"They were like, 'You're old. Are you singing about sex stuff now because it's your last chance?' And I was like - it was my last chance long before this": Your guide to every Les Savy Fav album in the band's own words

a montage of images of Tim Harrington from Les Savy Fav on a brightly coloured background
(Image credit: Getty Images/Press)

By rights, Les Savy Fav should've been huge. Emerging on the Providence, Rhode Island scene at a time when exciting bands like Lightning Bolt were signalling a new, abrasive but artful, noisy but nuanced direction for indie rock music, over the course of a decade the band's sound developed from raucous art-punk to thoughtful and deliberate alt-rock. 

By the time the indie boom of the mid 2000s hit, they were making music that saw them stand toe to toe with the artists who broke through and hit the majors – but that was never the life they'd intended for themselves. Talking with Louder, singer Tim Harrington expresses that all the music he's ever loved has been "underrated", and his belief is that it's all the better for it. 

After the release of their 2010 Root For Ruin album, Les Savy Fav fell quiet. Until now. To mark the release of new album Oui, LSF – due for release on May 10 – Tim and bassist Syd Butler join us to talk us through every Les Savy Fav album in their own words.

For the full, unabridged conversation, check out the video below.

Louder line break

3/5 (1997)

Syd: First of all, we met at school in Providence, Rhode Island. We all wanted to be in a band there was a lot of great bands at this time in Providence – a band called Thee Hydrogen Terrors, Six Finger Satellite, a band called Scarce. Lightning Bolt – we played our first show together – so this was a scene that was happening and we wanted to be part of it. We took the band very seriously and we practiced a lot.

There was a guy that had a studio space, and we did some demos with him. That sort of helped us move things along towards making a full length.

Tim: You guys had written most of the songs for that record before I was in the band, and you guys were looking for a singer. I had been in a fake art school band before that where my thing was that I’d shaved my head while I still had hair. That band was pretty performance arty. And I think Gibb [Slife, former guitarist] was like, ‘Let’s get Tim to play! Maybe he’d be okay in front of a band.’

But we toured on that record with a cassette tape, a lot, before we could record it. So when we went to record it in the studio it was at Rare Book Room in Brooklyn with Nicholas Vernhes and James Murphy, and I think we recorded the whole thing in two days. 

Syd: Yeah, sorry to bounce around, but we recorded this demo tape. I think it was five songs. And we toured on that, as Tim was saying – we did a US tour. And then we came back and we moved to Brooklyn - 

Tim (interrupting): And we recorded the seven inch. We had recorded a seven inch for Sub Pop. And when we did the art for that seven inch, we laid it out as a nine image grid that then became [very popular compilation album] Inches. I always thought that was funny; first thing we recorded, we were like, ‘This is part of an 18 song concept album’.

Syd: It's pretty pretentious of us to tell a record label ‘You only get this, but it's part of nine…’ but the same day we came up with the name of the band, Tim came with this idea of a puzzle and how all the seven inches would fit into a puzzle.

The Cat And The Cobra (1999)

Syd: It's got some real rockers – abrasive, sort of acidic sounds. I think at that time, the bands that we were influenced by definitely had that sound, and we were definitely interested in playing with those bands and sort of partaking in that scene for sure. But it's funny, I was listening to Root For Ruin recently and it seems very abrasive. It seems like it’s almost about to blow out, which I was really excited about. So when I think of The Cat And The Cobra I think of songs that are sort of calmer, like The Orchard.

Tim: That was fun. We recorded that at Rare Book Room also, and that was fun because that was our second time that we're recording in the same space and we had like a bunch of ideas of things we wanted to do, things that sounded like a pain in the ass, and whoever we were recording with came to learn it and were like “Oh, it's actually very fast”. But they’d do it once and we’d be like ‘it's perfect! and they were like… ‘Okay!’ Like Dishonest Don where it's got the sample of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme cooked into. That was a funny thing where everyone was like ‘It's gonna be a total pain in the ass’ and it turns out it was easy.

But I always think all of our records are not aggressive enough.

EMOR: Rome Upside Down (EP, 2000)

Syd: I think we sort of stumbled through who we were, our identities, as a five piece – as a band that we had to sound like a certain other band, the songs had to have this kind of structure and chorus… and then all of a sudden with Rome, when Gibb the guitar player at the time left the band, it was just stripped down to a four piece. We as a band all definitely discussed that we felt like the Les Savy Fav was born in that moment. 

Tim: The approach was more, pull stuff out of the bag and try things. Being better at playing and spending less time planning came together. 

Syd: And for me I was less precious. I felt we were less precious – that Seth the Guitar player was allowed to become, you know, a butterfly. He sort of had these wings and he created this idea, and the sound and identity sort of moulded his style into Les Savy Fav. But I really felt that Rome was a turning point for sure. 

