After recently releasing two classically focused funk, blues and rock EPs over the last year, the duo is now headed back to the studio to put together their second full-length LP.
Farren, a dedicated classically trained pianist, and Behram, a tightly-synced drummer, played over 100 concert dates last year alone and are ready to get back to doing what they enjoy most: writing, creating and expressing themselves through their art.
I sat down with Isle of Rhodes front man Farren near his apartment last week at Crop to Cup in Park Slope to discuss the band, his own personal influences and their vision for the future of rock music.
How did you transition from classical to rock music?
The thing is you start to get really in depth with the theoretical aspects and often times what happens is the passion for that subsides. You get bored of listening to the same thing over and over again.
My mother is a classical pianist and my father is a huge admirer of the classical music world, and I could never understand how they could listen to the same opera over and over again. I could get into it, but it can be tough. I’ve always wanted something new.
I was hanging out with my sister and listening to Abbey Road, and was just like, “this is a really good album.” So that started this whole process. Even though I was 18 and I knew The Beatles, I never really listened to The Beatles. Then I was listening to The Who, and then I was listening to Radiohead. Then it started to really snowball and I started to develop this passion. When that started happening I was into bands that no one had never heard of.
How did you know this is what you wanted to do?
I just loved it. I got the bug real early. I loved playing for people, but music just moved me. But to this day, classical music still moves me harder than any other kind of music. Rock music will shake your booty, and so will dance or hip-hop; that will get you moving, but classical music will get you crying. It’s just that emotional content that is more cerebral and more reflective in that sense. Also, you don’t have any lyrical context to tell you what the emotions would be, it could be more of a personal experience.
I have a memory of listening to Mozart and just had that feeling in my gut – it was just like someone was pressing on my stomach – and I was just like, I want to write that. I wanted to be making that sort of music for other people.
Do you feel like you strive to recreate that feeling?
Sure, but what happens is that the more you hear, the less often you get these discoveries. You start finding your passions take you in different places. So if I can make it like modern art, you might be moved by a Rembrandt, but once you’ve seen enough of that it moves you but the effect isn’t that strong. Then you find yourself getting into Van Gogh and then you move on to Picasso and Jackson Pollock and just these pure statements of strengths.
I got into the way rhythms are built. Lately, I’ve been into Ravi Shankar, which is very out there. The construction of it is so different than the construction of rock music or even modern pop music, which is really a derivative of what comes back to blues or folk music and those have roots in the construction of classical music that was made over 200 years ago in terms of the harmonies that are being introduced.
How do you see your own music evolving?
There is a massive gap between one genre to the next. We live in a very niche market. What you’re hearing now are these very simple beats with these very simple productions with these very simple melodies on top. Everything in that realm is simple. Once you get into the indie world, it seems like you have a proliferation of multiple different things. It definitely seems like a world of synthesizers and analog synthesis, and that kind of thing, is really making a comeback.
I think these things work in cycles, like how in the early 90s was kind of a breakout of the progressive change of the song that was made in the 80s, that was very particular controlled and colored. Then it became about just raw emotion and distortion and guitars and bands, and that was just sort of saying let’s go back to the 70s. I feel like that evolved into the 2000s, in the indie rock period, and now when I listen to St. Vincent, I just say this sounds like it was written in '86 or '87. But it could just be what’s happening in the music industry, in their taste maybe.
How do you separate from the business aspect?
I don’t think you can separate yourself from that. The difference between 1996 and 2014, is that in 2014, labels don’t record for you on your first record. You record yourself and give it to a label and hope that they’ll want to market it. There’s really not enough money in it because of illegal downloads and frankly, even though I think the movement is towards services like Spotify and streaming services, so it will have carriage fees and stuff like that. Fundamentally, artists are not going to get paid the same amount.
Now historically, artists have never been paid like they were in the 80’s and 90’s. They were getting paid more than God, so that’s an aberration as opposed to normal. At the same time, musicians have to be more on top of their promotions nowadays as opposed to allowing other people to promote for them. If you were a young band, a bunch of little kids, you’d get a manager, they’d hook you up with the label, they would be in charge of your distribution and your marketing and tours.
Do you feel recording the music is equally as important as marketing nowadays?
Absolutely. You have to have a product, which should be good songs and good production hopefully – although the production seems to matter less, since good songs are just good songs – but the promotion and touring have turned out to be much more important now. The avenues in which to go from point A to point Z, you used to have to get to point C before someone would carry you to point Z. Now you have to get to point Y before they take you to that last step.
What do you guys do to promote yourselves?
We have our Facebook presence, which is really more of an advertising presence, we have our website and we have our Twitter of course. We’ll be on the radio every now and then. They’ll play us in Staten Island every now and then we were on rotation in Charlotte, NC for a while, but you have to do it.
A lot of bands will use independent marketing companies and even labels themselves use independents now because they can’t keep on staff their own marketing folk if they want to take themselves seriously. It’s like any business. If you’re a novelist, you get an agent, and push that agent to get that next deal.
How do you guys put your music out for the neighborhood?
In January we had a residency over in Spike Hill, and we thought it was a really good idea because Spike Hill doesn’t have a cover charge. When I play locally I almost don’t want to charge to have people come in and see us. We just want people to come in and have fun and we don’t feel like people should have to pay to see us when we play locally. When it gets to the point we’re selling out a 1000-person room, then we’ll charge, but then at that point we won’t be in charge of that anymore.
We don’t want to charge for friends, and we have a few venues we play at and we have a good relationship with them over there and we have a loyal fan base. Not just friends, and they like what they see. People are often shocked to hear that the sound is so full and rich as it does, particularly for a two-piece, they just cannot believe it. Plus very rarely do you see a keyboard that sounds the way we sound. It doesn’t sound like a guitar, but it has hints of that. People find something they can catch onto and we cover a broad range of tastes.
So that helps you play to a wider audience and pair with more bands?
Exactly. We can work with a few different types of bands. If we want a really hard set, like just hard rock music, we can totally do that. If you want a set to fit us with an Animal Collective-type of band, then we can do that too.
Do you have to pair yourselves with groups to play shows?
We get offered a lot of shows and recently we’ve been saying no a lot, which is not our modus operandi. We prefer to say yes to everything, but since we’re going in to record, we’re just so focused on writing. We played, last year, over 100 dates and toured around the country twice. When you’re playing that much, it is just very hard to write. It’s important to constantly write.
How do you write your music?
It might start with me on the piano or I might just hear a melody in my head and just have to get it out. I’ll figure out how to harmonize it. The other day I was taking a nap, heard something in my head and I just ran over to the piano and wrote it down. Some of our songs, like “Oceans,” were written for piano, violin and cello. I just write the song out for that and I just brought it to the band, while other songs we just jam for 30 minutes and record it and then see what we like. Those ones, we’ll get in a groove and that turns into a song.
What’s the album you’re working on right now?
We’re in preproduction on this album we’re going to be recording at this studio called The Motherbrain down in Sunset Park. We got immensely lucky as the guy is moving his studio in July, and we were looking for a subletter. But we got the studio for just the cost of the rent, which is literally a fraction – maybe a 20th of the cost – to use the most wonderful gear. We just brought in an engineer. I’m going to self-produce this one with the engineer. It’s going to give us the amount of time to make this one come to life.
Check out Isle of Rhodes this Saturday, April 12, at the Rock Shop, located at 249 4th St. in Gowanus, with The Spanish Channel, The Courtesy Tier and Anacortes.