Wednesday, June 17th, 2020
FEWS on Their “Dog” EP and Starting Their Own Label
Jun 17, 2020
By Dom Gourlay
Twelve months is a long time in music. This time last year, FEWS had just released their critically acclaimed second album Into Red. However, what should have been a marked step up and continuation of the band’s achievements after 2016’s highly feted debut Means turned out to be a grinding halt instead.
Relations between band and label PIAS (Play It Again Sam) had become strained—largely due to the lack of promotion afforded Into Red—while founder member David Alexander decided to leave, mainly to concentrate on solo project Summer Heart.
So, the three remaining members—singer/guitarist Fred Rundqvist (who also founded the band), bass player Jay Clifton, and drummer Rasmus Andersson—recruited a new guitarist, Jacob Olsen. Then the four-piece set about writing and recording a bunch of new songs. The first of which—“Heaven”—saw the light of day last month, being one of four songs on their forthcoming Dog EP which comes out on July 3 via the band’s own label, Hello Dog.
With Sweden having followed a “herd immunity” rather than lockdown strategy during the COVID-19 outbreak, things are relatively normal in Malmö where the four-piece are based. So, it was via Skype during a band rehearsal that Under the Radar caught up with FEWS to discover what they’d been up to, and how they’re coping under these most unprecedented of circumstances.
Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How has it been operating as a band throughout this global health pandemic?
Jay Clifton: We’re pretty much the only country that isn’t in lockdown. So, while a lot of things are relatively normal, it actually feels quite weird. As a band, we’re not very in demand in Scandinavia.
It’s been a while since I last saw FEWS play live apart from your online rehearsal sets in March and April. Probably as far back as November 2016 when you were touring with Pixies.
Jay: It has been a while. In those days it was just constant gigging and touring throughout 2016 and the early part of 2017. Since then apart from a couple of tours here and there, it’s been pretty quiet. I just keep getting tinges of nostalgia, especially when I see people posting on Facebook and Twitter about missing certain bars and venues like Oporto and the Brudenell in Leeds for example. Imagine the get togethers that will happen when they can finally reopen and put on shows again? We’re actually in the rehearsal room right now where those live sessions were filmed. It’s also where we recorded the new EP with our friend Joakim [Lindberg], who also co-produced Into Red. It was his studio, then he was moving out to a new one. So, we took over the space with a band called Echo Ladies. They’ve since moved out, so we’re now in here with a band called Sekel who just moved in a few days ago.
The new EP is a return to the similar kind of sound on your first album, Means. Each of the four songs is short and direct, emphasizing the noise, post-punk, and Krautrock elements that run through FEWS’ make up. Was it always intended to be an EP at this stage rather than a third album?
Fred Rundqvist: The plan was always to come back with an EP. We didn’t decide how many tracks to put on the EP until now. We originally planned to put six tracks on there but then we realized that was probably going to be too many, so we removed two that will probably be on the next release instead.
Have you already scheduled for when the next release will come out?
Fred: Not really. There’s probably about six other songs that are ready now including those two, but I’d like to have a few more finished as well before we put out anything else. Maybe around 12 tracks first, so at the moment we’re about halfway there.
Jay: The plan was to do a six track EP based on the idea of a mini-album, but then at that point we got dropped by PIAS. It was genuinely what we wanted, the best thing that could happen to us at the time. So, we thought let’s just knock out the four fast songs off the six track EP, set up our own label then get it out as quick as possible. Which took longer than expected because we needed a distributor. Then coronavirus happened. So now we’re working with AWAL for distribution, who are a part of Kobalt, so the four track EP is finally ready to go. I think the plan was also to have recorded the next album by the end of this year. That is going to happen. It’s our goal for the rest of 2020 whatever happens, and I think we’re halfway there already.
Fred: With no possibility of touring for the foreseeable future we don’t even have to think about finding the time to record like we’ve had to in the past.
What happened with Into Red?
Fred: We don’t know. It’s a fucking mystery!
Jay: We’ve only toured the album once which is why a lot of people have never heard any of those songs played live. We toured for two weeks when it first came out and ended up playing nine shows and that was it. Even then, only half the set was Into Red material. The other half was from Means. So, we’ve barely touched those songs in front of a live audience. I think PIAS were going through a bit of a weird time. Just weeks before the album was due to be released, the words we were hearing from people at the label were “Guitar music is dead.” Which wasn’t what we wanted to hear when we were about to launch a guitar-based album.
Fred: Our project manager left a week into the beginning of our album campaign and then everything just went to shit.
Jay: We got a bit unlucky as well. Before Means “Ill” was done by Dan Carey and most people thought—and still think—we were a South London band. We were always in London and the UK, which gave that some hype. But then as soon as we recorded everything here and things with the label fell to shit that was like a double blow.
