Yep, I decided to try to make this site a bit more professional, and what better way than to actually go on record with one of the bands I have posted about on several occasions? If you do not already know, which would be pathetic and sad in my humble and correct opinion, The Father Figures will be playing at Rips this coming Saturday, January 29, 2011. A special show to mark a special occasion, the release of the band’s first disc Lesson Number One on AZPX Records.
I had a chance to interview the band back in 2009. Reading that reminded me just how far this band has come in a mere year and a half. It is an exciting time for the band and an exciting time for local music!
So here it is folks, an official transcript (minus the expletives ;-)) of my little chat with the Father Figures at their practice studio in downtown Phoenix. I was disappointed with the lack of hookers in the area …
Frank: Can you tell me your names, ages and your role in the band?
Micheal: I’m Michael Cornelius, I’m 51. I play guitar and sing back-up vocals.
Tom: D.I. stands for Do It!
Bobby: I’m Bobby Lerma. I’m 41. I play the drums and I sing back-ups.
Tom: Tom Reardon, 41, bass and vocals.
Frank: Originally the three of you had the idea of just getting together to jam, correct?
Michael: Bobby had a hall pass because his wife was out-of-town and he could make lots of noise at home, so he invited me over which he had done before occasionally in the past. This was just another time we thought we were just going to make some noise for a while.
Tom: This time music was involved. (laughter in the background)
Bobby: And of course Tom was part of that.
Frank: When did it occur to the three of you that this could be more than just random jam sessions?
Michael: From the beginning I kind of thought about my 50th birthday party I was planning, and I thought it would be really cool to play at the 50th birthday party just for fun. I think we brought that up before the first weekend of jamming around was done, right?
Bobby: It was at least within the first week.
Michael: Yeah, because we jammed two or three days, and after that I said, “we could play at my party!”
Tom: And Bobby and I said, “Yes! Let’s do that, it will be a good show!”
Bobby: There really was no pretense when we started this band. Even after we played that show I still did not even think, “We’re going to record or put something out.” I would say after the first month once we started actually writing a song or two for this band, then we figured “this has some viability.”
Michael: We had leftover material from older stuff we had done before. Was any of it new, brand-new that we wrote just for the band?
Bobby: It was Tom’s scrap-pile and your scrap-pile. We didn’t have a Bobby Lerma song yet. We played “No Guarantees” which was written before this band, so we had one new song.
Michael: Then we wrote more songs and played more shows. We were having too much fun to not do it, so we kept doing it.
Bobby: The response was positive. If we were playing out and people were just half-assing it then it would have been different.
Michael: I wouldn’t have cared, I would have kept wanting to play! (laughter from all) I’m having fun!
Tom: We probably would have a lot more pissed-off songs though.
Bobby: Less pop, more angst.
Frank: I just remember you telling me right before that first show that “we’re basically just goofing around.” After that first show I really felt there was some potential but did not want to say anything to you guys right away. I was really surprised that it came together that quick.
Michael: I had nothing else going on. These guys both played in three or four other things the year before, but I hadn’t played in a band since ’96.
Bobby: You were jamming with people though.
Michael: A little bit of jamming, but it wasn’t coming together. This was a case of “we played a show and we have songs! We should just keep doing it because I’m into it.”
Bobby: Then it really took on a life of its own. The best word I can think of is “organic”. It just grew.
Michael: Well, I’ve known Bobby since he was 14 back when he was in his first punk rock band.
Bobby: Michael produced the Kluged tape, did you know that?
Frank: I did not know that! (long discussion ensues of the band Kluged from the mid-eighties)
Bobby: Tom had a bunch of stuff going on when this started.
Tom: Not really. Kind of down to only one … well, Hillbilly (Hillbilly Devilspeak) played some shows after this started and Pinky (Pinky Tuscadero’s White Knuckle A …) was winding down.
Frank: Originally The Father Figures had a classic post-punk sound that was a bit of a mesh of Interpol and Fugazi with maybe a hint of Sonic Youth in the mix. The band has progressed far beyond those comparisons. I hear more of a punk edge than before with a surf rock influence as well. How would you guys categorize your sound today, especially compared to a year and a half ago?
Michael: I can’t compare because I’m completely unobjective. I just kind of play guitar the way I play guitar. I’m in that zone of doing that.
Frank: Well, I’m not even looking for a comparison to another band per se. To me the sound has changed and progressed from the limitations of before.
Michael: Well, now it’s stuff we have all written together. At the beginning we had leftover material from work we had done with others and put those together. But after we started writing songs together that’s when we created “Caviar” and “Butterfly” and “Fe Fi Fo”. That is really when we came up with our sound. It was just a matter of writing songs together more than anything else. For example, “Fix You” was an older song, but I wanted to “Father Figure this thing up”, so I brought it to these guys, said “let’s start here” and we made it into a Father Figures song rather than what it used to be before.
