Seven Days Now this week. Founder Bobby Tamkin speaks to Scott Schultz about radio drama, fog machines and stoned Oklahomans who like Gossip Girl. Also included—a Xu Xu Fang mixtape by Bobby!" /> L.A. Record

XU XU FANG: LIKE BATMAN FOR COOL PEOPLE

April 29th, 2009 | Interviews


scott schultz

Download: Xu Xu Fang Mix Tape Podcast by Bobby Tamkin

[audio:https://larecord.com/audio/xuxufang-mixtape.mp3]

1. Jane’s Addiction “Trip Away”
2. A Place To Bury Strangers “I Know I’ll See You”
3. Jackie Mittoo “Get Up and Get It”
4. Bob Marley “Natural Mystic”
5. Lee Hazlewood “For A Day Like Today”
6. David Axelrod “The Mental Traveler”
7. Kraftwerk “Spacelab”
8. Gas “Eins”
9. Igor Stravinsky “The Rite of Spring Part I: Danses des adolescentes”

Xu Xu Fang like pictures of horses better than pictures of people and will release their new EP Seven Days Now this week. Founder Bobby Tamkin speaks to Scott Schultz about radio drama, fog machines and stoned Oklahomans who like Gossip Girl.

The new EP Seven Days Now is more electronic than These Days’ stoner rock psychedelia. Was the shift a matter of incorporating new musicians to the sound or were you consciously looking to change?
Bobby Tamkin: That’s the weird thing about the band. Most styles of music have elements that I like, and I want to explore those. Sometimes I don’t know if the guitar song is going to fit with the electronic beat-based stuff, but it’s not a conscious effort. If there could be different styles of music back to back, I would love to do that, but I don’t know if that would make a cohesive record or show.
You use a lot of sound effects in your music. Do you factor the effects into your songwriting, or do you add them after the tracks are recorded?
It depends on how the song was created. It may have started with a keyboard sound or an effect, or it may start with a drumbeat. There’s really no rhyme or reason. Suddenly it ambles into something, and at some point I will stop and figure it’s ready to go. Some of the sounds I personally record, probably 85 percent of the effects you hear. I like to run around with a microphone and capture sounds. I love the sound of horses.
Where were the horse sounds recorded?
The horses were a combination of both homemade and post-production. I had a recording that I made of horses, but it wasn’t strong, so I enhanced it with a little sound effect synth sound. Part of the fun is creating it all on my own.
How many musicians have been members of the Fang?
It’s unfortunate that it’s been a process. It comes down to whether people are up to do it. Show up and play—no drama. Enjoy the music and play it. If that’s the case, you’re all set, but there have always been different circumstances. Everyone is always a little unique. It would be cool if it was the same setup all the way through, but it’s getting there, it’s getting there. Our current lineup played together for the first time when we opened for Swervedriver at the Fonda. That was a little over 11 months ago.
Your music seems influenced by movie soundtracks and radio theatre. Do you have any favorite soundtracks or soundtrack artists who inspire you?
Oh man, that’s almost an impossible question. The score I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Bernard Herrmann’s North By Northwest. Bernard Herrmann is pretty much my favorite. It’s like hearing Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ over and over and over again, but there are subtle changes. He died in ‘76. The last score that he did was Taxi Driver. He died in the middle, but he was awesome. He’s partially responsible for the modern sweeping scores that you hear today.
Did you begin the radio drama piece with script, music, or concept?
I had a few bits of music that I recorded and didn’t do anything with. I really liked those old radio theater mystery dramas with the sound effects and I thought, hmmm, it would be interesting to make something like that, but make it a little more contemporary musically. I came up with a loose idea of what I wanted the story to be, and then I scripted out simple scenes and had friends do the voices. Then I wrote a bunch of new music for it to fill it out.
How many characters did you voice?
Just one.
The rat who turns in his friend to get whacked?
