photo by Ivi Rebova
FACS is one of those bands whose plans have been severely disrupted by the pandemic. They had just released their album Void Moments and were packing up for a European tour when COVID-16 came. Band decided to turn their energy and frustration into creative work, which is why they are now coming back with a new album, Present Tense. Brian Case, the singer and founder of FACS, spoke with me about their creative process, living in isolation, the Chicago music scene, living off streaming and – oh yes – concert plans.
Your album, Void Moments, was one of my favourite albums in 2020. I was so glad about seeing you at Roadburn but then COVID happened. It’s a pity you didn’t have a chance to play this material live.
Yeah, we were really disappointed, but everything was happening so fast and nobody really knew what was going on. So while we were really bummed out that we had to cancel so many shows and had spent so much money in advance of the tour, we were kind of freaking out. But it was the only thing to do, there was no other option, so I guess it kind of felt reassuring that so many other people were in the same position. You know, in limbo. I was really glad we weren’t gone yet. We were leaving in like a week. We had some friends who were already out on the road traveling. I imagine that felt really crazy and really scary. I don’t know, it was disappointing. But as you watch the world kind of shut down, you knew that it was the only option. So we just decided, like, well, let’s just start making a new record, let’s just channel this energy into a different place. If we can’t go out and play these songs, let’s just make some more.
Did you have any chance to play this album live?
Well, we’ve done some live stream stuff, but we haven’t played a show yet, so… (laugh)
How do you perceive Void Moments after all this time? Do you see a place for this material in the future shows? Because you already have a whole new album.
As we are starting to get a set together for playing, it’s a lot of Void Moments and our latest record. So we’re going to be really focusing on the two latest albums when we do shows. I think people will still want to see it, and we definitely want to play it. We haven’t forgotten about it or moved on, it’s still a part of what we want to do.
The idea for Void Moments promotion was very interesting – you launched a hotline where people could call and tell their stories about experiencing “void moments”.
So when you make a record you have to think “how can I get people interested in this”? We had this idea that we would set up this hotline. You know, at first we put up posters all over Chicago: Are you experiencing void moments? Call this number. And we didn’t put our band name on it or anything. We pasted them all over town.
So we had this number and people could just call in not knowing that it was connected to the band. So then we announced the album Void Moments, and we took the phone calls we were getting and made this kind of audio collage out of them. It was more just listening to people talk, feeling out of their heads or strange… They were surprising themselves, felt lost or found even, and it was extra crazy because the timing was along with this whole pandemic. So there was definitely some calls that were about that.
Do you think about something similar with your new album?
This time, because we’ve been living in this “void moment” since then, our idea is to do a live stream. But we wanted to prerecord it and have our friends manipulate all the footage. So, next week actually, we’re going to announce that, and it’s going to be like a stream that you can watch on Bandcamp, and it’s styled in a really cool way.
We played all of “Present Tense”, which live is pretty different from how the record turned out. We filmed it in this little tiny theater that’s haunted. And they really made the footage look so cool.
Why does live material sound different from an album?
We didn’t write a couple of the songs in the studio, but we finished them there. So we did some things that we normally wouldn’t be able to do live. We sort of tried to do that with the records anyway. The records are cool because it’s this own world. But when you take the songs out of that, they have to stand on their own. We usually write them as if a live show was happening, so they’ve got more energy, lean in different ways. But the records are more textured, and we try to use the studio as a member, as an instrument. So we’re more open to the songs turning into something different when they’re in the studio, and live we’re just trying to keep people’s attention and have fun.
Tell me more about your new album, Present Tense. Was the recording process any different?
Well, like everyone, there were maybe three months when we didn’t see each other, at the beginning of the pandemic. We have a space where we play music and there’s enough room in there to spread out, so we decided that we were going to start writing again. We did it kind of the same, as we always do. Just get in the room and talk about stuff and, you know, it’s as much about spending time together as it is about playing music.
