This past summer when attending Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival, What The Sound learned about Chicago Mixtape, a site that gives you an array of good tunes from local bands. The first track on one of their playlists was "Lakeshore" by Faintlife. This caught our attention immediately. Reminiscent of decade-old indie rock tunes from the Northwest, Faintlife are from the Midwest. Sam Shaffer and Nate Bucher met in Ohio but since forming the band, Sam has moved to Chicago. Despite the long-distance relationship, the two love making music for Faintlife in different states. Last May they self-released their debut album UV which notably was recorded at Pieholden, a studio curated by the late Jay Bennett of Wilco.
The two are already working on their next album, Solar Breakfast, and have asked WTS to premiere a new track from it titled "W". The track is chill and dreamy with it's surf-rock guitar reverb, Beach House and drowned out Allah-Las vibes. Throughout the track, it has a deliberate post-punk rhythm and faded percussion.
Above, enjoy Faintlife's premiere of "W". Below, please read our conversation. It's full of funny answers, shout-outs to important co-workers and other musicians, and lets you understand how this specific duo operates. Enjoy their new track and keep your eye out for Solar Breakfast.
What The Sound: Where did Faintlife begin and where did you two meet?
Sam: It began when we were trying to work with a different guy, he was the band leader, writing the songs. At some point it felt like Nate and I were working with each other more than we were working with that guy. So at one point we were just wanting to do our own shows.
WTS: Were you both in Ohio at the time?
WTS: Where did you two get connected?
Nate: We've always known each other through music, because Sam and I played in plenty of other bands all through high school. Then the first year of college it was shows in Akron, shows in Canton, all over Northeast Ohio. You kind of know everyone in the scene, and at one point you're bound to play with a few of them.
WTS: Who was on UV?
Nate: UV was just me and Sam, but we had a few friends do vocals and drums on "Velvet".
WTS: Did you release material as Faintlife before UV?
Nate: Yeah we made one track, but I don't think it was even under "Faintlife" at the time. We have a shit load of recordings from the project that we did before which was King Kong. That's where "Velvet" from UV came from, from that recording session.
WTS: What year did you call yourself Faintlife? Did you know you were going to make a full-length album when you started or did it happen over time?
Sam: It kind of started when I moved to Chicago. I was still trying to hang on to that previous project in a way and make things work long distance but I just started writing my own material as I was getting all this new stimulation from Chicago, and I was like 'Nate! You should help me with a few of these songs', I was just going to do five or six songs, an EP or something. Then, the more we worked together, we realized that this is a project and through last fall and winter of 2014, that's more when it was conceived. Then, it really translated.
Nate: So it was about six months in total.
Sam: It was from August to February when we finalized stuff in the studio.
WTS: It's really interesting that you made it work long distance. How often did you come together to work on the music?
Sam: We had maybe two times when I was back in Ohio and we jammed on specifically the song "Rubberfield". We did that in an intimate setting, but as far as most of the stuff, I'd say 90% outside of the studio was conceived in separate space.
WTS: Who contributed what to the making of UV?
Nate: Sam definitely had the skeleton for UV. The structure, but it's all mainly because we record in a way that it's easy to send to the other person. We had the conversation about how the distance is almost an instrument in itself because it creates that space and isolation. We made it work, it's not like we had another choice. We wanted to continue making music together and felt like this was the best way to do it.
Sam: We actually just had this realization about using the distance and using the time change between us as an instrument. Nate sent me this article of Brian Eno quotes and he said if you were to post above the studio: "this studio is to be used as an instrument, it would change how everyone approached a studio atmosphere." We just made this almost a hyperbrain, and started tapping into it and that's how the songs became in a way.
WTS: When you originally made the songs at a long distance, did it seem like a disadvantage at first? Then, you thought about it a different way?
Sam: I don't know. Nate and I have this weird obsession with using these little pieces of technology as instruments, so it was kind of inherent for us to almost obsessively upload stuff to Dropbox and track over it.
Nate: I think that also, I have a pretty extensive recording and mixing background. I've worked in environments where people are sending you stems and you have to put them all together so having that knowledge, the logistics on how it can be put all together in the end, that was the hardest part to get over, after that it was just constant. To this day, Sam and I have been sending stuff back and forth since then, nonstop.
Sam: I can't do a quarter of any of the shit Nate can do, the audio work stations and stuff. Now I think I know a decent amount, so it's nice to have that medium.
WTS: Where did you choose the name for Faintlife? Where did you choose the name for UV?