Bobby: Is it better now?
Michael: Oh yeah!
Bobby: That song had an epiphany when Tom dropped his vocal register on it. I had questions whether or not that song was going to stay in the set.
Tom: You and me both. Thorn in my side in the studio. (laughter from all)
Bobby: Was “Lesson Number One” an old song, because that’s a departure from everything we’ve done? But it fits.
Bobby: Do you think it sounds like a Father Figures song?
Frank: I absolutely think it does. The main thing that jumped out at me was the tempo progression. Even the intensity, the power builds and builds and builds. It has a much different feel at the beginning, then becomes a definite Father Figures song during the last half.
Frank: I’m stretching it a bit with this analogy, but when Peter Gabriel left Genesis in the seventies the band auditioned several singers before “settling” on drummer Phil Collins. That obviously turned out to be the right move. When it became apparent the three of you were going to keep playing together, my understanding was the idea of recruiting a fourth member on vocals was the game plan. When and how did the three of you decide the best move was to remain a trio and have Tom assume the role of lead vocalist?
Michael: We were still figuring out what we sounded like.
Bobby: It had everything to do with us feeling that we had something special with just three of us.
Tom: It felt special after just 2 1/2 weeks.
Michael: Part of it was the three of us had been playing together and it felt good, but we didn’t really know what it was yet.
Bobby: We hadn’t given it enough of a chance.
Michael: We didn’t know why it was good with the three of us and what a fourth person would need to bring. We thought, “We should just keep doing what we’re doing now and maybe after we figure it out add a singer later, or maybe we won’t. We should just jam out with the three of us and nail some stuff down first before we add anything else in.”
Bobby: When we were at the point where it was starting to feel organic, throwing another ingredient into that mix could have … because really, in a band when you’re writing stuff you have to please the other people that you’re with, and when you add another person that needs to be pleased, needs to accept what is being brought to the table, it just makes it that much more difficult to get things to work. We still have songs we bring in that get shot down and they just go on each one of our scrapheaps and we move on. Obviously it was the right move. Tom has grown by leaps and bounds, not only as a singer but as a front man as well.
Michael: We also fit what Tom does into what we all do together.
Tom: We found a niche for all of it to fit together, plus now Michael and Bobby provide backing vocals and we’re getting some harmonies down.
Bobby: That was a big part of the band’s progression, finally taking the time to do that. We wrote the songs so quickly and everything came together so quickly, we didn’t even have time to put the little bows and ribbons on the songs and that included doing backing vocals. We really got them solidified in the studio.
Frank: You guys have created a lot of original songs in just over a year and a half. Now like most bands that have a punk edge there are some covers in the mix as well. The Father Figures play “Plastic Passion” from The Cure and “Avon Lady” from Frank Discussion and the Feederz. What caused the band to cover those particular songs?
Tom: I always wanted to do “Plastic Passion”. I thought it would be a great song to cover.
Bobby: We were talking about it on the way back from Prescott and we asked Michael if he had ever heard that first Cure record. He said no and then listened to it and didn’t care for it.
Michael: I listened to the song and said, “oh, that isn’t cool”. But I decided I wanted to learn to play it just to see, and it’s really fun to play! Not that I love the original song, but it’s really fun to play, and the way we play it came out more punk than The Cure. I like that.
Bobby: Michael brought in “Avon Lady” and that is right up our alley.
Tom: That’s one of the first songs we learned. We played that early. Didn’t we play it at your birthday party?
Michael: Pretty sure we did. It’s part homage to early Phoenix punk.
Frank: Another song you guys covered early on was “Ex-Lion Tamer” from Wire. Any chance of your fans ever seeing a live or studio rendering of that?
Bobby: It’s hard to think about those early practices because it was so bad!
Tom: I think we’d do it better now.
Michael: Not that song.
Tom: There are other Wire songs that would be cool to do.
Bobby: That song has been done so many times. It was just something that was super-easy to do that gave us a foundation.
Frank: What was the inspiration for the album title Lesson Number One?
Bobby: The lyrics were for Tom’s song “Lesson Number One”.
Michael: Yeah, we had the song “Lesson Number One”. It just seemed like a good title for an album.
Bobby: It mixed well with the band name.
Michael: Between the band name, having the song, album title, first album, Lesson One, let’s go for that.
Frank: “Butterfly” is one of the band’s newer songs and one you posted on The Father Figures Facebook page back in November. I’m curious about the meaning of that particular track, particularly the chorus of “I wish I never met you!”
Bobby: (to Tom) You wrote the lyrics.
Tom: Yeah, but it was Bobby’s suggestion.
Bobby: I wrote the song, and I thought to myself it would be cool to write a song about the butterfly effect, that one thing can change a multitude of things in the future. I just suggested it to Tom and he came up with those killer lyrics and ran with that idea.
