San Francisco based duo, Fops, are kinda hard to pin down. It would be easy to say they were part of the electronic, dance, rock, whatever genre but that isn’t it exactly. Though you can most certainly dance to just about every song on their upcoming release, Yeth, Yeth, Yeth (UK label Monotreme Records), except maybe Dragomirov on the Dancefloor. Yes. There is the word ‘dancefloor’ in the title suggesting a danceability but I assure you, unless you’re one of the goth kid characters on South Park, not a lot of dancing can be done to this tune.
Their sound lies somewhere between Krautrock and 80s New Wave a la Echo and The Bunnymen and The Smiths. Or at least that’s what lyricist Chad Bidwell told me. And indeed, there are echoes of both bands, and a slew of others, rolling through each track yet their sound cannot be limited to mere homage nor crass co-optation. Fops have crafted an album that is at once nostalgic and new. Singer Dee Kesler’s opaque intonations sound like their calling from a Sony Walkman circa ’86 and that plays nicely with Bidwell’s sardonic (and genuinely plaintive) lyrical vignettes.
These are the sort of musical ironies I am drawn to, making Yeth,Yeth,Yeth number one in my iTunes rotation. Actually it’s been on repeat the last few weeks and the the truth is, I barely have an idea as to what Kesler is singing such is the fuzzed out effect on almost every song. But it sounds beautiful so it hardly matters as the overall effect envelopes the listener in a cocoon of familiarity and by familiarity I mean ennui – in its most classic sense. Even their love song, Maple Mountain, sounds like resignation mixed with hope? Maybe? It’s the sort of song Morrissey would sing but he’d make it sound petulant. At least Kesler and Bidwell avoided this trap.
Years of honing their individual styles, which compliment each other nicely, in other bands, Kesler in Thee More Shallows and Bidwell in Ral Partha Vogalbacher, ensures they have processed the music of their youth making their efforts sound original despite their obvious influences. In the short time that Fops has been a band, they’ve already completed two full-length albums. – the aforementioned, Yeth, Yeth, Yeth to be released worldwide this fall and Priests in Them Caves to be released early next year.
According to Bidwell both albums are novels at heart, investigating the possible and impossible, gaudy and fantastical, mundane and downright depressing pasts and futures of a single protagonist. In the world of Fops, Kesler is the narrator, telling stories in Bidwell’s visually descriptive lyrical style.
I had the opportunity to ask him ten questions (my decision to ask ten rather than the meandering 20-40 I usually ask) about his new band, influences, narratives etc.
I pretty much love every song on Yeth, Yeth,Yeth but if I had to pick a favorite it’d be this one: Maple Mountain
FLABmag: I hate asking standard questions but they are essential. So I will ask them in one rather lengthy condensed question:
How did you guys meet? How long have you been collaborating? Why did you pick Fops for your name? Whose baby is in the photo accompanying the press release for Yeth Yeth Yeth?
Chadwick (Chad) Bidwell: Dee and I met in the late 90′s (?!) in SF in a bar. A mutual friend introduced us. I think his band at the time needed a drummer. I told him I was a great drummer. During our first practice, it became quickly and painfully obvious that I had never played the drums before in my life. I guess I thought I could figure it out as we played. Not sure why we kept hanging out after that. Eventually, he started helping me with my previous band. During the recording of the last album of that previous band, Dee and I shared a lot of the songwriting while I wrote the lyrics and he recorded it. That dynamic carried over into the FOPS sessions. We picked FOPS because we grew weary of both our previous band’s god-awful names. They were really long, difficult to pronounce, and leant themselves very easily to funny misspellings. We wanted something short and simple. I actually was hoping we would be called “Fantasy Jackass” and Dee really liked “The For Reals.” I’m glad we decided to go with FOPS. I’m gonna stop using all caps now when referring to the band. That’s my beautiful daughter, Violet, in the photo. Dee’s son was in a couple of the photos as well, but I guess those didn’t turn out well due to our creepy smiles.
FLABmag: To what does Yeth Yeth Yeth refer? What is its derivation?
Chad: Dee lisps. Sometimes he purposefully lisps when answering a question with “yeth.” When we completed the two albums of material, he was muttering to himself: “Yeth, yeth, yeth. It ith done.”
FLABmag: You have already recorded two full length albums for Monotreme records, Yeth, Yeth, Yeth to be released in a few months and Priests In Them Caves early next year, was the material culled from songs and ideas you cultivated separately while performing in your respective former bands or did the albums come together once you started collaborating?
Chad: I think what happened was this…We were both tired of our previous bands. Maybe I was tired, and Dee was experiencing writer’s block. Maybe I’m lazy and don’t write unless someone is asking me for lyrics. Actually, I think Dee was at home with his newborn and wanted to record music, and he needs a foil or else he just sits in his basement rerecording the same banjo solo for days and days and days. So, he proposed that we just start writing as many songs as we could just for fun since I had some lyrics sitting around. The original demos were really primitive and unlistenable. He’d built a little studio in his basement, and I’d go over to his house every weekend to record. I think we had a few rules when we started out like: 1) writing and recording must be enjoyable, 2) no spending more than 15 minutes on any part, and 3) no ideas get turned down. I think we dropped rule #3, because that’s a terrible rule. Dee destroyed rule #2. I nearly killed rule #1 with my bad attitude.
