From Aural Innovations #23 (April 2003)
If any band of the past decade is the true embodiment of Space Rock it is indeed Farflung. I remember some years ago ordering their first two CD's from the Flipside label and being instantly blown away by the high energy blend of space rock, punk, krautrock, and lysergic cosmic freakouts. Starting as an outgrowth of Pressurehed, Farflung has consistently been one of the most exciting bands carrying the Space Rock banner. And listening to their music it's clear that this is a banner that is as brightly lit as an exploding supernova.
The two Flipside releases - 25,000 Feet Per Second (1995) and Raven That Ate The Moon (1996) - are in this writers opinion classics of the genre and essential listening for all space rock fans. 1997 saw their third CD - So Many Minds, So Little Time - a collection of singles and remixes (including a cover of Can's "Future Days") released on the Cleopatra label, who also released all three of the Pressurehed albums. The next full length Farflung CD - The Belief Module - saw the light of day in 1998 on the now defunct Bad Acid label, and included some of the band's heaviest acid jam and stoner space recordings to date. The sadly rare The Myth Of Solid Ground was a private release CDR that the band only sold at the Strange Daze 1999 Space Rock Festival. I was lucky enough to get a copy at the fest and it's an excellent collection of the band's punked out space rock and more ambient influences. (I just saw a copy go for $76 on Ebay.) Things from the Farflung camp were quiet for a while until 2002 when two new CD's were released by two different labels. Brainticket released 9 Pin Body, a fiery collection of music recorded between 1998-2002, including tracks from The Myth Of Solid Ground. The other CD was When Science Fails, which was intended as a soundtrack to the movie Guardian Of The Frontier, a Croatian-German avant-garde supernatural film. Due to various problems that the Falcata-Galia label had run into, the CD saw only limited release. But I highly recommend seeking out this disc as it has some of the band's most atmospheric recordings and even includes some interesting spoken word.
The common thread throughout Farflung's ever changing lineup is Los Angeles resident Tommy Grenas, who has been involved in numerous projects in the decade since Pressurehed first hit the scene (their 1992 Infadrone album was the first release on the then new Cleopatra label). He has worked with such luminaries as Nik Turner, Simon House, Helios Creed, Damo Suzuki, and has found a measure of success in the past year since Anubian Lights, his project with fellow Pressurehed member Len Del Rio, joined forces with 80's No-Wave icon Lydia Lunch. And if you're wondering if there's meat behind this impressive pedigree... well... just start listening to the music. You'll quickly understand what I mean.
I had heard some rumors over the past year that Farflung had been laid to rest. But an email from Tommy with news of upcoming plans fired me up and I decided to get the lowdown from the man himself. Tommy is busier than many indie artists these days, but graciously spent about two hours on the phone with me talking about Farflung past and future, various other projects, and just chatting about music and space rock in general.
AI: Let's start with the most recent news. You mentioned in an email that the original Farflung was talking about doing a new album. Can you give me an update on that?
Tommy Grenas (TG): Farflung has been trying a lot of different things over the last couple of years. And the band's a floating lineup so it's always whoever happens to be in town at that time or whoever happens to have time to do it. Just recently on the last Damo [Suzuki] tour, the people that used to be in Farflung like Doran Shelly, Mike Esther and Brandon La Belle, were all up in San Francisco, and everyone was just talking after the Damo show about old albums and the stuff that they'd done and how much we'd like to do that again. And we just wanted to get together and see what we could come up with after quite a while. As I was saying, Farflung has always had floating members so it was nice to run into some of the original guys. Also because of the interest in a lot of the old records... I've been getting contacted a lot from people interested in the first 3 or 4 albums... that's kind of exciting.
AI: You also mentioned a possible box set that would include the Flipside label and Bad Acid label discs and even a fourth disc.
TG: Yeah, people just cannot get hold of the old records, and I can't seem to contact the people that put them out. Flipside disappeared. I have no idea where Dave Gedge of Bad Acid is. I don't have any animosity toward these people because they put out my records in the first place. But I want to try to make those records available again. I've seen some of them go for a ridiculous amount on money on Ebay. It's crazy. I know there are still boxes of them somewhere, I just can't seem to get them. So I've given up after a year of trying to get hold of them and I guess I'm just going to repress them. We're just trying to get the finances and help with that. But there's been quite a bit of interest so hopefully I'll have news on that soon.
