Turntable Interview: Tim Harrington
Tim Harrington scarcely needs an introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway. He’s the front man for Les Savy Fav, where he consistently delivers gritty art-punk while staging a one-man performance art piece. His onstage skylarking — including acrobatic set climbing, public wardrobe changes, and frenetic audience interplay — has made Les Savy Fav one of the best live bands around. Last December, LSF co-curated the All Tomorrow’s Parties “Nightmare Before Christmas” festival, further cementing the band as indie rock icons. In a wide-ranging chat, amid technical difficulties, we talked to Tim on Turntable.fm about the art of curating, cover songs, neologisms, and how influential The Pointer Sisters “Neutron Dance” has been for him.
@woolyknickers started playing “Modern Love” by David Bowie
TIM HARRINGTON: You know it is Bob Dylan’s birthday
STEREOGUM: Happy Birthday, Bob!
TIM HARRINGTON: What songs are we playing today? It is Pattie Labelle’s birthday too.
STEREOGUM: We are only playing Patti Labelle and Bob Dylan songs …and whatever else we want.
TIM HARRINGTON: It turns out Patti Labelle was not in the Pointer Sisters.
STEREOGUM: No, is that a surprise?
TIM HARRINGTON: I get all my shoulder padded satiny top wearing plus sized busty black female singers confused
STEREOGUM: Chaka Khan wore a brown sequined catsuit on “American Idol” last night. But did you know she is extremely short? She comes across as more of an ample woman.
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan
TIM HARRINGTON: The Chaks? The Kahn? That is why Prince worked with her.
STEREOGUM: Oh yeah, and Ryan Seacrest, too. Do you think Bob Dylan influenced you at all?
TIM HARRINGTON: Bobby D? The Dill? Influenced me? Nope. Not at all, though I like great lyrics
STEREOGUM: Okay good, because I was really stretching my brain to come up with a tenuous connection between Les Savy Fav and Bob Dylan and couldn’t. Who do you think has influenced you?
@woolyknickers started playing “Jump (For My Love)” by The Pointer Sisters
STEREOGUM: Besides the Pointer Sisters, of course.
TIM HARRINGTON: Well, the Neutron dance is a big one for me but I’m also very inspired by the Dead Kennedy’s, Modern Lovers, all Ian Svenonious (sp?) everything but especially Cupid Car Club
STEREOGUM: I used to live next door to Ian, so he also inspired me …to get curtains. But he really knows how to get a crowd going and put on a show.
TIM HARRINGTON: Yes.
STEREOGUM: Have you seen his recent shows? He hasn’t slowed down at all
TIM HARRINGTON: Yes, I just saw… this is a new new song (I had picked Pointer Sisters too so this one is a random)
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Boat Talk” by Living
TIM HARRINGTON: So anyway, yes I saw Chain and The Gang in DC in April. So good- one of his best bands I think actually.
STEREOGUM: We can play just Pointer Sisters. It’s cool.
TIM HARRINGTON: Instead I went with art school band
STEREOGUM: I am always impressed with how Ian really immerses himself in the show. He seems to live the character off stage, too.
TIM HARRINGTON: Yeah, he is the real deal.
STEREOGUM: How much of your on-stage persona leaks into your every day life? I mean, you don’t walk around in your underwear.
TIM HARRINGTON: Well, I do- but under my clothes
STEREOGUM: Ha! Noted.
TIM HARRINGTON: It is hard to tell, people have described my stage style as a hyperactive kid in a candy store and that is kinda my default mode given the chance, though I indulge my desire to desperately be the center of attention less on a day to day basis. I try to keep it to just talking slightly faster and louder then others.
@woolyknickers started playing “Grape Juice Plus” by Cupid Car Club
TIM HARRINGTON: YES!
STEREOGUM: Grape Juice Plus!
TIM HARRINGTON: Song picking time out…
STEREOGUM: This was actually already in my queue because I love this song. During your shows your bandmates pretty much ignore whatever you’re doing on stage and just play as if nothing is going on. Watching that from the audience is pretty funny. Is it on purpose? Or have they just seen it all before?
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Texas Minute” by Circus Lupus
TIM HARRINGTON: Well, most of my live vibe is fallout from our first tours where we’d go out for 6 weeks and only be able to book 4 shows a week for audiences of about 10, so I’d go fuck with the audience to entertain the band- and then at least there would be an audience of 4…
STEREOGUM: It’s hard to imagine you guys playing for a room with four people in it
TIM HARRINGTON: I like playing in a room for 4 people the BEST! Ideally 4 people who have never heard anything about the band
STEREOGUM: Wow, Circus Lupus. I haven’t thought about them in awhile.
