Future Of The Left's Andy Falkous is a man with a lot to say. If you've seen their titanic live show, you'll no doubt be aware of his sardonic wit; the between-song banter is something which - for better or worse - they've become renowned for, as well as putting on one heck of a rock show.
But what, exactly, makes him tick? It's a question we've often asked ourselves, so it was with great pleasure that we got the chance to sit him down prior to the band's recent DiS date in Sheffield, and set the tape running.
It should be noted that the latter part of the interview, from the political stuff onwards, is entirely unedited at Andy's request.
DiS: How have the new songs been going down on this tour?
Andy Falkous: Generally speaking, fine. It hasn't been so much a question of how the new songs have been going down as how the shows have been generally. Some of them have been really well attended, but we did a brief stretch of shows last week, which is a generous description of what they were, in places like Crewe and Carlisle - cities that aren't usually over-endowed with shows, and that came across. The highlights have been the ones you'd expect - London, Manchester, Cardiff. Portsmouth was surprisingly good. I can't say I'll be rushing back to Crewe or Carlisle though. Or, indeed, Hereford.
DiS: It's hardly renowned as a rock and roll hotbed, Hereford...
AF: It's not a rock and roll hotbed. The only thing Hereford's really notable for is that it's still legal to shoot a Welshman with a crossbow in the town square. Which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your views.
DiS: Indeed. Pulled Apart By Horses have supported you on all these dates - have you got on well with them?
AF: Yeah, fantastic. But they need a square meal. It's irresponsible for anyone to give those guys drink or drugs... unless the drink is Guinness... because they're definitely in need of food. They're a very, very thin bunch of guys who often forget to eat. Their agent should put forward a compelling argument for solid nutrition on any future riders. Apart from being worried about their health and making sure they wrap up warm, we've got on fine. They're a very good band and they all appear to be in it for the right reasons. Don't make me go in to what those are, they should be self-evident. Laughs.
DiS: Going back to you guys, do you feel like people are starting to accept you as Future Of The Left now, as opposed to three guys who were in other bands?
AF: Marginally, yeah. The other bands are still in the background, perhaps understandably, but if by the end of this record people are still consumed by the glories of those bands then there's a problem. We feel as a band - the way we play, the whole atmosphere around us - that we're leagues removed from what we've done before, aside from it being a similar format and me still having the same voice that I had when I was singing in mclusky. People don't generally request mclusky songs anymore, and when they do it 100% guarantees that we won't play any mclusky songs. That's the rule. At this moment in time, we'll only truly escape those comparisons if we reach a slightly wider audience. People at our shows are music fans first and foremost, rather than people who only go to three or four shows a year. It's when you reach those people who only go to three or four shows that those comparisons will become more vacant.
DiS: Is that a stage you're striving to reach?
AF: Having done a lot of rock shows in my life, I love playing to between about 800 to 1000 people. That's big enough so there's a real, genuine sense of event, and the chance to ingratiate yourself with the crowd, at times on a one-to-one level, without losing the immediacy and the intimacy. I think when shows are bigger than that, there is a degree of compromise in terms of the performance. I don't see why as a band, with the way we play and the way we sound, we can't reach that many people. I'm not saying it will happen... and I suspect if it does happen it won't be in this country. But I might be wrong about that.
DiS: What makes you say that?
AF: Certainly in terms of the way the album's been reviewed... I haven't read the reviews, but I've definitely been aware that the reaction's been very, very good. I tend to just look at the marks out of ten because I'm interested in what people think, and also I'm just fascinated with mark schemes in general. I mark my dinner, I mark sneezes... I think we're just a little bit too tricky and not American enough to succeed in this country. Maybe if we had more visible tattoos we'd be more successful - I'm just thinking of the way bands play to particular markets. I have a fundamental belief that goes from the days of mclusky and continues in this band that if we were an American band making the music we do... I'm not sure how we'd do in America, but we'd definitely do better in Britain.
DiS: There does seem to be a fascination with American bands over here...