[NOTE: Just before press time I received the following email from Tommy... "The CD box set of 25000 Feet, The Raven That Ate The Moon, The Belief Module, and When Science Fails will be out next month. It will include bonus tracks from that period, a book, new art, and space gift. It will be in a silver box with all chrome CD's and different art for each CD. It will be $65.00". Contact info at end of article.]
AI: I was fortunate to have gotten a copy of The Myth Of Solid Ground from your table at Strange Daze '98, and when John Perez [Brainticket label] told me last year he was releasing a new Farflung album [Nine Pin Body] I assumed it was going to be that.
TG: That was an album we were just working on. And that's when things kind of... didn't fall apart in a bad way but people had to move on in the middle of the album so that album never really got finished. So Nine Pin Body was really that album plus other songs that we put together to finish the record. Some interesting live and studio stuff. And there was another album that came out called When Science Fails. And that came out for a couple of weeks and then stopped being made. And that guy folded and ended up going to Macedonia. So I have to get that one out again.
AI: So that label isn't around anymore?
TG: Falcata-Galia it was called. They are, but he had to stop because he ran into financial problems. This is the thing that's plagued the Farflung project because there's not a great big audience for that sort of music. It's only smaller labels that release it and they're not surviving long enough for the albums really to get out.
AI: I'd say much of the music that's submitted to me for review is self-released rather than being on labels.
TG: We would probably do that but it always seems to be where someone comes along and asks, and I'm easy going and feel if they've got faith in it and can afford it then sure.
AI: It's probably worth it for the possibility of good distribution.
TG: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the people that do put it out are either musicians themselves or have their own bands, so it's always a very homespun deal.
AI: So are there quite a bit of unreleased Farflung recordings that you think are worth releasing if you had the chance?
TG: Oh god man, there must be like two days worth of material. Farflung never actually sat down and wrote songs. We always would get blasted and just jam really. It was really an outlet for psychedelics and such, and Krautrock and Space Rock. So it would be a very communal thing where we happened to have our own studio here so we could record any time. Sometimes we would just be sitting up watching a movie or out in the backyard smokin or something and suddenly come up with an idea and then go downstairs and record it.
AI: If you've got your own studio I can imagine it's very tempting if you feel inspired to just go for it and start recording.
TG: I don't think I could ever sit down and actually write a song. I have a similar experience with the Anubian Lights project, which is kind of successful for me in certain areas. That whole DJ culture, everything is so planned. They ask me the same thing and I say I'm inspired by the Neu!, Hawkwind, Cluster style of free composition and they don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. It's a strange world and kind of strange to be thrown into it as well with the Anubian Lights project because it's something I don't really care too much about. It's an outlet for that music but that's a whole other kettle of fish.
AI: You mentioned the When Science Fails album. I really like it but it took me by surprise because it seems to be the most atmospheric Farflung to date, and even had a couple tracks with spoken word on it. Do those represent the most recent Farflung recordings?
TG: It represented the mood... the way we were feeling at that time... something we felt we hadn't covered in that area. Obviously the first thing that comes to mind I think when you listen to Farflung is the Amon Düül and Hawkwind influences, and definitely the strong punk elements. That's our generation. But with When Science Fails it was just something we had at the time. It was very in touch I think with our darker Krautrock side... the Faust areas and stuff like that. Also, there was a friend of mine who was making a movie called Guardian Of The Frontier. And he wanted some music for it so we started doing that sort of stuff. And we gave him a couple of tracks. And a track called Something In The Water, which is the one that's not listed right at the end is the one used in the movie. We were working with that and all the other stuff started happening. But it was like all the other albums. There was nothing really thought out or planned, it just kind of happened that way.
AI: Was the film released?
TG: It's meant to be playing here soon. It's about three young girls... these girls walk into this room, and there's this guy... he says he's a cop... these girls are on a riverboat and they're going to some part of Croatia, and it's all about local myths and folklore. It's very Wim Wenders-esqe.
AI: Speaking of films, on your web site under soundtracks you list a song called "Chromium Air" and refer to two Roger Corman films. Can you tell me about that?
TG: Ryan Kirk, who plays in the band... he used to work for Roger Corman. This was before he was in Farflung. And one day he said he'd like to do something for this movie. It's a real cheesy B-movie called Humanoids From The Deep.
