Fanfarlo: Serious Play | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Serious Play

Jan 03, 2014 Fanfarlo
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It’s a rainy Sunday night in London, and Simon Balthazar is thinking about, well…everything. Tired from the previous two night’s activities (there was an improvised Krautrock performance with a member of Wire, and DJing with his bandmates), and only mildly reinvigorated by a large cup of coffee, the Fanfarlo frontman hopscotches from topic to topic, eager to tumble down whatever rabbit hole the conversation might offer.

“For me, the whole point of making music outside of your bedroom is that it’s a vehicle for other things,” he admits as the conversation drifts from time in the recording studio, to bowling with retirees in Connecticut, to the art of urban table tennis and back again. “You find yourself in all these bizarre situations.”

Having grown up in a Swedish forest so thinly populated it couldn’t even qualify as a village (“The year I moved out of there was the year they finally paved a road and put up a streetlight,” he recalls), Balthazar spent his childhood cultivating a natural curiosity. While for his sister and brother the time in seclusion lead to careers in biology and the arts, Balthazar found himself drawn to music, folding questions of life, death, and what it means to be human into lush, orchestral-leaning pop.

Fanfarlo’s third full-length Let’s Go Extinct plays even more into the group’s established intellectual beauty. To record the album, Balthazar and bandmates Cathy Lucas, Justin Finch, and Leon Beckenham, decamped to a friend’s house in Wales, which Balthazar describes as a total construction site. Free from budget constraints, and eager to indulge in everything from a spaghetti western vibe to surf rock refrains, the band experimented with different techniques: hitting each other on the back to achieve the proper percussive tone, mastering that bossa nova staple, the quika, and even recording themselves laughing and drinking while a previously recorded track played in the background.

It’s on that musical backdrop (which Balthazar describes as full of “bendy shit”) that the musician placed his dense lyrics about life, all the way from the microscopic to the cosmic level. Uninterested in writing about love, Balthazar admits most of his songs are extrapolated from scientific ideas—which he often calls his sister to discuss.

“Science is a way of talking about what it is to be human, or how that works,” he muses. “What it could be, what could happen next. This one song on the record, ‘Cell Song,’ you could sort of listen to it and it could be a love song. And that’s fine. But what it’s actually about is coming from a place of thinking of the billions of cells in your body. In a sense, each cell is an organism. It’s just that that organism has adapted to other organisms in a slightly fascist structure where you will do what you’re told, otherwise you will die”

As hinted at by the album’s title, Balthazar also has strong feelings about the idea of extinction, particularly as it relates to mankind. He paraphrases Carl Sagan, noting that survival is the exception—not the rule.

“If you zoom out a little bit, you can either make a disaster movie about it—where the US saves the day with some big nuke or something,” he says. “Or you can see it from the perspective of, well, humans are just one animal on the planet, and if we die out, so what, life goes on. The end of humanity is not the end of life.”

It’s a heavy thought, but it’s undercut by Balthazar’s wicked grin. It’s not so much that he’s not disturbed by the idea of humanity’s annihilation; it’s just that, from music, to travel, to all the unlikely situations in between, there’s still so much to enjoy.

“What we’re aiming for is serious play,” he confirms. “That’s what music is, that’s what philosophy is, and that’s what life should be on a good day.”



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