New York Punk Band FAITH/VOID Embraces the Spotlight
While not an instant household name except perhaps to its fan base, FAITH/VOID churns out intense yet catchy music that has a broad appeal to people who are even not necessarily fans of punk or emo.
By casually reading the song titles from FAITH/VOID's full-length debut album, Embrace Nothingness, one might assume without hearing a single note that this emerging New York-based punk band has a very sardonic and absurdist sense of humor. With such titles as "Four More Beers", "Lake Dracula", "Leaves of Grass, My Ass", and "Highlander: The Documentary", these tracks could've have been from a Frank Zappa or Faith No More record. Other song titles like "Dig Your Own Grave and Save!" and the two-part "Theme From 'Embrace Nothingness'" are references to episodes from The Simpsons. But these titles appear to be red herrings, as the actual lyrics tackle very personal and serious topics such as alcoholism, mental illness, suicide, and body dysmorphia.
"We present these lyrics that are very depressing and personal," says Tim Lee, the band's guitarist. "Like any human being, you wanna present something else. And so we write these song titles that are funny and absurd. They hide that deeper emotion. No human being is going to walk into a bar and say, 'Did you hear all the horrible things about me?' You have to at least entice people, and then they can listen to it."
FAITH/VOID, who takes its name from the 1982 classic split album by Washington DC hardcore groups the Faith and Void, consists of Lee, drummer Brad Nelson, and bassist Matt Lubchansky; all of them sing and contribute to the songwriting. While not an instant household name except perhaps to its fan base, FAITH/VOID churns out intense yet catchy music that has a broad appeal to people who are even not necessarily fans of punk or emo. Aside from the shouting vocals, the raucous drumming, the penetrating bass lines, and the blistering guitar work, the album also takes a few interesting stylistic and lyrical detours, like the cerebral and cinematic "Theme from 'Embrace Nothingness' (Part II)", which runs over five minutes and throws in a reference to James Joyce's Ulysses; and "Dig Your Own Grave and Save!" incorporates bits of country into the mix.
"The songs aren't just like us hitting a big tympani and screaming," says Lubchansky, who's sitting with the other members of FAITH/VOID at a bar in Queens, New York on a Saturday afternoon. "We try to put a melody to it. It's not like our music is hyper-poppy or anything."
The beginnings of FAITH/VOID could be traced to five years ago, when Nelson, a freelance music critic who has written for such outlets as Pitchfork and The Guardian, was looking to make music rather than just writing about it from the sidelines. "When I was in college," they recall, "the music that spoke to me most was punk and emo, and I wanted to write music exactly like that." At an open mike night, Lee saw Nelson covering Weezer as well as singing other songs. With Lubchansky into the fold, a band was born.
"I have always wanted to play in punk and hardcore bands and have most of my life," Lee says about the members' shared connection. "I've been playing bands since I was like 14-15. I love punk rock as a general. I think punk and emo really did kind of bring us, but it's not just that."
"We all live with wildly different tastes in music," says Nelson. "So it's not necessarily [punk], but we're united around making something simple, effective and melodic that also has weird edges to it."
Based on their interactions with each other, it's immediate that there is a chemistry among the musicians of FAITH/VOID rooted in friendship than just the music -- although the explosive musical dynamic within the band is quite apparent. There's a natural and funny rapport in their conversations with each other, even when they disagree about their individual musical preferences:
Lubchansky: We talked about us having all disparate music tastes. But every band that one of us don't like, two of us like. There's something that all three of us like: Guided by Voices, Talking Heads, Against Me! But every other thing, it's two of us like, and the other one.....
Lee: I f---ing hate They Might Be Giants!
Lubchansky: That's crazy to me!
Lee: And I don't have a good reason. F--- Gerard Way! I'm trying to start that fight. Gerard Way, if he wants to, can have a feud with me. They Might Be Giants, I just don't like. They're not my favorites.
Nelson (to the reporter): We do this all the time.
At the beginning of their career, FAITH/VOID experienced some hiccups prior to the recording of the Skull Mountain USA EP that came out in 2017. About four years ago, Lubchansky broke a collarbone that became infected, which left them temporarily sidelined. Another major obstacle for the band was finding someone to play the drums after two other drummers didn't pan out. Because of that, Nelson switched from rhythm guitar to drums and spent about a year learning the new instrument and singing simultaneously. "It was about 10 months before I was good enough to play a show," they remember. "We also wrote a bunch of songs, right around the 9th or 10th month that I was playing."
