Antarctigo Vespucci is a band born of the bond between Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock. Forged in the midst of both artists' burgeoning solo careers, and following the respective ends of both Fake Problens and Bomb the Music Industry, Antarctigo Vespucci recently returned with their sophomore LP Love in the Time of E-Mail (their first for Polyvinyl). While on the road supporting the album, the band met up with writer Graham Isador in Toronto. This is their conversation.
Friendship and Self-Promotion in The Time of E-mail
(Photos by Graham Isador)
A couple years ago I started seeing that one Chris Farren photo everywhere. On my twitter. On my Facebook. In the press. You might know the shot. The picture is in black and white. Farren is looking at the camera, a half smirk on his face, and his long hair pulled behind his ears. It’s a great picture. The singer looks handsome in a Tobey Maguire circa Spiderman kind of way. Farren started using the photo as a meme, posting it frequently and remarking on his own good looks with tongue in cheek vanity. Later he would release a novelty calendar, make a t-shirt putting Chris Farren faces over the Black Flag Bars, and begin referring to himself in the third person on the internet, like Prince or a Pokemon.
The new cocky attitude was in stark contrast to the thoughtful and bright music the singer-songwriter is known for. Farren came up playing in Fake Problems, a power-pop band from Florida, who made a name for themselves by constant touring in the punk scene despite the fact that their music was more melodic than their contemporaries. The persona emerged around the same time Farren began working as a solo artist. His solo work evolved the band’s style, adding sweeping guitar hooks and bigger production values to the tracks, while continuing to craft clever and well-written lyrics riffing on themes of loneliness, insecurity, and ambition.
It was hard to piece together the way Farren was presenting himself online with the way he presented himself in his music. But for the singer creating that character was one of the only ways he could keep doing what he’d been doing at all.
“When I first started doing my solo stuff I was very self-conscious about it just being my name,” explains Farren. “Putting myself out there - as myself - was scary. The only way I could make it work for me was by making it ridiculous. It was okay if it was a joke. That’s when I started posting the same photo of me over and over. That’s when I started drilling the image of myself as a confident person in everyone’s head. And I never feel like that. But by presenting this image it made it easier to keep going during a time where things felt very hard.”
It was directly after the breakup of Fake Problems that Farren began working with friend Jeff Rosenstock. Like the singer, Rosenstock was also coming off the breakup of a successful band. His long-standing DIY act Bomb! The Music Industry had played their last shows just months before, and while Rosenstock knew he was going to keep creating, the context that he was writing from had changed. Each artist had spent the majority of their creative lives as a part of a group and now a decade into their music careers suddenly they weren’t. Writing together was a chance to make something new, but it was also a chance to bond with a friend over a shared experience few other people had.
The result was a project called Antarctigo Vespucci. The band released their first full length - Leavin’ La Vida Loca - in 2015 then took a hiatus while each artist pursued their solo work. Now, three years later Antarctigo Vespucci have returned to release Love in the Time of Email, a soaring pop opus that digs deep on the way our sense of self and our relationships change in the face of technology, a fitting subject given Farren’s aforementioned internet presence and the fact that Rosenstock’s career was built largely through giving away his music online.
Recently we had the chance to speak with the duo before the Toronto stop on their tour. The interview was conducted in the band’s van. Rosenstock was getting a stick and poke tattoo at the time.
When you began Antarctigo Vespucci both of you were coming off fronting other groups. Did you have to put aside any ego to make something together?
Chris Farren: No. Because when we started Antarctigo both our egos were destroyed. Our bands had…I can only speak for myself but the end of Fake Problems was a really painful experience for me. It made me doubtful of my abilities. I was just like: am I even going to be able to do music anymore? Or is this just a stupid dream?
Jeff Rosenstock: That’s funny you say that. My ego was not destroyed at that point. We had just played the last Bomb! The Music Industry shows which were huge. Twice as big as anything we’d ever done before. Those shows were pretty easy when almost everything in Bomb! The Music Industry had been a struggle. Not having a booking agent meant that people just didn’t write back to us. Not having music industry people represent us meant that I wouldn’t get responses to my emails no matter how good the band was doing.
