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Q&A With Simon Balthazar of Fanfarlo

The Long Road

A stamp of approval from David Bowie is great publicity the UK’s Fanfarlo, and comparisons to Arcade Fire and Talking heads put the band in good company. There is still a long road ahead as the group’s buzz spreads through the U.S. The DIY indie-folk band performs behind its debut LP, Reservoir, at Great American Music Hall on February 22nd. SF Station recently interviewed lead singer Simon Balthazar while he was on tour in Europe.

SF Station (SFS): I imagine you put your album out for one dollar initially to encourage sales, but why not fifty cents?

Simon Balthazar (SB): It was just an experiment, really. Anyway, a dollar has a better ring to it than fifty cents.

SFS: What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

SB: At the moment I'm reading a Swedish writer named, Sture Dahlström. I felt a real need to read stuff in Swedish so I ordered a bunch of books, which I'm going through now on tour. Sadly, he doesn't seem to be translated in English.

SFS: You have been touring a lot. What is an unusual or exciting moment from your tours?

SB: Personally, I just enjoy the frame of mind you get into when you're on tour — living very much in the moment and just embracing whatever comes your way. Even when things get really difficult it just washes over you. If we break down on the side of the road for hours, then we'll just have a snowball fight.

SFS: There are many parts of the album that must be difficult to recreate live. Is your live performance different?

SB: Many of our songs are different live, for sure. Playing live is an entirely different beast than recording in a studio, and in many ways just a different aspect of music. We try to embrace that, but we do try to pull off some pretty complicated arrangements that involve some instrument swapping.

SFS: Have you come across any other interesting characters like Harold T. Wilkins (the title of a song on Reservoir) that have influenced your music, that might lead to a new song?

SB: I was reading about Lake Vostok, which lies underneath the surface of Antarctica and is believed to be a million years old. The idea of a lake hidden beneath four kilometers of ice is just mind blowing. That's not a character, but I would love to write a song about that.

SFS: In the past you’ve done covers of Neutral Milk Hotel, Smashing Pumpkins, and others. Can listeners expect any new covers at your shows these days?

SB: We've been playing this cover of Fleetwood Mac's “What Makes You Think You're the One” sometimes at shows lately. In fact, we also recorded it for the B-side of this Record Store Day seven inch when we had a day off in Berlin, so you'll be able to get your hands on it at some point.

SFS: What is your experience with building an audience in the U.S.? Are you satisfied with your coverage in here thus far? Do you have a goal you’re striving?

SB: We don't really set our goals in terms of commercial success, but in terms of what we can do creatively. Being played on the radio a lot sure feels good, though, and we're pretty excited that we're playing on Letterman soon.

SFS: Is there anything you learned not to do in the U.S. from your last tour?

SB: Lessons? Bring the snow chains this time, even if you're in Arizona or California.

SFS: A lot of press was given to Fanfarlo for your DIY distribution and production. Was signing a distribution deal with Canvasback, a subsidiary Atlantic Records, an issue in consideration with your image?

SB: We're pretty pragmatic about the whole matter of how a record comes out. At the end of the day it's about the music and not compromising with that. Being DIY or not isn't really a matter of principals for us, and in any case there is a very blurred line between indie and major labels these days.

SFS: Have you been able to put together any new material since Reservoir? Is there any date or goal for a follow up?

SB: We have been writing new material sporadically, but there really hasn't been much time when we haven't been touring. We play new songs on tour already, but a new record is still quite a way off. Especially, considering our album isn't even out in most of Europe yet.

Fanfarlo performs at Great American Music Hall on February 22nd. Tickets are $16. Doors open at 7pm and the show begins at 8pm.