AF: Particularly in the 'Rock' genre. It's generalising, but hey, generalising's fun and it's sexy. I think British people like their pop to have a particular overt Britishness to it but their rock to have a very one dimensional American-ness to it, which I guess in their minds lends an aspect of the exotic to it. There's nothing really that exotic about a band from Cardiff. If you think back to a lot of the big British bands, especially the pop bands - I'm particularly thinking of bands like Blur and Pulp here - they had an overt British-ness to them and really hammered that home as much as possible, almost as if that was part of their brand identity, through to The Libertines going on about notions such as Albion... it was difficult to escape the fact they're British. Whereas our rock bands are judged almost to be in the second division, as though they're pale imitations of American bands. I can say without fear of contradiction that I thought Jarcrew were a better live band than Les Savy Fav, not some third division pale imitation of them at all. I think that British rock music has an inferiority complex, maybe born of actual inferiority years ago as they were trying to catch up on particular trends... but there are some fantastic British rock bands out there. For example, we've played with Kong a few times and I've heard people say 'They're like a baby Shellac', which is an insulting and patently untrue thing to say. Now, Shellac are one of my favourite bands but Kong bring something much more genuinely evil and, dare I say it, menacing and lively to people. To patronise them as a pale imitation of an American band... to me that shows more about the person making the comparison. I think if a band goes onstage with the mindset of 'We can be a decent impression of some American band' then they've automatically lost.
Video: Future Of The Left 'The Hope That House Built'
DiS: Are people more accepting of you playing the synthesiser these days? When I spoke to you last time, around the release of Curses, you mentioned it had been a problem...
AF: It's generally speaking not a problem. Sometimes when we play shows with the more metal/rock bands you get a couple of disgusted looks, but I think we're well practiced in taking those disgusted looks and redoubling their intensity back to the bearer, or in some cases just proving that music played on a keyboard can be just as dirty and nasty as songs played on a guitar. There's a couple of songs on our new record that I think illustrate that point. People tend not to bring it up with us if they do have a problem, that tends to be the kind of opinion that would be expressed by the feckless coward on the internet under some pseudonym or irrelevant handle. Which is a good thing. And it's one of the good things about having a reputation for being a bunch of bastards... people generally don't criticise you to your face, and you get to keep it that way.
DiS: People do engage you in banter at the shows though... Has it been of a high standard on this tour?
AF: At the first couple of shows on this tour we had technical problems with the bass guitar, so it ended up with me having to talk for about ten minutes in Brighton. When that happens, you get sick of talking. I don't even know what I was talking about in Brighton... something about Craig Charles' rape case, Dairy Lea triangles, something to do with Rohypnol, what the security staff had been eating. It's a different thing pausing after a song and talking to someone in the crowd as opposed to having to talk for a period of time to fill in the silence rather than stand there looking like a plum. We've made a concious effort on this last tour to just keep the talking to when it's really deserved, or when there's a particularly annoying twat at the front. There was a little bit of that in Manchester and it ended up being really funny, there wasn't so much of that in London, and in fact not so much on our tour in general. People don't tend to say much to us in Cardiff - I think they're scared we might know where they live. But it's about the rock show first and foremost, and when you have a reputation of dealing with hecklers in a particularly straightforward way you occasionally get people who are at the show just for that. The problem is, with a lot of heckling it's indistinguishable from the high pitched emissions of a dying goat, particularly in Glasgow. People need to take their time and make an effort to enunciate the things they're trying to say, and then maybe you'll get a response. Like in Manchester, when you've got a guy down the front shouting 'Rhyl' and other place names then he's ripe for the eviscerating. Like I say, it's about the rock show first and foremost, and then if somebody wants to come and provide some additional comedy material for some right-thinking people, so they can unite in thinking that person's a twat, then it'll be my delight to show them up.
DiS: Some people appear not to get that light hearted aspect. It doesn't seem to me like you take yourself particularly seriously, but I read the NME feature recently where it questioned whether you enjoy what you do because you seem angry...