Those shows were the first time when things sold out really quick, we had a couple of months to sit with it, and then we played them. It was like: Oh shit! My band did a good thing! Everything else there was so much work. There was so much work happening all the time and I was so inside it that it was hard. I was always trying to figure out how to make everything happen. But with the last shows all the work had already been done. I could really relax and - look I’m going to say this in a way I don’t believe but I’ll say it anyways - it was the result of all the things we were working towards. Or fucking whatever. I felt confident for the first time and I felt excited to make music. That’s probably why I could tell Chris my ideas without feeling stupid. And I said that the entire time we were making the first EP.
Did you have any expectations for the project going into it?
Chris Farren: None. We agreed before we even started that once we finished it we were going to put it out. We weren’t going to try and get some label to support us.
Jeff Rosenstock: There were no expectations. We didn’t even expect to make a record. We were hoping we’d at least leave with something done. But we didn’t have any other considerations other than it would be fun to make music together.
How has that perception shifted from then to now?
Jeff Rosenstock: Now we expect the world!
Chris Farren: Grammys! Hollywood! Everything!
Jeff Rosenstock: I think it’s pretty similar to before. I think when we started this band it’s because we both needed a safe space to make something we both liked. Now, because we’re both busy with other things, this is…no matter how well the band does I don’t think we’ll feel much pressure.
Chris Farren: There is a certain level of intensity and stakes I feel when I’m working on my solo records. It’s really important that the solo stuff works because I want to have a lasting career. But with Antarctigo Vespucci? Whenever anyone says they don’t like Antarctigo Vespucci I just think: oh, they’re wrong. When I see someone say they don’t like Chris Farren’s music it destroys me. But if they say they don’t like this band? It doesn’t bother me. Because they’re wrong. Antarctigo Vespucci rocks.
The promotional material leading up to Love in the Time of Email has centered around the friendship between the two of you. What was the thought process behind that?
Chris Farren: One of the reasons I’ve loved doing this project is because we don’t always get the time to hang out with each other. When this friendship became what it is - when we first started making music - it was such a big moment in my life. I started to believe in myself again. And making a new friend at, however old I was, 28 or whatever? It felt really huge to me. It’s something that always keeps me coming back to this band.
When you do this type of thing for a living long term friendships are harder to keep together. We’re always traveling all the time. None of us live in the same place. It’s easy to go weeks without talking to people outside of your tour. The band makes sure we have a chance to hang out.
That brings us to some of the themes from the new record. Love in the Time of Email hits on notes of technological isolation and a failure to communicate. Can you talk to me about where those themes stemmed from?
Chris Farren: The title of the record was a joke. There are all sorts of things about Modern Love in the digital age. We stumbled upon the clunkiest most unpoetic way of expressing that. We thought it was so funny. The record deals with a lot of friendship that started online. Platonic relationships that were really intense. Really intense friendships…it’s hard to describe it without getting too personal. I found myself having friend crushes.
Jeff Rosenstock: It’s so funny. Even being married you still get crushes. It’s like…I hope those people think I’m cool.
Chris Farren: A lot of the record is dealing with the positives and negatives of that. Mostly the negatives. Because I can’t just think of the happy things going on in my life. That would be insane. I have to think of the dark side of it…which I’m always already thinking of anyways. But a Byproduct of that intense friend crush thing was worrying about being too much. I was always checking myself and making sure I wasn’t getting too annoying.
I’m always worried I’m being too much for other people. That’s exasperated through overthinking how I text or email. I owe all of my career to the internet but I think it turns up things both good and bad.
Chris Farren: I’m constantly trying to get away from my phone. It’s balancing the need to promote vs. the need to step away. It’s hard because it’s constantly on you.
Jeff Rosenstock: If you’re a musician you now have direct access to all the people that hate you. And they have access to you. You can just look at your phone whenever you want to scratch the stupid itch that hates yourself. Or sometimes you’re feeling good and the hate from your phone just sneaks up on you. And you have to use all this shit or you can’t promote your band. It’s really hard to not do it but you have to way out if it’s worth it.
Chris Farren: It’s hard to find a good balance where you don’t feel like you’re losing a part of your creativity. It’s hard not to just use any excess energy online when that should go into making art.
It’s art in the time of emails.
Chris Farren: It’s something.
This interview has been edited for length and flow.
Graham Isador is on twitter: @presgang