Febueder: Giving Indie An Anxiety Attack

Image: @febueder

I am careful with the term “manic disarray.” Certain people deserve it - your neighbour, perhaps, with the frizzy hair, engaged in nervous potting with too-wide sweatpants. Or kids scattering with a thunderstorm, half in and half out. You need to earn it. But you never quite know how much mania is preplanned; whether, in fact, it’s the norm. When researching Febueder, the avante-something duo from Ascott, UK, I found disarray firmly planted on their web bio. And how manic is it? You decide. Listeners are still working out what on earth they’re up to. 

“I think: this could’ve been two minutes, not four,” says percussionist Samuel Keysell, “and I’d enjoy it more. You’ve heard the idea. If you want to play it again, then play it again.” He’s talking about melodious distraction - our need to pivot from Best Ever Thing to What’s Next, Jesus Christ Hurry Up And Don’t Spill The Lucozade. I mention The 1975; Matty Healey’s urge to write songs like a Netflix queue. And then we’re chasing tangents, pop stars that are always in a rush. “What’s that song, ‘Daisy’...” Samuel grins. “I’d love to work with the girl off of that.” Febueder and Ashnikko. Good God. But hearing them, you do wonder: where might this end up? 

Since emerging in 2013, Febueder have challenged anyone to call them indie. Go on. Try. You’ll get mud in your ears. This isn’t an explicit sentiment that Samuel or his bandmate, vocalist/virtuoso Kieran Godfrey, would ever come out with. It’s in the music. Whether you start at their Soap Carv EP or jump straight to Tomalin Has Etched In, their debut album this year, categories seem more and more absurd. Kieran’s voice is the only foothold on (maybe) early Foals and Grizzly Bear. Kind of tender, o-mouthed singing. The rest is . . . dense. Forever shifting, creepy, like a fox in a haunted house checking every corner for somewhere to rest. 

One track, ‘Rivulet’, may be the best prism of their virtues. “I like the drums [in that song] because they’re flopping over each other, like a clown or something off balance,” Samuel explains. He has squiggly Simon Amstell hair, and an easy elucidation. “They’re just about holding on, and they might tip over but never do. At the same time, I’m looking for something that’s catchy - I’ve been listening to a lot of Radio One.” No doubt. There’s a queasy anthemism to very select moments of their work. A sense that they want you to sing and then feel seasick. 

Of course, maybe it’s harder these days for bands to play it straight, and give us a consistent sound. Why should they? Weird is wonderful. The charts are made for supermarkets. Everyone’s waiting for Ed Sheeran to turn back into Rupert Grint. Febueder are acutely aware of commercialism: the carrot on the stick that someone else already ate. This feeling informed the album’s title. “Kieran came up with it; a line he read in a book. Tomalin could be anything. But the idea of being etched in, we’re treating these songs as if they’re etchings in a big world. You could say that about our band. The market’s massive - whatever you’re putting in, you’re small and insignificant.” 

The group were meant to record an LP earlier, a few years ago, but ended up splitting it. No rush - creatively, they weren’t drying up. You may’ve seen their video for ‘When You Speak To Mingus’, which made waves on this very platform. Rarely has a swan garnered so much sympathy. “It’s the queen’s bird. They’re almost elitist,” Samuel assures me. In the film, a swan is sucked into a circus and forced to dance. The concept grew from a saxoflute (a hollowed-out bamboo shoot) that Kieran blew with honking inelegance - swan-like - kicking off the saga of regality in a leotard. 

The more we chat, the more I assume the lads are into jazz, some form of it, the off-kilter breeze of Mingus himself, say. Not really though. Samuel has been to a jazz festival in Copenhagen (he’s half Danish). And there’s a club in Ascot, referenced in ‘Shapeshifter’ as a toe-tapping seductress. But it was two movies - Birdman and Whiplash - that blew open his preconceptions for what a drummer can do and be. “It was amazing, ‘cos I realised you mute skins, play with your fingers, hit the edge and the top, the ride whilst hitting it.” 

