Sunday, 13 March 2016

Interview: Faustus - South Streets Arts Centre, Reading - 05/03/2016

Faustus is the child of Paul Sartin (Bellowhead, Belshazzar’s Feast), Benji Kirkpatrick (Bellowhead, Bendrix), and Saul Rose (Eliza Carthy, Whapweasel). Nominated for “Best Band” in the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, the band successfully bring together elements of traditional English folk music, fusing them with influences from rock, and a lot of testosterone. Their last album, Broken Down Gentlemen, was released in 2013 on Navigator Records, so here before their show I got the chance to chat with the band about their upcoming untitled release…

…As well as a plethora of other things including Twitter, violas, German Starbucks, and Enter Shikari. Find the interview transcribed below!

I’m not too familiar with Faustus, I confess, and I haven’t really listened to or seen you before. Obviously I’ve listened to Bellowhead and the various projects you’re otherwise involved with, but not Faustus. So what is the “mission statement” of the band, and your objectives with forming the band and the music you play?

Saul: We got together because all three of us are in similar positions in that we’re all professional musicians, we’ve all got kids, and we’re all about the same age, so all the difficulties that come with being a touring musician and a parent are quite shared; that’s part of the reason we got together.

Paul: A joint love of English music, and a feeling that it needs to be performed with some… balls, basically.

Saul: Yeah, a bit of gusto.

So you knew each other before forming the band I assume then?

Benji: Yeah.

Paul: Yes we did, and we’d all worked together in different guises. Faustus came out of a previous band, “Doctor Faustus”, which was Benji and I, and two others. In the meantime Saul and I did some work together, the other two left Doctor Faustus, so we brought Saul in.

Saul: We played for a few barn dances and ceilidhs as the three of us, and we just had a really good time playing.

And decided to keep it going?

Saul: It seemed like the logical thing to do, yeah, to keep the band going. We just took “Doctor” off to say there’s a differentiation between the lineups.

Okay, so Paul mentioned that you all have a love of English music; is it just traditional English music that you do, or do you write any of your own stuff as well?

Paul: We do write. So far, our writing’s been mainly tunes that we perform, but we have actually set old lyrics to new tunes as well and started doing a bit more of that. Saul’s just been working on one that we only performed for the first time last night, and that’s an old set of words where the tune was rather vague and, um, well not very good.

Saul: Exactly.

Paul: So Saul’s redone it. And I think we’ll do a bit more of that: we started performing pieces written by other people as well which is a slightly new departure, so in our new set we’re doing a piece written by Bill Caddick, but generally speaking in the past our staple fare has been trad.

And who is Bill Caddick?

Benji: Bill Caddick is a songwriter, and a singer from the Midlands, Telford/Ironbridge area, who’s been on the scene for a very long time. It’s a song that he wrote in the very early seventies, I think, that we’re doing.

Paul: What bands was he in again?

Benji: He was in The Home Service, alongside John Tams, in their sort of “big” era in the eighties. But, you know, he’s been a folk singer, a solo singer, around the clubs for probably nigh on fifty years.

Do you have a favourite song that you play, or a favourite traditional song that you don’t play?

Benji: No, our favourite ones we don’t play. (Laughs) We play the ones we hate.

So there’s none that particularly stick out in mind to you as one you really love?

Benji: Nah, we don’t like any of them really. We just play them, that’s what we do. (Laughs)

Saul: No they’re all great.

Moving away from songs and more towards instruments, Paul you play oboe and violin, Benji you play anything with frets, Guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, etc?

Benji: (Laughs) Ish, kind of, yeah.

Paul: Though in this lineup you haven’t done mandolin have you?

Benji: No with Faustus it’s just bouzouki and guitar.

And Saul, you play melodeon?

Saul: I do indeed, yeah.

Are there any other instruments you play outside of Faustus, or wish you played?

Benji: Yes.

Paul: Well I play piano, and tin whistle. That’s my claim to fame. Benji, you…

Benji: I play a bit of piano as well. And, err, not much else.

Paul: Well, banjo.

Benji: Oh yeah...

Paul: You don’t have to put that in the article though. (Laughs)

Benji: Yeah, don’t mention the banjo at any point.

Saul: And I’m a drummer, as well. I’m not very good, but…

Did you start with drums or melodeon?

Saul: Started with drums, yeah. I’d like to be able to play the piano.

Paul: I’d like to be able to play the concertina. I’ve got one at home and I’ve had it for thirty years and I still haven’t learned how to play it.

I’ve had my concertina about a year and I can play maybe one thing on it.

