There are a few tempting, all-but-mandatory questions for the Faint that you are really much better off not asking. No one warns you about this in advance -- there's no PR heavy standing by with a contract stipulating topics that are verboten, when you talk with the Nebraska new-wave revivalists, or forcing potential interviewers to swear that they will never, at any time, say something along the lines of "So what's up with the Omaha scene, anyway?" But really, leave it alone.
For example, a recent conversation with Faint drummer Clark Baechle ended abruptly when his phone "cut out" after a question about the band's super-hype label, Saddle Creek. Other inevitable queries -- ones, you sense, Baechle has been forced to answer a few too many times -- earn strained responses that take on a distinctive rhythm after a while. It goes something like this:
So, Clark, 2001's Danse Macabre was kind of your breakthrough album; what --
CB: Well, actually, we all thought that about Blank-Wave Arcade.
Oh. Well, this one was even more of a breakthrough, right? In terms of the amount of attention it received . . .
CB (sighing): Sure . . . Well, we set out to make a certain kind of album when we did Danse Macabre, and we did that, so now we're sort of looking ahead to what's next. The fact that people think of it as a "breakthrough" album doesn't change much for us; we're going to keep doing what we like doing.
Okay, well, let's talk about the whole '80s new-wave . . .
. . . thing that's been happening. The Faint were pretty much at the forefront of a trend that's only now turning into a cultural groundswell . . .
So how come you decided to, you know, um, do that?
CB (sighing): Well, Blank-Wave Arcade was the first album where we really used keyboards, and then we just kept doing that, but we got better at it. Better keyboards, too.
Baechle's hesitant replies are only fair, really. Though it's natural to be curious, why should he know what's in the water in Omaha or be forced to account for the rise of bands such as the Rapture, who likewise make dance-beat-driven rock music that harks back to 1982 and the dawning of the Depeche Mode/Duran Duran heyday? Or why, for that matter, should Baechle have to justify the fact that his band's taste has proved presciently aligned with a cultural zeitgeist rediscovering "Tainted Love," Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me?
So don't ask. You're much better off pitching Baechle balls he wants to catch. Stuff, say, about the new Danse Macabre remix album recently released by Astralwerks. Then you'll catch a whiff of his native enthusiasm for the band he started in the late '90s with his brother, Todd, and bassist Joel Peterson. (Synth maestro Jacob Thiele was added in 1998.)
"Well, the thing that made Danse Macabre different -- special -- for us, was the time we spent on it," Baechle says when asked about making the album. "We'd all quit our jobs and decided to focus on the music full-time, and it was just . . . invigorating, you know?" He laughs. "That's why so many of the lyrics are about living life to the fullest -- I mean, in kind of a backwards way, since superficially they're all about how hellacious it is to be stuck working a job that you hate until you, y'know, die."
Ah yes, the Faint classic "Agenda Suicide," which remix specialist Jagz Kooner has revised on the new LP into a slice of dark, stabbing techno. Elsewhere, the Faint's frantic protests against leading lives of quiet desperation have been repackaged as irresistible breakbeat house by the likes of Jacques Lu Cont (billed as The Thin White Duke), supa-slick techno-pop courtesy of dance-floor impresario Paul Oakenfold, and a thick slab of industrial punk as dreamed up by Photek. And much more.
"We had done a remix album of Blank-Wave Arcade and really enjoyed it," Baechle says, explaining the genesis of the new album. "So we figured, why not do it again? Astralwerks is so well connected with that scene, they got all these amazing people involved. Last time, we just asked some of our friends to do it. I guess you could say that proves the point about Danse Macabre being a breakthrough album," he adds with a snort.
The remix concept is an organic one for the Faint; as Baechle notes, the band's heart is in the dancier side of its music.
"Our first record, we were just figuring out what we wanted to sound like," Baechle says. "And I think what we discovered was that we didn't like guitars very much anymore -- or at least, we weren't good enough to do something really cool and different with them. But with keyboards, you can edit the sounds, you can make them do anything you want. So naturally, we started really listening to more and more synth-driven music. And the beats just grew out of that, us taking an interest in a different kind of sound than the rock music we'd been playing for years."
"Of course," he adds, chuckling, "the first few times we played around Omaha, everyone was like, 'Where's the guitars? What happened?' They were not psyched."
Not so today: A Faint show, Baechle says, is a dance show. So come prepared.
"Dancing is the fun part of the show for us," he explains, "and if the audience gets into it too, well, that just makes it even better. Usually, when people are dancing, they're enjoying themselves -- so if you get everyone in the room moving around, it's just amazing, the energy."
Although this tour is, in some respects, a go-round in support of the remix record, fans shouldn't be anticipating a DJ set.
"We're not planning to throw the album on a turntable," he notes drily, "or to try to replicate the sounds of millions of dollars' worth of production equipment and talent live, with the help of a couple of synths. I mean, pretty much, we're doing the songs our way, the way we did them on the original Danse Macabre dates. Plus, we've got some new songs in the set that we're trying out for the first time."
And the new songs? What are they like?
Baechle is quiet for a moment. This, apparently, is another one of those land-mine questions.
"Well," he answers at last. "We like them. They're good."