Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington has made it his business to turn live shows into improvised spectacles—to the point where the only thing he could do to hold more fans’ attention would be to actually sing. But, as evident since day one (starting with the Brooklyn band’s 1997 post-punk debut, 3/5, all the way up to 2007’s marginally hookier Let’s Stay Friends, released on bassist Syd Butler’s Frenchkiss Records), Harrington is more of a shouter. As Decider learned from a phone chat with Harrington before LSF hits Mezzanine on Noise Pop’s final night, the vocals, quick changes, and facial hair are all part of his ultimate frontman aesthetic.
Decider: How did your vocal style come about?
Tim Harrington: It’s almost completely arbitrary. I always think of myself as a really horrible singer. I was just like, I really like writing music and I really like writing lyrics, and I can distract people when we perform live.
D: How did you wind up as the lead singer of the band?
TH: Face presence. I was in this band at [Rhode Island School Of Design] called LynnBelvedere, one word. When they played once, I smashed a jar full of coffee for the finale. And I wasn’t totally bald yet then, but I shaved my head, like the male pattern balding that I have right now in real life. So when [Les Savy Fav was forming], the guys were like, “Oh, this guy Tim Harrington—you know, Tim from school?—he’s, uh, really crazy.” [Laughs.] “Maybe he should be our singer.” So I wasn’t really brought in for my vocal abilities.
D: Does it stress you out before shows that people are looking to you to sing, though?
TH: I’m completely oblivious to it. My in-laws used to always be like, “Oh! Tim’s a singer! He’s a singer in a band! Let’s sing some songs! Tim, will you sing some Christmas songs for us?” And I’d always be like, “I can’t even sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”
D: What other sorts of crazy things were you doing in the early days of Les Savy Fav?
TH: At our second show, I had found in the garbage a huge, like, tan—like Snoopy, but tan—doggy doll thing. It was so big that we cut a hole in the back of it so I could get inside. I had stuck a mic somehow inside it, and I was inhaling little tiny balls the whole time. I remember afterwards everyone was like, “Tim, we can’t be that crazy. We fucked up all the songs, it’s too insane.” And now, like honestly, if I did that, the rest of the band would be like, “That was boring.”
When we were on our first normal tour, no one came and saw us play ever. I just got in the habit of going off the stage and fucking with whatever few people were there to entertain the rest of my band. If the stage became the audience, at least there were four people there.
D: What happens when people complain that they couldn’t hear the music, or that it was too distracting?
TH: This sounds terrible, but the audience is there in service to our band. The band itself is playing because we really like to play and performing the way we want to play, and as much as we don’t defer to maybe being on our own label, nor being a super-commercially professional band, we don’t defer our decision-making to big money or just a big crowd of people either.
D: What do you think the beard brings to the whole frontman equation?
TH: The beard. I need it there. It keeps people at bay a little bit.
TH: No, I don’t know. [Laughs.] I just wanted to give you an answer that sounded good. I didn’t have a beard for the first couple years in the band. But I had this fur-trapper-chic thing that I was obsessed with. There was also, like, a caveman chic that happened; I remember seeing some photo spreads of sexy ladies with fur all over them, and a guy wearing, like, a big giant fur Frankenstein vest. In general, fur-trapper chic, caveman chic, those things work for my personal aesthetic.