AF: That was a strange interview on a lot of levels, most of which I don't want to talk about, but I don't think it really conveyed what it is we're about. Certainly, there are some occasions where if somebody's being particularly violent at the front, if there's a physical edge, then there is the threat of violence. If you don't stop punching people, we're going to remove you from the venue. And if the security staff don't remove you from the venue then we're more than happy to do it ourselves. In general, the engagement is taken in a certain spirit, it's certainly meant to [be]. It's almost as if people offer themselves up to the ultimate embarrassment in order to improve peoples' show by three-and-a-half percent, which is worthy self-sacrifice I think.
DiS: Moving on to a topic which I imagine you are quite angry about, the album leaking so early. Do you know how it happened?
AF: No. It'll be some callow penis, either doing it for the sake of kudos or the mistaken belief that he's serving the interests of music in a wider sense if he releases the album ten, eleven weeks early. It's just disappointing. It rather takes the wind out of your sails, and makes the actual release less of an event. The reason I wrote the blog was just to give our perspective on the whole story. You don't necessarily expect to change anybody's mind - preaching rarely does that, and telling people what to think usually has the opposite effect. But too often the debate is seen in very simple terms: stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, which is often enforced by the way the music industry priced CDs for a number of years. £14 for a new release or whatever, which made it almost ripe for the plucking, as it were. But how it affects bands who exist on the level that we do... people can give anecdotal evidence, like they heard a song online and ended up going to a show and bought a T-Shirt, but I'm in a band now who get a lot more press attention than mclusky ever did, and that wasn't at the height of downloading, and we sell a quarter as many records, and play to less people. So the evidence of my own eyes tells me some people absolutely do end up supporting a band after downloading records, but it's not the majority. And unless it finds a way to bring capital to it, the music industry is, in a wider sense, dying. It's just the way it is, it's not just bands who go out of business, it's record labels, people who do promotional work, music magazines... it's very difficult to charge for content, on a similar level. Why would somebody pay for a music magazine when they can read Drowned in Sound for free? It's not just bands it affects, it's everybody, but it's just making its first compelling marks on bands.
DiS: Going back to that blog you wrote, there's a lot of comments underneath saying things like 'Hey, I downloaded the leak but I'm still going to buy the record because I want to support the band'. Human nature doesn't really work like that in the majority of cases though, does it?
AF: No. If you can get something for free, you will. It's not for me to condemn, but as far as I was concerned it's definitely for me to point out the consequences of peoples' actions. If people want to take it then they're going to take it, and they should probably scurry off into their metaphorical corners and listen to the music or whatever, but when people try to come out with justifications for downloading in a wider sense that's when it really falls down. But I think I've managed to come up with the perfect counter-argument against downloading, and that's to accuse everyone involved in it of being middle class. Because everybody hates being accused of being middle class - from The Clash onwards, people pretend to have as many working class credentials as possible. And to anybody who tries to justify illegal downloading, I'd like to see them to go up to The Wu-Tang Clan and give those same arguments as they do to a bunch of white, liberal boys and see what happens. I can guarantee they'd be met with a rather different attitude, [one] not so accepting of them taking away their livelihood. The tension comes from people thinking that trying to make a living from music should be mutually exclusive from creating art. As far as we're concerned it isn't. We want to be a full time band so we can devote as much time as possible to our art. I'm sure a lot of people say that but we happen to mean it. If we had to do day jobs it'd mean our albums are recorded at a slower pace and we wouldn't be able to do it properly. It's as simple as that. As much as we need money to survive in a first world economy, we wouldn't compromise our music for anything as crass as money. If [money] was the goal, then these two bands I've been in have been the most poorly executed plans in the history of the world I would say.
DiS: Is it proving sustainable doing Future Of The Left full time?
AF: At this moment in time it's on the edge of not being sustainable. That's something I've talked about in interviews before, and it's something I talk about with the best of intentions, trying to give a wider picture of how the band works and exists, but all that comes across is being desperate, almost pleading with people. I'm fine with referring to it... we're simply in a financial situation that represents our place in the world, and it'll either work or it won't. But it's a difficult thing to sustain. I think it'd be more difficult being 19 to 20, but myself, I'm nearly 70. I've got eight grand kids, and it's difficult to keep up with the purchases of Werther's Originals and occasional trips to Florida.
Video: Future Of The Left 'Manchasm'
DiS: In terms of the leak culture and albums being available in advance of their official release, do you think there's anything that can be done about it?