Paul: I can only play one note on mine.

Benji: I play the triangle as well. Which is...

Paul: No you don’t, you’d like to be able to play the triangle. (Laughs)

Saul: And then you’re gonna move onto a square, aren’t you?

Benji: I’d like to be able to play the triangle, yeah.

So Paul, your range of instruments is quite large, it seems, like oboe, violin, piano, they’re all quite different whereas say Benji’s stringed instruments are all quite similar. Is there any reason you play instruments that are quite different?

Paul: I think, in a way, it’s easier to play instruments that are very different, whereas for instance swapping from violin to viola there’d be a minimal shift in fingering. I would find that far more difficult.

Okay, Benji do you agree, playing lots of instruments that are quite similar?

Benji: Umm… I find that playing the viola, having played the bouzouki, is incredibly difficult. (Laughs), umm, it doesn’t sound very good if you strum it, for example.

Paul: Do you ever wonder why people don’t take you seriously Benji?

Benji: No. (Laughs), the thing is that with all the fretty things that I play, a lot of them are very similar. So guitar is a good start, but then mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, the tunings are, sort of, all fairly similar, so it’s quite easy to move between them. Obviously if you want to “fine tune” what you do, that’s slightly different.

Okay, I play guitar and mandolin so I always found it’s a bit of a natural transition for me.

Benji: Yeah, I agree.

Paul: But also we’ve all got quite different musical brains and I think that’s… It comes out in the instruments we’ve decided to play. I mean, I could never fathom out fretted instruments or melodeons.

Saul: Melodeons are for the stupid!

Paul: Well it’s just a different-

Benji: Saul doesn’t actually have a brain.

Paul: -which is why he can play melodeon. (Laughs) But I think our brains are all wired very differently and that makes different instruments more suitable for us to actually perform.

So when you’re on tour, what’s a day in the life like, on a Faustus tour?

Saul: Well we normally wake up in a hotel somewhere, and we’ll have, normally, breakfast.

Benji: If there is any provided.

Paul: As late as possible!

Saul: Yup, late as possible. We like late checkouts: twelve o’clock checkouts are great!

Paul: But it’s normally eleven, isn’t it?

Saul: Then we’ll trundle part way of the journey to wherever the next gig is. We like Michael Wood services more than any other. (Laughs) and then we play the game in Starbucks where they ask for a name on the cup and, err, we pretended to be German once didn’t we?

Benji: Yes, we did. Or Welsh, we did a Welsh one as well. Dafyyd.

Saul: Yeah we did a Welsh one, which was good, and then normally we get to venues about four o’clock, and there’s a lot of setting up. Today our sound engineer has had a family crisis he’s had to go, but normally he’d be here setting stuff up. Then we sound check, and then we eat Ethiopian food, and then we gig, and then we have a drink, and then we go to bed, and then we repeat.

So you recently had a residency at Halsaway Manor?

Very fancy... Right manor? We hope so!
Paul: Actually we’re in the middle of it, we’re there for a year.

Benji: Well, we’re in Reading, right now. (Laughs)

Okay, but what’s that been like so far then, advantageous, or…?

Paul: So far we’ve just spent several days… We’ve spent huge chunks of time at the manor, and we’re researching. That’s where the lyrics I mentioned earlier from the old text that Saul found and set to music, that was in their archive. They’ve got all sorts of interesting archives and library material, so we’ve been researching there and joining in with general activities and sessions that have been happening, concerts as well; just enjoying the landscape and the free food and all the lodging. We’ve got two workshop stints planned for this year, at least two: we’ll go down, guests will come along, and we’ll do some fun things. It’s all a bit work in progress. In return, we’re being ambassadors for the manor.

Saul: We’re the first artists in residence that Halsaway Manor have ever agreed to have, so we’re the guinea pigs, it’s kind of not set in stone yet.

Paul: Everyone’s feeling their way at the moment, but it’s been really advantageous and really good fun.

Benji: Definitely.

Saul: Well they’ve been enjoying the process so much that they’ve actually already lined up next year’s artists in residence. I can’t remember who they said that was but-

Paul: It’s not us.

Saul: It’s a younger band, yeah. Which is good for them!

So it’s been a good year for the band really?

Benji: Yeah.

Paul: And for the manor, yeah.

Okay. So Paul, you also did a thing with Enter Shikari?

Paul: I did, yes.

I saw you Tweeting about it a while ago. How did that come about? Obviously they’re not folky at all.

