It’s the hottest day of the year (so far?) and Kev the photographer and I are having a pleasant pint in the sun outside the Royal Park with Ben Chapler and Alex Farrar, the twin guitar axis of O Fracas, just prior to the interview proper taking place at O Fracas Mansions. Ben is telling me that following the release of the Dance to the Radio compilation (which features ace O Fracas track “What Jim Hears”), the band were bombarded with phone calls.
“For about two weeks we were getting two and three calls every day from record companies, lawyers, publishing companies, the lot. One bloke rang up and asked if we had a manager. I told him we’d just taken one on so he said ‘OK, bye’. Turns out he was a bit of a hot shot who’d worked with loads of big names. Another bloke from Nude records rang up, said he’d heard the song (“What Jim Hears”) and was really excited about it. Said he’d send us his email address and asked us to send him some demos back. Never heard from him again.”
This may all sound a bit glamorous and exciting if you’re prone to dreaming of pop stardom yourself, but both Ben and Alex are utterly unphazed and don’t seem the slightest bit bothered that they’re not already sitting on wads of cash and contemplating a vast mountain of expense account recreational drugs. No. Because, for now, the thing O Fracas are most interested in is “the music”.
So much so in fact that at the moment they seem to be inordinately interested in the three bands they remind me of. Number one – King Crimson.
“It’s weird you should say that, cos I’ve just started listening to a lot of Prog Rock”, says Ben.
Number two – Captain Beefheart.
“Yeah, other people have said that” says Alex “I tried to listen to ‘Trout Mask whatever-it-is’ but I couldn’t get my head around it. Didn’t like it”.
Number three – Big Flame.
“Er…..who?” Another theory shot to shit, then. Turns out that the band that inspires O Fracas to come up with their jagged yet playful, complex but poptastic, deliriously deranged rollercoaster ride take on modern pop is…..The Beatles!
We are now seated in the kitchen of O Fracas Mansions and along with Ben and Alex, we now have drummer Jim Burkitt, who spends most of the interview reconstructing a broken snare drum and, as drummers are wont to do, doesn’t say very much at all, and recently recruited bass player Tom White.
So how did all this start? Ben, Alex and Jim began playing together in an outfit called Very Arcane around three years ago. Very Arcane doesn’t appear top have left much of a legacy.
“It was very different [from O Fracas]” says Alex, “We use a couple of old bass lines and stuff to fill gaps, but that’s it.” “Very Arcane was the first proper band we had, really”, says Ben “It was just kind of finding our feet really. Getting comfortable with playing live, and writing songs and getting used to that process. Whereas O Fracas is us coming in to our own really.”
O Fracas came into existence early last year and after a succession of bass players they hooked up with Tom, formerly with Huddersfield band Novelis, last September.
“A few people in Leeds will remember Novelis as being the biggest pile of noise and mess” explains Tom. “But Whiskas [local promoter at The Vine, amongst other places] liked us and put us on a lot but he always used to put us on with jazz bands, or bands that were nothing like Novelis. We’d come and play half an hour of just trying to destroy everything. We always went on stage to try and piss people off. I’ve always found it a bit weird going from that to this.”
Oh I don’t know, sounds like a right fracas to me.
Anyway, the final implosion of Novelis coincided with O Fracas losing another bass player, so phone numbers were found, practices arranged and, et viola, O Fracas are complete. “Tom’s gelled in better than anyone else has”, affirms Ben.
Why “O Fracas”? “It just sounds good” says Ben. “No, no, no” says Alex, “it sounds good, BUT…” “It looks good on paper as well” Ben butts in. “….a ‘fracas’ is a noisy quarrel [that’s exactly the description in my dictionary, fact fans!] and that’s kinda like our music, but that’s basically how we write [songs] as well. Me and Ben just fight, for hours, but we try and get it all done before practice, get all the arguments out of the way, and then it’s just a big party!”
And it’s the music that, above all, is the thing that is most striking about O Fracas. While there are rock and funk sensibilities driving the rhythms, the guitars and vocals often veer off in more jazzy directions. Time signatures, levels of attack and volume are all subject to sudden and quite unpredictable changes. But, all this is quite firmly harnessed within three or four minute songs and any residual accusations of arty, cerebral indulgence are kicked into touch by the sonic playfulness and exuberant fun that permeates everything they do.
“We spend a lot of time on composing” admits Ben. “Yeah it does take us quite a lot of time”, Alex continues “which is worrying”.
“We played with (Oxford based band) Young Knives a couple of months ago”, recalls Ben “They’ve been together ten years or so and they’ve got, like, 100 songs to choose from. We’ve got 15 and we don’t even like five of those!”
So a third of the songs you’ve written you don’t like?
“It’s just that we move on very quickly”, says Alex. “Whenever we practice we always put improvements on songs, change things, try different tempos” Tom expands, “and Ben will always have a riff that he’s working on. So we don’t have that many songs at the moment but we should have a lot more by the end of this year.”
So an O Fracas song is never finished?
“Well, its like The Beatles” says Ben, “they’re my heroes really for what they did musically. Obviously they had lots of resources and a great producer but the vision and scope of what they did was enormous.”
Alex agrees. “The Beatles ethos is totally what we go for. Which is never to do what people expect, just try and lead people to other places and show them that songs don’t have to be verse/chorus/verse/chorus.”
This need to try things out and experiment has manifested itself in a number of ways in the past year. When I first saw the band last year they had a couple of girls as backing singers providing almost soul band type vocal fills for the songs.
“It was just an experiment really” says Ben, “We did a few gigs with them and a few recordings. They enjoyed it, but it wasn’t designed to be a permanent thing.”
But it seems that some aspects of the idiosyncratic nature of the band’s songs are not quite what they seem.
“At the start people were saying ‘Oh, it’s great how these songs take you down places and just leave you there and stop and its just mad and not related at all’ - but it’s like that cos we couldn’t think how to finish the song and we didn’t want to go back to the chorus and be boring so we just, like, stopped it.”
So what of the future? Will there come a time when O Fracas tire of being surprising and just want to be pop stars?
Alex: “I don’t think we want to be as big as, say….the Kaiser Chiefs, cos that would be too difficult. We want to be gradual, just building up a fan base over time. Like Muse, cos they’re huge, they fill stadiums but there not on TV or a major label or anything like that.”
“Yes, it’s more about the music than the image”, says Jim.
The band have a new single coming out in September on Marquis Cha Cha and should have an albums worth of material ready by the end of the year. Gigs up and down the country are planned for the rest of the year and a (hopefully) sterling performance in the Futuresound competition may well have secured them a slot at the Carling Festival in August by the time you read this.
Apart from the striking nature of the music, the other thing that people always mention about O Fracas is that they are so young.
Ben: “Yeah, it’s quite annoying really”
Alex: “Noooo, it’s alright, I don’t mind, I’m not going to complain.”
Ben: “Where all 20….and under! We’ve got time on our side, I guess!”
words: Johnny Ersatz-Culture
Pics: Kevin Petch