We managed to catch Ben and Ross from Fenech-Soler for a few minutes down the pub recently, and tremendously pleasant they were too. Genuinely excited to talk about their work despite a mind-bogglingly long day of promo, they bought PlanetNotion a pint as we sat down to chat about the album, how they work and touring the world.
PlanetNotion: Hi guys, a pleasure to meet you. Tell us about what you’ve been up to of late.
Ben Duffy: Well today’s been a day of interviews really. We just did a takeover for NME which was interesting. We’ve managed to sandwich today in between rehearsals at our studio. The two of us got a ticket out for the day to come to London and talk about music, which is a nice break.
PN: So how did you guys get around to making music together? Obviously you’re brothers…
BD: We come from quite a musical family actually. Our Dad toured the world, more in the country and bluegrass arena though; him and our Uncle played with Dolly Parton, so it seemed completely natural that we were going to be in a band eventually. All four of us in Fenech-Soler grew up in the same area in Northamptonshire and went to school together. We started the band as more of an electronic thing – rather than an indie band that added a micro-Korg – which is the opposite way around to most indie bands adding on an electro element later on.
PN: There’s a history of chaotic brothers in bands; do you guys get on fairly well?
BD: We do argue, but it’s usually over in 5 minutes. We have these little moments of band-related disagreements, but it’s sorted out with a few select words. In terms of music writing, we’ve got an instinctive knowledge of what the other person is doing and so that always helps.
PN: Are you two the main driving force behind the writing?
Ross Duffy: I wouldn’t say that. When it came to writing the album, we all had definite roles in making the finished product. We had two studios; the first in a bedroom at our house, and the second in Andy’s bedroom. We did the initial writing between myself and Ben at that house then took it to Andy’s to finish production there. As the record’s progressed in the last year, being ‘a band’ become more of a job, and our team’s increased in numbers. There’s more of a system now, everything has been divided up and everyone has their role, with all four of us are pushing out in the right directions.
PN: It’s definitely beome more of a job looking your touring schedule! It’s pretty intense, from February right the way through to November. How have you coped? Has it been enjoyable?
BD: To be honest, we’ve wanted to do this for five or six years now, but actually working on Fenech-Soler has only been the last few years. Going out and doing a tour – if done right – is a really fun experience, and we’ve done lots of regional dates individually, but to go out and hit a whole stretch is so important. Every band has that first instance of doing really small venues, cheap tickets, trying to create a really good vibe and put on a really great show. Tourwise obviously we haven’t yet done six weeks consecutively, so it’ll be the first time we’ve done that. It’ll be hard work but we’re looking forward to it; it won’t break us – we’re ready!
PN: And what’s the best experience you’ve had so far, from your festivals?
BD: We’ve had really lovely experiences playing the smaller festivals, like Blissfields, and Wicker Man in Scotland. We’ve had the chance to go to some really random ones as well, like Liveland Festival Romania, in this open amphitheatre. Being able to travel, going to America for SXSW was amazing, and I think that was the highlight for all of us, and just getting the opportunity to go to the other side of the world, if you can mix travelling with music then life is good!
PN: Where do you get the costumes? They’re pretty amazing, like that sequin t-shirt!
RD: Going up on stage jeans and t-shirt we’d normally wear didn’t really appeal to us; we wanted to make an effort. Our music is based on imagery and it’s colourful; when we’re performing we feel strongly about putting on a show. To pigeonhole yourself and just stick to one style I think is quite dangerous. There are a lot of bands in this world and you’ve got to stick your head above the crowd.
PN: The album’s out fairly soon, it’s been a long time in gestation, does it feel that way to you as well?
BD: With the album, we didn’t set a time limit on making it, the songs have been collecting over a period of a few years, and they’ve come together at the right time. We’ve wanted to get an album out for a long time, but it took a while for us as a band to get to a place where everything fell into the right place. We knew quite early on that being signed and getting an album out super quick wasn’t going to happen, so we pooled all our money, took time off work and just went into the studio. Recording the album was actually fairly short compared to getting all the elements involved just right.
PN: You were still working until quite recently then, while doing the band? When did the switch flip to being in a band full time?
RD: It was a bit of a mix between all of us, but Ben was working full time on the band more than the rest of us. I think it wasn’t until this year that Fenech-Soler actually became a job. We’d done a lot of writing leading up to last Christmas, released a few singles, Radio 1 got interested and we just had to make the decision to put everything into it. I think the first few weeks in January we hit it super hard all together.
PN: So was it a kind of like a New Year’s resolution then?
BD (laughs): I don’t think there was one definite conversation where we all went “Yeah! Let’s do this.” It was more of a crescendo, something that we just had to do. After we released ‘Lies’ on a smaller label the buzz that we got from that gave us the confidence to run with it.
We felt like we were strong enough to make an album following that track, and we didn’t want to wait for a producer until we felt comfortable enough. And now we’re releasing it again! We always wanted to retain a more relaxed approach where we’re like ‘if you wanna play us on the radio then amazing; and if you don’t well we’ll carry on making music and enjoying it’, and through this I think we made a lot of friends. I think what’s important, especially with the music industry the way it is now, is that you do have to spend a bit of time getting a fan base and meeting people. You can’t just buy your press straight away.
PN: Definitely. Coming back to the album, what are the biggest influences would you say?
RD: There’s obviously a core electronic theme that runs through it; there’s more synths and keyboards in our studio than there are guitars! I suppose Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers were our introduction, then more minimal stuff. But minimal can be a bit cold; it’s not really melody-driven, and we didn’t just want to make some underground dark sound. We like listening to pop music, on the radio and I think that influence falls heavily on the album. We like music with a good melody, and a chorus. Michael Jackson, George Benson, old school stuff really, but they’re artists who write songs with great charisma. There are some slower songs on the album which I don’t think people would expect too, and then there’s the real American influence like The Neptunes – modern American pop influence really excite us. So a mish-mash of whatever we like, basically!
PN: So what are you guys listening to at the moment?
BD: On the iPod at the moment? Darwin Deez, he’s had a lot of hype…
PN: He had indeed – he was on our cover!
BD: That’s completely justified, it’s such an amazing album. It transforms, taking you to a really great place. We were listening to the first Strokes album the other day as well. Dekker & Johan put together some really great remixes too – we saw them at Secret Garden Party, and they are some of the best DJs I’ve seen this year. Jokers of the Scene are brilliant too.
PN: Can we expect any more remixes from Fenech-Soler?
BD: We’ve had a few requests come in recently, but it’s so busy right now that we’ve had to turn them down, which we don’t like. We can’t wait to do some more, but right now all of our focus is on the album.
PN: And finally, your band’s name is Maltese, right (it’s bass player, Dan’s last name)? Have you ever been to Malta?
BD: I have actually on holiday, it’s a really beautiful place! But that wasn’t the influence on the band’s name. I mean coming up with a bands name isn’t easy, I suppose we like the fact that when you think of it you’re not going to be distracted, and it will just recall our music, plus it’s easy to find on the internet – if you can spell! We did a viral video last week, where loads of people are trying to spell it, which is up on our Facebook page – it’s hilarious! We’re happy with the name; I reckon we’ll stick with it.