“I’m really glad that we got back to that playfulness, there was no pressure to write the perfect record”: Inside Les Savy Fav’s long overdue sixth album, Oui, LSF

New York art-punks Les Savy Fav are back with their first full-length in 14 years in the form of Oui, LSF. A record that rages from playful to painful, and everything in between, bassist Syd Butler and vocalist Tim Harrington take us inside its inception and why now is the right time to make their return…

“I’m really glad that we got back to that playfulness, there was no pressure to write the perfect record”: Inside Les Savy Fav’s long overdue sixth album, Oui, LSF
David McLaughlin

It’s an understatement to say that a lot has happened in the 14 years since Les Savy Fav last put out a record. And with the inexorable march of time, comes certain crushing realities. Chief among them is the fact that everyone involved is now 14 years older, of course.

When Kerrang! was originally due to catch-up with bassist Syd Butler and vocalist Tim Harrington about it all, a last-minute message comes through via WhatsApp, explaining that we’ll have to reschedule. The reason being that Syd apparently had to dash off for an unexpected trip to the emergency ward, having done himself a mischief trying to limber up for a busy year ahead.

“It’s so embarrassing,” he tells us a week later, sitting on his stoop in the early morning sunshine, “but this is what happens in your 50s. I was doing an aggressive sit-up and I hit my thumb against my thigh, tearing the ligament. Luckily, I’m still able to play.”

That’s good fortune indeed, seeing as the Providence, Rhode Island five-piece – completed by guitarists Seth Jabour, Andrew Reuland and drummer Harrison Haynes – are finally back with their first new music since 2010’s Root For Ruin.

Sixth full-length, Oui, LSF, is due for release via Syd’s own Frenchkiss Records on May 10, and heralds the return in earnest of a band much beloved in alternative music. For almost three decades, Les Savy Fav have represented a beacon of innovation and creativity, fusing electrifying post-punk energy with wry humour and self-deprecation. Legendary live performances and the wild antics of their charismatic frontman have continued to act as a balm to the sore of their on-record absence over the past decade-plus, including a string of European festivals and a series of one-off shows last year. In 2024, however, fans will again have the pleasure of enjoying the band in full, with summer shows planned in the UK and Ireland following Oui, LSF’s release. To find out what took them so long and what’s in store, Tim and Syd take us inside the 'comeback'…

Welcome back, gents. Why did now feel like the right moment?
Syd Butler: “For me, it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been able to play a lot of shows in the past 14 years and every time we played I kept having an itch to write. We had a really great time in Spain in Primavera a couple of years ago that really made me want to get back to new music.”

Tim Harrington: “It’s fun and it’s exciting. We’ve always played periodically, at our own pace and our policy. But we didn’t want to go back to recording if it didn’t feel right or natural. This time, everything lined up. For me, this huge bottleneck of music came flowing.”

Given all your other commitments, was it ever a possibility that Root For Ruin might end up being the final record, and Les Savy Fav would only ever have time to play live occasionally?
Syd: “I never felt that. We take what we do very seriously, from live performances to recordings, but we’ve never been a band with sponsorships and laminates. We’re just a bunch of dudes who like to play music and we’ve kept that aesthetic and concept this whole time. We were comfortable with the fact that we all had different jobs and families and that was going to take us down a different road. But I never thought that we would stop being what we are.”

Tim: “Yeah, I don’t think we ever thought about that. It’s like Syd was saying, it’s about never having a ‘professional’ attitude. It’s always followed itself, in a way. Some of these songs are more designed than in the past. We used to go in the studio and just play and play and play, but this was different and that was important. I remember on Root For Ruin thinking that if we were ever going to write again it needed to be more intentional. We had learned how to write by volume, spending forever doing it. For this the process, we recorded it all – barring vocals and live drums – in the practice space attic I’m in right now. It took almost a year to do.”

