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FAIR OHS have spent the last year bringing things like “call-and-response vocals”, “doing-it-yourfuckingself” and “having fun” back to modern rock music. They are a wonderful hardcore punk band that from London and are one of the best live bands in the country, full stop. They’re witty, they write amazing songs and are actually amazingly interesting, with African, garage, calypso, soul and so on and so forth influences coming through clear as day. Their new single, a split with excellent Leeds one-man-band Spectrals, features their furiously brilliant doo-wop song Hey Lizzy and the similarly excellent Himalayas and came out a fortnight.
So, I met up with Matt Flag (bass), Joe Ryan (drums) and Eddy Frankel (vocals and guitar) in Jan’s Belgian Bar in Stoke Newington ages ago, we talked for about an hour. Read the outcome below, otherwise go and buy the 7 or make sure you see them at Richmix in a week or so.
[There is very loud Jazz music playing]
Wow, it’s quite loud in here.
Joe: Yeah! The Fair Ohs – free jazz idiots.
OK, so could you tell me a bit a bout how you got together and so on.
Joe: Can I do this? Me and Eddie talked about doing a band, because I was a fan of some music who was doing – we were in similar noisy bands and we played together a few times. And we were getting really into Jazz, so we decided to start making some free jazz music. Which we stopped doing because it was shit. It was just us two in my bedroom, I had a drumkit, Eddy had a clarinet and three distortion pedals.
What was the first hint that Jazz wasn’t a good idea?
Eddy: When we started. It was abysmal. It was shocking. It just sounded like a shit, shit Shellac. So we turned into a hardcore band. Straight up, fast as you can.
Matt: And they started practicing with my friend Stephen Fessey.
Eddy: Your friend? My friend.
Matt: Our friend.
Matt: And they phoned me up and asked me to join, telling told me it was between me and Conan from Graffiti Island.
Eddy: It came down to the fact that Matt could hold his drink. [Laughs] So Matt joined, we started using garage riffs, which we got tired of a few weeks later.
Matt: I don’t think we got tired of garage, we just realised we could do something … else. I could have probably still be playing garage – I don’t know about these two, but I’m a massive garage freak.
Joe: I think we just started writing different songs.
Eddy: I’m just really, really so into African music and we just realised that we all were into Paul Simon when we were growing up.
Where did the name come from?
Joe: I used to live in Peckham and drive past this pub called the Pharaohs.
Eddy: We wrote it “Pharaohs” first, and we were like, fucks sake, there’s a million bands called Pharaohs, there’s a Free Jazz band called Pharaohs, a Funk band called Pharaohs…
Matt: There’s also really great sixties garage rock heritage with the name Pharaohs. There was a band called the Pharaohs that were a backup band to a load of sixties artists
Eddy: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs…
Matt: And they also backed up The Shangri-Las and they backed up Iggy Pops’ first band, the Iguanas, and the Sonics backed up the Shangri-Las. So it was a nice homage, and that’s why we changed the name, you know.
There seems to be a conscious homage to the past with your music. I was just wondering what your thoughts were about that?
Eddy: I don’t profess to be that original …
Joe: I fucking do.
Eddy Yeah, I am a true fucking original. But you know, we have one aim and that’s to have a really great time and write great music, and everything else I just don’t give a shit about. If we write a great riff and someone runs in and says “that’s a Paul Simon song!” I’m still gonna do it. It’s so conscious that we’re ripping off Paul Simon, but because we’re three hardcore kids it’s got to sound different.
Matt: The way that you might listen to a Tropicalia song or a Jazz song but it will always be filtered through our ideas of punk or hardcore.
Is there anything about you that you see as a reaction against the hardcore scene of the time?
Eddy: The first gig we played was part of the whole London no-fi scene or whatever you want to call it, so we’ve never, ever been part of the hardcore “scene.”
Matt: I think when we started out we were the “hardcore” band there, but that was really just playing friend’s shows, you know – someone you know is putting on a show, you play, you have a laugh, you can have a drink.
Joe: We were pretty happy not to be playing with any hardcore bands, every band was different to us. We’ve all played on all hardcore bills, and that gets tired very quick.
I suppose the reason I ask is that to me, with my very scant experience of hardcore, a lot about the Fair Ohs goes against it. You have incredibly wide musical taste for one thing, and I suppose I associate a lot of hardcore with a certain purism.
Eddy: It depends what you take from hardcore. I’m a really passionate believer in what hardcore has given me. When I hit 18 I got into Minor Threat and it really changed the way I thought about music and what music could exist and what it could mean. We’re pretty much a hardcore band not playing hardcore because we have the ethics of a hardcore band. We’re not a big indie band trying to get signed to a major label so we can make a video, we just want to play music, and that all comes from hardcore. I mean Joe’s last band was a grindcore band, not a hardcore band, but it still stays. The whole London scene is really influenced by hardcore – not in terms of musicians but in terms of the community.
Matt: I would never say anything negative about hardcore music because it’s the biggest part of the my life and it’s what I grew up on and love and still go to hardcore shows and I love the bands like Fucked Up who’ve done something with it and have taken it far. But it’s like the Slits when they said that they were a punk band, it’s just with different accent or with different emphasises, and yes we might put some world music in there or just did brutal, fast bring the house down … we love it all.
That’s really interesting.
Matt: Yeah, I mean some people in the hardcore scene are quite limited in their music – I know some people who just listen to hardcore all the time, and we’re not like that. We’ve all got different musical tastes, and every band I’ve played in has sounded a bit different to the one before, other wise it just gets boring.
I saw that the next thing coming out is a 7 with Spectrals.