What’s most surprising is your old label claiming guitar music is dead when its probably enjoying a renaissance right now, particularly since bands like IDLES and Fontaines D.C. broke through.
Jay: Everything moves so quickly now. We ask each other a lot about some of the things that were on the verge of breaking through when we were touring Means. Bands like Traams and Eagulls for example. We really liked those bands. Even more recently with someone like Goat Girl who we also really like. They smashed it with their first record but again, it’s gone really quiet. Whereas before you could probably take a year out to write the next record, everything is constantly changing and someone new comes along. It feels as if something new comes along and does well, then people get behind it and push it as much as they can. Whether it dies after six months or continues for a few years.
How did Jacob [Olsen, guitarist] join the band?
Jacob Olsen: I moved to Malmö three years ago so knew of the guys through David [Alexander, former guitarist] so that’s how we met.
Are you involved in the writing process?
Jacob: A little bit.
Is being in FEWS different to any other bands you’ve played with?
Jacob: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. With the other band I was in we all lived together so I guess that’s the main difference here. Living in San Francisco with my old bandmates is definitely a far cry from my present situation in Malmö. Before, we’d play in this dump where we lived whereas with FEWS, everything is a lot more structured. They know what they’re doing whereas with my old band we were just fucking around. It’s cool though. It’s fun.
Will the live set change much to accommodate both new material and also more songs from Into Red?
Fred: We’re gonna try and play as many songs as we can from both albums as well as the new ones. We’re rehearsing everything at the minute. We just started playing “10 Things” again for the first time in a while. It still sounds great as well.
Are there any plans to release other artists as well as FEWS on your new label?
Fred: We were talking about it. Maybe if there’s a way of funding it.
Jay: The thing with Hello Dog is we did it purely so we could release new music, be able to work with a distributor and be taken seriously in some kind of way.
Fred: I also like having the control of being on our own label. The campaign for Into Red was such a big letdown that we needed to have more control of what were doing going forwards.
Jay: Right now, this label or band has no money. There’s less than a thousand pounds in the band’s account, yet with that we’ve still managed to record this EP, set up the label, fund the artwork and videos. Which you can see are all DIY. Now it’s out there and it’s cost next to nothing, so if some money does start coming back in then we can invest that back into the label. It would be great to put someone else’s record out. We’ve just done all the PR for this EP ourselves. Calling in favours off people who we’ve made friends with along the way. It’s cost nothing, so we’ll see what happens. If the streams go well then we’ll print some vinyls. Maybe a 10-inch EP if its going well digitally. Its really from the ground up, starting with zero money. So hopefully it can become a bit more than that.
Fred: It wasn’t that long ago that we released the second album. But because that campaign went so badly people thought we’d just disappeared off the back of it.
Jay: I can see how it would look like that to some people. Means came out in 2016 so there was already a three-year gap between albums, then with hardly anyone noticing we put out a record last year it must seem as if we’d split up to some folks. We’ve had almost as many reviews for “Heaven” to date as we had throughout the entire campaign for Into Red, and that’s without PR other than us writing to people through Gmail. We’ve done more through promoting it that way—knocking up our own press pack as well—than having a bunch of people in an office throwing money at it. We’ve done all that ourselves in the last few days.
What advice would you give a new band that’s just starting out?
Jay: Things are so up and down right now. Look at us in 2015. We were on a big indie, we were constantly touring, we played dozens of festivals that year. Now look at us. We’re doing everything DIY yet its still as exciting albeit in different ways. So, I guess the bottom line is just make good music.
Fred: Focus on the live stuff, whenever that may be!
How do you think the music industry will respond post COVID-19? Particularly when it comes to playing live and touring.
Rasmus Andersson: There’s a place in Malmö called Plan B who are putting on socially distanced shows at the moment. They have a couple of rooms but one is medium sized, so they’ve set a capacity limit of 40 people for shows in there. There is no bar, just people walking around serving you so there is no crowd or queue anywhere. They’re really trying to make it work and so far, it has.
Fred: They’re charging around four pounds for a ticket, which is pretty good. But for an artist it must be really weird to play those shows because that room is so big.
Jay: The normal capacity is around 200, so it must feel a bit weird playing to 40 people with very little participation or interaction. It’s such a weird situation here. We’re all sitting together in this room, which is normal for us. We rehearse twice a week and have been doing for months. Nothing’s changed. There’s clearly a dark side that’s affecting people’s lives so much yet it hasn’t really affected us other than with touring. We were planning to tour this year so it’s given us more time to write and record. It’s awful for all the people who are fucked financially but I guess one positive is it’s given people time to reflect and live healthier while they haven’t been able to go to work.