TIM HARRINGTON: I LOVED this band but then in 98 or 99 we played with- Skull Control maybe in Phoenix at a record shop. I was so excited to meet him but they were late and had maybe had a van breakdown and when they arrived Thompson was like- “get your shit off stage”
STEREOGUM: Ha! I love Chris Thomson’s voice so much. Did you ever see his other band Monorchid?
TIM HARRINGTON: I saw Circus Lupus several times but skipped the whole Monorchid thing
STEREOGUM: Really? I liked them a lot.
@woolyknickers started playing “Ice Cream (Feat. Matias Aguayo)” by Battles
STEREOGUM: …and now for something completely different. You played with Battles at ATP right?
TIM HARRINGTON: Yes.
STEREOGUM: What was ATP like from a band point of view? Sorry, from the CURATOR’s point of view.
TIM HARRINGTON: I like it. Bands with LSF history keep appearing. Until recently we’d always get booked next to Battles at festivals and stuff and there was often this thing where if they were first, inevitably they’d be late and end up after us.
STEREOGUM: Is that considered bad manners? It sounds like it.
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan
TIM HARRINGTON: My music dies as I try to upload songs
STEREOGUM: I’m just going to assume you realllllly like Highway 61 revisited.You can tell us what song you were trying to play.
TIM HARRINGTON: Years ago we played with Storm N Stress [Ian Williams of Battles former band] in Providence (before we’d toured) and Seth’s [of LSF] girlfriend wrote their band name in very small text. She made the flyer as, like, graphic design homework. Anyway they were bummed. A week later we played our first NYC show at Brownies and Seth’s tuner didn’t work. After the show he found the “storm n stress” part of the flyer torn out and smooshed into the tuner, which is why it didn’t work. That said, I love Battles and Ian is Mr. Cool in a very good way.
TIM HARRINGTON: Playing ATP was THE BEST THING EVER
STEREOGUM: The all caps make me completely believe you.
TIM HARRINGTON: We nearly shit our pants the first time we played ATP and then curating this December was the highpoint for me.
STEREOGUM: Why did you almost shit your pants?
TIM HARRINGTON: When Archers of Loaf were playing I actually teared up. 20 years of loving punk/independent music came gushing out of me.
STEREOGUM: Oh I’m seeing them next month and I am very excited.
TIM HARRINGTON: I have the first Archers 7″ with original hand crayon coloring
STEREOGUM: Wow! There’s a documentary coming out about them called “What Did you Expect?”
TIM HARRINGTON: Wow. I don’t know what to think about that. I, like many, love their underrated ness
STEREOGUM: It’s an indie doc. Funded via kickstarter.
TIM HARRINGTON: I assumed Scorsese. They deserve Scorsese.
@woolyknickers started playing “Savory” by Jawbox
TIM HARRINGTON: JAWBOX. I do like that “one hand will wash the other” part. Though I’m more Jawbreaker then Jawbox.
STEREOGUM: FYI Wikipedia claims your band is “reminiscent of the music of Jawbox”. Now that Archers of Loaf are headlining festivals and things, are they still underrated?
TIM HARRINGTON: Totes. One time we were playing all these German shows and somehow all the preview write ups and fliers said it was: PG GG Allen, which I love. GG Allen scares me, but I like the idea.
STEREOGUM: GG Allen terrifies me. I saw a video of him doing his thing and had nightmares for a week. So were the fans disappointed or thrilled? Or relieved?
TIM HARRINGTON: Well German underground music fans are known for being disappointed AND thrilled every time. Guys would be at 4 shows in a row, each 2-3 hours apart, and still each night would say something like,” God man, the bass tones sounded horrible last night, but tonight they were worse.”
TIM HARRINGTON: One thing about The Make Up. We were on them so hard about playing our ATP. Pressuring James and Ian shamelessly. I wrote Ian a shameless letter about seeing Nation [of Ulysses, Ian Svenonius’ old band] play at Wetlands at the Sassiest Boy in America presentation show. Anyway- LSF is taking credit for them getting back together for the NYC ATP this fall
@IAMBEARDO started playing “It Comes Around” by American Standard
STEREOGUM: Wait, what?! I had no idea!
TIM HARRINGTON: American Standard was one of the first bands I really liked.
STEREOGUM: I don’t care, I am jumping up and down over the idea of a Make Up reunion!
TIM HARRINGTON: Make Up- you heard it hear first. I think their show is announced. If not please don’t print. Barry will cry. Barry Hogan (ATP master)
STEREOGUM: Sad emoticon face, but I think it’s announced. [Editor's Note: It’s announced.] But let’s talk about something that we can definitely print: Are you guys working on a new album?
TIM HARRINGTON: My parents didn’t really like music–
Sorry, I was gonna tell you how much I like NJ Hardcore from the late 80s.
STEREOGUM: Please do!