Matt: Yeah, great band. We played together in London and I can remember us watching them thinking Fuck. We need to get better. [laughs]
I read on your myspace you hurrying them along.
Eddy: Huh? Oh yeah! Ignore everything I ever say.
Matt: We have to change the passwords sometimes so Eddy can’t write on there.
Eddy: If only there was a password for me talking on stage.
Joe: Yeah, we got “burned” on some message boards over some stuff Eddy said.
Eddy: “The singer has a crap sweater and he’s a twat.”
Crikey. How do you feel about that?
Eddy: They are so right it’s unbelievable. [Everyone laughs] Oh god, the other week I was like “Come on! Let’s have a circle pit!” And it’s obvious we’re not a circle pit band, and this blog was like “I don’t believe he asked for a circle pit.”
I always hate circle pits – you’re always running a bit too fast or too slow. It’s like beery PE.
Matt: And there’s always one guy who enjoys it a bit too much.
Joe: Or that one guy who just stands in the middle staring. Who is that guy?
Matt, you have a tape label, and I’ve heard you talking about how you don’t like digital stuff. Was part of the attraction of doing tapes that they are analogue?
Matt: I’ve been sticking records out since I was 16, never to make money, just for fun, and printing the vinyl was getting to be really expensive, and tapes were cheap. Plus, you can design them and do nice artwork and stuff.
Joe: Matt was doing mixtapes before they were invented. Just by word of mouth. “You should listen to this song, then this one, it’ll sound great. It goes a bit like this: ‘Bong bong bong‘”
Matt: And I’ve got a really short attention span – I find it impossible to listen to a whole album, it’s why I love 7 inches, but then you have to turn them over, so I always put all my recent buys onto tape so you don’t have to constantly change the record. So it fits that I’m cheap, I’m lazy and that I have a short attention span.
Eddy: You don’t like computers.
Matt: I don’t like computers. Me being on facebook is quite a massive deal. I can use a four track but I can’t attach things to emails. I have a typewriter at home, I like paper, I like records, I like doing things by hand. It’s not trying to be cool, it’s just my ineptitude. I don’t know where people learn this stuff! When I went to school, it wasn’t very technologically advanced but I see people laying stuff out on photoshop and building websites and I’m like “When the fuck did you learn that? Did I miss that lesson?”
Matt: Yes, you’re right. I was listening to tapes and drinking cider. Missed it totally.
Eddy: You were masturbating a lot.
Matt: Yep. Masturbating to Black Flag. That was me. But there’s these people that I went to school with, real, real idiots, and they’re like “Yeah, I just knocked this fancy thing up on my computer.” Weird. I’m always like “How?!”
Totally. So, a lot of bands I interview refuse to be put in “a scene” – even when it’s really obvious that they are. But one thing I think is brilliant about Fair Ohs is that you don’t seem to mind considering yourself as a band that’s part of a community of bands thinking in similar ways.
Eddy: We’ve got a group of friends that we’re really proud of for making the music that they’re making, and I think they’re proud of us for making our music. And we’re nice to each other – we do artwork for each other, we put out each other’s records – it’s not scene in that we sound alike, but that doesn’t matter.
Matt: You pretty much hit the nail on the head. We don’t sound alike but hopefully you like our band you’ll like our friend’s band. We sound nothing like Cold Pumas but you might like us both, and we’re friends with them. It’s exciting! We’re not just happy with this community because they’re my friends, I’m genuinely excited by what they’re doing. And I’ve spent a long time not being excited by what my friends are doing, and having them not excited by what I’m doing, just with everyone doing their own little thing. And it’s really great that people are paying attention – I see orders for the tapes going out to America and Japan, so it’s nice that it’s not just a London/Brighton/Leeds thing.
Eddy: The people who hate being seen as a scene are scared of being associated with other bands – like “I don’t want to be associated with this shitty little indie band.” But there’s strength in numbers, you know? Simon from Teeth? He’s helped us out so much.
Matt: So much.
Eddy: He basically is the one who started passing our MP3s around because we were too lazy to do it, and then I helped them record their thing. Everytime one of our bands do well, it means the rest of us do well. I’m sure one day Male Bonding will be like “Fuck you guys, we’re going to America”, but until that happen, we’re riding their coattails all the way. [Laughs]
You mentioned the ethics of hardcore earlier and how it ties into DIY culture. Could you expand on that?
Eddy: Ethics is a really weird word to be using when it comes to this. I can’t think of ethics in terms of punk shows unless it’s “Oh, we’re only going to do these limited runs of 7 inches, we’re only going to play these small shows” when no-one really thinks like that. We’re DIY because it’s easy. If someone offered us money to do something not DIY then we’d take it. Male Bonding worked with Alex Newport – that’s not fucking DIY.
Matt: We’re all happy for them because we’d do the same! It came from us not waiting for anyone else to do it for us – we put out our first tape because that was what was there. Some of us might go on to sign to bigger labels than others, some might go on TV and do adverts, they’re still our friends, they’re still part of our world. These cries of “You went too far, you sold out, that wasn’t cool” – fuck that. It’s normally 15 year old kids that say that.
I know what you mean – this no-sell-out thing is really ridiculous, and I don’t really know anyone who thinks like that – but I think it does mark you out as a band – as a group of bands – that you’re not actively chasing that. Absolutely no disrespect whatsoever to artists that do think like this, but you don’t seem to be going into a gig going “Come on, Huw Stevens is in, let’s nail it.”
Matt: We’re not directly in this for monetatry reward, but if it happens or it happens to any one else, it’s fine, it’s great.
Joe: Also, we don’t need a lot of money to realise what they want, bigger sets, bigger studios and so on. Some people do, we don’t.
Eddy: Yeah. Our props are shorts.