Former Friends of Young Americans (FFOYA) might be best described as a creative music project rather than a band. When I first saw them play it was at Long Wongs in Tempe in 2011, and their sound was progressive ambient rock, similar to Explosions in the Sky. The next time I saw them was at the Crescent Ballroom and they sounded more like Grizzly Bear. The third time I saw them at Last Exit Live their sound could be described as electro-folk. Now upon hearing their second album, it’s readily apparent that this band has experienced a lot of changes in just a few short years. I sat down with the current members of FFOYA Robert Tobias and Amanda Jane to discuss their most recent release incarnation, the upcoming release, and their inspiration.
Saturday December 7th 2013 FFOYA celebrate the release of their sophomore album Dives Like A Fool, Swims Like The Dead. The stripped down sound on this album is a major departure from the first album estas diluculo which captured a raw, heavy guitar, progressive rock sound.
The soundscape of Dives Like A Fool, Swims Like The Dead is intricate and subdued. It primarily features the current line up of Jane and Tobias, with the help of a few session musicians and previous members. Tobias is the founding member of the band since 2008. It demands the listener’s undivided attention to grasp the subtle zips, bangs, and thumps that unify the album in theme, rhythm, and overall sound. The dark, dreamy, and ghostly drama of the music compliments the weighty subject matters expressed through lyrics. Tobias said this album had much to do with coming to terms with life having lost many close friends and musicians in the past few years.
“The album isn’t melancholic. It’s documenting heavy shit. You write what you know. You lament things when people die…that’s what the album really is and it progresses like that, from a storytelling aspect.”
In April of 2012, mentor and friend Marco Holt from The Tremulants & Black Cactus Records passed away from lymphoma. Prior to that he lost Richie Tovar (The Whorechatas) to suicide. Richie is also featured on the cover of the album, taken by mutual close friend and photographer Brian Klein.
“The song ‘Sea & The Land’ is a story of Richie and I growing up and how we thought we had this idyllic world that we’d carved out for ourselves in Maryvale.”
Dealing with these traumas provided both a catalyst and a cathartic process for the development of this new material, and the inspiration behind the album has much to do with growing up, growing older, and dealing with life. Tobais states:
“The first album is more about learning to be an adult. This album is more about being an adult. Confronting mortality, things that aren’t as trivial as heart break and things like that. But what’s interesting, when you’re a 16-year-old kid and your girlfriend dumps you, that’s not that big of a deal. But the feelings associated with that are still as heavy as when you’re a 38-year-old man and you lose your best friend to suicide. The situations aren’t comparable but the feelings are. They are much heavier when you’re 16 then when you’re 38 and you have the wisdom and experience to know you’ll get past that. The first album is a 16-year-old getting dumped and the second album is a 38-year-old loosing friends and confronting mortality. “When Richie passed away, that was the first real indication to me that things are not going to last forever. Our days are limited and at the end of the day what do I really want? Do I want to party, or have a great job? Or for people to like me because I make music or whatever? It really isn’t about that. It’s about your body of work. It’s not about any single work, not one song or album, it’s about your entire body of work that you should be judged on. And ultimately, it might not be today, but when you’re dead and gone… if anbody knows shit about you it’s going to be based on your work, and if they don’t know shit about you it’s because your work didn’t hold up. And that may be the case but I might as well take a shot at it and leave the work behind, and maybe it will hold up, maybe it won’t, and that’s fine. Eventually I’d like to get to the point where I make an album that I’d like to listen to and I’d be delighted to buy. I don’t think I’ve actually done that but every album gets a little closer.”
Tobias also said that dealing with the issue of mortality also influenced and changed the direction of the band and his realization of purpose.
“When Richie passed away that was the first real inclination to me that things are not going to last forever, our days are limited, at the end of the day what do I really want? Do I want party, or have a great job? Or to people to like me to like me because I make music or whatever, it really isn’t about that. It’s about your body of work , it’s not about any siliday work, not one song or album it’s about your entire body of work, or what you should be judged on. And ultimate will be, it might not be today, but when you’re dead and gone… if anbody knows shit about it you it’s going to be based on your work, and if they don’t know shit about you it’s because your work didn’t hold up. And that may be the case but at least but I might as well take a shot at it and leave the work behind, and maybe it will hold up, maybe it won’t, and that’s fine. Eventually I’d like to get to the point where I make an album that I’d like to listen to and I’d be delighted to buy. I don’t think I’ve actually done that but every album gets a little closer.”
The variance in live shows shows has a two main factors. The live shows were a transition from the first to the second album, and currently they are already playing a mix between their second album and for their third album.
The second factor is the live set is always changing depending on who is playing, and they have a variety of sets that they play based on where they play and the crowd that’s watching. FFOYA has a variety of sets from when Robert plays by himself, more singer songwriter versus when he plays with Amanda using keyboards, a lot of looping, electronic drum pad and share drums, symbol, completely different set than what we play with a drummer.
“Being versatile without sounding like just a rock bar band and as an individual to not sound like an open mic. ..It’s absolutely necessary if you want to do this long term as a vocation, you have to tour, and when you tour if you want to eat, you have to be versatile. I have to do the brewery things, wine bars and coffee shops for money and I have to be versatile to play in those rooms so that it’s professional and not off putting to their customers….at the same time your versatility shouldn’t be at the expense of your sound.”
Where did this name come from? FFOYA name was a joke within the band because it was always a rotating cast of people so it was always appropriate to the band, you might be a former friend tomorrow. Tobias says:
“I have this collection of songs I write, and however long somebody’s willing to play with me so I can get the material out, that’s fucking awesome, that’s really cool of them to do that. But I certainly understand when they can’t do it forever.”
FFOYA toured a ton this year. They have tentative plans to do some touring in the spring and summer but the majority of the touring is done. You can read their tour blog here.
We’re going to start recording the next album in January called Love & Vitriol. This album will consist of two distinct thematic CD’s that will explore the subjects of love and hate. FFOYA independently records (with the exception of mastering) and releases their recordings in their studio.
Saturday at Yucca Taproom 8 pm
Sunset Electrics (Tempe, AZ)
Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand (Santa Fe, NM)
Glass Affection (Sierra Vista, AZ)