Paul: Not in the least. That came about because when Bellowhead recorded “Revival” (Island Records, 2014), the string section went to a recording studios in Lincolnshire, and at the end of the session the people running the studio asked us to leave our numbers because they get requests for strings sections. And then Enter Shikari came to the studio a month later, decided they needed strings, saw our numbers, and gave me a ring. So in the end Rachael (McShane, cello) and Sam (Sweeney, violin) weren’t free, so I got a few other people in and then I ended up doing some oboe and cor anglais, and playing oboe with them live at The Roundhouse (London), with a post-industrial prog-metal rock band.

Enter Shikari

Is that how they describe themselves?

Paul: Something like that, with oboe. It was quite cool.

Saul: As you do. (Laughs)

So I assume you listen to other things than folk music in general, outside of work?

Benji: We don’t really listen to folk music. I don’t, generally.

Paul: Not much.

Benji: Yeah, I listen to a wide variety of things.

Is there anything you’ve found recently that you really like?

Benji: Hmm, I really like White Denim. Do you know White Denim? (I shake my head), American rock band. I don’t know how to describe them. It’s quite intelligent what they do, not just blaring out the chords.

Saul: I’ve been listening to Hoven Droven recently, which is Swedish death metal folk.

Paul: I’ve been going back in time and reacquainting myself with Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder.

Alright, so if there was any one musician that you could work with? If you had to expand Faustus into a quartet just for one album and you could pick any one musician as the fourth member, who would it be?

Benji: Jimi Hendrix.

Saul: You’d pick Jimi would you? Ringo Starr.

Paul: Umm… And you can go back in time can you? People who are dead?

Benji: Levon Helm?

Paul: No, erm, what’s her name? No I can’t say that it’s a bit sick. (Everyone looks confused), erm, Janis Joplin, how about her? I like Janis Joplin.

Saul: Why not?

Paul: I think she’d understand our lifestyle choices, wouldn’t she? (Laughs)

Benji: Yes, we wouldn’t last very long. (Laughs)

Paul: But what a way to go!

Okay, interesting. So, (Paul and Benji) are both in Bellowhead, and (Saul is) not?

Saul: This is the case.

So is it ever a bit weird, that (Paul and Benji) are in another band without Saul or anything when you’re on tour?

Saul: I’ve toured with Bellowhead and stood in for Squeezy (John Spiers, melodeon) a few years ago, and what was really nice about that was that I already had two mates in the band so that was great, and I didn’t feel like the new boy on the coach.

Okay, well last one, to be an upcoming artist in the folk world, or in any genre of music these days, then you have to have a really big online presence to get anywhere. What do you think of that? Is it good for a band, and do you have a big online presence that you actively contribute to?

Saul: Well, yeah, it’s mainly social media-based. We have a website, but that’s not very dynamic and just a point of reference more than anything else. The dynamic aspect of our online presence is our social media, and that for us is Facebook and Twitter. And it does work. We did a gig, where was it, Bristol, was it? Where the promoter had a bit of a flap and we did an aggressive social media push for that gig, and we got another forty people out of a hundred.

Benji: Bristol Folk House. We do have a pretty big online presence, and that’s essential these days. Everybody uses it as a platform, but the danger is that it’s a drain on time and your will to live sometimes.

Paul: And your brain cells. It’s the first port of call though, isn’t it?

Saul: Well what its done, because I do quite a lot of the social media for the three of us, what that’s meant is that I don’t use Facebook or Twitter like other people do. I hardly ever comment, and my profile’s very static, I don’t really do anything. I use social media in terms of advertising gigs, because it’s a huge amount of free advertising, which is great. But it means I do what I’ve gotta do, and then get off. I don’t spend four hours scrolling through posts or anything.

Paul: I don’t know if it counts but we do have a mailing list, which I put together before a tour, and the guys send me all the news details, and then that goes out to a couple of thousand people, maybe more. Because it’s just in people’s faces, really, and gone are the days, well, nearly gone are the days of sending leaflets through the door. That being said I am on the snail mail mailing list for various bands, but this is so much easier isn’t it? And it’s free, as you say.

Saul: Yeah, it is free. And we’ve had people come and say “we could do your Facebook for you for however many pounds a month”, and I can’t see the point. We’ve got two thousand followers on Facebook and Twitter, so we can reach probably the best part of five thousand people for nothing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add quickly before we stop?

Saul: New album coming out in October. Title as yet to be decided-

Paul: That’s not the title!

Saul: It is now. And, uh, yeah, we’ll be doing some festivals over the summer and on tour again in October.

Facebook: /faustusmusic
Twitter: @faustusfolk

- by Simon James Chisholm

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