Their new single, ‘Nae Kemani’, is as thoughtful as ever. Kieran christened it after a Santorinian volcano, separate from the island yet once a former piece of it. Today Nae Kemani stands like an ex-lover, huge and stubborn on the horizon. The video’s pretty cool. And inspired by memory - or the lack thereof - I suggest we do the rest of the interview like a word association game. 

I ask Samuel to tell me his instant memory of whatever I ask him, for something honest or quasi profound, in a bid to entertain you. 

What’s the first thing that comes to mind, right now? 

I thought of skateboarding at first, when I was thirteen. A busy day. Y’know, I’d never really been that interested in it. But now, it’s such a feeling. Your feet going . . . [he makes wind sound]. I remember walking up and seeing Kieran in the cul de sac and just going for it.

Your first ever memory, as a kid? 

I used to have this dream when I was really young. My mum would be in a white room holding out a pound coin. That would strike me with fear, because once I grabbed the pound, I’d disappear - the whole room would go chaotic and black. And I knew what was coming. Five to tens times. Nothing has ever recurred like that since. 

How about when you were really let down by someone? 

It’s quite sweet. Honest. So I had a girl round when I was 15, 16 . . . We were just hanging out together. I told Kieran and Harry [former bandmate] I was busy, but they came up to the room anyway and sorta of intruded. Not anything bad - we were just watching a film! But she felt uncomfortable and left. The boys achieved what they were after. When she left, I was really bummed out, disappointed, angry. They knew they had no intention of good, fucking around with the situation. They went down to the front door, waiting. So I got on my bike and cycled off. 

What’s the first song you obsessed over? 

‘Elephant Gun’ by Bierut is my favourite. But ‘Scenic World’ is the first one I obsessed over. The melodies really resonated - of course, they were my melodies for sure. A lower singing voice. Brass, full, lively, all organic instruments . . . I don’t think I was thinking about that at the time. Before that, I was into a lot of hip hop and R&B, synthesised stuff. 

Who was the first person you felt close to, aside from family? 

We had an au pair called Carolina. She was Danish. And I must’ve been eight or something. When we got a new one - a different one - I was so sad. But we’d still see her every summer. 

When did politics or society become A Thing for you? 

My first girlfriend, Zen, turned me onto conspiracies. She had a book called The Falsification of History proving or disproving certain things. I mean, I don’t really think about them now. I do live within my own sort of space. Anything that affects me personally is important. So really I’m not that bothered about how the world’s run, although it’s fun to talk about. 

When did you first feel invincible? 

Only after a show. It’s a strong word. When we played The Old Blue Last [a club in London’s East End], there were four bands performing. It went really well, and it was the same night I met who someone would become my girlfriend. There’s something amazing for the ego. You go to bed and wake up feeling it. We worked together; I showed her some music, and she said, “Wow, it’s actually good.” It’s a funny thing to say you make music.

Where did you feel at home immediately? 

Copenhagen - but I am half-Danish, so I won’t say that. Maybe the New Forest here in England. A friend of mine, Jack, lives down there. Even the way the roads are painted look different. You feel like you’re in a new realm or something. Kings built it. It was designed so they could go hunting. A friend of mine always jokes that I say, “This one time, in the New Forest . . .” But I like the people I know down there and it resonates with me. 

Can you remember when rain felt good indoors? 

In Denmark, we were on a family trip during summer. We were sleeping in a conservatory hearing the rain on top. You can feel the snugness. 

And what was the point you realised you were gaining momentum? 

When we started, we put out an EP. I was messaging blogs and stuff on Facebook messenger, diddly-dee, diddly-dee y’know - and no-one answered. Then this one blog called Gold Flake Paint wrote about it. That felt really good and rewarding. And I suppose with our first manager, via Kayak Management . . . We were just coming in with the music. Radio 6 played us. An artist called Ghostpoet was with the same team and he introduced us as, “These guys are really good musicians, worth ten of me.” Every time we’d meet, he’d say something in that vein. 

Febueder’s LP, Tomalin Has Etched In, is available now. Find them on Spotify or buy the digital album and vinyl pressing here.

Find Febueder on Instagram (LINK) and on Smple Creator Collective (LINK).

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By Joshua Potts

The official Smple Magazine account 🪐 Your window into art, culture, music and anything on the fringe. #smplecommunity
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