AI: Yeah, that's Roger Corman!!
TG: Yeah. We did this very Pink Floydy "Matilda Mother" type thing. But it also had a kind of Joy Division feel to it. We gave it to him and I think he used in like 2 or 3 movies. We have a real freakout thing at the end with feedback and a typical Farflung jamout, and they used that in scenes where people are drowning or something... getting high. It's his stock freakout music I think.
AI: Of the lineup on When Science Fails, I didn't recognize the names Scott Rusch and Ryan Kirk. Are they very recent members?
TG: Scott Rusch was in a band called Hunting Lodge. They were on SPK, an experimental label. He was actually someone who use to come to the shows all the time. And he just jammed with us one time. He played guitar with a lot of treatments on When Science Fails and pretty much just stuck in the lineup, but he's no longer with us. And Ryan... there used to be a club here called Spaceland where we used to play all the time. Ryan was in a band called Don Knotts Overdrive. They were this band that would do real hardcore versions of Syd Barrett songs. They did the most amazing version of "Corporal Clegg". They wore these matching outfits and shaved heads with numbers painted on their heads. A very bizarre thing. And he got involved in a lot of production. So it brought in another element. But there's been talk about everyone getting back together to record something. We'll probably come up with an album in a weekend or something like that.
AI: Farflung did a tour in 2002. Was that an extension of an Anubian Lights tour or was this independent of that?
TG: I did a record with Lydia Lunch and we went over to promote it in Europe. And while I was over there there was a guy who was booking a lot of Stoner Rock bands and he wanted to bring us over. I was friends with some of the guys in Queens Of The Stone Age and this band called The Earthlings, and Queens Of The Stone Age were doing a big tour over there, and one of the guys in the Earthlings played with that band. So he was going over there anyway and he wanted his other stranger more spacey band to go so we kind of joined together and did that tour together.
AI: How'd it go?
TG: It was good in some parts and in some parts it was a bit disappointing. But in general it was good. The people that did come out, the genuine fans, it was a big deal for them to actually see Farflung in live performance. The only setback was the budget. Because we normally do a lot of projections and the whole psychedelic shtick to go along with the playing. A couple times we'd just be standing up there with the lights on and it kind of felt weird. I don't really like to play with lights on me. I like to play in the dark so to speak. So it was a little strange. But generally it was good. Other factors too made it possible. The fact that I was over there with Lydia and made a good amount of money, I was able to finance some of it. And the fact that we went over with The Earthlings who are a pretty established band. I don't know what would have happened if we'd gone over there by ourselves. We probably would have died our death on the road. Farflung is a very unknown band.
AI: Was it mostly Stoner Rock crowds at these shows?
TG: I would say it was predominantly a Stoner Rock crowd. It was funny because we were definitely more Stoner Rock than The Earthlings were. The Earthlings are very electronic and experimental. When we jam live we might do 2 or 3 songs from an album, but most of was just improvising. But it would be VERY heavy. Sometimes I think it worked good for them, the fact that we did keep the Stoner side of the audience in a certain buzz with that. So I think it was a good balance actually.
AI: I could easily see a lot of Farflung's music going over good with the Stoner Rock crowd.
TG: Yeah, there's always been a very good response from those people that have heard it. It's funny because here that music's getting more popular, or there's just more exposure for underground music because since the end of last summer things have been really pretty great on the web site. It seems like there's a lot of new fans that are just picking it up for the first time. And they're young. And of course if I answer an email I always give them the must listen list. I just like to think of it as a vehicle for spreading the gospel.
AI: Did Farflung, or Pressurehed for that matter, ever tour the U.S.? I just knew of your touring as part of Nik Turner's band. Did you ever tour just as Farflung or Pressurehed?
TG: Pressurehed toured. We did a U.S. tour. It was not that well attended. We had a great time of course. What's always made tours worthwhile is the camaraderie between us all because we only have one goal and that's to go out and get buzzed and just play. But attendance has always been low. But then again, that's the same for every other band I know that plays this sort of music that isn't one of the bigger originals on a reunion or something. Like the Arch Met guys [Architectural Metaphor] , SubArachnoid Space... they all have the same problem, you just can't get people to come to the shows.
AI: I've been to most of Jim Lascko's Strange Daze festivals and it was disappointing to see his attendance steadily decline to the point where he couldn't even do it this year.
