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Fariq Sona - Interview

  by Julia Willis

published: 13 / 7 / 2002

Fariq Sona - Interview


Combining punk, ragga, dub and funk, Sona Fariq are one of London's hardest-hitting acts, but dropped by WEA ,are now without a deal. Vocalist Michael Frankel and guitarist Dom Bouffard chat to Julia Willis about their current state of flux

"Yeah, we can use the room upstairs for the interview but only if we say it was fuelled by absinthe… apparently we can only mention this place if we mention absinthe, so we’d better get ‘em in eh?!!!" As he rubs his hands and walks to the bar, I’m thinking Sona Fariq’s frontman Michael’s a nice guy. Nothing like as he appears on stage, an unhinged wildman. So I follow this "nice guy" and guitarist Dom, less chatty, more contemplative than Mike, upstairs into a wide open room at the Ten Bells…with three large glasses of absinthe. "So" he says matter of factly as he slumps in an easy chair like a king, sipping back the absinthe "go on, ask a question…" I gulp, this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought and he’s got a glint in his eye. As the absinthe breaks the ice, we all ease up and the petulant wildman emerges… "No one ever asks us good questions. It’s always the same old shit." "OK then, which one of you is the most interesting?" As we descend into laughter I’m wondering how to ask what is probably my most contentious question, right at the beginning of the interview. Sona Fariq, four men with explosive, addictive talent, were quickly signed to Warner a couple of years back. They made a terrific first album before being unceremoniously and inexplicably dropped. Although understandably left with a bitter taste, perhaps they might be happier now, being far from the types to court major label politics and protocol. So how do they feel? "I’m ecstatic. Look at me. When you turned up today I was doing cartwheels at being so fucking skint, cos I’m a survivor (starts singing the Destiny’s Child song…)" The absinthe’s kicking in…I try to get back to the point.. "Seriously though." "I’m being serious." "Weren’t you pissed off ?" "When there’s that communication breakdown and all of a sudden it’s all over, that’s sad. WEA have become a pop label, I don’t want to go too much into the politics of it all. When one company gets subsumed within another company, one of those companies has to lose its rosta. When they joined together a lot of people were dropped instantly. There was a lot of bullshit, lies and nastiness. It’s kinda strange but when you’re not signed to a label you get your freedom back. It’s a horrible thing to admit to…" Dom agrees. "You feel more like a band again." "Why would you ever admit that you didn’t have your freedom in the first place? It wasn’t like they came in and taught us dance moves and streaked our hair and dressed us up." Perhaps though, they might have tried that? "No, cos they never put the fuckin’ effort into it! We were never gonna be one of those bands. We were a tax write off. They let us make our record and then…" "We should have realized right at the start when they didn’t even try to tell us what to do" Dom interjects. "We did say to them. You can’t tell what to do but in a way I guess it happened too easily, didn’t it?" At this point I actually see Michael visibly moved. He looks into space and his eyes show miscomprehension. On stage and when they write, Sona Fariq give music their all. Both Dom and Michael have fought and made sacrifices to keep the band making music with the passion and energy they both obviously have for what they do… "Not only was there no resistance there was no positive output, you know. We’re saying we want to give records free on magazines and websites. We want to tour with the bands we choose. Every step of the way there were delaying tactics though. Music has had its day, I don’t want to bore anyone by talking about things like 'Pop Idol' but that seems to be the last step in the way these multinationals go. They’re like dogs eating their own arses now." I’ve seen Sona Fariq live several times over the last couple of months and know they’re still relentlessly performing, but am curious as to how they still get their music out there, as they’re currently unsigned and doing everything themselves. M: The only way this band have survived is by having those people that believe in us having the time, effort and means to keep the band going. We’re working with a great producer. We’re using studio time. We’re touring with bands that are helping us do these things for free and they don’t want us to sink… (He looks sad) doing what you have to do to just live, survive…’ I sense I should move on… "So who did you record with this time ?" M: Our new record we did with Alex Silver (Manic Street Preachers) and the guy who’s mixing it worked with Blur on 'Song 2', but I don’t want to go down that road. When you talk about your influences, people read it and assume we sound like that. Assumptions… so I might as well say the Nolan Sisters. We’re going to make a record that sounds like no one else. "Right then !" I grin. "Sona Fariq sound like the Nolan sisters…." Mike grins with mocking menace ‘If you ever say the Nolan sisters, I will come after you…’ Sometimes, I