Sam: I've been asked that question a few times, one about the Faintlife, and honestly it was just free association thought-word-jizz that just happened. UV is the best, because we made these little cards that said "Faintlife UV" on it. One time I was at this bar and I had a couple extra cards and I handed the bartender one and as he's surrounded by a backdrop of liquor bottles, he's like "Where'd you get the name? Like UV Vodka?" and I was like "no, sorry."
WTS: Is that picture Chicago? The Lakeshore? In the wintertime?
Sam: Yeah, totally. One of my engineering construction projects, that's the vantage point from the site.
WTS: And, where was UV recorded?
Nate: The studio where it was recorded at is notable. Jay Bennett from Wilco is the curator of that studio, so there's a bunch of old Wilco gear in there. We've really fleshed out a lot of shit in there with some super, really cool vintage instruments that you'd typically never be able to get in your sterile studio environment.
WTS: Like what?
Nate: A Mellotron.
Sam: What you call a Juno-60 through two space echoes which are vintage tape echoes.
WTS: How'd you get that opportunity?
Sam: One of my friends that I met here, he started working for Chicago Recording Company (CRC) doing freelance audio engineering and he ended up getting the dude that manages the studio now whose name is Matt DeWine, he basically took me there one day and was like "Here it is, if you need a week, let us know when you want to come in and it's yours." It only took us two days, but it was really nice of him.
Nate: It was definitely a killer experience. Zac's an awesome dude, and he knew his shit very well.
Sam: Yeah, the freelance engineer's name was Zac Schmidt that we worked with.
Nate: We have to mention Shamus.
Sam: Yeah, us four. Me and Nate, Shamus, and Zac worked really seamlessly together.
Nate: Two ten hour days and it was done. We had a lot of La Croix too.
Sam: Yeah, we got super fucked up on La Croix.
Nate: Yeah, I was mixing it with some peach mango drink, that was the shit.
WTS: You released UV in May and then you released Headaches in September, can you elaborate on that one?
Sam: Yeah, we had six or seven tracks that we didn't fully conceive but we had recorded, so that's just what we called the B-side in a sense.
WTS: When I first heard your track "Lakeshore", I thought it was totally reminiscent of Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, an indie rock group originally from Seattle. Have you gotten that comparison before?
Sam: I've never got that reference. My first band that I played with back in Akron, we opened for them and they were fucking kickass. They're definitely a little heavier, but sweet.
WTS: Sam and Nate, what are three tracks that you two have been bumping this month that you can't stop listening to.
Sam: The Arcs “Put A Flower in Your Pocket”, Dungen “En Dag Pa Sjon”, Beach House “PPP”.
Nate: Deerhunter “Duplex Planet”, Wavves - Tarantula, Viet Cong “Unconscious Melody”.
WTS: What is a band that you two collectively enjoy and think WTS followers should know about?
Nate: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
WTS: What's next for Faintlife?
Sam: We applied for SXSW, that would be pretty sweet if we got that.
Nate: We have quite a collection of songs that we've been working on since Nelsonville Music Festival. We hung out at Nelsonville around May 26th, celebrated UV being done but that didn't really stop anything. We kept sending shit back and forth so we probably got about seventeen or eighteen snippets of track ideas. I think we're slimming them down soon. We do have a name, Sam do you want to talk about that?
Sam: Yeah, the working title is Solar Breakfast. We're kind of just going through that same process of UV, where we're just throwing the darts out and painting the targets around it.
Nate: It's a little bit different because now. We're writing with UV under our belt, there kind of isn't this opportunity like "hey, I have these five or six songs, do you want to work on them with me?" type of thing, there's more of a dynamic synergy between the two of them now.
Sam: I guess another supplemental idea to that is that we've developed that hyperbrain even more, it's more conductive now. One very objective fact is that I've got a lot better recording gear, and more of it. So, that's really incentivized me to make better sounding things, sonically.
WTS: Do you think you're going to return to CRC, Zac, and Shamus for Solar Breakfast?
Sam: I don't know. Nate and I were talking for Solar Breakfast to really create an independent atmosphere for each track. Whether that means using a lot of different spaces or just weird techniques in one studio, I'm not sure. I would definitely like to work with Zac again. We've already been doing some demo work with Zac at CRC.
WTS: Which venues did you play at in Chicago?
Sam: The first one was Quenchers. Spatially, it was pretty small for a bar but we filled that place up. It was a really nice debut show. It was a nice, good vibe. It felt really good after we played, just kind of resonated well.
Nate: I'd only met our drummer and our bass player like three or four hours before the show.
Sam: He was like "I'm from Ohio, I play guitar."
WTS: Any Chicago venues that you hope to play in the near future?
Nate: I want to play Schubas. I saw Caveman at Schubas, it was great.
WTS: If you could tour with anyone, who would it be and why?
Sam: I think it would be fun as fuck to play with Caveman.