WFFM are: Ben Campbell (guitar, vocals), Chris Howaniec (noise guitar, backup vocals), Laura Lynch (violin, backup vocals), Zane Ranney (drums), Brian McGovern (ukulele, mandolin, glockenspiel) and Kurt Werner (ukulele, glockenspiel, bass). After the jump, go behind the scenes — well, right out in the open, actually; the interview happened on the sidewalk outside the club — for a conversation with WFFM that took place last Thursday before their gig at Cowboy Monkey.
(Full disclosure: Brian McGovern is an editor of Smile Politely, and also a member of World’s First Flying Machine. Since we interview the WEFT Sessions artists every week, we thought it would be weirder if we didn’t cover WFFM’s appearance. Hope you think that’s reasonable.)
Smile Politely: So, you guys are all U of I students?
Brian: We have three seniors.
Kurt: I’m not really a senior, I’m a fourth-year student.
Laura: Me and Zane are the young-uns – sophomores.
SP: So, how did World’s First Flying Machine get started?
Ben: Me and Chris started jamming together…
Chris: About a year ago, to be exact.
Ben: We started jamming together almost a year and a half ago, before the summer of my junior year. We decided that we wanted to start a band, and it was right during finals week that we realized we really liked the music that we were making, so the beginning of last school year we just tried to get anyone we could and tried to start a band that way. We just started adding people.
Zane: Was I the first one?
Ben: The first one of the current lineup? I think it was Laura.
Brian: Well, I came the first week of school, and then I left for two months.
Chris: We had Miles drumming with us for two or three weeks, and then we had to tell him.
Zane: That was awkward when I saw him at a party, and he was like, “You’re the guy who replaced me.” And I was like, “Fuck.”
Ben: Miles likes to be awkward like that.
SP: Is he bigger than you?
Zane: He’s taller than me.
Brian: He’s got long arms.
Chris: It’d be like fighting Abe Lincoln. That’s his last name, too.
SP: Abelincoln? That’s a weird last name.
Chris: No, Lincoln. Abelincoln would be a weird last name.
SP: What’s the significance of the band’s name?
Ben: I was inspired by the Da Vinci sketches and early sketches of the Flemish (unclear) were just really poetic and just really weird, like these canvas wings with wooden parts that very obviously would never work now. But back in the day, it was legitimate science.
SP: It was easier to fly back in the day.
Kurt: Gravity had lower standards.
Brian: I always think of the old newsreels, did you ever see that? It’s like this guy with this machine, and it hops up and down and it’s moving really fast with the frame rate, and that’s what I think about with our band name, but I had nothing to do with that or that image.
SP: When you guys enter your psychedelic period, you can project pictures of that while you’re playing.
Chris: That’s a good goal (everybody laughs).
SP: Having a psychedelic period?
Brian: Once we get there… no one’s interested in that right now, but when we are, we’ll know we’re in a good place.
Chris: We’re still in our early Beatles phase, even though we don’t wear the matching clothes.
Brian: Bob Dylan hasn’t introduced us to marijuana yet.
Laura: We’re still trying to find our gimmick.
SP: Have you tried out gimmicks in the past?
Kurt: We thought our gimmick was going to be that we would all wear shoes.
Ben: It didn’t work out so well.
Zane: I thought I would fart while playing drums, but no one ever notices.
Chris: It’s hard to mike.
Brian: It generally feeds back.
Ben: I always like when more established bands dress kind of nicely. It’s just a nice gesture.
Kurt: I am dressed nice. This is nice for me.
Ben: It’s weird when no-name local bands do it. They’re trying to bat above their weight class.
Chris: They’re just trying to look professional.
Brian: Did you combine two sports metaphors?
Kurt: Yeah, boxing and baseball.
Ben: Did I say “bat above their weight class”? (laughs) Yeah, uh, bat a touchdown, there.
Brian: Yeah, we watch a lot of sports.
Zane: No we don’t, we play Mario.
SP: Greatest album of all time?
Chris: I’m going to do top new one and top old one. Feels by Animal Collective and probably Led Zeppelin I.
