Features Interviews

Noise Pollution: In Conversation with FACS’ Brian Case

The singer/guitarist talks us through the band’s new LP, ‘Still Life In Decay’.

Chicago’s FACS need no introduction around these parts. Now comprising of vocalist/guitarist Brian Case, drummer Noah Leger and Jonathan Van Herrick who recently re-joined the group replacing bassist Alianna Kalaba, FACS unflinchingly expose the cold hard truth.

A world polluted with violence, greed, corruption and unjust, it’s where bands like FACS remain the most vital. Where art is concerned, they are indeed the last line of defence, and despite capitalism eroding the value of artistic expression, the system fails to break bands like FACS.

Perhaps the only band that truly feels like the void is their natural habitat, not many others have depicted the pandemic both during and in its aftermath so succinctly, but FACS’ one-two assault of Void Moments and Present Tense really captured the collective feeling throughout lockdown, honing in on the anxieties and tension that we all felt through one of the most turbulent times in our history.

Through a nebulas vortex of post-world hellscapes and metallic grit, FACS’ stern examinations bring it all to a head. And their next chapter, Still Life In the Decay continues to rummage through the blast zone.

Album Review – FACS: Still Life In Decay

On the back of Case’s wildly abstract lyricism, Leger’s militant blasts and Kalaba’s unruly bass vibrations, Still Life In Decay revels in the mire of discontent. From the deeply narcotic voidscape of Constellation to the hard-edged black swarm of noise through Class Spectre and Slogan, all roads lead to the epic closing track, New Flag. Through a bourgeoning sound world, FACS mirror the world’s unease like no other.

Speaking to Case over Zoom, and it’s almost two years to the day since our last chat in the lead-up to Present Tense. Time is a blur, for it only feels like yesterday since we last spoke about Present Tense, the bruising after effects of that release still felt to this day.

While we spend an hour talking about Still Life In Decay, we catch up on other matters, including Brian’s son Asher – a member of post-hardcore outfit Lifeguard, who recently signed to Matador Records. “Hopefully, they let us open for ’em,” jokes Case.

In support of Still Life In Decay, the band have booked shows in the coming months, including three this weekend, starting tonight in Milwaukee, and two shows at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. While their subjects remain as dark as ever, Case finds the optimism in moving things forward. “It feels good, we’re setting some stuff up and it’s coming up. I’m excited.”

S13: Youve played shows over the past 18 months and have more coming up. Have you noticed anything different out on the road with audiences since the pandemic?

BC: “It’s not like it was, it’s different. It’s hard to put a finger on how: I think people are still nervous. I really feel that. It might just be the communities that go to shows, maybe [they] have a different mindset than the general public, [and] maybe more in tune to being careful. In some ways, I think people are still wrapping their heads around what happened and what is still happening.

“That tour with Metz and Preoccupations was great. It was an awesome tour, shows were packed, they were so fun and a really great opportunity for us. But still, a lot of people were buying tickets and not coming to the shows, because I think they were nervous. They either bought tickets wanting to feel okay by the time it came around, and just didn’t, or they just maybe had no intention of ever going but wanted to support the band in some way.

“It was weird to play these shows and have them be successful, but also know that there’s so many – 30 percent some nights – that didn’t show up. Even though the room is packed, there’s still all these people who bought tickets and didn’t come. It was weird to know that that was happening while still trying to carry on as normal.

“We did the whole US and a bunch of Canada, and just being out for that long and playing every night felt so different than I had in the past. Just getting your head back around what happened and seeing how it’s handled in different places. There was still masks happening in a lot of places. [In] New York, there were no masks, one of the biggest shows of the tour, looking out into the crowd and not seeing one mask. It was crazy. Whereas two nights before everyone had a mask on, all band members included. Like, ‘Why do the rules change today?’

“It’s weird. It’s a unique situation to see people’s whole experience with something change. Their whole social dynamic is different now. I can’t think of a situation where that has ever happened before. Luckily, I haven’t lived in a country where a war has been going on, or something like that. That certainly would change everything. But the way a global thing affects the globe in different ways is pretty wild.”

Sun 13: Taking its cues from the title, this might be your darkest record yet.

Brian Case: (Laughs) “Yeah, I thought we were making a not dark record, but it kind of came out dark.”

S13: I didn’t really make the connection at the time, but looking at Void Moments and Present Tense, and then Still Life In Decay, it feels like kind of a trilogy of sorts.

BC: (Laughs)

S13: I don’t know whether that’s something you thought about subconsciously, or whether that’s open to interpretation?