Yeah—terrible voice! It was so poorly acted. If you don’t know me, it may seem like the character was supposed to be that way, but if you know me, you know that I could have been so much better. Once I had the band together, we decided to play live. We didn’t have a singer yet, but we figured it would be cool to have images up behind us of L.A. in wintertime, and L.A. WEEKLY wrote a story about it and said that we played a live soundtrack to film, and I was like, ‘Hell no—this isn’t a film!’ I went back and shot hours and hours of more stuff, and I ended up editing all over again and finally it became some sort of a narrative and what it had been described as. It was never intended to be a score to a film.
From there, how did you segue into actual songs?
I didn’t want to make another film. I could have improved upon it, definitely, but I didn’t want to make something that would compete with it. Songs seemed like a good challenge: to write a song. It’s hard.
What was your first song?
‘These Days.’
Do you have more new songs beyond those on Seven Days Now?
We have eight new songs that haven’t been recorded yet. So we’re going to write two more and then make a full length with all new stuff.
How would you describe the new music?
That it’s more like The Mourning Son. Less dancey, more guitar. The real shape of it will happen when I get into the studio. At that point who knows what it could turn into.
You had two songs played on Gossip Girl, and they’ll be using a third song this month. Are you attracting Gossip Girl fans?
I guess it’s a testament to the producers and music supervisors that they would put songs like ours into a show like that. It was a total surprise. There are probably some 16-year-old stoner chicks in Oklahoma who check us out on Myspace after seeing Gossip Girl, and that’s totally cool.
Adam Franklin of Swervedriver found you on Myspace and gave you an opening slot when they came to L.A. last year, and Gossip Girl also found you with minimal hype. Are you just lucky?
We seem to have some sort of homing beacon like Batman for cool people. Adam Franklin liked the concept of the horse heads, and that drew him to us, and then he checked out the songs and like the music.
How did you come up with using the horse head pictures for the band photos?
I didn’t have a band when I put my first song up, and I wanted to put portraits of people to represent each musician, but then I figured if I put up a horse head, I wouldn’t have to change pictures. So I came up with a bunch of unique looking horse heads until I could get my band together, and then I just kept it. For a while it was funny—certain horses were more popular than others and would get more comments. I don’t know why.
You guys have some heavy jam breaks during your live songs, where Barbara (Cohen—vocals) dissolves into the murky mix with all three guitars going full rumble. Are you looking to make your jams even larger onstage?
We’ve always talked about doing one jam for the whole show. Just play ‘Good Times’ for an hour. It would be really fun to play that way, but the audience will get bored after a while unless they’re on something.
How long has Xu Xu Fang been using fog onstage?
Since day one. We also use the Stargate and really we’d really go nuts with the lights if we could. We’d need a full time person just for lights and fog. Barbara and Jenna (keyboards) don’t like the fog, because they say it messes with their voices. We had a residency at the Silverlake Lounge and we fogged that place up like crazy. I think he may have told us to stop at some point.
Your first CD had a very L.A. quality. Is the city a character within the story?
I love the atmospheric sounds, the rain—which we don’t get a lot of, but I think it has a real evocative sound in this city. The blasé—neither here nor thereness—fits the tone of ‘These Days.’ This city is so unique and there are so many great bands from so many scenes that are each unique but distinctly L.A., like Jane’s Addiction, NWA, The Doors, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Love, Van Halen…I think the bombast of the city is definitely in our stage show. The music is intelligent, but it’s not afraid to go huge.

MANIMAL VINYL AND RADIO FREE SILVERLAKE PRESENT XU XU FANG WITH VOICEsVOICES, DOWNTOWN UNION AND THE VOYEURS ON THU., APR. 30, FOR THE RELEASE PARTY OF XU XU FANG’S SEVEN DAYS NOW AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD.,ECHO PARK. 10 PM / FREE / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. VISIT XU XU FANG AT XUXUFANG.COM.