"When Brad started taking drums up," says Lee, "our songs came up entirely organically. It was less the picture that was in my brain, and more like what the three of us wanted the do. I think that's really fantastic. I was really surprised at how well it ended up meshing together once they started playing the drums."
After Skull Mountain USA, FAITH/VOID went back into the studio in Queens this past June with producer John Meredith to record what would become Embrace Nothingness. "We didn't come into it with a preconceived theme," says Nelson about the songs. "When I wrote "Theme From 'Embrace Nothingness,'" I knew I wanted to call the record Embrace Nothingness. Other than that, we just kind of had these songs that we fused together. We really liked all of them. And when we ended up writing lyrics for them, they just kind of talk to each other inadvertently."
Underneath the infectious melodies, energetic musicianship, and the abstract lyrics, Embrace Nothingness carry some heavy psychological drama based on everyday life situations. For instance, Nelson's words on "F--- This" addresses the paralysis they had been experiencing in the past few years. "I have really significant depression at this point, too," Nelson says. "So any time I try to do something creative, it is it is like pulling teeth. There's a me that wants to do something, and then there's the me that does not want to do anything for the rest of my life. Both of those me's are constantly trying to overcome each other. it just ended up feeling like you're in the state where you have to do something, but you just can't."
Meanwhile Lee's lyrics for "Highlander: The Documentary" cover similar introspective ground (And in case you're wondering, the song is not about the 1986 Russell Mulcahy-directed fantasy movie starring Christophe Lambert and Sean Connery). "It's kind of like anxiety," Lee explains, "if you have these really anxious feelings and just trying to work them out. There's this lyric in that song, "Pretentious intermittent stares that make me a half a creep." I'm on the subway at that moment, and I'm staring at somebody and not seeing them. They're interpreting my stare as a creepy thing. But I'm not staring at them and seeing them. I'm doing a thousand other calculations in my brain. So that whole song is about representing yourself in this weird, strange way and pushing the ball up the hill."
While Nelson and Lee's lyrics make up the bulk of Embrace Nothingness, Lubchansky contributed the words for "Three More Beers". "There's a song on the EP called "Four More Beers", they explain, "which was another thing that was a working title that John Meredith made us stick with because he liked it. Otherwise, the song would be titled 'something depressing stuff.' It's one of the FAITH/VOID gender dysphoria sweet songs... about me going through a gender thing, and not wanting to up-end my life in any significant way, but still trying to go through this thing. Actually, I'm drinking a lot in the last couple of years, so it is probably pretty accurate." (laughs)
Interestingly, nearly all of the new album's lyrics also contain references to songs by other artists as diverse as Neutral Milk Hotel, Counting Crows, Chic, Diana Ross, and Teddy Pendergrass; "Highlander: The Documentary" even name checks Van Morrison's album Astral Weeks. "As a band, making music is essentially professing your love for music," Nelson says. "I feel like that even seeps into the lyrics all the time, and that's calculated and natural at the same time. When I'm writing, I always want to think about the music that I love and want to make. For me, all of my favorite lyricists are hyper-reverential always, trying to build worlds full of familiar things, or trying to connect people into their own songs."
So far FAITH/VOID has only performed in the New York City area. Unlike most up-and-coming groups, the band hasn't played a ton of shows, which is somewhat by design as the three members have regular day jobs. Aside from Nelson's gig as a freelance writer, Lee is a teacher, and Lubchansky is a graphic illustrator. "One of the major lessons I learned from being in a band was you can't oversaturate shows," says Lee. "I played in a band that would play every weekend. Eventually, that wore out the people who actually enjoyed the music. Having said all that, we've been very selective. We would probably have to take time off work. I would love to play more shows I think we've only ever played eight or nine times."
At the same time, the members of FAITH/VOID acknowledge that they would leap at the chance to make this band a full-time endeavor if the stars were aligned in their favor. "I'd love to play music more and go on to make more records," says Lubchansky. "I feel like I'm a unique position because I like my day job, and I'm doing something creative. I would love for us to just be able to put out records that people listen to, and play shows in other places. I want to keep making art with my very good friends."
Currently, the group is planning to play more shows and continue to write and record. The bandmates have been chuffed by the response to the new album. "People have actually listened to the record, and it's fantastic," says Lee. "It's crazy that anyone cares, especially in 2018 where everything's oversaturated. The fact that anybody gives a shit about this band is wonderful." As for a preview of what the follow-up record might be, the guitarist adds, followed by some laughter from the other members: "The next album is going to be slower and probably more depressing."