It's been twelve years since Far put out the critically acclaimed album Water & Solutions. Countless bands reference Far as a key influence to their sound. After over a decade of the members of Far working on various other projects, the boys are back in town with a new album coming out on Vagrant Records on May 25 entitled We Are Alive at Night. Punknews contributor Kira Wisniewski spoke with frontman Jonah Matranga about the accidental reunion, the forthcoming album, Far's secret code name - Hot Little Pony and of course, Beyonce.
The most obvious question of course is why is Far reuniting? Bring us up to speed.
"Why?" is an interesting question - it was never plan to reunite, so I guess itâs hard to give a specific why, because Iâm not really even sure how it happened. It started out as wanting to just play some shows together. We just had this idea of, "Hey, it may be fun to play a little music together before we're too old and broken down to do it right." So that was the start of it - why don't we see if we can do this? And then from there it just gets a little screwy. I guess somewhere along the line Shaun [Lopez] just started sending me song ideas and that really kept going and all the sudden we realize, "Hey, it looks like weâre actually making a record here." But none of us went into this with that ambition. We kept trying stuff and it kept being enjoyable, so basically so we kept going. It was very organic; it was never planned.
What can fans that LOVED Water & Solutions expect in comparison to the new album At Night We Live?
I think that At Night We Live is a very logical progression from Water & Solutions. And the thing about Far is there aren't any two records that sound the same. So it doesnât sound like anything else, but the funny thing that I found out is that after 12 years, whenever the four of use get together and play, it just sounds like Far. Itâs just something that happens. It sounds to me what anyone that has ever loved Far would want to hear. But again, we didnât try to do that, we just kind of made what came out. It was very surprising to me at least, to hear that what came out was so consistent with what we had made before. So I donât know! Itâs another album thatâs kind of all over the place - it has some really heavy stuff and some spacey weird stuff and some big choruses.
How did At Night We Live find a home at Vagrant Records?
We were going to put it out ourselves when it was just a more casual thing, but we discovered that we fight a lot over the business stuff, so itâs easier to have someone outside the band helping out. And Vagrant has been doing this for a while and we were actually on a compilation of theirs right before we broke up a long time ago, so theyâve known us and known what weâre about so it felt obvious good idea to put out a record with them.
How is it writing an album being geographically all over? What was challenging and what was surprisingly not so challenging?
The writing part was so easy in a lot of ways. Before when we were living in the same town our writing would generally take place in the rehearsal room and weâd bring in an idea and then bang on it forever and fight about. This time Shaun just sent me a bunch of ideas; really simple guitar and drum machine ideas and I took them and added things to them and wrote to them on my own time and sent them back to him. He would say, "Oh thatâs cool. What about this?" It was this very, very collaborative process actually. Probably more collaborative and cooperative than it would have been if were in the same room. Because we were able to let each otherâs ideas sink in, as opposed to reacting on the spot. The only downside is that Chris and John previously had more time to sit with the songs and contribute. And this time it was pretty much me and Shaun that wrote the record. I love Chris and Johnâs ideas and theyâve really made their way into whatever the "Far sound" is, but for this record it was just Shaun and I sending emails.
The track "Are You Sure" came from New End Original days, can talk about how it was decided to be part of this new record?
Well at the beginning of it all, myself in particular, I didnât think it was realistic to make a new record because we didnât live in the same place and all these other things. But we did talk about maybe putting out a little EP or something for the fans sort of thing. I had a couple songs that were fully written that I could really imagine Far playing and that was one of them. So it was one of the very first things I shared with anyone. Itâs certainly changed a bit now that itâs a Far song, but it felt like an easy transition. To me it stands out a little from the rest of the record in the sense that it has a little more of a New End [Original] feel to it - itâs a little bit more up-tempo. Itâs heavy, but has a little bit of a different feeling from some of the other songs. It was just one of these songs that right at the end of New End [Original] that Norman and I wrote and Iâve always loved it. I tried to record it on my last solo record but it just didnât fit. I wasnât sure it was going to end up on the Far record honestly, but everyone kept liking it and it turned out real well.