TG: Exactly. I just cannot explain why. I would jump at the chance for anything like that going on. I like to think of myself as a very musically diverse listener. I listen to a little bit of everything. But when it comes to the ultimate experience there's nothing like slamming down a couple of tabs and watching a good Space Rock band. You don't even have to do that [laughs], it's just the ultimate live experience. Maybe I was smitten when I saw my first ever Hawkwind concert with Bob Calvert. To me that was the ultimate show. How could you beat something with that sort of energy. And I've always tried to accomplish that, at least with Farflung or Pressurehed.
AI: Was Strange Daze the last show that Pressurehed ever did?
TG: Yeah. There was a big talk after that night. We just really tried hard. We toured and I think that was the final show, and we just realized that we really couldn't afford it. Really I think the reason Pressurehed stopped was that fact that when we did Explaining The Unexplained we honestly felt we couldn't do a better record than that. We just said this is our ultimate album. We cannot possibly, with this lineup and this group of people, do any better than this. And it was just the failure of that album... I drew the cover, and we wrote this whole book all about unexplained phenomena, and we really put our balls into the mixing, and did it all ourselves, and... sure, everybody loved it and the press thought it was a good album... and it just kind of failed. It just took a lot of time and effort and we just felt we could never put that much effort into something...
AI: That's too bad. I really like that album because there's some really accessible stuff on there but it's still completely freaky too.
TG: Yeah. I like the fact that it was all conceptual. Every song was about some sort of phenomena. I always wanted to do that record. I'm a huge "strange things" magazine buff. I love anything from the Pterodactyls in the Amazon to life on other worlds. I just love all that sort of stuff. And that album was just my ultimate kind of wank off. To actually have a record that covered all that.
AI: So do you think things are better over in Europe or was the Farflung tour just the simple matter of an opportunity?
TG: I think they are better over there than they are over here for sure. I mean we played some shows that were just great. The show in London was really full and the people were really into it. In the major cities... yeah... but in the smaller cities there's just not enough exposure. I would think there's maybe 7 or 8 people that know who you are and the rest are the people that are coming to the show because they want to go and see a band. But I'm scared to go out in America. I just did a tour with Damo a few months ago. And that guy's a fucking legend. And they were good... I'm talking like 100-150 people on average at a show. And then in some of the bigger cities may 200-300 people. But only a few years ago when Damo went out there was like four times that many people coming to the shows. So it's just dwindling and dwindling every year.
AI: You had mentioned projections at your shows and I remember when Pressurehed played Strange Daze in 1998 I was absolutely blown away by Rob Jacobs' lightshow. Are you still in touch with him, does he still do lights for you?
TG: Ever since the early days of Pressurehed we've always had one up on every live show when we've had that guy with us. He's always been like the third member of the band. He's always been there. But even Rob ran into some problems. A year ago he lost the house he'd been living in for years. He was pretty much living on the road at that time anyways because he does multimedia projections for car shows and stuff. That's another guy that's done things for the love of it. He's never made shitloads of money with us or anything. He's always been on the breaking even side of things, just like us. But he's a vital element of what we do. The guy is amazing.
AI: Switching over to Anubian Lights a little bit... How did you hook up with Lydia Lunch. That's an interesting pairing.
TG: She had contacted our record label because she hadn't done any music in a long time. She's been doing a lot of spoken word. But she contacted our label and said she had heard the Nazbar album and wanted to know a little bit about us and would we be interested in doing a couple of songs for her. And it ended up she was actually here in Los Angeles. She we went over and had lunch with her and she talked about what she wanted to do. I had really loved one of her albums back in the 80's called The Queen Of Siam. I thought it was a really good record and I wanted to do a sort of continuation of that and wanted to try and coax her to sing again. I always liked that raspy Mae West sort of thing. I wanted her to sing again. And then we did that EP and it probably sold more than anything I've ever done. So it seemed like a viable project, not only because I enjoyed it but it also made me money for the first time in my life. [laughs] And she's a really nice person and a huge Space Rock fan. She said she was in the Hawkwind fan club when she was a kid. We had shared interests in the same sort of music. And even though Anubian Lights is completely different from any other project we're involved with there is always some sort of spacey or Krauty element in there somewhere. We always manage to kind of creep it in. And she's just a real big fan of the same music we're into, even though she has her own thing going on. So we toured with her and in Munich there was 4,000 people at the show.
