Just about every story of successful businesses, successful people, successful anything tend to be retrospective: A look back at the&
Just about every story of successful businesses, successful people, successful anything tend to be retrospective: A look back at the setbacks overcome, barriers cleared, and lessons learned.
But real life doesn’t work that way. Success is never assured, much less guaranteed; it only appears that way after it is achieved.
Even for a band as talented as The Faim.
Last month I spoke with lead vocalist Josh Raven about how the band went from building a small following in their hometown of Perth, Australia, to signing a record deal and releasing their new album, State of Mind.
I thought it would be a one-off conversation about the business of music, then quickly realized Josh is almost preternaturally (a word I don’t get to use nearly often enough) thoughtful and introspective… and it would be fun to follow along, in more or less real time, as he and his band work hard to turn doing what they love into a successful career.
So for installment two in an ongoing series about how one band seeks to balance art with commerce as they navigate the business of music, I talked with Josh during the band’s current U.S. tour swing.
Tell me about constructing a set list.
Always try and keep, among the songs we’ve released, a lot of fluidity in the set. The goal is to avoid lulls, to keep the energy up… and to maintain a sense of progression.
So we come out strong. We’re excited, we’re hyped up, so we use that to our advantage. Recently we’ve led with My Heart Needs to Breathe because it sets a great tone for the show.
Plus, we just like coming in hot. (Laughs.)
We also like to change things up. We put songs like Humans and Million Stars in the middle of the set to kep the crowd engaged without giving too much away too early.
Then we play songs like Tongue Tied, Amelie, and Summer is a Curse because they create a natural progression to the song we’ve been closing with, State of Mind. The way it kicks in, the way the lyrics tie together… in a way it reintroduces the audience to things they’ve heard during the show. It’s personal and intimate, it brings us all together as musicians and an audience… we can tell by how audiences respond that it’s a great way to close the show.
There’s a difference between performing and entertaining. How much time do you spend reading the audience?
From playing so many different places, I’ve gotten better at being reactive.
But there’s also a level of performance we need to stay true to for the entire set.
I’m there to do what I love doing, and I’m going to give it everything I have. But I also understand different people come to a show for very different reasons. Not everyone is there to mosh. Not everyone to sing along. Some just want to stand near the back and get a break from the real world.
Before a show I’ll look at the venue and kind of map it out in terms of how I’ll use the room. Then I look at individuals in the crowd. I try to make eye contact with everyone I can.
Put it all together and if it’s a song where I like to go into the crowd, if I’ve spotted a big group of people in the middle bobbing their heads and really getting into it… that’s where I’m going. (Laughs.) If they want to throw down… I love that.
In a way it’s like sports: Skill and experience creates muscle memory that allows you to in some ways mentally step outside yourself as you perform.
That’s a clever way to put it. We’re by no means going through the motions, yet we probably have developed a level of muscle memory over time.
At the same time, though, there’s a constant progression. We never do the same show twice. The reality of the way we play — and perform — is that we’re always really happy with certain things… and we always have a few things we want to work on.
And that’s great: If we feel like everything is perfect then we’re clearly not challenging ourselves.
Even physically: I want to get off the stage dripping with sweat, borderline exhausted, having delivered the level of physical intensity the crowd wants.
Because I’m not there for me. I’m there for them.
Do you modify your songs when you play them live, or do you try to stay faithful to the original?
While we want to keep a song true to itself, it’s also great to change them up a little: Add a little flair, a different energy, to leave room for improvisation and progression…
One person in the crowd might be upset that a song doesn’t perfectly match the recording… but people can go home and listen to the Spotify track. (Laughs.)
Audiences came to see us live. They’re there for the music and the experience. They want a cool drum solo, a cool guitar solo… the shows I’ve attended that I remember best were when things happened I didn’t expect. I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Perth and they would do these four-minute intros to songs where they just jammed… seeing them jam into songs was intriguing.
Of course there’s a fine line between mixing things up for the audience and just being self-indulgent. We try to stay far away from that particular line. (Laughs.)
Speaking of favorite shows: So far, what’s the favorite show you’ve played?
That’s hard. Every show has at least one or two little treasures mixed in. Even if a show is horrible — not that we’re ever horrible (laughs) — something funny or cool happens.
But maybe Lollapalooza in Berlin. Because it was a festival we started the set with a crowd, but as people walked past they stopped to listen… and before we knew it all we could see was people. It was incredibly humbling to see all those people singing our songs, in a language not their own…
We had a stressful time with technical difficulties before we went on stage, and for it to turn out that way… it was an indescribable feeling.
Do you have a routine you follow before you go onstage?
I believe that singing is largely mental. So for me the key is to be relaxed. I like to stretch aa lot, meditate, breathe…
I also am in the habit of listening to songs that calm me down. You can’t go straight out there with all guns blazing. One example is the Dean Martin song Sway; it really makes me want to perform.
I have a hard time picturing you backstage listening to Dean Martin.
I know, but there’s a level of emotional intensity within those songs that isn’t appreciated enough.
The way performers like Martin with Sway, like David Bowie with Let’s Dance… the way they carried and presented themselves is really intriguing.
Performing is extremely external, but then you have to be extremely internal and introspective in order to be creative.
If you’re asking whether we can be creative on the road, we all can in certain ways. The challenge is having the tools to do it in the best and most effective way.
Finishing the album was a big thing for us. Now we’re touring a lot. The next big thing will be to step away. We’re extremely conscious of the fact we need to step away, center ourselves, and get a break.
Of course I’ll get manic after a day and a half of being on a “break.” I’ll get bored. (Laughs.)
At the same time, the best way to be creative is when you can do it on your time, and not based on an external schedule.
Absolutely. Being on your own schedule, on your own time, affords a much greater level of freedom. You don’t have to worry about expectations. Schedules and expectations definitely affect the writing. Writing with no real intention or agenda, just writing… that’s when we’re at our most creative.
We’ve been incredibly busy. To just have the four of us in a room, writing for fun… that level of authenticity is really special.
It will be interesting to go home and do that again.
Sometimes I’ll struggle with something I write and pushing through works. Other times I need to step away. How hard do you “force” your creative process?
For me, it always has to feel natural. As soon as I feel like I’m forcing something, I have to detach.
Granted, sometimes we need to push through and knuckle down and think in a logical way about piecing things together in the right way. After all, sometimes it takes one hundred different ideas to find one great one.
But overall, if I’m forcing something too much… it’s clearly not working. You can’t stick with one idea too long if it doesn’t work. If it’s stopped feeling emotional and honest… it’s no longer true and you need to go to something else.
Emotion and honest is the key. People don’t connect with “mannequin” songs. We don’t connect with mannequin songs; that’s not why we got into music in the first place.
How do you find a place for reviews, both positive and negative?
I’ve never gone out of my way to read them. (Laughs.)
We know how people respond when we play live. That’s the most important — and most objective — feedback, because it’s real.
Music has to come from a genuine, authentic place. We write songs we love. We realize there’s a commercial aspect to it, but we don’t write songs we think will appeal to a certain audience or that can be more easily “sold.”
At its best, music is a way to tap into a stream of consciousness and sense of vulnerability you can’t find anywhere else. Connecting with people starts with understanding what makes you you… and staying authentic and true to that.
Otherwise, you’re no longer doing what you love — you’re just doing what you think you’re supposed to do.
And no one connects with that.
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