With the promotional stream of the new album I previewed, came little descriptions of each song and there are a ton of references thrown out there - U2, Nine Inch Nails, Band of Horses, to name a few - can you talk about how this smorgasbord of influences have helped create this record?
I guess for me, if there is one thing that's always bugged me about music, is when someone copies what someone else does. Iâm all about listening to a bunch of music and having influences and thatâs great. But I give bands a really hard time - or singers especially when I feel like theyâre copying someone else' style. Even if I love a band I donât want to sound like them; I want to be inspired; but I donât want to copy them. I feel like that is just a disservice. I think one way Iâve learned to deal with that is to just be a huge music fan. And we all are just huge fans of different kinds of music. Like my favorite band of all time is Led Zeppelin, but Iâve never made a song that sounds like Led Zeppelin because I canât sing like Robert Plant. Even if I could I wouldn't want to. But Iâve been inspired greatly by them - like how they have songs that will start really soft and then get loud and having really different sounding songs on the same record and that kind of stuff. We all just really love music and influences can really come from anywhere. Those arenât the bands weâre trying to sound like; those are the bands that we love and it probably does bleed into the music but hopefully not in too obvious of a way.
What's in heavy rotation for you right now? In terms of contemporary bands, the Dirty Projectors. I do love Band of Horses. I havenât listened to their super new record but Cease to Begin is one of my favorite records of the past few years. I listen to a lot of hip hop and R&B radio songs and more underground stuff. I probably listen to that more than I listen to rock, but itâs not like Iâm ever going to try to make a hip hop record. When I pick up a guitar those arenât the songs that come out of me. You know, I love Beyonce. Lilâ Wayne put out a free mixtape a while back that I just love, called No Ceiling. And a lot of times, Iâm sure like a lot of other people, I just have my iPod on shuffle with all my favorite songs.
Have you ever been to a Beyonce or Lilâ Wayne show?
You know I havenât been to a hip hop show in a long time. I used to go when I was younger a lot. Iâve seen Public Enemy and stuff like that. Itâs partly because I donât go to many big shows period. Actually, you know another new artist that I love is Janelle MonÃ¡e. She is incredible. She hangs out with the Outkast people I think and she just makes this music that I donât know how to classify at all. I got to see her at a small venue that I love. But a lot of those big hip hop and R&B artists play these big, really expensive shows. So I donât see them for the same reason I donât see a lot of big rock shows anymore. Theyâre just really expensive and kind of impersonal and crappy. It would be awesome to see Beyonce.
Iâve personally tried to see Beyonce several times now and it always sells out.
Exactly! Thatâs the thing. Even if I could get the tickets before they sold out theyâd be expensive. But once they sell out, itâs then eight trillion dollars. I would love to see Beyonce because I feel like sheâs one of the few in any genre that especially in hip hop and R&B really delivers live. When Iâve seen her performing on TV or whatever itâs sort of alarming how great her voice is. And just her performance overall - she just really brings a lot to it. I would absolutely love to see a show of hers and I have been known to cover a song or two of hers in my solo show - Yeah, Iâm a big fan.
Individually you have each had your thumbs in numerous pies since the past days of Far - are you still going to be working on side projects or is everyone in it to win it 100% with Far for now?
Weâre all people that take very seriously the project weâre working on right in the moment. So right now itâs definitely the Far record. That said though, Iâm still doing solo shows. Itâs really fun for me to do that, and itâs what Iâve been doing for the past twelve years since we split up. Far isnât the side project and the other stuff weâre doing arenât the side projects either, weâre just all very busy.
Can you talk a little bit about this upcoming tour with The Used?
Well itâs not really a tour; itâs just a couple of shows. For us itâs kind of warm up shows for the record. Weâre gonna try out some new stuff. Also, weâve never played with The Used before so I imagine their fans are going to be a little different from ours so it will be cool to meet some new people. Weâre friends with them in different ways so it seemed like a natural thing.
What does that mean - "friends with them in different ways"?
