A Sunday Conversation with Fen

In recent months, Fen have achieved the closest thing to the induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame that we have to offer here at The Ripple Effect. The bands 2006 release, entitled Congenital Fixation, has found permanent residence within the hallowed confines of the Pope's Mobile and we could think of no other band that we'd rather spend this particular Sunday morning with. Join us as we delve into the inner workings of the madcap mindset of the music world's most intriguing listen!

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Simon & Garfunkle, the first time I ever hear Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphanies since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Three years of listening to Tool - Undertow began to change my internal chemistry. When their album Aenima came out, the transformation was complete. I was a different person. I held myself to different standards, and I held other musicians to those same standards. If when I'm 90, and Aenima is still my favourite album, I won't be surprised, just a little disappointed that no one else managed to top it for me. NWA's Straight Outta Compton is a distant second.

Your last album, Congenital Fixation, is a well blended collection of left of center songs that still have an air of accessibility to them. How did you go about creating this epic listen? What do you have in store for us with the next album?

Sam usually brings in a riff to jam on. That is typically the left of center aspect of the song. I try to come up with melodies that detract from this left of centerness and offer an overall flow. This tension has served us well over the years. And in the beginning, the left of centerness dominated. Around that time, a bookie told us our music was "abhorrent to the masses". That was fine back then. But we've struggled hard over the last couple of albums to wrench that left of centerness a little closer to the middle. With the upcoming album, Trails out of Gloom, I suspect we're closer to the middle than ever. If we keep heading in this direction, who knows, down the road you might see our name on a bill with Rhianna and JT.

It would be easy to simply rehash works from you past, so where do you look for continuing inspiration to keep things fresh? New ideas, new motivation?

Four albums in, we haven't reached the point yet where we've begun to go in circles. We like to keep trying to get better at making recordings, and if it's not just a figment of our imaginations and we are actually improving, then we have no reason to go back and sniff at the crusty poop of our first album for ideas. That said, there's always one guy at our shows that shouts out the name of a song from that CD. I used to pretend he was just a heckler and meant us to call us out for not being able to play every song from our discography right there on the spot. But I've spoken to him now on several occasions, and he insists that that particular song, Cum & Snowflakes, is the best thing we've ever done. I don't know. I think he's kind of fixated on the title. And I’m a little worried about what he might do once the song begins.

When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

We definitely try to avoid ripping off our influences. Certain notes get avoided. Certain rhythms get flipped inside out. But more importantly, we try to make music that keeps us healthy. If something's not right in a song, one of us feels it, and it makes him sick, so we do what we can to remedy whatever it is. It's not always obvious how to make that sickness go away. Sometimes it takes exploratory surgery. This can last for months, even years, and it makes all of us a little queasy. But when all the staples have been taken out and the scars have begun to pale, we know we’ve got something uniquely our own.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Technically speaking, our musical intention is to expand both ends of our creative range, the progressive end and the good ol' catchy song end. As for showing feelings…feelings of an almost human nature I suspect that individually we seek to extricate from ourselves the things we no longer want to feel alone.

For you, what makes a great song?

It takes you through, beginning to end, without having to think about the music. You try to pay attention and be a good listener, but the song sucks you in and before you can struggle to get your bearings, it's over. It's had its way with you. And it will again, and again.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

We make music because we have no other choice. It is the only way to feel good. For a long time, the biz didn't exist for us, and we riffed along on our merry way, happily oblivious. As we slowly discovered it though, we found that, yes, the biz is ugly, but also that it is a means for connecting with people all over the world who we might have something in common with. Tapping into even a dribble of this kind of power is hugely inspiring. A kid from Uzbekistan purchasing a CD from http://www.fenmusic.ca/ is all it takes to erase months of biz brutality.

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

The label would take our music home and study it down to its emotional essence, then run the findings through their database to find out which listeners are in need of such a concoction. The label would print out a list of emails and phone numbers, then start letting people know that the music they've been waiting for is here, and available under the name Fen. The people would be grateful because that specific need of theirs would now be satisfied. Everyone would win. We would all be happy.

We’ve noticed that certain regions of the world produce certain varieties of music, and without a doubt, Canada has produced some of the most forward thinking bands in my record collection with the likes of Rush, Voivod, Braintoy, and now, Fen. What do you think this regional uber-creativity can be attributed to?

Having time seems to be the most important factor. So the location has to provide that. If we lived in a place where we had to walk two miles to get clean water or work 16 hours a day hoeing a field, then the likelihood of releasing a professional recording would be considerably less.

BTW, I would add The Smalls to your list of Canadian bands, especially their album Waste & Tragedy.

Suggestion noted and filed away in the 'Things to get done' folder. Thanks for the lead!

Anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes in the music business has had to have had a Spinal Tap moment or two. What were some of your more colorful experiences?

When we were looking for artwork for our first album, Surgical Transfusion of Molting Sensory Reflections, we got the idea to Frankenstein together a creature from the products available at our local Chinese market. We got a cow’s tongue, chicken feet, a couple handfuls of pig uteri, and other things we weren’t too sure about. We froze them over night and in the morning began driving to Fruitvale, a little hippy town where we knew someone with a farm. It was blazing hot that day, and about an hour after we left, the car broke down and the closest mechanic said he couldn’t get the parts to fix it until the following week. We grabbed our backpacks out of the trunk as well as the cardboard box of animal parts and started hitchhiking. From Vancouver, the drive to Fruitvale is almost ten hours, and our luck getting rides was about what you would expect for two sweaty guys with a cardboard box that was beginning to get soggy in the corners. We ended up in a mountain town called Revelstoke at about eleven at night. My crotch was soaked with meat juice from holding the box on my lap for so many hours. The idea of sleeping on the side of the road and having a bear come by and eat my gonads was discouraging. We got the cheapest motel room we could find, poured the thawed and reeking contents of the box into the bathtub, made several trips to the ice machine and back, then crashed in our clothes. If the owners had sensed anything suspicious and sent the cops to our room, who would then have discovered the dismembered animal parts, I have a feeling they might not have believed our true intentions.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

No preference. I try not to get attached to the specifics of technology.

We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

If you like metal, it's Scrape Records. If you like used CD’s, it's Zulu Records.

Finally, any words of wisdom that you’d like to pass on to the Waveriders reading this?

The search for dark musical goodness never ends. If any one knows of any, please email us through the website.