AI: Wow, that must be great playing to a crowd like that.
TG: Yeah! It's a great experience being on the road with her, and she's a really amazing performer. She's not adverse to singling one person out in the crowd and berating them if they're berating her. Or creaming someone over the head if they say the wrong thing. So she's still got that great punk element in her. And we're just in the middle of finishing up an album with her. It came out very cool. A lot of real sort of swampy, Can-esqe jazzy stuff, and really weird eerie electronica. It's very different for her and very different for us. But I like the fact that we created what I think is a new music and a new sound on this album. I'm always one for trying to expand my horizons a little bit. To me one of the reasons there was the term Progressive... to me it meant that music was meant to progress. It wasn't meant to be ever stodgy and old and retro. I love retro... but I love retro as what was then. What's new shouldn't really be retro. I think it should retain elements of what's going on around you. There is some great music out there but you have got to go hunting for it.
AI: I think that's one of the things that's always made Farflung's music so exciting. You can hear the various influences in the music but it all comes together into something that's really fresh.
TG: Yeah, and that was the meaning behind Anubian Lights as well. We wanted to be an electronica project. We started actually with Nik and Simon House. And we did that Eternal Sky album. And I always think every album's been kind of a progression to another level, then another level, and when you get to another level it might make a sudden V-turn. Electronica seems to be one of the only fields where music still evolves a little bit. I'm a big Pink Dots fan of course. And they actually did some support shows on the Lydia tour in Europe. And it was really great because we had Niels the sax player... he came and played sax on the record. And one of my favorite guitar players, a guy called Nels Cline, an incredible jazz guitarist but an experimental jazz player... so there's some interesting outside elements on this album as well.
AI: Now is this album something you're just wrapping up or has it been released?
TG: We're just finishing it up. It's probably been the biggest production we've ever done on a record. It's taken a good 6-7 months to record. It's nearly finished, we're just in the mastering stages. But there's been quite a bit of interest in this project. Lydia hasn't done a music album in I think about 15 years.
AI: And I think you said you're already gearing up for a tour in the summer?
TG: Yeah, we were in Australia with Anubian Lights not long ago and they want us to come back with her. It was great, such a great response, they're such great people over there. Actually that definitely seems to be a place to go. If Farflung was to go anywhere it would probably be there because they actually have their own Strange Daze festival. When I was over there there was like two Hawkwind cover bands.
AI: You had mentioned a movie or movies that Anubian Lights and you are appearing in?
TG: There's a movie that's coming out very soon called Haack, which is about this guy that is actually a big influence on me... Bruce Haack. He was a children's music artist from Alberta, Canada, though he lived in New York most of his life. And around the end of the 60s, early 70s he did this album called the Electric Lucifer. It's just one of the most spaced out... it's pretty much like Amero-Rock... like the American answer to Krautrock. It sounds just as good as any of the German electronic artists. But prior to then he was also doing a lot of children's music, and his belief was that children are adults... a kid does not want to sit and listen to someone singing in a childish tone of voice. His albums were very complex electronic music with really bizarre subject matter that would be most amusing to children. He was on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood at one time back in the very early 70s. And he was on What's My Line and shows like that. And the only one real big release was this Electric Lucifer album. He definitely was America's premier Moog guy. But this guy started doing some research and did this documentary. He got footage of him on Mr. Rogers and other TV shows, and interviewed people around him, and he's become a bit of a cult figure in the past year. And there's a tribute album coming out that has everyone from Stereolab to Beck on it, and we have a track on it. And he just decided to do this movie. There a web site for it where you can see the trailer (www.haackmovie.com). I'm in the trailer for about 3 seconds. But that should be released soon.
AI: So to circle around back to Farflung, have you actually gotten together with the original members and started playing yet or is that still to come?
TG: That's still to come, but the main thing is contact was made and we're going to get ready to start doing some recording. Whether or not we can find someone to put them out is another story. [Interested labels take note!!!... Ed.] And maybe, as you say, we might actually have to take a stab ourselves... it's never really been hard to find anyone to put them out.
For information about ordering the upcoming box set you can email Tommy Grenas at email@example.com.
Visit the Farflung web site at: http://www.farflung.org.
For the latest information on Anubian Lights tour dates you can visit the Lydia Lunch web site at: http://www.lydialunch.org.