In a shameless act of Being Excellent, frYars caught the ear of more than one DiS writer this autumn with the release of debut EP The Ides (reviewed here), a four-track affair which blurred the lines between electronica and alt-indie. Prompting comparisons in the press to Kele Okereke, Alex Kapranos, Midlake, Royksopp, Magnetic Fields and Nick Cave amongst others, the honest truth is that frYars doesn’t consistently sound like any of these.
Personally speaking, ‘Madeline’ is one of the songs of 2007, the near-perfect combination of wistful indie-pop and comforting computer sounds making for a finished article both soothing and swooning as a seemingly endless number of little electro noises drift in and out somewhere in the background. It’s almost irresistibly endearing, something only heightened when you consider that the man behind frYars, Londoner Ben Garrett, is only just nineteen – “it looks better on the press release”, says he. Oh, and when he needed a female vocal for the closing track of his EP, he opted for none other than his grandmother.
With a musical maturity beyond his years, the future bodes well for Garrett, provided the stars align correctly, but enough gushing – DiS finds the man in question on a particularly cold, mid-November afternoon, where we’re beamed into his presence by the magic of the telephone device. With just a few hours to go before he takes to the stage for the first official frYars live show in a particularly dark Clerkenwell basement, he’s attempting to stave off a particularly unwelcome cold using the time-honoured method of soup and noodles..
First things first – why frYars and not Ben Garrett?
I don’t really have a reason – it’s just a stage name, not something to hide behind. I just didn’t like the idea of my name being everywhere, only that hasn’t really worked. With the capital Y thing, everyone asks about it and I don’t know what the deal is. Kanye West has a big Y..
No-one ever mentions that! Maybe they’re scared. I think with the Y in the middle of frYars, it makes the word more interesting - like a hill! - up and then down again rather than downhill all the way.
So tonight is the night – it’s your first gig, right?
Yeah kinda, I did a show a couple of years ago but I guess that wasn’t really frYars, so yeah tonight is my first frYars show.
And it's a solo show..?
Yeah, it is just going to be me on my own, but I’ve made some videos to play along to, of myself and Paul Butler (head bee of The Bees) playing drums and bass and playing along to the songs. It’s all in synch so it looks like they’re really playing them. The set’s going to be quite long, but not so long that everybody gets bored - I just don’t want them to feel short-changed since it’s my first real frYars show.
Are you bricking it yet?
I’m actually feeling quite confident about it, which is a bit surprising, the only thing I have to worry about is being ill – I’m eating granny’s special soup! Not the same granny that sang on ‘happY’, though..
Your EP was produced by Luke Smith, ex of Clor. How did you end up working with him?
About a year and a half ago, Island Records thought I was Hot Shit for a while and they suggested I do a demo with Luke, then after that I carried on working with him. That’s the most boring story in the world, isn’t it? I didn’t set out to find him or anything, and I didn’t know that much about Clor, though there’s this one song of mine which has a sound in it which sounds just like a Clor sound...
It was destiny! Said EP turned out to be a mixture of the bleep ‘n’ squeakery of electronica and a nod to popular indie here and there as well. There’s a lot of stuff going on in there, is the point, so how do these songs even take shape? Rumour has it you’re a bit of a pianist..
I’m not a pianist really – I didn’t play an instrument in school, just taught myself some basic keyboard skills. The songs start life on the piano and then I program them into my computer using different sounds, only, I don’t play it in, I mouse it, clicking the mouse for each note. It takes much longer but it works better – like Beethoven would’ve done if he had Fruityloops! After that, we do the vocals and instruments properly, somewhere else, in a ‘proper’ studio. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Paul, and a lot of the stuff we’ve been doing at the moment is actually electronic, but maybe not many people will be able to tell – it sounds like real instruments!
Was the intention of The Ides, or even frYars itself, to make something that can’t be pointlessly pigeonholed by idiot music hacks?
I didn’t really try and do that, it just kinda happened that way. I think that if something sounds too much like something else then you should self-censor..
Well, if I were an inventor and I invented the telephone now, I wouldnt think it that impressive. If I developed a more exciting telephone that would be quite impressive and if I was to invent an entirely new concept or object, that would be most impressive of all. I don’t really ever want to find just one sound – we’ve just done some new stuff and it doesn’t really sound a lot like the stuff on the EP.
So is there an album on the way now? Any concrete future plans?
I am recording an album, yeah, but slowly, so it’s going to be a record of progress. Also I’ll be focused on doing more live shows, because gigs make a difference - it’s important that people actually see something ‘real’, since up until now frYars has just been something on the internet.
According to your press release, if pushed now you’ll admit to an admiration of Bowie and Albarn. Neither of those influences, though, are really that obvious in what you’ve released so far. What’s up with that?
I think it says ‘when pushed’ because I sent that question back to my PR without an answer and they made me pick someone. I don’t know; it’s not so much an admiration for the music, more of their careers, people like Serge Gainsbourg and Beck - they all have their own space; distinguished, innovative, respected, and they have long careers that don't drag..
And so, conversation descends into why The Good, the Bad and the Queen weren’t really all that, why Scientologists are not to be trifled with and how his granny might eventually get a few pence from the PPL. You, meanwhile, could do worse than check out the Japanese import version of The Ides EP, out this week (November 26th of the year 2007) on Make Mine Records and with an extra three tracks which are officially “charming”, and that’s a fact.
Ben Garrett brings frYars to the jauntily-named Slaughtered Lamb, Farringdon again tonight (26 Nov) before playing with of Montreal and Black Kids at London ULU on December 6th.