half believe he would. They’re so passionate about what they do. Sona Fariq live are a formidable sight. They give it everything they’ve got with an energy that’s at once frightening, exciting, tribal and raw. They’re one of the few bands who can hold a venue in the palm of their hands, emanate a vibe and incite a crowd to riot. M: We have incited crowds to riot and the funny thing is I got a telephone call from a place that we were pretty much thrown down the stairs by the bouncers. Is (flashing an evil grin then fluttering innocent eyes) "Come on smash this fucking place up’ an incitement to riot? D: It might be… They both laugh together. I look at them both. "Was it smashed to pieces?" Michael answers like it’s something that happens everyday: "Yeah it was. We didn’t touch a thing but the crowd went mad. It was in Peterborough… they phoned us up yesterday asking us to come back. We were literally fucking thrown out on our ear, our equipment bouncing after us. "So they loved it ?" Mike looks at me as if I’m daft and grins… "Of course they fuckin’ loved it. If you’ve ever smashed anything up you know how much you love it! I bumble downstairs already a little hazy to get some more drinks. Of course both Mike and Dom have ordered more absinthe and we’re lining them up next to the pints of lager we’ve already got in the room. My brain needs to search for a question. "Er... so how did you get together ?" M: We were cloned by Warner Bros… I’m not gonna tell you how we met. It’s boring and not worth it… PB : Well what do you want to talk about then? M: Next you’re gonna ask us what Sona Fariq means… it’s a chant, it’s a war cry That sounds about right but actually that wasn’t what I was going to ask. What I really want to know is if, after their poor treatment at Warner, do they want to be signed again to a major label and conquer the world of mainstream music in the long term. Although I probably already know the answer! M: Well, the things we have to do to scrimp money together, is destructive for the band in the long term. You can’t concentrate on music and you can only concentrate on money. The same way that maybe plenty of money can destroy a band, no money can be equally detrimental. So it would be nice to have some money. It would not be nice to become Linkin fuckin’ Park! D: Can I say something about how it started? The original members of the band were an extended ground of friends, a lot of artistic people, musicians, a couple of painters. We had that in common and a feeling of wanting to do something special. This came together quite organically. Something clicked. Mike and I started writing stuff on the four track… M: We still do! D: At the time we had a big raga influence. There are bands like Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction and music to this day we listen to. M: Yeah but we’ve outgrown it all. We are Sona Fariq. We can play a gig anywhere in this country without hype, a single, no record company or anything – we can go to a fucking shithole and two hundred people will turn up. Most people would look at that and snort but, for us, that’s enough to create some dangerous chemistry in a room, but the potential of it to go large is maybe more powerful now than ever. D: It’s more electric. I’m intrigued to know whether they compose with the crowd in mind, to create and effect as Sona Fariq have always maintained thaT they are above all else a live band. Although Dom is definitely the quieter of the two, they’re both very thoughtful when they speak about the energy they have when they write. M: Dom and I do most of it. We get the four-track and Dom will program some beats and put down a bass line or maybe a guitar line. Then we’ll both start talking about where the song should go and then we’ll change things here and there, start getting the structure. Then I’ll write lyrics. Sometimes I just turn up with words and Dom will be inspired to write something to that. D: We’ve actually had lot of wicked tracks come out of jams. We used to practice like five days a week, seven eight hours a day. PB : Do you still do that ? M: No. We’ve moved along a bit since then. That can kill you. It definitely made me go deaf! This room is twice as big as the room we used to be in. We were as loud as we are onstage just playing. By the end of it I don’t think you could say we’re playing for the love of it. We’re playing for the desperation. I can’t explain it to you.’ At this point the conversation starts getting really deep. We all lean forward, Absinthe in one hand, cigarettes in the other, like old men talking endlessly about the nature of life until we finally get to the truth. D: You play in a way that is exactly what you are. We all come from backgrounds which drew us to each other in the first place, quite extreme situations in one way or another and that’s something we’ve inherited and which goes into the music. It’s like trying to channel a certain infusion and feeling about a compulsion to create something alive. It’s all the most basic emotions channeled in. It’s a fever. The only thing that holds it all together is just the need to do it and the music we play is our feeling. M: We’re like an exposed nerve and brush up against us you’re gonna feel how it is to stick something inside of you and have it really hurt and wanna smash something up just for the sake of it. Or maybe it’s about changing your mindset completely and not having to live your life in the way that’s prescribed for you. D: That’s the whole buzz. It’s not selfish. It’s not about "Look at me ! Look at me." We’re trying to infect our enthusiasm into other people when we play.’ M: There’s a lot of people who talk a lot and then you go and see them and it’s just nothing. Some of these people act like they’re the only people who have ever grabbed a mic and spat down it and sweated and lived and done something. Slowly but most definitely surely Sona Fariq are beginning to find our reason which I think makes us more dangerous, and you can’t help that, because people come back to you and tell you how much they need it or how much it meant to them. At this point Michael gets up and wanders around the room. Finding a gong in a corner of the room he bangs on it a couple of times, turning and giving us all an evil grin as if sealing his point. He thinks of something else to add and is off again… M: We are a live band and nothing excites us more than thinking : "Fucking hell people are really going to react to this." When the chemistry is going on we know how that is going to affect the atmosphere in a room. It’s going to pull people away from the bar and into the crowd and make their faces light up, making people wanna dance and guys shove their erections up against girls they don’t even know… D: When we’re jamming and all in a circle playing, it’s the most amazing feeling when we’ve finished a song and there’s this mad connection between all of us and our common elements are just exploding. When we play that live we get that same feeling in the crowd. We’ve got this dervish thing going off. M: It’s a shamanic thing. D: That’s what we’ve always been trying to do> It’s a really primal thing… you’re just there with another person you may or may not have known before and there’s that moment when you know that you’re living. M: All we want is to not necessarily take people away from themselves, but to put them in tune with themselves. I don't want to sound like some twat that don’t take part in the western world, but at least I am aware that many of the things in our society are illusory. They’re there to distract you from who you are. The power that lies within us and the power for change that all these fake punk bands come out and talk about. It ain’t from writing fucking sloganist songs> It’s from being in tune with yourself and rejecting the safe option and living within the comfort of your safe society. When people turn up at our gigs, all we want to do is remind them that the power lies within them. It’s not like the songs were written in a cerebral way. It’s emotional. When they’re performed live in a room they take on the nature of us. I’ve never gone out there to frighten anyone, but you can tell by the look on people’s faces there’s more than an element of fear at times but that’s the whole thing. You can’t just have one emotion. At this point, playing the tape of the interview back, I come in with a third round of absinthe to go with our pints and we all sound a little worse for wear. I decide we’ve got too deep and want to lighten the mood. M: ‘You’re right. I feel like we’ve all got a bit serious. An interview is as good as the interviewer. I feel like you’ve made us sound really dull! At this point Dom makes an unintelligible joke. Mike snorts and blurts out "He’s wasted his life as a struggling guitarist and all he should have done was go to an open mic night!" At this point we ‘re all becoming bored, bored and repetitive, and that Mike and Dom should interview me. M: Are we interviewing you now? OK! Why did you bother coming here asking us questions today ? PB : ‘I was completely blown away by your music, I thought you deserved the coverage. I can’t really think straight though, we’ve been talking a long time. As everything begins to wind down, and we’re getting tired, we decide it’s time to call it a day, turn off the tape and carry on drinking. Michael decides he has something else add before we leave. ‘It’s not shit chemicals. It’s not fake delusion or bullshit rhetoric. It’s not sloganeering. It’s not any of these things… it’s definitely not being a ‘cool’ underground band. We’re a band that lives in the moment, I don’t know where the hell I’m gonna be in five years time. All I know is that all that matters is the next gig. We ain’t been a major label band for a year and a half and we’re still playing, drawing people in and we’re losing it in front of them and vice versa. At the end of the day we don’t give a fuck about hype and bullshit. We are just there, we remain and our new record somehow will find its way but even if it doesn’t, we’ve existed.’ And with that, we stumble out of the pub. For us, it’s time at the bar. Ladies and Gentlemen, Sona Fariq have left the building. If you make your make your way through the rubble and pick your souls up at the door on the way out… The photographs thatv accompany this article were taken by Matthew Williams

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Fariq Sona - Interview

Fariq Sona - Interview

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