We channeled all our questions and confusion into making some music. And then we recorded for a couple of days, and sent it to our friend who we work on our records with, and he mixed it for us. It happened really fast. And we were like, let’s just go with this.
Is this material heavily influenced by the pandemic?
I mean, it was really on our mind, we were talking a lot about it, and it was going on all around us. We practice in this huge building with tons of bands, and we didn’t see anyone for months. No one we shared the room with was coming, and we didn’t see anyone in the hall. We felt really alone, it felt like we were the only people doing anything. It gives you this weird perspective on things. It felt different, but the process was the same as always. But the environment was different. I’m sure it affected the way the music turned out.
Can you tell me something more about the Chicago music scene?
I think it’s the best in the country. There are tons of bands, lots of genres. No one is, I think, confined to just one thing. There’s lots of collaborations. I think it’s more of a community vibe than a competition. I don’t see people competing with each other. Everyone is really trying to bring attention to other bands or lift up people. It’s just really, really supportive. And there’s lots of venues, labels, publicists. There’s a whole industry here that is, I think, interested in helping each other. It’s great. I have a hard time imagining being anywhere else, playing music, and I don’t know if I were somewhere else I’d be able to keep playing for as long as I have.
Obviously this year was very hard and very weird for everyone. How it could change the music scene in general?
I think it’s definitely going to change. I’m really curious when shows come back. We announced some shows in July at a club where we always play, Empty Bottle. It holds 300 – 400 people. Every night we plan on only letting 50 people in. I think it will ease back into things and get people comfortable, but it’s also really hard for a club to operate like that. So I’m curious how long people can last in that situation.
But then in Chicago, there are tons of festivals like Pitchfork, Riot Fest and Lollapalooza and all of those are happening in the Fall. Lollapalooza, it’s like one hundred thousand people for three days in a row… I don’t know how it’s going to come back.
And there’s also this thing – when clubs open, all these bands want to go on tour. No one’s been on tour for a year, so, so much will be trying to happen at the same time. I think big bands will play smaller places just so they can go on tour. It’s going to limit access for some bands to doing things. That’s going to be really disappointing.
Did Bandcamp Fridays help you?
Well, those Bandcamp Fridays really helped us out a lot. Because we were going on tour, we ordered tons of merch. We had all these shirts, all the stuff that was sitting in this huge pile in the corner of the room. And we’d spent all this money to make these. Those Bandcamp days helped us sell everything and make our money back and even make money on top of that. It helped us pay for a recording of our record and pay for our practice space.
I read statements about those actions being harmful to artists as they force them to constantly release something new. They are no longer artists, but “content creators”.
I didn’t feel obligated to keep pumping out products, but we were lucky because we had a few things sitting around. So we could put them up, you know, and maybe people will be interested in hearing it. We also did that live record, and it was only through Bandcamp, like we never put it on Spotify or Apple.
I really support Bandcamp. I really like them. It seems like their intentions were good, and they wanted to help. And they did. More than anything. When I think about what you’re saying about artists being just like content makers, I think more about what the Spotify guy said, that artists can’t just make a record every two years. I mean… who is this clown?
I really don’t like Spotify. I understand that it can be helpful for some people, but we don’t even consider it as a part of anything. It’s obviously not going away at this point, but also I’m not going to promote it in any way either.
Using Spotify is easy. They have a good app and so on. To be honest, I discovered FACS on Spotify.
I can’t say that it doesn’t help people and I can’t say that it hasn’t helped us. We’ve made money from it… not very much, but especially in a year like this everything helps. So it is what it is. It’s not my thing, but I would never disparage anyone for using it, you know?
I think it’s important to remind people that even though they listen to some bands on Spotify, they can support them by buying merch or going to a show also.
Yeah. If you don’t like buying records, but you love listening to music, buy a shirt or just go see that band play, just go see them. You have no idea how much it helps, just going to a show. Just walking in the door it’s so helpful. I don’t know if people realize that, It’s crazy. I don’t think people know how much that helps, just actually going into the show. It’s huge.
FACS: Present Tense
Premiere: 21th May 2021