- Kelly O
- Lars Finberg: Made $600 on the last Intelligence national tour.
The Intelligence’s Lars Finberg is The Stranger’s musical Genius of 2011. He’s also a wizard at the obscure art of giving good quote. Not every wonderful insight and amusing observation Finberg dropped in our interview for the Genius profile made it into the piece, and a lot of them are too good to languish in my archives. So, without further whatchamacallit, I present some of our Q&A exchange that hit the cutting-room floor, but that now lives FOREVER on Line Out. You’re welcome. (The Stranger's Genius Awards party is tonight at the Moore Theatre.)
You were still in the A Frames, a great and respected band, when you started the Intelligence (I read it in Wikipedia, so it must be true). What were you trying to accomplish with the Intelligence? Please discuss your mindset and the circumstances of your life when you began the band.
I was in a band I'm embarrassed of the name (I tried to change it but was out-voted as we were a punk-rock democracy) that actually had a single on Sub Pop maybe around ’97? We fought over everything from artwork to practice times so when we broke up arguing over a record display in Cellophane Square and the drummer stacked all of my equipment like a giant seven-foot monolith in front of my back door, I started recording on a 4 track by myself. It was really freeing to do it alone and try to play drums and make fake little albums [that] I would work on all day and then see how it panned out at night. I was playing in a band called Toy Train (another name I didn't like!) with Shannon Funchess, who is now in !!! and Light Asylum. I tried to change our name to the Intelligence and was voted down again. So I took the name and thought I'd apply it to my home recordings and the joke would be the Intelligence —I'VE FIGURED IT OUT! NO ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT TO DO EVER BECAUSE I'M THE ONLY ONE HERE!
From there I recorded our first 7" and Dean [Whitmore] from Unnatural Helpers and Min [Yee] from A Frames and some other friends liked it and wanted to help me do it live. Then Min got married and busy and replaced, Dean hated someone else, so they got replaced, Dean hated me and got replaced, ETC ETC ETC. But this all actually started happening a minute before the A Frames, technically I had my single done before the first A Frames single, but I think we thought it would be cooler to have the A Frames be the 001 on our Dragnet Label—but probably more accurate is that A Frames could afford to put theirs out first.
I think if I had any kind of goal with the Intelligence it was that the bands before had been trying to do something specific—let’s sound like the Jesus Lizard (except played by inept 20-year-old wimps)—let’s sound like DJ Shadow (specifically "building steam with a grain of salt...") but with singing, etc. With the home recordings, I was just trying to make up whatever came naturally, which was kinda skewed, weird rock and roll. I heard two things that year that really shaped me: first was Bend Sinister, not the Fall LP but Erin and Min's pre-A Frames band and the Country Teasers’ Satan Is Real Again. When I heard that stuff, my first thought was, ‘Oh, I'm doing it wrong.’
Do you have any routines you enact or any failsafe creative methods you use when songwriting? Or can songs come to you in many different ways, at unexpected times? Maybe you could outline how certain songs—what you think are your best—came into being.
There are a few models I guess:
1. Just plug things in and record and write along to what happens—most of Boredom and Terror is this way. Roll the drum machine for two minutes, make up a bass line on the keyboard , let that sit for two days, come up with a guitar part or three keyboard parts, dig through an old note book and find something that doesn't make you cringe to sing. ‘The World Is a Drag’ (maybe I do cringe some) or ‘Cheer Up Switch’ or the entire Crepuscule with Pacman LP is a good example of this.
2. Write a guitar riff and singing part, the basic bones of a song, and fill in the rhythm second accordingly. Half of Icky Baby and most of Deuteronomy is this way: ‘Dating Cops’ is a good example of this.
3. Totally random but woodshedded a bit. Find a $11.99 keyboard at a thrift store and dig the tone called ‘Marimba,’ use the two chords I know to make up a little riff, have my dad tell me he has and idea for a song for me called ‘Estate Sales,’ and after turning down ‘Wire Monkey Mama,’ try to throw him a bone and end up writing the only real linear narrative song that isn't written in secret code.
4. The whole thing comes while walking down the street. ‘Moody Tower,’ ‘Confidence,’ and our best new song ‘(They Found Me in the Back Of) The Galaxy,’ are like this. I hope that happens more.