AF: Don't do any promo for it and just release it on the day. Certain bands could get away with that, bands for whom there's already a huge amount of anticipation where they don't need to rely on coverage in the press, internet or radio. Or you just put a virus in all the early copies and just leak it yourself on the internet, and watch peoples' computers slow down and eventually grind to a halt all over the globe. That would be one idea. Or, by some miracle, identify the initial leakee and make a public example of them, like Napster-stocks or something like that. I don't really know, I don't think there is an answer to it. There's ultimately not a lot that can be done about it either way. And like I say, I'm not condemning them, it's a question of giving a rounded perspective on the issue, and that's what I'm trying to do. But one thing that I reserve the right to do, even if it is futilistic and angry, is tell people who get annoyed about bands getting annoyed about their albums leaking to take a fucking look at themselves. It's self-evident why it would annoy a band. If you're going to steal, steal away, but please don't get all precious about music for free. Or food for free, or clothes for free, perhaps. Hot water for free. Those things in this hippy free-for-all should definitely come before music. I guarantee those people come from very affluent families where such notions as art are seen as a luxury to be pushed around at the tip of a pen, but for the rest of us who've devoted our lives to it, for better to worse, we do need money for things like rent, and gas bills.
DiS: One final topic, there was a song on the last record called 'Fuck The Countryside Alliance' - so you can maybe see where I'm going with this... given what's happened this week, I'd like to ask for your views. Did you vote?
AF: I didn't vote on this occasion. I voted Liberal Democrat at the previous election, and the one before that I voted for the Real Socialist Party. It's very difficult to talk about... I'm guessing the focus is the BNP, as it has been for most people this week... it's very difficult to address those issues in the middle of what is, essentially, an interview about a pop album. People who compare it in a more obvious sense to the events of the 30s, say, in Germany... it's not quite the same sort of situation. I mean, most people who voted after Germany's defeat in The Great War voted Communist. So there's not necessarily a cause and effect between an economic downturn and people moving to the right. I think maybe there's an argument it moves people more to the extremes, they seek more extreme solutions for extreme situations. The problem is, I think - and, again, it's difficult to touch on this - is that immigration is definitely an issue in this country in positive and negative ways. It should be possible to have a very healthy debate about it without it being hijacked by racists, which is what always happens. As a functioning country and a democracy, you can't simply have an open-border policy... but history has tended to show these things equal themselves out... The much vaunted Eastern European immigration over here tends to be people coming over for a few years, making some money and then going home. You don't tend to hear from the right wing press about the people who go home, you tend to hear about this one-way invasion. It's a real shame there are issues where there are - no pun intended - no black or white answers, only shades of grey, but you can't have an actual debate... on one side [you have] a bunch of racists hijacking some actually good ideas at times. On the other side, by the same token, [there's] a bunch of well-meaning liberals who believe that public policy can help and save everybody, which isn't the way it works. The whole expenses storm, as it were, it's incredibly depressing on one level but it's also intensely amusing as it's being exposed by journalists, who almost without exception are the expenses hogs of the employment world. Anybody who reads Private Eye would be able to tell you this, or anybody with a wide understanding of the news media, but these allegations were printed in The Daily Telegraph, and the owners of The Daily Telegraph don't pay any tax. The hypocrisy is startling. It is difficult to take part in it seriously when, during Prime Minister's Questions about how parliament needs to be reformed to make it more relevant in the modern age, someone makes a point and then 150 people behind them make a guffawing noise akin to a herd of wildebeest or something; all of a sudden you're in the school yard again. It's not just a question of changing the way expenses are paid to MPs, or making people more accountable, it's about changing the fundamentals of politics to make it more relevant because you're talking about an institution that was laughable anyway, but in the modern age, where it's filmed... it's like a posh kids' debating society in which policies come second to who can trumpet their gigantic voice the loudest. It's a bit of a shame, really.
DiS: And I suppose that's the most compelling reason to not vote. But I've heard a lot of people suggesting that not voting in these elections is as bad, or worse, than voting BNP...
