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Members include Syd Butler, bass; Tim Harrington, vocals; Harrison Haynes (joined group, 1997), drums; Seth Jabour, guitar; Pat Mahoney (left group, 1997), drums; Gibb Slife (left group, 1999), guitar. Addresses: Record company---Frenchkiss Records, 111 E. 14th St., Ste. 229, New York, NY 10003, website: http://www.frenchkissrecords.com.
Although the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) may be more famous as the meeting place for 1970s arty-punk and pop group the Talking Heads, it is also the creative hub in which the original members of angular agit-pop band Les Savy Fav came together in the early part of the 1990s. The band's unique approach to songwriting and releases, not to mention the spastic and often unpredictable live performances of vocalist Tim Harrington, is pure art school; one that has hoisted the band into the same adventurous category as hard rocking 1990s acts like the Jesus Lizard, Brainiac, Six Finger Satellite, and Jawbox.
During their tenure as art students (pursuing degrees in painting, graphic design, and film editing, respectively) Harrington, bassist Syd Butler, drummer Pat Mahoney, and guitarists Gibb Slife and Seth Jabour formed Les Savy Fav out of a love for the post-punk sounds of the Clash, the Pixies, Fugazi, Gang of Four and early U2. Located in Providence, RISD found itself at the center of a burgeoning scene that revolved around the showspace known as Fort Thunder, and the various bands that resulted from the area's extreme experimentation-most notably Arab on Radar and Lightening Bolt. The members of Les Savy Fav found themselves in the thick of Providence's noisy-punk movement, using the band as something to occupy their time while persuing their individual degrees. In an interview with Prefixmag.com, Jabour said, "There was a really tight side culture of music in Providence, because everyone was involved in art already, so that was prevalent. There were tons of bands. It almost seemed like people were doing music to blow off steam. So everyone kind of knew each other, if not through classes, then through music." However, it was through music---instead of visual art-that the members of Les Savy Fav started to zero-in their creativity, focusing more time on the band, especially after graduating from the esteemed art school.
The band opted to move from Rhode Island to Brooklyn, New York, after Harrington picked up and relocated there in 1996 for a job. Butler, Jabour, and Mahoney followed Harrington in December of 1996. As Slife commuted from Providence to New York to play with the band, the four newfound citizens of the Big Apple were busy converting an ex-Mob Knights of Columbus Hall into a space for practice and living. The band began rehearsing in the space, and playing numerous shows up and down the East coast, eventually perking the ears of Seattle's Sub Pop records, who released the band's first 7" single, featuring the songs "Rodeo" and "Blackouts on Thursday." In July of 1997, the band released their first full length, 3/5, on the Self Starter Foundation. Giving the album a rating of 8.2, Pitchforkmedia.com said, "The whole album is so full of attitude. The band is deceivingly complex, mostly because the drumming is pretty straightforward without many drum fills. Gibb Slife and Seth Thom Jabour shoot lasers at each other from their guitars, having fret conversations a la Fugazi. The lyrics are deceptively poignant: 'I've got a feeling/ That special feeling/ I've got no feeling/ That so-so feeling.' Heh."
After the album's release, the band hit the road with the likes of the Make-Up and Trans Am, and did shows with Brainiac, amongst others. The band's touring schedule was so intense that Mahoney had to leave the band soon after 3/5 began to pick up steam. Luckily, the group recruited fellow RISD graduate and former Hellbender drummer Harrison Haynes to take over Mahoney's duties behind the kit. With their lineup temporarily solidified, the band spent the better part of 1998 touring. In 1999, the band returned with the release of their single for Desoto Records, featuring the songs "Our Coastal Hymn" and "Bringing us Down." In October of 1999, the band released their second full-length record, The Cat and the Cobra, on the Self Starter Foundation, Southern Records, and bassist Butler's own label, Frenchkiss Records. A review in The Stranger said, "Guitarists Seth Jabour and Gibb Slife wrangle, distort, rise, fall, and freak out with the prototypical recklessness that we find so pleasant these days. Syd Butler's bass playing is the music's subversive approach, giving it deeper style. Tim Harrington's vocals are stressed and distressed as he decides when to talk or yell. And like all good rock, the drummer is the hub: Harrison Haynes kicks the album off with a tom roll, and wanders into the distance to drop the album off at the end."
