Fanfarlo - Interview and Review - Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Toronto - March 24, 2012

By Elena Maystruk

Like a complex organism forming over millions of years, evolving and growing, Fanfarlo developed on the dynamic music scene in London, England. This band, gracing The Virgin Mobile Mod Club with its presence on Saturday night, is nothing short of a spectacle. Whether this group’s eclectic mix of new age, pop and jazz beats is right for everyone, is up is the air because in all fairness Fanfarlo has a very distinct style. One thing is for sure; when the Fanfarlo members hit the stage they combine an astounding array of instruments to create a live atmosphere flagrant with rich moods and strange emotions.

Two of the five Fanfarlo members sat down with Lithium Magazine to talk before the show. Simon Balthazar (lead vocals, saxophone, guitar, keyboards) and Leon Beckenham (vocals, keyboards, trumpet) were cheerful and philosophical about the music industry, their past experiences, and the updates on their current situation as artists:

Simon welcomes me in with a beer as Leon walks in with the same idea in mind.

“Oh look its, Leon!” said Simon.

“Hello, just came for beer, I can join in if you like.” Leon sits in the seat across from us.

“Great!” I said. “So how did you guys all meet up when you were forming the band?” Simon leans back for the short anecdote.

 “We met in London on the live music scene, going to gigs, going to clubs. I moved over to London from Sweden seven years ago. You know, I started going to a lot of shows and I also had a few songs, I had a few recordings with me so I started finding people to play them with. London has a really hyperactive music scene, and once you’ve had one rehearsal, you’ve got a gig booked and a seven-inch to put out so things got rolling really fast that way. But it was a really long time before we had a proper go at it and made a record, that wasn’t until 2009.”

Between 2007 and their career now, Fanfarlo played London shows and steadily broke into the international music scene.

“Has it been that long?” Leon said jokingly. 

“Has it been that long!” Simon echoes, laughing. 

Fanfarlo’s experience with public exposure has been diverse. Where in London, England they depended on word of mouth and the volatile personality of the city’s music scene to spread the word about their art, getting noticed in the rest of the world was a different story.

“I think London is such a microcosm that it was enough to just put out a bunch of seven-inches [singles], but here I think it was actually college radio that really helped us. We are supporters of good music radio as well. I mean I loathe bad commercial radio but love public and college radio because it’s always been important to Indie music historically, so it feels like a part of a really good tradition.

Between their London days and now, on an international tour, their PR is not the only thing that’s changed. The music has evolved with them.

“We’ve gotten to play a lot of instruments as well, that wasn’t always the case in the beginning,” said Leon. 

“We’ve really matured and it’s got a lot more balls right now. I think we’ve been pushing ourselves. We’ve been picking up new instruments. For this record I’ve started playing sax a lot more. The last record I liked to play clarinet and mandolin. It’s hard to say, but we’ve just become much more of a sort of unit, much more of a family. We’ve worked a lot on our telepathy I think,” Simon adds.

One of Fanfarlo’s distinctive aspects is the band’s ability to operate like a well-oiled machine. There are so many instrumental aspects to the bands musical compositions and trying to figure out how it is all fused together could give an engineer a headache.

“I grew up in a house full of instruments.” Simon remembers. “So I would tinker with lots of different instruments without properly learning them. I mean that’s probably still the case, I’ve just continued like that trying to learn new things,” he says with a smirk. “I think with this record we’ve been playing around a little bit more with old eighties synths, so that played into the record as well.”

Today, as the band tours many cities on its way to spread their dynamic skills, there are few obstacles in their way, except perhaps those that move on wheels. Leon describes some of the worst moments on their trip.

“We’ve had many issues with our bus - it’s breaking down, the carpet got flooded, the water pump broke, our driver was almost poisoned. Our bus has basically been turning against us,” he says with an ironic smirk.

Despite the hazards of the road the guys say most of the shows have been great so far. They reminisce about their day off in Nashville during the tour and all of the concerts along the way. With shows big and small in their immediate future, I ask them about their goals.

“I don’t know… first band on the moon?” Simon jokes. In all seriousness, the Fanfarlo members have the classic sweet answer most bands do; a gratifying simple desire to keep on playing.

Along the way, Fanfarlo has encountered strange yet pleasant tidings from places far away. I asked the members about fan comments that really stuck with them. Turns out they have some surprising Facebook-savvy friends down south:

“Come to Mexico” Leon says when asked about the band’s most memorable request. A running joke is that every time Fanfarlo posts a comment on Facebook someone asks them to come to Mexico.

“Are you guys big in South America then? Do you have a large fan base there?” I ask.

“I have no idea! And I mean they’ve got competition from people who say come to Argentina!” Simon laughs.
“And come to Chile! Come to Brazil!” adds Leon.

All in all, Fanfarlo is a group that gathers audiences big and small. Through high-maintenance, adrenaline-fuelling shows to local gigs, the band enjoys the many processes of producing what they do best.  Simon puts it well:

“I think every performance is bound to be a product of all the parameters and it affects the mind that someone in the audience walks in with and its affects us too. A big show like New York City feels much more like a nervous performance, a big theatrical show, everything becomes bigger; you think and perform a different way. The other day we performed in front of fifty people and that was great in a different way because it’s like they are right here, they are right up close to your face. It’s always great to play a big show but it’s always the small places that you are passing through that can sneak up and surprise you.