Tim: It wasn't on Spotify or anything until last year. I always kind of liked that, because whenever I find something that you just can't get on there, there's so few things like that in the world. It's on there now, which I'm glad about, to listen to it. 

Like we hear that record and we're still like 'What?'. It was interesting. There's a lot of stuff on the record like Syd's bassline on Asleepers Union is just like... what?!

Syd: The beginning of Asleepers Union is me playing trying to pretend that I'm playing the piano. And if I was on acid, or fucked up, playing a Smiths song. That's how – it was sort of like the random chords as if Johnny Marr was sitting down at a piano.  Not that I was fucked up, but I was thinking conceptually like, if Johnny Marr was super fucked up, how would he play this on the bass. And that was the beginning of Asleepers Union.

Go Forth (2001)

Tim: That record was like behind our heads, right? Like I feel like we were working on those first two records and the Rome EP, we had a fixation with post punk bands and the stripped down feeling was such a huge part. And when we went to Go Forth, we decided to record with Phil Ek who recorded a lot of bands like Modest Mouse and Seattle bands that we were friendly with. And it was such a rich sound and so much more put together, it was interesting. Because where other bands were going towards a more stripped down noisier thing, we were switching to something that was more polished. 

[Discussing the hiatus that followed Go Forth]

Syd: We didn't want to be a laminate, super pro band. That was never our schtick or our vibe. We never wanted to sign to a major label. We never wanted to go down this road of like, rock stardom excess. It just wasn't for us – not that every time we made a record it was leading to that. But we would spend a lot of time with each other. Write these records, go on tour. We just needed a break to get back to who we were. 

Tim: I also remember being like, we need to finish Inches. I remember for two years being like, we're only doing seven inches to get Inches together. And we had put one out with the Steve Aoki label, what was that called? Suicide Squeeze. And basically we were just putting out these seven inches with everyone and recording them in our practice space, or down in DC with the Trans Am guys. And I think we were just focusing on those little one-off songs.

Someone asked me, "Do you regret anything about the band? Do you ever wish you had like, tried to make it like your job more?" Because we all have job jobs. And I thought for a second and realised that every band I've ever cared about, I guarantee you they've all always had to have other jobs. All the bands I love are underrated. Our skill level and need to be underrated match well. If we were if we were much bigger we'd be overrated [laughs].

Let's Stay Friends (2007)

Tim: Let's Stay Friends was funny because people who we were partying with, younger people that were into 3/5, or Cat And The Cobra was the record they lost their virginity to or was out when they met their friends, they all grew up and now worked as music writers. And when Let's Stay Friends came out they all came out of the woodwork, like "Oh I've wanted to write about you guys since I was 15!" So that was a funny cool thing.

Syd: I think there were a lot of things happening at the same time when the record came out: the internet, Pitchfork, all these websites that had come up writing about indie rock; indie rock was sort of of the moment. People were going to shows, bands were on tour. You had bands like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol that were playing, so there was an excitement around the kind of music that Let's Stay Friends was a part of. We had music stores back then that bought CDs and records – all these things helped make that record most successful, sales-wise, that we've had, but it wasn't... for me, it was a harder time, because my kid was born. Not that that was hard, it was amazing to have a kid, but I realised that my identity was shifting towards being a father rather than being the bass player in a band and running a label. I had other responsibilities that were more important. So it was an interesting time for me, as all this new life was happening, this record was also our most successful at the time for all these different reasons. 

Tim: We were writing in a different way and it was out first time recording with [Chris] Zane [producer] at Gigantic [recording studio]. I think we'd maybe done some seven inch thing with him. We were writing more in the studio and I remember being like, I don't want to sing on any of the songs. I want to bring in guest singers for everything. I was constantly trying to get more people to come and be on it. That idea really comes into the title of the record. Just working with Eleanor on it and Nick from Islands, John, and Toko from Enon. 

Syd: Even Fred Armisen plays drums. 

Tim: Oh yeah, Fred played drums on pots and pans! 

[Discussing appearing on Conan and 'selling out']

Syd: We'd do whatever we want. I think if you go into a punk rock paradigm, then someone might say you sold out or did a commercial or appeared on television. But at the same we're a bunch of kids that want to do whatever we want to do. And of course we want to play Conan. Of course we want to do this, that sounds awesome. Why would we not? 

Root For Ruin (2010)

Syd: I love Root For Ruin. It came out at a time when our real jobs were taking priority as well as our families. So I think if we had toured on Root For Ruin like we had toured on Let's Stay Friends or we had toured on Go Forth it would have been a much more successful – "successful" – record in that regard. 

