The Funs talk their rural home, staying passionate, and word DIY.
The Funs are loud. The Funs write heavy music soaked in distortion, punctuated by thrashing drum palipitations, and laced with incantatory vocals. The Funs are finally bringing their uncompromisingly chaotic live show to Brooklyn’s Alphaville on March 10. Before this rare chance to catch the elusive group outside of their Midwestern hideaway in rural Illinois, AdHoc chatted with The Funs’ Jessee Rose Crane and Philip Lesicko about their isolated headquarters, their upcoming endeavors, and their prognosis of today’s uncertain DIY landscape.
The first line off of your upcoming EP, Is A Cult, is a directive to “go save yourself.” Is this addressed to anyone particular?
Jessee Rose Crane: It is and it isn’t. It means you can’t take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself first. It’s about getting out of your own head and seeking what you need.
AdHoc: You have described your current living situation as an “artist’s sanctuary” in rural Illinois. How does the setting affect how you make music, especially having been in an urban setting like Chicago before? Is this a place where you can go save yourself?
J: Rose Raft is what we call our home in New Douglas, IL. We’ve spent years rehabbing this big orange brick house built in 1872. It’s beautiful. It’s in a little village four hours south of Chicago. You get off the highway and drive into the corn and turn right and then you find this place that shouldn’t be there. We’re surrounded by farmers. It’s funny but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. This feels right. We dug this place out and I mean we dug it out. It was abandoned and hoarded and we saved it with a manic determination. Bands and artists come here off tour or to record and it gives them a break.
It sounds good in this house. To be able to walk downstairs and play music and record still feels surreal. It’s a big change from living in Chicago for sure. I don’t miss practice spaces at all. There’s a sensitivity in making that comes from your environment. When I make something, I want to be wholly present. Eat, sleep and breathe the work. That is what I can do in this old farm house. This is what I can share with others.
The Funs are coming out of their self-imposed sequestration and playing at Alphaville on March 10. What is touring like for you? How often do you make it out of the Midwest?
Philip Lesicko: Touring is wonderful. The last big tour we did was just Jessee and me, the two of us all over the U.S. in our rickety rumbler astro van. Six weeks of anything goes. We camped a lot in the west, which to us its very important to see the wonders of the world. As well as dank basements, dive bars, and warehouses; it all adds up to stimulating, humbling experiences. We have met a lot of incredible people all over. And growing up in rural Illinois, I never thought I would touch California or New York. So to me it’s a huge deal to be able to get in a van with my partner and drive to a city or town where people have gone out of their way to absorb your art.
Being in a band is a privilege that I don’t take for granted. It takes a lot of work, but it’s rewarding in human experience and interaction. We haven’t toured as much lately. Jessee started grad school, and things are much busier at Rose Raft. We have been working on our new record, Alienated, on and off for almost a year. So when we can figure out how to release that hour of material, we will definitely do a big tour. We are doing a weeklong tour starting March 6th during Jessee’s spring break. It will be the first tour with Kelly and Gabe.
Is there a difference between, say, your recording process and your live show? Your records sound really rich, packed with sound on all fronts. Do you record as just the two of you, or do you recruit some other musicians to create this effect of depth?
P: The first few records we did were very live, in the sense that everything was done at once at the same time—including vocals. My Survival was one of the first ones we did the vocals separately. There is always a lot of content with this band. Now that we have a studio in the downstairs of our house we are able to capture that content right away. Its nice to get to have more patience and sculpt songs instead of being on the clock, so to speak—finishing things in a rush to get it done during the session timeframe. So this record, Is A Cult, as well as our new full length we just finished, Alienated, we decided to layer the songs to give them more depth.
Jessee and I still play all the parts. Occasionally, someone else will play an instrument. There is a new song on “alienated,” the closing song called “POWER,” on which Dave Vettraino plays piano, Zach Hebert plays trumpet, and Gabe Wallace, who performs the “light show” when we play live, plays a farfisa. It’s almost 11 minutes, and we are really stoked on the way it turned out. So most of the songs on that record, as well as our new EP, are very layered. We have added Kelly Nothing as a third live member to play second guitar and vocals. Being just two people in a band was really great for many years, but it was limiting in the recording process.
Who can say what this band will evolve into? For now, having the three members and light show is very exciting for us.
You run your own label, Manic Static, which publishes and distributes show posters as well as a selection of cassettes and 12”s—in other words, physical objects. What about the physical continues to appeal to you?
P: Physical media has always been exciting to me. Zines, posters, tapes, and records have a life to them; especially with records and tapes it seems more of a personal document of the artists that it comes from.
I sequence all of our records with the listening experience in mind. When the A side of a record or tape stops and you, as a listener, decide when to start the next side. It could be right away or maybe tomorrow. But I think of it as a whole thing, not just a single or one song then click to the next. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with digital media content of any kind. For example, this interview can exist right away and be read all over. That’s the great side to it. But I grew up with physical media; I loved getting the newest issue of Transworld skateboarding mag when I was younger; flipping through it, smelling it, putting that shit on my wall. And I still feel that way now about records and tapes.
You’ve recently characterized the idea of DIY as just a word “dissolved of meaning.” Why is that? Do you think anything is changing with regard to “doing it yourself” at this time of upheaval?
J: It’s just that nothing is sacred and everything has been sold, so instead of getting jaded you’ve got to dig deeper and try harder. Do it yourself still has meaning to me. It’s part of how I live my life every day. It’s an ethos and spirit in art and in making that values ideas over commercialism. I can compare DIY to the word organic. Which is another word that has been sold and people just slap a sticker on something and then it’s organic, but there’s a disconnect to what you are consuming. That’s how I feel about DIY. There are still lifers everywhere keeping the lights on, but I reserve a healthy amount of skepticism for those using DIY as a kind of brand or a badge. It sounds like a contradiction because as a band you are always selling something. I’m transparent about that. I’m aware of what I’m putting out there. I’m motivated by ideas, by meeting and sustaining creative thought. When we perform, it’s part of a larger experience and a bigger conversation. It’s the art, the lyrics, the way you live. It’s everything. It’s all matters. This isn’t a job. This isn’t a career. It’s a way of moving through the world.
You’ve referred to the etymology of the name “The Funs” as “some small place [where you]” could control the chaos and be okay again”—how does that play out on the new record, if at all? Has your conception of “The Funs” changed since you started the project?
J. I think so, yeah. The Funs has evolved to represent our way of living. It’s just a name that signifies our tiny little counterculture. You’ve got to stay passionate and you’ve got to stay real. Shit will stack and stack against you in life and [you’ve got to] stamp that stuff out. You’ve got to fight for it. Make art and skate every day.
The Funs bring the passion to Alphaville on March 10, accompanied by Shellshag and Kraus. More tour dates below:
MARCH 6 – CHICAGO IL
W/ CLEARANCE + WULFPAC
MARCH 7 – CINCINNATI OH
W/ SAD 13 + STEF CHURA + LEGGY
MARCH 8 – PHILADELPHIA PA
W/ URSULA + Beth Israel + ADAM BABAR
MARCH 10 – BROOKLYN NY
W/ SHELLSHAG + KRAUS
MARCH 11 – PITTSBURGH PA
MARCH 12 – BLOOMINGTON IN