Zane: Come back to me.
Laura: I don’t know, these guys are a lot more musically literate, but I really enjoy Koko Mimi Dada by Comida. Yeah, it’s good.
Zane: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
Ben: Kid A by Radiohead.
Brian: The Wild, the Innocent and The E Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen.
Kurt: Animals by Pink Floyd and Etiquette by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.
Zane: Also, e=mc² by Mariah Carey.
Brian: Mr. A to Z by Jason Mraz.
Chris: So, are you saying that with any tinge of irony?
Brian: I don’t know what that is.
Laura: Is that like a bunch of iron, like iron-y?
Brian: It’s an affectionate term for iron.
Zane: Is “rain on your wedding day” really ironic?
Brian: It’s not dramatically ironic, because in drama, irony is when something that happens early on in the play turns out to be very important in the end. Don’t quote me on that.
Zane: Quote him on that.
SP: OK, I think we’ve beaten that one to death. How do you feel like the sound of your band has changed or developed since you’ve been together?
Kurt: I bought a reverb pedal.
Zane: I think our sound is going to get a lot more electric, I guess.
Chris: We’re getting a lot more experimental.
Zane: Experimental, definitely.
Ben: We haven’t even put out a first album, but our sound is definitely metamorphosing.
Chris: Speaking in terms of the EP that’s going to follow the album…
Zane: Ben’s lyrics have been more profoundly about children’s porn, so be on the lookout for that.
Brian: Yeah, the arrangement kind of dictates that. (Laughter) I think we’ve all become aware of what our strengths are. I think we started as more of an indie-rock sort of sound, and then we have some folk stuff that’s really pretty straight-up folk music. And now were moving into – three members of the band own delay pedals and are using them extensively.
Zane: I think there’s more of a country sound.
Ben: Yeah, I think we’re going more in a folk direction, but also in an experimental noise direction.
Kurt: It’s definitely two paths…
Zane: It ends up turning into post-hip hop.
Brian: That was our first demos, and then it kind of changed.
SP: So who have you been compared to that you don’t think fits?
Chris: Neutral Milk Hotel!
Zane: Every single time.
Brian: It’s kind of fair.
Chris: It’s more fair than the time when that reviewer compared us to Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Zane: God, really? What?
Brian: Page France, which doesn’t make any sense, which is kind of like a lo-fi, twee Christian band. Which is ridiculous, we got compared to them.
Ben: People just go with whatever my voice is closest to.
Brian: And basically any band that has more than six people, like Arcade Fire.
Laura: Vampire Weekend?
Brian: That’s a joke, because we actually do sound a lot like Vampire Weekend.
Ben: Some people say Beirut because we have a ukulele.
Brian: But we don’t have any horns.
Ben: And every song of theirs is in three-four time.
Zane: At our last show, a friend of mine described that he felt like he was being baked in a dense, delicious apple pie.
Brian: Which is unfair, because it’s cherry. Basically any band recording music we’ve been compared to.
SP: Any challenges you see playing in a radio station?
SP: You fit on this stage better than you did when I saw you at the Canopy.
Brian: Yeah, this is probably the biggest stage we’ve been on.
Zane: Is there a stage at the radio station?
Ben: No, it’s a room. But it’s a little small. It’s probably not as big as the stage.
Brian: Also, I think minimizing sound malfunctions, because there’s always some feedback when we’ve got so much stuff going on. It won’t be like, “Oh, that sounds awesome,” when someone’s listening on the radio.
Chris: They’re losing the radio!
Brian: That’s mostly my problem though, the feedback.
SP: That’s about all I had. Did you guys want to say anything else?
Ben: We’re recording an album this weekend, two days before we go on the radio. Probably about half of it.
Brian: No, we’re going to do it all.
Ben: I don’t know if we’ll have time.
Chris: Because we only have like six hours next weekend.
Brian: So, yeah, we’re recording, and we should be very well-rehearsed for the radio session.
Chris: Laura won’t be drunk.
Zane: She will.
Laura: What? Guys…guys…