Tim: Let's Get Out Of Here – on streaming services, that's our most popular song by a big margin which is on that record. I remember out writing in the studio got more pronounced, where we were just like fully writing everything in a studio in a shorter period of time. 

Lyrically I remember I wanted to be more first person, less sort of having an academic remove. Someone was like 'Oh, there's tons of sex songs on that record'. I'm like, 'I'm a very sexy guy. Obviously, I've been hiding that from the public'. Some interviewer was like "You're old. So is that why you're suddenly singing about sex stuff, because you feel like it's maybe your last chance?" And I was like it was my last chance long before that. But I think that idea of wanting something that was more direct in a way – like Let's Stay Friends was kind of academic to me, like it was like bigger and it was more of a thing and the other musicians and all the things, and wanting to have something that was like more direct less aesthetic was sort of where I feel like our heads were at

[Discussing the hiatus after Root For Ruin

Syd: I don't know if we ever said 'This is it. We're done," you know? A dramatic "I'm shutting the door, fuck you guys" thing. For me my life just got too big. I had two kids at that point, Tim had two kids, we just had more stuff in our life that took way more priority, that we wanted to make a priority. We did the record, and it was like, we've done this career, we've done this life. And we still play here and there, but the obsession slowed down for me. And yeah, then... here we are.

Oui, LSF (2024)

Tim: The process was super different. The process was definitely more like 'What if we had made a full length that felt like the Rome EP. That was the huge thing. 

A couple of things happened at the same time. I've always jokingly been like, 'Oh, we stay a band so that we can go to Primavera sometimes'. And they brought us over a couple years ago, and it was right around the same time as we got the Rome EP back and were listening to that. We started just playing and rehearsing more. For those shows that that summer, Harrison our drummer wasn't able to make them, so we had a friend who was helping us out – our friend Tucker from Thursday. So we were in the rehearsal space more, working on teaching him the songs.

Syd: I think I also said 'I have to play a new song'. Seth and I had been working on this on this job where we generate new songs every day, and I was like, we have the ability to just crank out new songs whether or not we use them. But personally, I can't play the same eight songs or 10 songs or 12 songs. Let's write something new. And I think between all of this, this this record emerged. 

Tim: We wrote and recorded most of it in my attic – a room like this, like this big basically. On Let's Stay Friends and Root For Ruin we's like gotten invested in and interested in working in the studio and recording with the studio as part of the instrument. And before that, we used huge amounts of time to write music – like on Cat And A Cobra we just played and played and played until all that was left was a song. 

This was recorded over almost a year and we wrote and recorded it in pieces and parts and all these different ways. So it was like a little bit like having that studio experience, having a studio to play in for as much time as you possibly want. In the interim I had gotten much more into gear and recording and learned a lot more about doing more than just lyrics. I put a studio in my attic when we first moved in there and the guys would come and I could dial in tones and be engineering sort of be a little like central hub. Which is funny, because everything's thinner. Another part of the record was listening a lot to like, DI guitars – no amped guitars, on the whole record. We're just like, amps sound too big and huge. Instead, how do we make it dry, dry, dry, dry, dry. I feel like on Root For Ruin there's a lot of spots where if you pulled a bunch of our own overdubs out the song would get more essential. Like maybe there was an immediacy that maybe was not always there.

With this one something punchy was important. Seth and Andrew – there was one song where we were recording vocals, and discussing the part at dinner and Seth was like, "Oh, was that good even?" And I said it was interesting – and he was like [suspicious] 'Oh... what does that mean?' And I was like, no, interesting is most hard and important thing to do, especially when you've been in a band as long as we have and done as much writing. 

And so thinking back to that Rome EP and being like, I want to come back and listen to this and be like, 'What the fuck was I thinking?' And sort of wrote trying to think more what it's like when we play live, how do you bring that energy? How do you bring that like, pile of crap in a bag feel? Not that the songs are live-y or anything like that, but there's a liveliness to it and kind of scatterbrain mania to it that I think captured something about the band that we haven't been able to record yet, and I think that only can get recorded by us doing so much of it ourselves. 

Syd: I think on top of that, something that's interesting as I listen to you guys talk, when we first started with 3/5, we were very controlled. We turned up to practice on time, we had to write a certain way. And as we get more mature and more confident in both playing and writing, we've arrived at this record that is the most loose.

There's a lot of risks on this record. Things we wouldn't have done on any other record that we decided to take a chance on and be okay with that and accept that. 

Tim: The record, I think, is more expansive, more ambitious, than a lot of stuff we did before. There's also an idea of just wanting to get back to that sense of curiosity and like 'Holy shit, what's happening?!'

Oui, LSF will be released on May 10 via French Kiss Records. For lots more exclusive information and chat about the record, check out the video below.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.

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