BC: “They’re all coming from that same headspace, so I think they’re related works. Just in that I think all of us were connected through this nebulous moment in time, where there’s so much happening. You’re constantly under a barrage of information and events, and it’s hard to know which way to look. We use music to process those feelings, and hash out what the reality is. So I think they’re definitely all related. I like the idea of a trilogy.” (laughs)

S13: The last time we spoke, you gave us some insight into your writing process. While abstract in nature, Still Life In Decay feels less so. Not song-based as such, but your messages really hit the targets. I’m not sure whether your process changed for this record at all?

BC: “Some of it was a little more structured before the whole band got a hold of it. A few of the songs I had written before Present Tense, but nothing really happened with them when we started working on that album, so they just got pushed to the side. But for this, some of those ideas came out again and made more sense, for whatever reason.

“A few of them were a little more constructed than they normally would be. The lyrics came together in a different way to which I think a lot of them came. Usually, it’s just a lot of ideas put together and sort them as like, it’s time to get melodies together for songs. A lot of the lyrics came out in big batches, as though it were a song already, so there might be a little more like a through-line through some of those.”

S13: Like Present Tense, you worked with Sanford Parker again. What about John Congleton, did he have any involvement with the record?

BC: “No, we were going to, [but] John was very busy. And we were feeling like we knew where this one was going, anyway. A lot of times when we record, we do a lot of writing in the studio, and it’s really fun to give it to John to make sense of it. This one, like I was saying, it came out a little bit more complete. We also had a vision for what we wanted it to be, so we didn’t end up working with John, but looking forward to doing something with him again, for sure.”

S13: The artwork really lends itself to the themes as well. Did you create it?

BC: “I did the layout. It’s actually a photo by a photographer in Chicago named Mike Valera. He’s in some great bands like Luggage. He had a photo I really liked, it’s just a picture of a sidewalk and some tiles, and I just messed with it and made it look a little like it could be some aerial shot or some weird terrain. I made it a little bit less about the space it was in and more about the space that it could be.”

FACS - Still Life In Decay

S13: While Alianna Kalaba played on the record, your original guitar player, Jonathan Van Herrick, is back. How did that come about?

BC: “Initially when we started the band, Jonathan was on guitar and I was on bass, and we recorded the first record, Negative Houses. He needed to take some time to focus on some other stuff, so he stepped away. That’s when we started playing with Alianna, and in sort of a strange, circle of life moment, she needed to take some time and focus on some other stuff. Jonathan had heard that was happening and approached us and was like, ‘I’d love to come back to the band if you guys would have me?’ It felt really good to have Jonathan back. We have a great history, writing together and 20 plus years of friendship, so it felt like a very natural thing to go back to. So he’s playing bass now and I stayed on guitar, and it’s been really fun. We’ve been already cracking away at some new stuff.”

S13: There has always been tension in your songs. Do you feel as if that’s the core focus of FACS? Do you need that tension in order to produce the band’s best results?

BC: “I don’t know. I feel like it’s just a part of who we are. I don’t know if it’s the thing that defines our band, but I think some sort of physical push or pull or feeling is a really big part of how we write. Tension just seems to be where we come together.” (laughs)

S13: Listening to FACS in different environments has been really interesting, because I always find with your record, there’s a different experience between devices. I don’t know whether that’s something you think about when working with Sanford?

BC: “We’re always trying to make some cool aural things happen. We all listen to music a lot. In different environments as well. You want it to sound good, no matter where you’re listening to it, but I think you’re always going to get the purest, direct hit when it’s headphones, because that’s what we have in mind when we’re doing it. We’re not excluding anything, or making things secret, I just think you just pick up on it most when you’re fully focused.”

S13: With the tracks When You Say and Class Spectre, to me they underline a class warfare and social denigration, and it feels like that’s really at the heart of the record.

BC: “Yeah, definitely. A lot of it’s about relationships and how they change over time and why they exist in one way at some point in your life, and another way or another. And class, I think a lot about that just living in the United States and watching the world kind of slide a little bit recently. The separation and the panic and anxiety that is surrounding those issues.”

S13: There’s one sort of lyric on Class Spectre“You can come back, but not the same”. I don’t know what’s is like in America, but is resignation contributing to divisions within communities?

BC: “There’s a separation, for sure. And that separation is, largely speaking, the people who have the money, which means they have the power, and then the people in the strata below that. But within that strata, within both stratas I suppose, there’s divisions inside of those as well. It’s like… how can you communicate within… wherever you’re at, to make things better when it feels like people are just constantly… it’s just like a feeding frenzy. You know what I mean?”

S13: Yeah. I think, particularly with working class communities, I think the frustration just boils over to the point where the division can be created. It feels like that here.

