interview: FAN (Meric Long)
After years of making music in the band The Dodos, Meric Long has stepped out on his own, releasing his solo debut as FAN. The record titled Barton's Den is out today on Polyvinyl Records and features a sound vastly different than what fans of the musician are used to hearing. Prior to the release, Long chatted with The Grey Estates, touching on his recording process, inspiration and how FAN all began.
The Grey Estates: How long ago had you started writing this material? Did writing this material or the process differ any from what you normally do with The Dodos? And how were you able to decide what would be Dodos material and what would be FAN?
Meric Long (Fan): The songs didn't start to exist until a little over a year ago, when I started to compile various recordings into potential songs, but I started recording sounds for this in August of 2015. Dodos had just finished a tour in Europe and afterwards I stayed for a month in Spain where my wife's family is from. They have a little cottage in the countryside that's very isolated, I tried to pull a Bon Iver but just ended up with a bunch of weirdo guitar music. I continued that thread for the next year or so, just recording aimlessly on synths, making samples, just trying to focus on sounds rather than songs. It was very different from writing a Dodos song/record in that way. More discovery than intention, it's very liberating to record things that don't necessarily have a commonality and then try and put them together, rather than have this entire song laid out before hitting record. There ended up being a lot of B-sides that didn't make the album, and some of those were cut cause they were more Dodos-y. I have songwriting habits that die hard and it took other peoples' perspective to help me be able to step back and see where the material landed in terms of how different it was or wasn't. Seth from Polyvinyl and I went back and forth and decided that if a song sounded like it could be on a Dodos record then we cut it.
You used your late father's synthesizers for the recording on this album. What was that experience like for you? Had the two of you ever bonded over music before?
It was cool, I think for him music was this kind of a sacred thing that he kept to himself which I can respect, he probably would have liked to pursue it more but wasn't allowed to. Growing up you'd hear what I call "synth boogie woogie" coming out of his room every so often, and there were certain voicings that he really preferred which kind of gave me a fun starting point. It's that moment when you acquire of bunch of stuff from someone else after they pass on, and you're like okay, I've got to either get rid of it or take up a new hobby, but either way you're responsible. And that was kind of it for me, I had shied away from using synthesizers because I didn't feel like I had strong opinions about what I liked or didn't, but this helped me find a direction to approach it from. It was cool to discover these notes in the manuals that he had made, documenting sounds in a shorthand that was a bit illegible but made sense to me, I could understand it even though we never talked about it.
What emotions, feelings, or thoughts did you experience going from working with others to working as a solo artist? Was it an adjustment to know that you're the sole person responsible for this?
I never thought about it in those terms, it was always a project that I never admitted to anyone even myself that I was working on because I didn't want to start tripping about what that means or how I want to present it. Once songs started to take shape and it became a record that was gonna be shared I just took the path of least resistance which is the truth of how I made it and why, which probably isn't very interesting but much less demanding than having to worry about perception. For whatever reason putting all my creative output into one project for 10 years had strangely whittled my ability to take ownership of it. Doing something else that I didn't have the usual crutches to rely on I think has had the fortunate side effect of forcing me to stop questioning myself so much.
Your bio notes that you FAN was conceived after hearing a fan in a restaurant bathroom. What other experiences, places, memories, etc. do you think represent FAN and this album?
Lots of snow. The project was really shaped by the experience of spending a week in Portland with my friend/producer John Askew. It was the first time I had been away from my daughter since she was born, and the first chunk of time that I was able to focus on being creative without interruption. Add to the fact that there was a blizzard that week in Portland and John and I were snowed in, the record went from a bunch of kernels to actual songs in just a few days. It felt like a pretty special chunk of time and John and I just went down a major geek tunnel.
What were some of the inspirations, musically, creatively, etc did you take for this record? How did it feel to explore and create a sound that's vastly different from what you've done before?
The music of the Dodos and the way in which I've approached guitar in the past has always been about attack, focusing on the percussive qualities of the acoustic guitar and amplifying that with drums, vibraphone, electric guitar, etc. That was the impetus for starting that band and more or less the guiding principle. Although there can be lots of attack in synths, being a newbie to them I definitely gravitated towards the more drone-y sounds, and it was cool to start with that, and build songs around something that doesn't necessarily have a pulse, or a definitive attack, beginning or end.
It felt really good to be recording music that didn't have an end goal, I wasn't worried about making songs out of anything so it was just a lot of hours just twiddling filters and nobs aimlessly.
Is there any particular track on the album that you really connected with? Or that has a particular significance?
I think Bob2 is the one that best exemplifies where I was at at the time, it has some of the weirder samples and it doesn't really sound like anything I've made before. It stemmed from one of the first recordings I made of the fan in the bathroom, which seemed like this thing that would be impossible to build a song around, so as a pure songwriting challenge it felt like a bit of an accomplishment to finish.
Congratulations on the birth of your first child! Do you see yourself one day sharing music with your child? Is there a particular album or artist that you'd hope to introduce to them first? Aside from your own work of course.
Thanks. I got pretty into playing DJ Daddy the first year of her life, I thought it was like this crucial thing that was gonna mold her brain one way or another. I probably jumped the gun a bit early, but there was a lot of Beatles, Ramones, Neil Young, Devo, and Prince. Some of it has stuck, "Baby I'm a Star" is still the go to if she wants to dance her ass off.
I wanted to ask about "What a Mistake." That song sounds like it could be in Stranger Things! What sort of instruments and creative process went into that one? It is so spooky, but in the best way! And I really love how at about 3:08 you come in with this looping vocal effect.
That song was mostly made with a mini Korg K2 monophonic synth, at the time I was just sort of discovering how many sounds could come out of that thing, so a lot of the drum samples were actually made from that keyboard. I will totally admit that I was listening to a lot of Suicide at the time of making that song, hence the pretty affected vocal part.
Is FAN something you hope to continue? Or do you think maybe we might hear synths in Dodos material or Dodos material in future FAN songs?
I think as both projects progress they will grow further apart. I'm working on the next Dodos record right now and though it has some synths I'm using them in a way that I think makes a lot of sense for that band. As far as future Fan material I think it's freed me up to get weirder, and keep it as this thing that I can use to explore whatever I want without worrying about what it should be. It feels good.