Frank: The lyrics for that song are pretty intense.
Tom: They’re about a couple of different people. (laughter from all)
Frank: I had a feeling!
Michael: Of which we can all relate to.
Tom: It’s historical fiction.
Frank: It’s one of those songs with such a killer hook to it that I focus on the music first. The music always draws me in first, then after a couple of listens I start paying attention to the lyrics. So eventually I said to myself, “Holy cow, is he really saying that? This is a pretty brutal song!” (laughter from all)
Bobby: Tom’s choruses are pretty heavy-duty.
Tom: Well, we’re a serious band!
Frank: Michael, you have come a long way as a guitarist in a relatively short period of time, even though this is an instrument you have played for a while.
Michael: Since I was in high school. (laughter from all)
Frank: But the thing is, a lot of fans here in the Valley don’t remember that! They just remember you as the bass player from other bands, so is there ever a sort of urgency or a need to prove anything when you play? I only say that because I remember hearing “Fe Fi Fo” for the first time at the show at the George and Dragon and asking Bobby after the show, “Holy cow! What was that guitar lick he played in that song?” That’s one of my favorite guitar licks on the entire album. It’s intense and just hammers at you.
Bobby: That’s a pretty simple guitar lick, isn’t it? (to Michael)
Michael: The verse is two chords … and the chorus is three … (laughter from all)
Bobby: We don’t want to burst your bubble Frank!
Frank: But the delivery, it’s very powerful!
Bobby: That’s where he shines, figuring out where to play and where to not play.
Tom: And how to put interesting layers in, because that one you do three or four different things during the verse.
Micheal: Well the question I guess is do I feel a sense of urgency. Not really a sense of urgency but I want to play well. I don’t want to play in a band and not put real energy into it. So I do put real energy into it, and I practice, because pimping doesn’t come easy, know what I’m saying? (laughter from all) Playing guitar does not come easy for me. Playing bass was really fairly natural for me. I have to practice the guitar, I really have to practice guitar!
Tom: You’ve been getting a lot of kudos for your guitar playing!
Bobby: Jeff Dahl said, “your guitar player is awesome!” when he heard the album.
Michael: I think a large part of it is that I get to do my thing, and these guys are with me.
Frank: Tom, the sound of this band is somewhat of a different style from some of the other projects you have been involved with over your career. I feel that adds a great dimension to The Father Figures. Did you ever feel any pressure or a need to play more of a harder style with this band?
Tom: No pressure at all, it just has flowed into what it is. Yes, this is very from different from other bands I have done, but all along I have wanted to do a band like this. The opportunity just had not arose.
Frank: Bobby, I can remember after one of the other bands you played in disbanded around 10 years ago or so you told me that was it, you were too old and done playing that style of aggressive music. What changed your mind?
Bobby: Playing with Tom Reardon and Michael Cornelius. I’ll go back to what Tom just said. I’ve never been in a band that so perfectly encompassed my music collection, what I love musically. We play it all. We have a Britpop element in us. We cover so many bases. Punk rock … just the chance to play with these guys and although it just started as a project, playing with some friends and having a good time, I saw the potential was there to blend the dark styles of music I like, the broody kind of dark wave stuff with punk rock and post-punk and surf music because Michael’s guitar is heavily surf-informed.
Michael: Not surf!
Bobby: I’m not saying that you play a surf style guitar, I’m saying that it’s informed. Tons of people have come up and said that.
Tom: Like the DK’s are pretty surf.
Bobby: Richy Paul said “your guitar player is great and reminds me of Saccharine Trust”. I never even thought that before, and then when I listened to some of the stuff I agreed. And we all love Saccharine Trust!
The CD release party for Lesson Number One is this coming Saturday, January 29 at Rips. What has been the initial response to the disc?
Bobby: It’s been pretty positive.
Tom: It’s been overwhelmingly positive.
Michael: There’s a small number of friends that are always my goto’s. I sent them all the CD. That cadre of friends gave me really good feedback on the CD. That’s what really made me happy.
Bobby: The people who would tell you it sucked.
Michael: Those people who would say, “well I don’t know man, you kind of blew it on this”. They didn’t say that. (laughter from all)
(long discussion ensues about bands Bobby previously played in since I have seen pretty much all of them)
Frank: Anything The Father Figures wish to add?
Bobby: We’re writing new songs. We’re writing the second album as we speak … (this was a lengthy discussion and I don’t think I should disclose all we talked about here – all I will say is the discussion was pretty exciting!)
Michael: We’re happy to be working with AZPX and Rob Locker. He’s been a huge help with lots of stuff, promotion and merchandise and AZPX Records.
Bobby: Who helped us put the CD out.
Tom: Just good dudes.
Frank: Thanks guys!