Well like Bert [McCracken] has been a big fan of my solo stuff and he has come out to a couple shows over the years. And their current manager, Brett, is a really old friend of all of ours from back in the Sacramento days. So there are a lot of different connections. Iâve discovered if you stay in rock and roll long enough you just kind of get to know everyone in different ways. You might be friends with some people and enemies with others but everyone knows everyone. So there are just a few random associations that make it feel like a natural thing to play with them.
For these shows and with this reunited Far, will you be playing any New End Original or onelinedrawing songs?
No. Probably in my perfect little weird world we would, but I donât think that would go over well with the band. [laughs] You know when I play solo I feel free to throw in different songs from different bands Iâve been in, but this is called Far. You know actually no, even if the guys were cool with it I probably wouldnât want to do it. That wouldnât feel right. Yeah, I think Iâll save that for my weird, messy solo shows.
But talking about playing other peopleâs songs - can you talk about Hot Little Pony and the cover of Ginuwine?
The funny thing about that is - well one of the reasons Iâm really happy about putting out a new record is that people took that a little too seriously, like "Woah - this is Farâs comeback?" And it totally wasnât. There was actually a little argument in the band about whether or not that would even be called a Far song and so we put it out there as a Hot Little Pony song - this fake band name that we had made just to play a couple shows. And it was on the Hot Little Pony MySpace page - that was the first place the song showed up. So the fact that it was even called a Far song was kind of an accident. Itâs not even listed on the record but we included it as just kind of a little inside joke - we actually really like the song. But thatâs not the new Far; the new Far is the new record.
Do you know if Ginuwine has heard it?
Oh yeah, thereâs actually a really cool YouTube thing where some journalist interviewed us about it and weâre like, "If you ever say hi to Ginuwine let him know," and she told him about it and he was really grateful to us. Well, frankly we made him a lot of money because it got a lot of radio play. It happened right when a new record of his was coming out so it gave him a little boost that we didnât necessarily mean to do. I actually went to go see him in San Francisco and he was so nice and he was really cool. We talked about being dads and it was great. Weâre hoping he will actually jump on stage and sing it with us, that would be the best thing ever, but weâll see.
That would be the best thing ever. But also talking about covers, with your solo project youâve done quite a number of covers; can you talk about some of the things youâve done with that? I actually just put out a covers record and on that record - well itâs another place where you can just see all the different kind of music that I love. There a Weezer song, an Otis Redding song, a Beyonce song, a Johnny Cash, a BeeGees song and just a lot of different stuff. Iâm going to put out another one thatâs going to have Springsteen and Radiohead and Prince and Deftones. I just love all sorts of stuff and love messing around with it. I guess the most well-known covers is a song by the hardcore band 7 Seconds called "Got My List" that Iâve been playing for years and a Deftones song Iâve also been playing for year called "Be Quiet and Drive."
I also saw on your Web site when I was preparing for this interview that you could be hired for weddings and bat mitzvahs and private events.
Itâs become one of my favorite things to do. I think it started because I just loved playing house shows. And it seems like thatâs getting trendy now - playing house shows. But this is back when it wasnât. So even if I play a regular show I then go to someoneâs house and crash there and play some songs and hang out and just take donations or whatever. And I think what happened is that people who started playing music grew up and started getting married. I guess the music had made into their lives enough that they wanted me to come and sing on these really special occasions. And that just felt really good to me. I donât think Iâll ever be the wedding singer that does a set of 80s songs or something like that or do karaoke. But they want me there to sing my songs on this most important day of their lives and so that feels pretty rare and special. I think itâs a cool thing about my musical life. I guess Iâve been well known enough that the music has gotten that deep into someoneâs life to the point where theyâd pay for me to come and play at their wedding but Iâm not famous enough that it would cost too much money for like a normal person to do that.
Weâre just really excited for the record to come out. We just put the pre-orders up and weâre really excited about that and we're all just really hoping it doesn't leak too badly so people get a chance to get excited about the record. And weâre gonna play as many shows as we can. We're all just taking it as it comes really.