Following the release of The Cat and the Cobra, Slife left the band to pursue his interest in painting. After being joined by ex-Brainiac guitarist John Schmersal, the band returned to the studio in 2000 to record the Rome (Written Upside Down) EP, their first as a four piece. A review on Nudeasthenews.com said, "It is easier to distinguish the instruments from one another with the second guitar missing: The drums are thick and in-your-face and the guitar and bass have more personality than before. Tim Harrington's raspy vocals slice through the intense, driving music." After the success of that project, the band continued their tradition of releasing singles on different record labels, unleashing the "Reformat (Dramatic Reading)" single on the Self Start Foundation in 2001, and another on X-Mist that same year, featuring the songs "Reprobates Resume" and "No Sleeves." Finally, in October of 2001, the band released their third full length, Go Forth, on Frenchkiss Records. A review on Ink19.com said, "Les Savy Fav somehow sound fuller and more fleshed-out here, as six-stringer Seth Jabour fills out the funk with a sparser yet more resonating tone, reverbed to all hell, probably more chorus and even flange, his skewed but scintillating melodies bouncing all around the walls and (more so) your brain. And The Funk is certainly in attendance here, the beats being more danceable yet diverging, Go Forth more prevalently looking like a bastard cousin of Gang Of Four's pop-terrorizing Songs of the Free."
More touring followed the release of Go Forth, as the band were tapped to open for the likes of the Faint, as well as headline their own shows across the US and abroad. 2002 saw the release of the band's 7" for the songs "Yawn, Yawn, Yawn" and "One Way Window" for Tigerstyle Records. In 2003 came a single for "Obsessed With the Excess/Hello Halo, Goodbye Glands," released within an issue of Chunklet Magazine. In 2004, the band finally made due on an idea they hatched at the start of their career, and released 3 more seven inches, one for Cold Crush Records, one on Suicide Squeeze and one for Monitor Records, to complete a 9 song 7" single collection with similar covers; one that formed into a completed puzzle when completed. They released the compilation Inches, collecting all the singles onto one CD, on Frenchkiss Records in the summer of 2004.
by Ryan Allen
Les Savy Fav's Career
Group formed at the Rhode Island School of Design, early 1990s; moved to Brooklyn, NY, 1996; released debut album 3/5, on Self Starter Foundation, 1997; Mahoney left group and Haynes joined group, 1997; toured extensively, 1998; released The Cat and the Cobra, a joint release on Self Starter Foundation and Butler's label Frenchkiss Records, 1999; Slife left group, 1999; released third full length Go Forth, 2001; compiled all singles onto album Inches, 2004.
- Selected discography
- "Rodeo"/"Blackouts on Thursday," SubPop, 1996.
- "Our Coastal Hymn"/"Bringing Us Down," Desoto, 1999.
- "Reformat (Dramatic Reading)," Self Starter Foundation, 2001.
- "Reprobates Resume"/"No Sleeves," X-Mist, 2001.
- "Yawn, Yawn, Yawn"/"One Way Window," Tigerstyle, 2002.
- "Obsessed With the Excess"/"Hello Halo, Goodbye Glands," Chunklet, 2003.
- 3/5 Self Starter Foundation, 1997.
- The Cat and the Cobra Self Starter Foundation/Frenchkiss Records, 1999.
- Rome (Written Upside Down) (EP), 2000.
- Go Forth Frenchkiss Records, 2001.
- Inches Frenchkiss Records, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 23, 2001.
- Guitar Player, November 2004.
- Interview, February 2000.
- The Stranger (Seattle, WA), February 24, 2000.
- "Ink 19: Les Savy Fav," Ink 19.com, http://www.ink19.com/issues/november2001/wetInk/musicL/lesSavyFav.html (June 20, 2005).
- "Les Savy Fav," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 20, 2005).
- "Les Savy Fav Discography," Southern Records, http://www.southern.com/southern/band/LESAV/disc.php (June 20, 2005).
- "Les Savy Fav Interview," Prefixmag.com, http://www.prefixmag.com/features.php?t=interview&f=LesSavyFav%20Interview%20Part1 (June 20, 2005).
- Self Starter Foundation, http://www.selfstarterfoundation.com/lessavyfav.html (June 20, 2005).
- Additional information obtained from an interview with bassist Syd Butler, 2005.
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