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Doug (from Fen)
"Head-nod-able" without limits like genre.
Phillip Hong
August 16, 2010
It's rather a common occurrence to have a genre associated with any one artist or band, as this is a detail that contributes to an easily understood identity. This could help in the promotion department.
But what's unique about Fen is the fact that there is no easily identified genre. In fact, they've shunned this traditional label for what is basically a form of expression, regardless of how it sounds.
This fulfilling journey starts with Doug, who provides the vocals and guitar for this band of an "indeterminate" genre.
PHIL: Your latest album, "Trails Out of Gloom", is said to send people into an imaginative journey. What kind of message do you want to convey to a listener through this journey?
DOUG: I think this is one of those questions where I'm supposed to slip into politician mode and talk out my ass while revealing nothing. So, here goes. We didn't sit down and agree on a message for the album and then whip up a bunch of songs to embody it. Rather, the message was within us from the beginning (blind as we were to it), and it guided us through the creative process to the resulting end.
The message put strictly in words, if the music can be boiled down to such a thing, is an adaptation we haven't worked on, and one which may take us years to really sort out. More likely, we'll learn about it from our listeners who have the benefit of an outside perspective, because by the time we master a recording we've heard the songs enough times to nearly kill us, and the analysis stage is abruptly over and we try to forget about the whole ordeal.
But if you're going to threaten me with a schoolmaster's cane and force me to write something about the message of Trails, then I'll have to say it gives perseverance and the act of facing one's fears, two thumbs up.
PHIL: You've combined elements from different forms of rock - how does this combination enhance each song?
DOUG: As suggested in my previous response, we're not in full control of our musical faculties. What comes out comes out and we're left to deal with it. We use every technique at our disposal to help complete each fragment that wants to be a song. I suspect that if we restricted ourselves to the characteristics of a single genre we'd probably be rendered useless as songwriters.
Our music, if you could then call it that, would be uninspiring even to ourselves, and it would be a lie to call the recordings songs, because our guts would be twisting, telling us otherwise. So in summary, this combination of different forms of rock enhances each song by allowing it to exist.
PHIL: What is the most unusual request you've ever received from a fan?
DOUG: Someone wanted us to drink beer with their friends. I went over to the table, sat down and obliged them. But after a couple of minutes things got uncomfortable.
PHIL: How is the audience reaction whenever you perform in concerts? Do you believe they can nod their heads to your music?
DOUG: The "head nodability" of Fen has only increased over time. With our first album, Surgical Transfusion of Molting Sensory Reflections, people who tried to nod along were taken away on stretchers, or put in straight jackets and dragged out of the building. Since then the music has evolved to favor more natural transitions. People can nod their heads or flap their arms. Or they can curtsy or pirouette. Many choose to stand stock still and bore into us with narrowed eyes. Anything goes now. It's undecided. We don't know what to expect anymore. And many of the people who've recovered from the early days are getting hired by yoga studios.
PHIL: If your music was translated into Bahasa Melayu (the language of Malaysia) and performed, would it carry the same meaning?
DOUG: The words used on Trails out of Gloom are fairly plain, and the stories are archetypal, so I think a translation to Bahasa Melayu, or any language, would work.
About a year ago, I met with a translator and got drunk while she morphed the lyrics of "Find that One" into Japanese. She had me slurring lines back to her across the table. The meeting was inspired by a number of comments we've had over the years, suggesting that Fen's music would be far more welcome in places like Europe, Japan, and South America, basically anywhere but Canada. It has occurred to me that these comments could be attempts to get rid of us.
Phillip Hong is a presenter on AMPM, combining some great indie music with quotes and interviews.
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