How much of it comes back as instinct when you’ve been away from the recording process for so long?
Tim: “Syd and Seth play music every day for their job on the Seth Myers Late Night Show. It felt like it just made sense. The whole record is just way more playful. In advance of our first time ever coming to the UK we recorded [the EP] Emore: Rome Upside Down, and it was done in this way that was just so spazzy and playful and different for us. We all as a band really love it. It’s maybe our favourite in a lot of ways. We listened to it and we were like, ’What were we thinking? How did we write this thing?’ There are so many decisions on there that baffled and entertained us.

“For this record, I feel like we imagined that record but with 20 years more ability added. Like, can you get back to that place where the first idea is best idea? Don’t overthink it. So, it felt intuitive. But it really took this huge gap to forget enough, in a way, to come back fresh. Interesting is the hardest thing to get. Interesting is the best and it’s what matters the most to me. Something that makes me go, ‘Huh?!’ is hard 30 years into a band, so that kind of became a mantra. Interesting or not interesting? If it’s interesting, let’s figure out later if it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”

Syd: “I went into this process less precious than ever. Way more playful, too. In the past, especially during Root For Ruin, I had so much ego invested in my basslines. I’m really glad that we got back to that playfulness. There was no pressure to write the perfect record. We had the freedom to just throw stuff away; to just have fun.”

Is 'playful' indicative of the record?
Tim: “[Lead single] Legendary Tippers is probably the most playful but it’s not necessarily indicative of the record. Otherwise, it’s actually a pretty serious record. That was all part of the disassembly. You can end up with something serious that starts out of curiosity. Curiosity is really where we were. It felt like a laboratory.”

How come that playful approach resulted in seriousness?
Tim: “I had some rough, shitty times in the interim. The world’s been tough, and I’ve had my own mental health issues. Coming out of Root For Ruin I was in a bit of a personal freefall creatively; making things and loving things but it being at real tension with like, the idea of groceries. I spent a lot of time trying to stabilise and deal with the part of my life that isn’t the stage person. Coming out of the other side of that, there was this sense of some agony around the idea of being an artist while also doing groceries. Like, does the guy who’s doing groceries get to write the kind of music I want to write? That was really hard. The pendulum swung from one side to the other. I had to try to get it to not swing in a way that was like a wrecking ball.

"And something broke last year. Guzzle Blood, the first song on the record, is about a complete loss of faith, chaos, misery and desperation. It couldn’t be more different from Legendary Tippers. That’s when I was in that bottoming-out place. I felt that way in my personal life. The tension between that and Legendary Tippers is what a lot of the record’s about. That wasn’t something I had ever put out. On this record I’m trying to embrace that candour and energy. For me, that’s something we could only put together as a band at the age we’re at right now. As a 50-year-old person with kids who is highly invested in making things work and highly invested in chaos and letting go, you’re faced with the unrelenting paradox of it all. Like, me shopping for groceries is the person onstage. That was a breakthrough that really helped on this record. If I worked in a morgue, I would be as much the guy onstage as I am.”

So much has changed in music since you last released new music. Does your perspective of where Les Savy Fav fit into that shift, too?
Syd: “For me on the label side, absolutely. The last time we put a record out none of this stuff existed. Frenchkiss has put records out for other bands. But when we put Root For Ruin out, CDs were still selling. Let’s Stay Friends in 2007 was our biggest selling release because we toured heavily and physical copies were in store for people to go buy the record. Now, maybe the industry hopes we sell X amount or hit certain thresholds on DSPs that help algorithms, and it’s just not sexy. It’s cold and calculated. My expectations are simply for us to put out new music for us and our fanbase so that we can play shows as a calling card. If people buy it or stream it I hope that they connect to it in the way that we connect to it.

“Thank god we have other jobs! Thank god we have other things in our lives that are really important to us. If this does well, fucking gravy. But it’s not everything; it’s not our lifeblood. It’s a way for us to put our art out. I wish I could get enthused about Instagram or TikTok, but I just want to make cool shit. So, I don’t give a fuck about all that other noise.”

Oui, LSF is out May 10 via Frenchkiss Records

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