In the past, Les Savy Fav were overly worried about the future. Singer Tim Harrington wrote lyrics anxious about age, decay, and inevitable mortality, offset only by the band's ragged, pyrotechnic postpunk. Then they went ahead and died—or at least broke up, going on hiatus to start families and focus on other endeavors. Then they played a few festivals here and there, toured Australia, and announced plans to record a new album. Les Savy Fav came back to life! Now, Les Savy Fav live in the present, and they've never been more content.
"It is sort of like being undead," says Harrington, on the phone from New York City.
Like a reverse Flatliners, Harrington and crew have returned miraculously at peace with their old obsessions, unburdened by death or the future or even the mundane business of being a band. Let's Stay Friends, their first proper full-length in six years (2004's deceptively cohesive Inches was a collection of their 7-inches), is an album that acknowledges the band's past, looks optimistically forward to the future, and absolutely revels in the current moment.
"With earlier songs, it was like waiting for the Armageddon," Harrington says. "And now it's this idea of it not actually coming fast, realizing that the end isn't necessarily near, and that's sort of a bigger challenge."
The most direct example of this change of heart comes from "The Year Before the Year 2000," a song that simultaneously takes Prince to task for demanding unreasonable, unsustainable levels of revelry and reconsiders the Fav's own doomsday disco on older songs like "The Sweat Descends" or "Pills."
"I always thought about 'party like it's 1999' as being about how it's easy to party when the world is going to be over the next day," says Harrington. "But it's so much bigger an act of optimism to think, 'Let the world go forever—I am still going to maintain the same level of partying.'"
Not only does the song hint at Harrington's philosophical repositioning, it also touches on the band's recent career arc, in which they traded full-time partying for a more relaxed, healthier approach.
"We didn't want to do the band the way normal, professional bands operate, in terms of touring and growing your band," says Harrington. "And I think there was a sense of, 'Oh well, then I guess we don't have a band anymore 'cause we don't want to do that.' But we realized that, actually, as an independent band, you're not obliged to follow any kind of formula as far as release or touring or anything like that. That feeling was really great, and this record is sort of the materialization of that."
Album opener "Pots & Pans" also addresses the band's past. The song reintroduces Les Savy Fav and acts as a kind of counter to the career suicide note "Meet Me in the Dollar Bin" from Inches. "Pots & Pans" tells the story of a band no one can stand—a self-deprecating analog for the Fav—that presses on through the jading corners of the music industry to finally emerge triumphant, declaring, "This band's a beating heart/and it's nowhere near its end."
Throughout the album, Les Savy Fav seem thoroughly satisfied and comfortable, though not at the expense of the electric energy and carefully controlled chaos they've become known for. On songs like "What Would Wolves Do?" the band engage with and make light of their old selves, playing up any potential hang-ups about the past by recasting it as a mythic origin story ("we huffed the sky/into our mouths/we saw the ocean/and drank it down... 'cause we were giants"). Elsewhere, the band just straight-up delight in the present. "Scotchguard the Credit Card" finds Harrington imploring, "Won't you come and meet me in the present tense?" while "Slugs in the Shrubs" ends with the refrain, "There's no better/no better/no better/no better time/to let the cannons fly."
But the album isn't one-dimensional and the band haven't totally abandoned their old party-while-the-partying's-good ethos. Acoustic ballad "Comes & Goes" is genuinely bittersweet and nostalgic in its treatment of memory and fleeting feeling ("the way we used to feel/it only comes and goes"). "Raging in the Plague Age" transposes The Cat & the Cobra's "Who Rocks the Party" (another parable about living it up while the world is going down) onto the bubonic age, managing to reference both Edgar Allan Poe and AC/DC in the process.
"I definitely consider myself an extremely optimistic person," Harrington says. "But it's not a Polyphonic Spree optimism. It's not wide-eyed. For me, it's about being really interested in the lowest, most morbid or dark elements, and to look at that and find what's good there, what holds promise there. If you can do that, you're good to go. Anybody can look at pretty flowers and feel a lot of hope, but to look at the most chaotic, impossible to understand situation and find it... I use 'partying' as a metaphor for being optimistic but not being naive."
To see Harrington's philosophy in practice, one need look no further than Les Savy Fav's notoriously unhinged live shows. Besides their kinetic postpunk and ingenious lyrics, it's probably Harrington's unpredictable live antics that the band are best known for. At previous Seattle shows, Harrington has: climbed rafters, cut locks of hair from front-row audience members' heads to wear as a moustache/toupee, shoved a brick in his spandex tights, built a catwalk into the audience out of Neumo's stage blocks in midsong, and chewed up a mouthful of dollar bills and French-kissed them over to an audience member (me—I spat the bills back at him). Each show is an improvised explosion of low art and high spirits, magic tricks made out of broom-closet props, an ordinary rock show made weirdly transcendent, a bunch of songs about death and squalor turned into something tenacious and vital.
Harrington is more demure about their live act: "It's important for it to have a half-assed quality to it—not musically, but in terms of the performance—like, can you have a cardboard box be the main centerpiece of a really amazing live show? That always seemed cooler to us than having like a professionally manufactured show. Like, the Tommy Lee upside-down drum kit is really awesome, but for the money, anyone could have that."