Frontman Todd Fink talks ‘re-futurizing’ The Faint and touring with Gang of Four

Todd Fink (top, center) looks to the future, which is lit by robots.
Annie Zaleski

Since the late ’90s, Omaha, Nebraska’s The Faint has crafted futuristic post-punk, electro-goth and synth-pop. On the heels of the band’s first greatest hits album, Capsule 1999-2016—and just before leaving for tour—mad-scientist vocalist Todd Fink talked about “re-futurizing” The Faint, touring with Gang of Four and what new keyboardist Graham Ulicny brings to the music.

Hey, how are you? I’m good, little bit more stressed than usual. We’re doing tech rehearsals at this Scottish Rite Masonic lodge/center thing [in Omaha]. Everything is coming together all at once, and it all needs to work real fast.

Your stage show is typically quite a production. Yeah. They’re fixing the electricity in this building, because we blew it yesterday. We don’t know if it’s our stuff or their stuff, if it’s going to be like that every show or what.

Can fans expect something new, production-wise, on this tour? [Drummer] Clark [Baechle], my brother, he’s kind of the mastermind of the video and lights, or the live production. This time, he’s set it up to go all robotic. We do have a lighting designer with us, but they’re just there to make sure things go right. Everything is going to be synced to the music on a level that we’ve been wanting to do for the entire time we’ve been a band. It’s a mix between video and lights. We’re using really tempo-synced, event-based videos more as lights than as visual representations of any specific objects. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

What was the impetus? Lighting has come a long way during the time we’ve been in The Faint. And there’s something cool about having a human control what happens with the lights. You get the mistakes and looseness that humanizes the whole thing. But what we’ve thought for this tour is, we humanize it enough ourselves trying to play the music. It would be cool if we could get everything just punchy and tight, lighting-wise. That’s what we’re going for.

Why was now a good time for a retrospective record? That’s a good question. I feel like we’re in a new chapter now. We’ve got a new keyboard player, and he’s playing on the new stuff that’s on the retrospective. But everything else is with all of the original members. It feels like a good place to contain it, and to move on from there. We’re hoping to … update, “re-futurize” our sounds from here, you know? (Laughs.) So it makes sense to put everything else on one collection.

When 1999’s Blank-Wave Arcade and 2001’s Danse Macabre came out, they sounded like the future. It took everybody else so long to catch up. We seemed to fit in more as time went along. But now we’re looking to go forth into the new future.

That seems like a nice challenge for someone who’s been in the band so long, to be able to figure out how to move forward again. It’s tricky. You kind of have the pressure of—[and] I think every band has this—where there are people who like the sound that you already do. There’s almost a negative incentive to change what that is. You have a vision of what you want to do in the first place, and you never quite get it how you want it, or you don’t have enough ways of saying what that is. You’re trying to do the sound that you had envisioned in the first place.

There’s that on one side. And then on the other side, we are really inspired to do something new all the time. That can be a little bit scary and really inspiring, and a little bit dangerous—all the things real art is about.

The two new songs—“Skylab 1979” and “ESP”—are definitely identifiable as you guys, but they do very subtly push your sound forward. What was the genesis of those songs? Just kind of getting back together. Playing with Graham on keyboards feels like a new thing, and [we’re] seeing what types of things are now options for us. Things feel a little bit different as we mesh our styles together. That’s been fun for these first songs that we’ve made.

What different influences and approaches is Graham bringing to the band? For the longest time, the funkiness of dance music was something we were conflicted about. Having repetitive grooves and that kind of thing. Earlier on in The Faint, we were more interested in noise and drama and breaking the rules. Over the years, I’ve become a lot more interested in hypnotic styles or techno and different rhythmic patterns. So that’s brought us back into this sort of funkier zone, if you will. Which I won’t. I mean, that’s probably the first time I’ve ever said the word funky in an interview.

It’s got some cultural baggage attached to it that I’m not comfortable with. But, yeah, I think what Graham is bringing is some of that rhythmic groove stuff that we’ve always needed, and sometimes attempted, but it was really sounding good now. He’s a good keyboard player. He’s got dexterity.

Graham’s in Reptar—and you guys toured together, right? Was it tough to convince him to join the band? Yeah, he’s in Reptar now. He’s the singer. His band is living down south. He’s living here in Omaha. Yeah, we toured together a couple years ago on the Doom Abuse tour, and since he moved here we’ve just been playing together. It’s nice.

The compilation is a good overview of the high points of each Faint record. Was it a battle to choose the songs, or were you guys pretty much in agreement? We were pretty much in agreement, because the songs are mostly all chosen from the setlist that we’d play. There were a couple of songs that should probably be on there. If it was a three-record collection, they would be. But that seems like too much, so they’re not. And, actually, we’re playing a couple that we would have put on there if we had more space on the vinyl. We’ll be playing some of those on this tour.

What excites you most about touring with Gang of Four? Obviously, they’re such an influential band. Yeah, it’s something that I never would have thought would happen. I was floored by them. Actually, all of us went to see them at the Fillmore in 2010, maybe 2011. They don’t have any radio hits—you know, they’re not one of these “hits of the ’80s compilation” type bands—yet here they are, filling this room, and just slaying. They’re amazing. They sound great; they sound up-to-date; they play a style that dates well. It didn’t go out of style in all that time. It’s not something that anyone can really replicate. There’s been a lot of attempts, but, you know.

This tour will take up most of the fall. Have you guys made any progress on the next record? Yeah, we’re booking time with each other, setting aside time to sit down and write and record new music, but we haven’t started yet, because we’ve been busy getting the compilation together and [writing and mixing] the three new songs, and designing all the merch and our videos [for] the tour and lights, and all the stuff that has to happen in order to do a tour. We’re looking forward to getting started on the new music. Hopefully right at the beginning of the year.

The Faint has been around for two decades now. To what do you attribute the band’s longevity? There’s some slight advantages to playing music that’s uptempo, or fun to party to. I think we have that on our side.

The Faint with Gang of Four, Pictureplane. October 21, 7 p.m., $30-$55. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695..

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