Chris Farren fronts two rock bands, co-hosts a podcast about the television show Lost, created those Will Smith/The Smiths t-shirts you saw on the internet, and just might be the nicest person I’ve ever interviewed. He’s also best friends with Jeff Rosenstock, the frontman for the freshly decomposing giant Bomb the Music Industry!, and together the two have begun recording as Antarctigo Vespucci. The songs on their debut record Soulmate Stuff overflow with hooks, all sugar rush and sparkle, as Farren’s lyrics obsess over the crippling insecurities and existential crises of life in his hometown of Naples, Florida. The whole thing is cemented by the best of Rosenstock’s fury, providing frantic electronic programming and instrumentation as diverse as it is organic. If you can’t tell, I listened to this record a lot and proceeded to talk it out with Chris Farren himself.
Were you the primary lyricist on Antarctigo Vespucci’s “Soulmate Stuff?”
I’d say its mostly me. There were a couple of lines where Jeff and I like stared at each other and were like, “Maybe it should be…” but I mostly came to him with songs that I had written in full and he kind of produced ‘em.
The lyrics on the record seem to be based around you going through some sort of existential crisis. There’s a lot of talk about dying and soul mates. I was wondering how important legacy is to you?
As far as a creative legacy, that’s super important to me. As far as making music and stuff, it’s super important to me to kind of keep all of my stuff organized so I can look back on it and see what I did every year. I think in a way that’s kind of why people make music deep down is just to kind of put your footprint into the world once you die.
One part of it is you yourself looking back but how important is it to you that like a random teenage kid in Ohio in the future will be looking back at this record?
I don’t really think about it that much but I think it would be great if people were still listening to music that I make when I’m done making it, when I’m dead.
Do you think your work towards a musical legacy has gotten in the way of your personal legacy, something like building a family?
Yes, 100% in the way at all times.
And its winning?
Oh, yes, its always winning.
If someone were to ask you in a bar, “What do you do?” What would you say?
I would say I’m a musician I guess. Sometimes I try not to even say that. Like if I’m in a bar, I probably don’t want to be there, first of all. (Laughs) I probably don’t want to be talking to anybody. People who aren’t involved in our music community have their own ideas of what it means to be in a band and they’re all pretty inaccurate in this sexist and gross kind of way. I try to veer away from talking to people about being in a band unless they’re people I know who are in the world and understand what I’m doing.
It depends on who’s asking me. Most people think, “Oh, you’re in a band. You’re just like a loser.” You’re a loser whose never left their hometown and that’s like your excuse for being a loser is that you’re in a band. I know a lot of people like that so I know that that is a thing. Other people; you just don’t want to answer the same questions that people who don’t know what its like being in a band ask. I guess that sounds kind of crappy and I’m happy to talk to a lot of people at shows about anything but you just took me to a place in my head that I’m at a bar and I’m at a pretty specific bar in my head where people just ask lame questions.
What bar are you at?
It’s called Pelican Larry’s. It’s in Naples, Florida and it sucks. (laughs)
Is that where you live?
I live in Naples, yeah.
Naples is your hometown?
Is that song, “Don’t Die In Yr Hometown” you speaking to yourself?
Yeah, well, a friend of mine asked me if it was about anyone in Naples in particular and I said no. It’s about- well it’s about me. Its me telling myself to get my shit together and not just rot away here and get content with a life I don’t really want to live.
The lyrics on this record acknowledge a desire to live a committed life with someone, find stability and other traditional American niceties, but it seems to me that if you’re still in Naples but you’re making music like this; you’re in between. When do you think you’re gonna make a decision in a particular direction?
That’s a great, real great question. Strikes me to my core really. It’s totally something that I’ve been thinking about more than ever. There’s been a big portion of my life where I was on tour constantly almost 100% of the time so where I lived never really mattered to me. As I get older and circumstances change, sometimes I’m on tour all the time and sometimes I’m home for a way longer time than I’d want to be. In circumstances like that, I would rather live in a place where its exciting and there’s a lot more creative people and a lot of creative and fun things to do like New York and L.A. and Chicago and Boston and more metropolitan type areas.
The struggle with that is there’s people that I don’t want to leave behind and people that I know I’ll miss in Naples so its kind of a struggle but I’m veering more and more into the getting out of here direction. I don’t want to be that guy who says “I’m movin’ real soon! You’ll see everybody!”
I just keep myself as busy as possible doing as many things as I can possibly can while I’m here to get me out of here, really.
I really like the drums on the track “Sometimes,” how were they recorded?
The original idea was we wanted the drums to sound like an old Buddy Holly song like tapping noises. So Jeff got a bucket, a merch bin type thing, and he just put it on his lap and just badum badum badum badum so that’s what it is for the first two minutes of that song and then Benny kicks in at the end and those are real drums. There’s a part where Jeff’s edited it when he was working on the drum tracks after he recorded it and he makes it like crazy Jeff electronic things.
Are electronic sounds new to your music?
