Fuck Buttons’ brand of music happens to appeal to the over-educated and underemployed masses looking for meaning in this crazy, recession mad world, and for that the band has gotten much attention. Before they were the touchstones of the post-rock world, however, there was just two friends from Bristol playing music on whatever they could get their hands on. No matter how much critical acclaim the band receives, it will at its core remain a collaboration between friends. As Fuck Buttons prepares to release its sophomore effort, Tarot Sport, band member Benjamin John Power made it clear that, no matter who is producing, the only difference is that the band is now creating its music in a much larger sandbox.
You’ve said your least favorite interview question is when people ask you about your band’s name. Isn’t that like getting a huge tattoo and then expecting people not to stare at it?
It is. I guess after a while you get tired of having so much focus on the name. It’s just one of those things you could never predict. Andrew [Hung] and I never expected to be doing this for a living, really. We were playing a few shows and chose a name, never expecting that we’d be talking about it years later. It’s been a hurdle for sure, but there are ways around it. We can be called the F-Buttons if the need arises.
Can you remember a particularly bad answer you’ve given to that question?
Nothing really springs to mind. We’ve really tried to be quite consistent when dealing with the question. When we started out, we were just using whatever we could find at the time, basically lots of cheap instruments and children’s toys. The end result was pretty abrasive. The “Fuck” symbolizes the abrasiveness. The “Buttons” indicates that not only were we seeking to push people’s buttons with our sound, but that our instruments had lots of buttons on them.
How has your band grown since Street Horrrsing?
Street Horrrsing was really a snapshot of the band’s early existence. We’d had these songs written for five years and had been playing them live regularly. It was more linear and direct, because we knew what the songs sounded like. Tarot Sport has limbs that extend out. We had access to more equipment and felt freer to experiment with these songs and see where they ended up. This album just sounds a lot richer to me.
Is there anything on Tarot Sport that fans of your first album might find surprising?
Sleigh bells. There are sleigh bells. It’s something we never would have thought to put into Street Horrrsing. This time around, we just shut ourselves up with all the equipment and instruments we could find, and if something worked we went for it.
How did “Lisbon Maru” come about?
My granddad was a prisoner of war on the Lisbon Maru. He managed to escape over the side of the boat a couple of days before it was sunk. He was stranded at sea for days on this tiny raft with another guy. My grandfather managed to convince him not to drink the seawater and ended up saving his life. The track has a lot of nautical and military sounds in it. We also tried to bring in a little of my granddad’s experience, because it’s such an unbelievable story.
“Space Mountain.” I’m assuming not about Disney World?
It’s not about Disney World. It’s more about looking at the mental imagery. Those two words seem to be a quite obvious pairing, and hopefully the song evokes the image created by them.
Do you feel any pressure to avoid the sophomore slump?
I don’t think so, because we’ve never tried to deliver anything in that sense. We basically tried to please ourselves, and it’s been our good fortune that it’s been well received. We’re both really, really surprised that it’s gone this far, so any record we make is going to be the one that we want to make.
What did Andrew Weatherall bring to the table?
He did such a great job on the remix for “Sweet Love for Planet Earth” and has such a solid grasp on the on our sound that he was the perfect choice for the album. He’s so sensitive to the idea of sounds and the space between notes. And he has this small grotty studio in East London with all this wonderful equipment. The space itself is full of ideas, and Andrew was so open to letting us experiment and do our thing, and then pushing to explore even further. We both feel really fortunate to have worked with him, especially in his own studio.
Was it different than working with John Cummings?
It took four times as long. Cummings is a man who knows what he likes, and he nailed it super quick. There were less ideas being thrown around in the recording sessions, because John had heard us playing the songs and knew going in how he wanted to record them. The Weatherall experience was more about finding the right sound in the studio. Cumming’s method was perfect for our first record, and Weatherall was better for us when we trying to expand our sound.
How do you guys get so many interesting people to collaborate with you?
We’d been fans of Mogwai for years. When we signed to ATP, they asked us whom we wanted to work, and John Cummings immediately sprang to mind. With the Weatherall thing, we had to look around, and eventually he agreed to do it. It’s always kind of a gamble. We always just keep doing what we do; it just happens that so far great musicians have interested enough in it to want to work with us.
What does the future hold for the Fuck Buttons?
Touring will be the focus for the immediate future. We’re going to be starting out in Berlin and then moving on to the United States and Japan. Touring is really the most exciting part of being in a band, because there’s always an element of the unknown. We could be playing a show in Manchester one night and have people just standing there, then go to Newcastle the next day and the crowd will be absolutely going nuts. They’re both valid responses to the music, and it’s not like either crowd is uninterested. They just experience the show in totally different ways.
Do you think at some point there will be a break and you’ll do an album of bubble-gum pop or hip-hop?
I’m not ruling anything out, but I don’t think we’ll ever do a record that’s genre specific. We’ll always sit down in a room with as much equipment as we can get our hands on, and then whatever comes out is the manifestation of our vision. It might come out as hip-hop, but we won’t limit ourselves by setting out to write a specific kind of music.
Is it safe to say that 2010 will be the year of Fuck Buttons?
Oh, fuck, really? I have absolutely no idea how to answer that question. You have about as good an idea about that as I do. I suppose we have as good a chance as anybody. It’s a distinct possibility that this could finally be our year.