Fanfarlo: The Scenic Route | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Scenic Route

Feb 19, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Simon Balthazar, frontman of the orchestral pop group Fanfarlo, grew up surrounded by instruments. And although he learned how to play the piano, guitar, drums and mandolin early on, it wasn't until he was about 17 that he figured out a way to effectively use them: first to play other people's songs, then to write his own. "I didn't really listen that much to music [growing up]," the 27-year-old says. "There were a lot of musical instruments in my house for some reason, but not a record collection or anything like that."

Fanfarlo's repertoire is a combination of songs usually rooted in history or big ideas rather than personal anecdotes. It seems somewhat appropriate for Balthazar, whose childhoodwhich was spent living in the middle of a forest in Swedensounds like a perfect clearing for a vivid imagination. It's also no surprise that the first band he fell in love with was another complex pop group whose words are often based on other people's stories: Glasgow, Scotland's Belle and Sebastian. Among the songs on Fanfarlo's debut LP Reservoir are "I'm a Pilot," about the aviator Howard Hughes, who at one point shut himself in a film-screening room for four months, and "Harold T. Wilkins, Or How to Wait For a Very Long Time," about the British journalist who studied flying saucers.

Balthazar moved from Sweden to London about five years ago, and he formed Fanfarlo with friends there in 2006. The group sold "Reservoir" for one dollar through its website last summer before a more traditional release in October through the Atlantic Records imprint Canvasback. "We feel better about [signing to a major label] because this is three guys we work with who we can talk to all the time and they're really nice," Balthazar says. "It feels like this whole beast of a label behind us, [but] we work with three people and it's pretty good."

With lush and majestic fanfare-like arrangements, Fanfarlo's music takes on a sound bigger than what would be expected of five musicians. Balthazar takes the vocal lead and is usually accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas, and everyone takes turns on different instruments throughout their live set. Aside from the traditional guitar-bass-drums-keys lineup, the band incorporates glockenspiel, melodica, mandolin, violin, horns, additional percussion, and the clarinet, which Balthazar learned to play just so he could have it on the record. "I figured I might as well learn to play it myself. And I play it live as well, which is great," he says. "People kinda feel that [the clarinet] is underused."

Balthazar says it's Fanfarlo's live shows that help determine what the band does in the recording studio. "It's often a process of playing the song a lot live and having a real feel for it, and then going back to the drawing board and doing some recordings."

Recently on tour with the Queens, N.Y., outfit Freelance Whales, Balthazar says playing shows in the U.S. in more inspiring than in the U.K., maybe because people don't seem to be as receptive to Fanfarlo's music over there. He says the band has talked about settling somewhere in the States, at least for when the group sits down to record its next album. "The kind of music we find ourselves listening to tends to be American and Canadian, so it was a natural thing for us to record our album in the States, and it kind of makes sense that we're getting busy over here," he says. "It's an interesting country to tour as well. There are a lot of scenic drives, and it's new and fresh for us."


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February 22nd 2010

I love hearing any news about Fanfarlo. They’re definitely my favorite band of the year so far. There’s just something about their jangly pop I like so much.