5. ‘Males’: have three half-baked riffs laying around, extra tape and time at the studio, five words on a scrap of paper, glue 'em all together, and you got a TITLE TRACK.
Why have the Intelligence had so many lineup changes? You seem like such a charming fellow to work with.
Let me try to start from the beginning: tricky marriages, don't come to practice, want to work on their own band, they move to California or Detroit, they get in a fistfight at practice, we break up, they hate someone in the band, they steal our friends’ things on tour, they don't tell you they lost their passport on the way to Canada, they burst into tears and tell European promoters touring is too hard, their favorite band is the Gossip, they stare at the merch suitcase in the middle of the street while a taxi runs it over, they get pregnant on tour. Besides two morons, I am still friends with everyone who's ever been in the band or at least they act like we are...
How does the Lars Finberg of Males view the Lars Finberg of Boredom and Terror and the singles/EPs that preceded it?
I don't think anything has changed much except deep gratitude that we are able to make money, record with a budget, and have fans that buy our stuff and warrant touring. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I get to spend this much time making music and don't have to work in the basement of an Art School I still owe money to anymore.
So, you’re now in Thee Oh Sees, the Intelligence, Puberty and Wounded Lion. Do you have time to do anything else besides make/play music? I heard you work a job that involves watching films for accuracy in subtitles or something like that. How does that occupation impact on your creative life?
It's been music nonstop for the most part since January, either recording or touring. I technically have a job doing subtitle quality control, which on a tough day consists of watching Meet the Fockers on a grainy monitor making sure the Arabian subtitles are consistent and on a good day watching Roman Polanski's Frantic on a giant TV without subtitles. But I've hardly been able to work—I'm traveling so much. More interesting, though, is moving into sound recording and playback for commercials and music videos. I've got to work some surreal jobs with the likes of Drew Carey and Lemmy [Kilmister of Motörhead] and Ellie Goulding. On a side note, Matt Sorum from Guns N’ Roses is stiffing me $600 on a video job.
What was the impetus to start Puberty?
Susanna [Welbourne, the Intelligence’s keyboardist] and I were listening to a lot of Tones on Tail, Fun Boy Three, and U-Roy and wanted to do the opposite of the Intelligence and be out of our element, not play any instruments, be front people, make a fashionable effort, make pure pop music and be the opposite of most of bands we saw on tour, which is not be afraid to come across as TRYING TO ENTERTAIN PEOPLE. We talked about it for a long time and then Susanna came up with the Trainwreck night and we wanted a band to play but couldn't think of anyone right for it so I wrote a bunch of songs and we got the band together of all our old friends we'd always wanted to play with and rehearsed for a month and had such a great time and so the shows were so great it became a real thing.
What spurred you to join Thee Oh Sees?
The asked me to come and play on their next recording, so I went to Sacramento for four days, played drums, guitar, and keyboards and at the end they told me it was a litmus test to see how it'd go and would I like to join the band. [Thee Oh Sees leader] John Dwyer and I have been friends for over 10 years and we've been friends with Thee Oh Sees from the start, so I jumped at the chance and it is a blast and a half.
The tour diary that you wrote for The Stranger last December was a masterpiece of sardonic observation and witty self-deprecation—one of the funniest things ever published in the paper. That being said, do you feel like, a dozen or so years into your musical career, you should be operating above the indignities outlined in that piece? Why should dullards like the National or Bon Iver receive more per gig than the Intelligence do for an entire tour? Why should they be staying in 4-star hotels while you crash on friends’/strangers’ floors?
Thank you very much, I'm thrilled it was so well received. It's funny, after I sent the first entry I didn't hear back for a couple days and just sent y’all a text saying, ‘I guess that sucked, sorry!?’ I will only sound like Billy Corgan saying we deserve more, but I will say on our last month-and-a-half US tour we each made $600, which is kinda sad, but more than 93 percent of other bands make, so I'll keep my head up.
What is your definition of success in the music world?
Not having a day job is probably the main thing. I would like to not owe $5,000 on my escalating credit card on our van. I would like to not play through a Peavey amp. Otherwise, we know we are lucky with what we've got.