AF: There's an argument to say that's the case. But people fought for the right to not vote as well, I mean it's just as prescriptive making people vote... and I'm far away from agreeing with the BNP, I regard them as a nasty bunch of back-garden racists, however they choose to paint it. The clue's in the title: The British National Party. You don't need to make a wild imaginative jump to get there. But those people, whether it was a protest vote or a genuine expression of insanity, voted for the BNP... and when there's such a significant minority who vote for a party, regardless of whether more people voted Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat, there are very serious issues that need to be addressed, particularly in terms of - let's face it - the scapegoating of certain ethnic groups in society. Yeah. It's difficult to talk about, I'm a keen watcher and consumer of the news but it's something that, like I say, in terms of an interview about a pop album... you have to be rather wary, because things you say can be taken out of context by an hysterical and ill-educated person who can take any particular phrase and use it to label you as a racist, or as somebody who hasn't really done their reading in a wider sense.
Video: Future Of The Left 'adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood'
DiS: The main reason I ask is because of that song on the last album...
AF: Well, basically, if I can just defeat everything I've just said... I just fucking hate Tories. They're disgusting, selfish, sniveling bastards, and people, when the Conservatives get in as they inevitably will at the next election due to some amazing collective memory loss... I hate to use such simplistic terms but how much of an evil bitch Thatcher was... will get to remember exactly what a culture of selfishness and privilege means. Although, frankly, the way Labour have coped with the economic downturn of the last few years, anything the Conservatives do in their first couple of years will seem good by comparison. Let's face it, Labour's barely a left-leaning party anymore, and hasn't been since John Smith) died.
DiS: You said that it feels a bit weird to be discussing these issues, but for a lot of musicians it seems like they feel it's their responsibility. Where do you stand on that - do you feel musicians have a role to play?
AF: I think it depends on the type of musician. If somebody asks for your opinion, you've got just as much right to give your opinion [to a journalist as] to a guy in a pub who asks you, or to a taxi driver. Some bands are explicitly politically motivated, and I guess they see it as their role to talk about that topic. And I believe they're well within their rights in a free society to talk about that. I just think that anybody who talks about it should bring a degree of intelligence and wider knowledge about the subject to the table, but also, again, recognise that a modern soundbite culture can rather take the things they say away from them, at times, and they can become convenient sounding boards for people - especially when they express only a very simple opinion that they've maybe heard someone they admire expressing, without knowing anything about it. The people who talk at great length about how the invasion of Iraq was wrong - which, incidentally, I believe it was - without actually knowing anything about it is quite incredible, really.
DiS: You also have musicians who actively lead campaigns, things like Love Music Hate Racism - obviously the notion's spot on, but why not, I don't know, Sportsmen Against Racism, why musicians...?
AF: I think, my reticence to involve myself in anything approaching that, isn't so much to do with the overtly stated aims, which of course are laudable... it's more the fact you feel like you can't help if you're just preaching to the converted. I don't think anybody with genuinely racist views is going to hear a song by... I don't know who's currently mining that particular furrow... and go 'What an emotional breakdown in the bridge, that's really made me question why I don't like Pakis'. In my experience it doesn't work that way. There is a lot to be said for raising a consciousness in opposition to overt racism, but let's face it, explicitly racist music isn't exactly in the mainstream. There are, I would suggest, more immediately apparent fronts to fight the war against racism on than through the music industry, which is largely dominated by music of black origin. There's institutional racism... but then again, it's much harder to fight that than with a catchy little saying or pithy phrase. We've never been flat-out asked to do stuff like that, but we've had people skirt around the issue with us. I think maybe once you reach a wider audience you do have a responsibility to shove people in the right direction of things they can read, or other people who can talk about it with more authority or intelligence than I can, and maybe some direct experience... because being a white, middle class male - albeit one who's been out with a couple of Indian girls in his life - I don't have so much direct experience of racism. But, yeah, whether being in a rock band entitles you to a special technicolour view of the whole issue as you tour the country thinking about deep things as you strum a G chord... y'know, I guess that's on the conscience of the individual.
Future Of The Left's second album, Travels With Myself And Another is released on June 22nd via 4AD. We gave it 9/10 over here.