@woolyknickers started playing “Beautiful World” by Devo
STEREOGUM: 80s NJ Hardcore is underrated almost as much as the Archers of Loaf
TIM HARRINGTON: No. New LSF album, no we are not working on one right now. Lazy phase. Releasing records on a regular schedule lacks panache.
STEREOGUM: And you’re writing a book! Or you wrote one already.
TIM HARRINGTON: Yes- I wrote and illustrated this cute kids book! About disembodied toes who sell hot dogs. More or less.
STEREOGUM: Wow, who wouldn’t like a book about toes selling hot dogs?
TIM HARRINGTON: Good question. No one I hope. I’m just finishing some minor changes to a few of the drawings this week.
STEREOGUM: I’m more surprised that hasn’t already been written
TIM HARRINGTON: I’m also doing the art for this year’s CMJ
STEREOGUM: Oh yeah? So it sounds like you have a lot going on.
TIM HARRINGTON: I do!
@IAMBEARDO started playing “The Lost Ones” by Ted Hawkins
STEREOGUM: So when do you think you’ll write new songs? The fans want to know!
TIM HARRINGTON: This Ted Hawkins song is amazing. I always want to do a grunge type cover if it.
STEREOGUM: I admit I have never heard it before. Do you do cover songs very often?
TIM HARRINGTON: Ted Hawkins is a real gem. Semi Homeless dude from the 70s-80s incredible songs and lyrics. Almost got big in the UK but then bailed.
STEREOGUM: Oh like that golden voiced homeless guy Ted Williams
TIM HARRINGTON: Les Savy Fav has done a lot of covers. There is this (only ok) live record on iTunes where we cover a lot of songs…
STEREOGUM: Just not Ted Hawkins.
TIM HARRINGTON: We covered Precision Auto a lot, Wrong by Archers, Bullet by the Misfits, California Uber Alles (possibly my favorite song ever)…LOVE, Creedence- Fortunate Son.
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” by Billy Bragg
TIM HARRINGTON: Seth and I covered this once on NPR… was it good? Who cares. It was a love letter to the song.
@IAMBEARDO started playing “Draft Riot” by Del-Byzanteens
TIM HARRINGTON: Wait- do you know the Del-Byzanteens?
STEREOGUM: I do not!
TIM HARRINGTON: Jim Jarmush’s band!
STEREOGUM: Oh wow! I should have known that. It’s what I get for dropping out of art school.
TIM HARRINGTON: mush or moosh?
STEREOGUM: But they are good! Unlike, say, Russell Crowe’s band. I think it’s “musch”
TIM HARRINGTON: Musch- funny, I want to become friends with a popular hip hop performer so I can try to get a piece of slang worked into pop culture this is related to Musch.
@woolyknickers started playing “California Uber Alles” by Dead Kennedys
TIM HARRINGTON: It is saying “purry Musch” for Pretty Much as a low key laconic stoned version of yes. Like, “do I want to sex up that chick? Purry Mush.” YES! YES! Such good lyrics! And guitar.
STEREOGUM: Yes! It is purry mush the best
TIM HARRINGTON: Purry mush
STEREOGUM: By the way, this interview is purry mush over too
TIM HARRINGTON: I’m into neologisms.
STEREOGUM: Thank you for playing!
TIM HARRINGTON: Neologism first!
STEREOGUM: Oh okay, go ahead. What’s your favorite neologism.
TIM HARRINGTON: Irratainment – is my current one. It describes my comedy videos.
STEREOGUM: Your comedy videos?
TIM HARRINGTON: Check out Harringtonandselves.com and look for the 99 Bottle of Beer animation
STEREOGUM: I will! And so will all of them * gestures sweepingly at gathered crowd *
@IAMBEARDO started playing “The Sound” by Obfs
TIM HARRINGTON: Also, this song is one of my new by myself songs
STEREOGUM: This is your song? Or this is your new jam for when you are by yourself?
TIM HARRINGTON: My solo band was called Fagun, then I renamed it obvs, then I renamed it Obfs
STEREOGUM: Neologisms ahoy! Also: Way to bury the lede.
TIM HARRINGTON: soundcloud.com/obfs Short for obfuscate. I want to make a record or something but am not super motivated. I really want to do like Ministry of Sound style Euro music. Looking for my La Rouge singer though.
TIM HARRINGTON: OK, you are free to go
STEREOGUM: David Guetta may be available and thank you for letting me go and for doing this interview.
@woolyknickers started playing “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” by Marnie Stern
TIM HARRINGTON: Ha! But Marnie is so good, now I can’t leave.
STEREOGUM: Me neither. Let’s just sit here quietly while she rocks.
TIM HARRINGTON: Did you know she records the guitar parts and sends them to her drummer and he has to play to her! She told me that.
STEREOGUM: Shhhh. We are listening to Marnie Stern.
TIM HARRINGTON: Shhh.
[Photo of Tim from Coachella 2008 by Amrit Singh]