES. NOMADLOSANGELES.COM OR TEEPEERECORDS.COM. FARFLUNG’S A WOUND IN ETERNITY IS OUT NOW ON METEOR CITY. VISIT FARFLUNG AT FARFLUNG.ORG OR MYSPACE.COM/FARFLUNG.