BC: “100 per cent. It’s the oldest trick in the book. Get people scared, and they start going after each other instead of after the people who are actually doing the bad shit. It’s so obvious to me, it’s so clear to see, and it’s like everybody’s fallen for it. I don’t know, I just wonder how it can get better. What’s it going to take?”

S13: It’s ironic on so many levels. You look at technology and how we should all be connected. But I don’t think throughout my lifetime at least, it hasn’t felt like there’s been such a disconnect with people.

BC: “Yeah. The one thing that should be linking the world and making people understand each other better is being used to divide them even further. I don’t know.”

13 Questions with Cor de Lux

S13: Still Life is an interesting song as well. Talking about class, it could be about a relationship, too. It has a multi-faceted meaning to me, which connects the dots between two people, whether they’re from different backgrounds, or different social stratums.

BC: “For me, that’s the perspective of coming back to something that you left behind. Like the aspect of the song before, you can come back but not the same. You’re coming back to the situation, and it’s familiar, but it’s everything is changed. If you go back to the town you grew up in, or you see someone you haven’t seen for 20 years. There are so many familiar things and touch points in your life that relate you to that space or that person, but it’s never going to be like it was before. It’s like, how you pass that information of knowing something, but knowing that it’s not what it was, you know? About your memory of it, and what the reality of it is.”

S13: New Flag feels like the most defining track that FACS have written to me.

BC: (Laughs)

S13: It’s like a correlation between the sound and the lyrics. “If there’s even a real world would you stay?”. That dystopian dread. Was at something that you wanted to capture with the record?

BC: “I think so. Like I was saying, some of the songs were a little bit more composed before we all got a hold of them. But that is a song just happened. I had this guitar part – that main part [makes the sound], and the chorus. I heard it as a Polvo song or something.”

S13: Nice!

BC: “And then when the band started playing it, they really slowed it down, and I think made it much more interesting. Alianna started playing the part that I was playing, so I stopped, so it gave it some good space. And she came up with that awesome bass line, and just the kind of thing that you can ride for 10 minutes, and let me open up to do some guitar stuff I hadn’t done in a while. It was cool, it fell out of one practice, and then we played it more and shaped it a little bit, but it was pretty much complete after the first couple of times through it.”

S13: Wow.

BC: “Yeah. That’s why I love writing and collaborating. You can go in with nothing, and then you come out and you’ve made something that is the sum of all the parts. Something beyond what you could have tried to do if you had been planning it.”

FACS (photo: Evan Jenkins)

S13: A lot of artists claim that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Is this the case, not only with FACS, but your other projects from both past and present?

BC: “I try not to be too precious about what I want to happen, or what I think is going happen, because I like to let the moment shape. You know, the creative process, let the room sort of dictate what’s going to come out, instead of going in and telling people what to do. Or being like, ‘I hear this song, to me it sounds like this song, so let’s keep that in mind’. I try to avoid those things and let people turn it around for a while themselves. The unknown, the aspect of having an idea, but not knowing how to present it or just letting other people decide what it is instead of telling people. Not directing or narrating, just letting the spirit of things run the show.”

S13: The process as well, you produce a lot solo work. Obviously, the creative process to that is quite different to what I would imagine in FACS. How do you maintain your creativity?

BC: “I just do it every day. There’s lots of days, [where] it’s just garbage coming out for weeks at a time where I can’t get any words together. Or, ‘That sounds good. I can’t come up with a guitar part that isn’t already something else I’ve already written’. (laughs)

“I really think it’s like a muscle. Creativity is like that. I think you have to practice every day. Even just thinking about things, thinking about a new way to approach something or reading about how somebody did something. That to me is the same as holding a guitar for an hour and just playing it until something sounds right. Just using your brain in that way is the most important thing in terms of being productive. Even if you’re not producing, I think you can be productive.”

S13: What about your own sense of identity? How significant a role does they play in the songs you create, whether it be in a band sense or solo?

BC: “I don’t know. I’m not writing from my perspective, always, but I’m conjuring the feelings that are behind the songs or that’s coming through me and filtered through me. I don’t know if it’s my identity as much as it is. I don’t know… (laughs). I mean, I start to say that, and then I think, ‘Well, whose identity is it?’ Mine exists, it must be mine, right?” (laughs)

S13: It’s a twofold question in some respects, because you just don’t know how the subconscious plays out.

BC: “Yeah. I can say it’s coming from somewhere else. But it’s definitely coming from the back of my mind. And it’s maybe telling me I should listen more than I do.” (laughs)

Still Life In Decay is out via Trouble In Mind Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

3 replies on “Noise Pollution: In Conversation with FACS’ Brian Case”

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