It’s new to me as far as making things that I release that have it on there. In my demos and when I’m writing songs I try to do a lot of stuff like that and I’m familiar a lot with- I mean obviously I’m familiar with Jeff’s music and I listen to a lot of music that does crazy shit. I experiment around with it myself and there’s a little bit of it on an old Fake Problems record, not the most recent one but the one before that. But yeah, in a sense it is new to me. Working with Jeff in general was new to me so getting to see all his tricks and his creativity was just so cool and inspiring to me.
You use the proper noun “Gmail” in a song, was there a conversation about that or is that just how you would say it?
I think it was email first and we changed it to Gmail. Another thing that I’ve always admired about Jeff before I even knew him is that I would listen to his songs and he would say things like “watching Lost” and “watching Netflix” and things like that. To me, the way I write songs is that I write a bunch of songs and I hoard them and it could be a year or two until they come out so I tend not to say anything too stuck in time but Jeff releases things so quick after he makes them that he can do that. He’s never been afraid to do that. Working with him kind of gave me the courage to say things like “Gmail” and you know, its funny but I like it.
It definitely makes it personal.
It’s just something I really did too. Write down what you really did… and that’s crazy that you can go back like five years in your email and see like this crazy, very intimate conversation you had with somebody who you haven’t spoken to in forever. It’s creepy stuff.
Another word choice question, why “Yr” instead of “your” in “Don’t Die In Yr Hometown?”
I think that was kind of inspired by Jeff too. I don’t remember if I titled it that or he did but I think its just a fun little cute little thing.
Do you think the current state of independent music values obscurity over clarity?
When I made this I was thinking I want to make something and not care who likes it. No expectations because we’ve been doing Fake Problems forever and there’s kind of an expectation on it so going into this there was no expectations.
We made a power-pop record. When we made “I’m Giving Up On U2” we thought it was too cheesy, too radio rock-y, too much like that but we like it. It’s fun and funny to us that we made this crazy power-pop song. I try not to get too in my head about it because sometimes I do and it drives me insane and it paralyzes me from writing music.
It seems like with this record the insecurities are still there but they are right there, up front and center.
Yeah and that’s what I hope to get better at. I am constantly doubting myself and totally afraid of everything and that’s probably fine, I think as long as it doesn’t stop me from what I want to do and love to do which is making music. As long as I have enough confidence to put out there how insecure I am, I’ll be alright.
Do you think that your experience with self doubt and insecurity is going to get better with age?
In my experience so far, I didn’t ever really feel that much self doubt until like three years ago. I don’t know what exactly happened but some things in my life shifted and I just lost all confidence in myself and it’s kind of been a slow build back to it. I think as soon as you start listening to other people telling you what you should be doing, you can really shatter your own ideals of yourself. It breaks you out of that. In the past year I’ve been doing a lot better. I sound so pathetic but I’ve just been doing things I want to do and if someone tells me its a bad idea; I just do it anyway. If its a bad idea, I’ll figure it out but most of the time it turns out to not be that bad.
What power-pop did you listen to that brought you to making this record?
Well here’s the thing about me is that I’ve always loved Weezer and I had never really listened to Pinkerton. I was just like, “Whatever, I’ll get around to it,” until like a year ago. I’m twenty-eight years old and it blew my mind. I had always hated when people said, “Weezer sucks now. They used to be so good.” I’d be like, “They’re great, what are you talking about?” Until I listened to Pinkerton and I was like “Oh Weezer sucks!” I mean I still love Weezer and if they want to talk Antarctigo Vespucci or Fake Problems out on a tour, I’d be all about it. So, yeah, just getting into Pinkerton alone, that was it for me. Soon after that I started getting into The Rentals. Jeff was playing a lot of the first Fountains of Wayne record when we were making it so legitimate power-pop stuff.
What’s the future of the Antarctigo Vespucci project?
We don’t really know because I have Fake Problems and Jeff has his solo stuff going on. I just talked to Jeff last night and I told him, “I’ll do this whenever you want to do this” and he was basically like, “Yeah. I think anytime we have time to do this we should do it.” We’ll see. I would do a tour. We’ve definitely talked a lot about doing another record and we’re playing the Fest.
I think we’re both afraid of making it too serious of a thing because its so much fun to do and in both of our experiences, when a band gets too serious about itself it’s in danger of becoming not fun anymore. We’re weary of that. We’re pretty much down for whatever and we have so much fun making music together. I mean we talk to each other constantly because we have a podcast together so we’re in it.
There’s probably a lot of Bomb the Music Industry! superfans that are pretty jealous of you and your friendship with him.
I’m jealous myself because I am a crazy Bomb the Music Industry! fan and just the fact that I got to write a bunch of songs and have Jeff play all over them, help me make them, shape them, have a crazy amount of input on them…
He plays drunk you on “Guest Lists Spots.”
I never thought about it like that. I like that. I’m gonna tell people that was our plan all along.
Words : Nick Boyd