By: Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Laughing Fingers.
A raw take on indie-rock, the duo Laughing Fingers deliver grit, guile, and guitar shreds in all the right places. Their latest EP, Haller Meets the Machine, slated for official release in April, is a boozy blend of languid vocals and heavy builds. It’s pretty damn obvious guitarist/vocalist Chris Chagnon and drummer Ian Taggart had a good time layering, striping, and teasing sounds in the studio. They recorded at The Silent Barn space in Brooklyn, all the while encouraged by accomplished musicians Julian Fader and Carlos Hernandez of Ava Luna. Though he hails from San Diego and has a background in punk, Chagnon tells BTR that his New York college years gave him a taste for softer sounds. Haller is the final product of countless nights spent writing in a dorm room, trying hard not to disturb the peace.
We told him if that’s the case, he should stay in the dorms indefinitely. Or, at least until we get a full-length album with the same promising aesthetic.
What is your background as a musician?
Almost 10 years ago (wow crazy), I started a band with a few friends from middle school. We were 13 years old and doing mostly punk stuff like Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Black Flag. My parents just let us tear up the garage and make it our own space. By the time we were in high school, we were playing out and opening for a few touring acts. We lived in San Diego, so we went up to LA for some shows and that felt really big at the time. By the end of high school I had transferred into more folk and experimental/alt kind of stuff. I played with a good friend of mine, Rick Shaw, who plays in Mockingbird out of San Diego. Since moving to NY it’s been the first time writing on my own. I was living in dorms for a couple years — it’s kind of impossible to feel productive in a dorm room, especially if you’re self-conscious. Paper thin walls. So the last few years I’ve been working on projects really slowly and had some ambient recordings. All the stuff I’d been listening to was so much heavier, so I wanted to see if I could make these songs really soft, kind of quiet instead. And that’s where Laughing Fingers came about.
How is juggling school and music?
I wasn’t really too active until this semester. I don’t know if I subconsciously planned it that way. But lately it’s been kinda crazy — in the last month I’ve done four or five shows around the area and work and school…so not a lot of sleep.
You sound like a New Yorker.
Yeah, exactly. And I’m kind of accustomed to it, but on the other hand I keep joking to everyone that I’m kind of an old man at heart. So now I’m trying to speed up and do everything as fast as possible and… let’s just say I’m ready for summer.
You mentioned Fugazi, any other major influences?
On the recent stuff like Laughing Fingers it’s sewing a lot of influences together, but the most lasting are the Mark Kozelek projects like Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. Built to Spill and Elliott Smith.
I definitely hear the Elliott Smith.
Yeah he’s been the continuing obsession for eight years. Though sometimes if you say that at a party people are just gonna think that you’re manically depressed.
[laughs] So tell me about your latest EP, Haller Meets The Machine?
I was writing these songs kind of all in pieces. It’s a painstaking process for me, writing songs, because I’m really really self critical. I’ll write whole songs in one night and then just chop away at it until only like 20 percent remains. My roommates have to hear me play these really short 30 second parts over and over again until another line is added then another. The songs were all kind of written about a similar concept even though it doesn’t come across as linear. It just appears in different songs. But I was kind of obsessed with a lot of Herman Hesse novels, like Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund or Steppenwolf. I studied philosophy in school and have been pursuing the art stuff on the side, so I was really into the contrast between logic and the mystical experience. The album ended up being about this concept: there’s a sort of slight hint at of a narrative of a mind turning in on itself and breaking down the idea of unity of consciousness and the idea of seeing every part of oneself as something not integrated into the whole. A little bit of psychoanalysis and German literature.
Yeah, breaking down parts of yourself into single pieces and them being dissociated from the whole. It’s similar to the feeling people get when they’re high and they start to analyze everything, pick out certain sections of a conversation, and realize how much is in that one sentence.
Is that the vibe you’re going for?
Yeah I guess, a lot of it is about that dissociative state, so it kind of inevitably ends up having that vibe. We had fun picking parts to make slightly crazier and I think that translated a bit. I’ve been working on our next release, and we already have plans to record again with Carlos and Julian again.
Album art for Haller Meets The Machine.
Any songs especially close to your heart on Haller?
They’re all important, but the first and last songs for me are the ones I feel like I packed in a lot. Or maybe they turned out the way I’m happy with and my intentions went beyond themselves and I felt like it was cool to go back and see what we’d made.
I think it’s especially cool on “HoneyComb”, Julian was intent on putting some effects over the whole chorus to make it this really epic sound. He was like “you’ve got some beautiful six/eight timing, and you’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it”. I’ve never had someone produce, make suggestions, and egg me on a little bit — so that was fun.
What was the recording process like?
We actually were out at the Silent Barn in Bushwick; they have a really cool spot they’ve been at for six months or a year. It’s shared by a bunch of different artists, so it’s cool to walk out of the studio and be surrounded by a bunch of other mediums. Anybody that I talk to in Brooklyn who wants to make a record I keep telling them to go there, they’re the best!
You mentioned you’re very self-critical when writing, has that always been the case? Is that lyrically, or musically too?
I used to write poetry a lot and publish it in DIY zines and what not when I was 17. Back then I felt like I had this creative process of staying up late after hanging out with people; you’re slightly drunk and slightly high and this idea comes into your mind and you’re being way more eloquent than you ever thought you would be; it just comes out. And I feel like I only had so many of those and that just faded away. So now the idea is there but how I want to put it into words… I’ve just become way more self-conscious about, and I think that ends up making everything way more abstract than I intend it to be. As far as the music goes, that always comes pretty naturally. I usually end up playing guitar for a couple hours a day because my girlfriend and I are both musicians. We both play and write so we’re both in one bedroom or the other just kind of always writing or discovering songs. I always have random progressions written, but the lyrics end up holding me back a little.
I feel like I end up building my songs like playing with legos with no instructions. I just end up playing my songs in pieces. Like in the studio when they were like “oh do you want to do this over the chorus?” I’d be like “OH! what are you hearing as the chorus??”
Can you tell me about a memorable live show?
Our first show was super fun. We were probably just super nervous and blew it, but we had a great time. We played with Outer Spaces from Baltimore and had a really great time meeting them. Recently, I played three shows solo and those were really cool too. I ended up playing two of them in one week with a band Ovlov, from CT. Steve Harlette was actually playing solo stuff too, which was cool because both of us were used to a louder sounds [laughs]. He wasn’t as nervous as I was, but I was obsessed with his album all last year.
Now we have a couple of other friends who are reaching out to play bass, so I’m hoping in April it’ll be me, Ian, and probably someone else on bass permanently.
Anything you’d like to say to fans as an ending note?
Or check them out live:
April 17 – Glasslands Gallery – Brooklyn, NY