FLABmag: According to the release both albums are to be taken as narrative with one single protagonist. From what I am able to gather this protagonist seems like a combination of The Saint (as portrayed by Roger Moore NOT Val Kilmer (although his was a genuinely enjoyable but hammy portrayal) and Duckie from Pretty in Pink: A formerly dorky rogue with wild and worldly intelligence cultivated by the hard knocks of a miserable youth. Am I close? If not who is the protagonist modeled after? (No scrimping on this question, por favor.)
Chad: I barely recall watching the Val Kilmer version of that movie. It must have been post-Real Genius, pre-The Salton Sea, because I sorta remember still liking him in it. I definitely do relate to Duckie. Although I enjoyed high school, junior high was just awful. I’m guessing it was awful for most people. More than the character or the movie in which Duckie played, the soundtrack to that movie probably had more of an impact on my life. That soundtrack was one of just a few little treasures I found that sort of pointed me in the direction of good music. This is kind of a tangent, but maybe its sad that it’s so easy to find everything and then download it immediately now. I used to go like this: 1) Your friend comes into possession of a copy of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. 2) You ask for a copy. 3) You wait. 4) You ask again. 5) He eventually gives you a copy (in exchange for a blank cassette). 4) You listen to it all the time for a few weeks. 5) You fall in love with Echo & the Bunnymen (you were already a little too into the Smiths, 6) holy crap! There’s already an entire Echo and the Bunnymen catalogue. 7) New band to obsess over!
Oh right. The protagonist. I guess that’s me. Some of it is taken from experiences, some of it is taken from observations, some of it doesn’t make any sense, and some of it is stuff I fantasize about. It’s just about the usual stuff: where you’re from, who you spend your time with, what you wish was happening around you, stuff you’re trying to get out of your head. The first two songs are about my dad. A couple are about my wife. At least one is about living in Ghana. One is about pining for the town in which I grew up.
FLABmag: Are either of you fans of Ultravox, Midge Ure era? I hear a lot of Midge-esque vocal stylings.
Chad: I actually wasn’t familiar with Ultravox. Just listened to Vienna, and I really like it. Weird that that was the sound we were kinda going for. It was even produced by Conny Plank. Maybe Dee listened to them. Just looked them up, listened to some tracks, read their bio. All that would have taken weeks when I was a kid. I’m old.
FLABmag: I’m curious to know how you will present the albums in a live situation? Since they are to be taken as narratives will you play the songs sequentially? Or have you thought of some other way to present the material?
Chad: Not sure if we will play them live. We both really want to play these songs live, but we’ll have to wait and see. If we do, we’ll have to bring others on board to help play all the instruments. I think the plan would be to play the first album in sequence, take a quick break to drink several manhattans, and play the second album in sequence. We’re talking about touring after the second album is released, but we both have little kids, and the families come first. We both love playing live, so I bet it will happen sometime next year. The only thing I can be fairly certain of is that I’d be playing bass and singing a little and Dee would be playing guitar and singing a lot.
FLABmag: Will you add additional members for a tour or do you think you’re capable of performing all the songs by yourselves?
Chad: We could do it all by ourselves but that would be terrible.
FLABmag: I imagine you will become quite popular with the Indie dance club scene and/or 80s New Wave throwback dance party scene. How important is the obvious danceability of your music?
Chad: Really? I’m not sure I’m a fan of dance music, but at the same time I am finding myself interested in making dance music. I keep coming back to New Order’s Blue Monday. The music they were making up to that point wasn’t overtly dance, and in fact seems very isolating and introspective. Then they release the biggest dance single at the time. And it even sort of fits as a piece of an album. I find it fascinating that they were able to make music that simultaneously catered to morbid introspective mopers and fun-time dancing party-goers. I would like to do that. I don’t want to make music that is depressing, and yet I don’t want to make music that is fodder for the vapid.
Flabmag: There’s a lot of great electronic (danceable) music coming out of the Bay area where you guys are located. Who are some of your favorite local bands? Do you have any favorites?
Chad: Hmm…There was a time when I went out to watch the bands play in the clubs. I saw a band play recently. The show started at 10:15 and ended at 11:00. I missed whoever opened. It was a perfect night. I only had to stand in the club for an hour. Dee’s answer for best new band would be “low bandwidth” which is a compilation of awful music from the web, which was released by someone in the Bay Area, I think. I’ve been listening to whatever Mutant Sounds throws up on its website. There seem to always be lots of great bands around here. Stuff from SF that I’ve been listening to recently would include: Hudson Bell, Crebain, Burmese, Art Museums, Moon Duo, Greg Kowalsky, and Units.
FLABmag: Last Question: Who do you hope will watch over you when your mind begins to stagger? (<– That line has brought tears to my eyes. That’s a good thing.)
Chad: I hope my wife and daughter do.
Visit Fops on the Internet: