For Folk’s Sake Interview: Sean Rawls from Still Flyin’

What a palaver it has been to bring you this interview. FFS traversed the mean streets of London last month to see Still Flyin’ at Proud Galleries in Camden. After a delight of an interview with frontman and founder Sean Rawls, and a stonker of a set in which the 11-piece band brought some much needed California sunshine to a rain-soaked London, we went on to have our bag stolen, dictaphone and all. We weren’t pleased. But fear not, Rawls is such an obliging chap, that he agreed to do it all over again by email. And he’s thrown Still Flyin”s tips for a rip-roaring Easter too.

FFS: How would you describe Still Flyin’ for those who’ve not yet heard you?
Sean: Think of a house party with your best friends there.  Some random dudes show up and at first you’re wondering who invited these assholes to the party but then you notice one of them brought a case of your favorite beer and another brought a bunch of pizza for everyone to share. Soon enough those random dudes are everyone’s new best friends. That’s us.

How and when did the band form?
I had a joke reggae song leftover from a previous band that wouldn’t leave my brain, so I decided to form a band around the song.  I’d just moved to San Francisco and asked everyone I knew to join my band and overbooked my jam flight.  I figured if I asked everyone I knew I’d get enough people to fill out a band but the first practice had fifteen people at it.  This was in late 2004.  With so many people involved, it took us a while to get off the runway.

There are loads of you in the band, where did you find all the members?
They were the only people I knew in San Francisco.  Most of them were from bands that my old band had played with in the past.  Since then we’ve expanded to have spiritual members on three different continents.

Do you regret the decision to have so many members when it comes to doling out royalties?
ROYALTIES!?  Ha!  Right now all our money goes straight into funding our touring, which is ridiculously expensive with so many people.  But we wouldn’t be the same band as a four piece.  It would just be like everyone else.  I say in a lot of interviews that Still Flyin’ feels more like a sports team than a band.  I’ve been in plenty of bands and it’s all boring compared to this, albeit financially destitute.

How do your songs come about, you’re the main songwriter aren’t you? Do all the instrumentalists write their own parts?

Yes, for better or worse I am the main songwriter.  A lot of songs I make demos for on my computer and then when I feel like it’s “ready” I’ll present it to the band and we’ll all work on it some more.  I feel like one of my jam strengths is arranging so if I have ideas for a killer bassline or wretched horn riff I’ll tell those dudes what to play.  But a lot of times they make up their own badass parts.  It’s a very laid back and democratic process.  Just hanging out and telling jokes and drinking brews mainly.  With this many people involved there’s no room for ego.

Who are you influenced by, musically?
I think my ultimate, totally unachievable, pipedream goal is to be like those awesome karaoke songs that people sing that get the whole room jamming it to the bone.  A song that a drunk frat dude would like and the cynical hipster would like and the old alcoholic dude in the corner would even like.  Songs that transcend all boundaries and everyone can get into them.  You know, like Prince’s hit songs.  That’s what I’m influenced by the most.  These aren’t my favorite bands or songs in the world but that’s what I’m going for.  I want to make songs like that.

You’re friends with Jens Lekman and he has appeared on stage with you, how did that come about?
Gary Olson, who’s in Still Flyin’, played in Jens’ touring band a few years ago and we played a Halloween show together in a backyard.  Jens was really into the music and wanted to jam with us at our next show which was a Christmas party for low-income housing people in a really bad area of town called the Tenderloin. That summer we went to Sweden and our guitarist couldn’t make it so Jens filled in on guitar. He hasn’t played with us in a while though but once a spiritual member, always a spiritual member.

And members of the Australian band Architecture in Helsinki appear with you sometimes, how have you ended up playing with people who are based so far away from you?
Jaime Knight, who’s in Still Flyin’, has been really good friends with them for a long time.  I think maybe the original plan was for us to open for them in San Francisco but they heard the demo CD and basically forced us to tour the West Coast with them. We’d only been a band for six months and touring hadn’t even occurred to us at that point. They’ve been our forever dudes ever since.  When we tour Australia they’ll jam it with us or when they’re over here some of them visit SF and they’re always down for a jam. 

Your live show is like a gig crossed with a party, is your main objective in music-making to have fun?
That is correct.

We’re excited about your debut album. Is that all ready to go now or are you still working on it? Who produced it?
Oh it’s been ready to go for so long now.  We finished recording it in December 2007 if you can believe that.  We then sent it to our buddies in Australia to mix it and it took them through the summer to hone the beast that we gave them into an album.  It’s like he handed them a big log and they whittled it – very slowly but very surely – into a nice sculpture of a bunch of people high fiving each other.  Kind of like the cover to the Pearl Jam album “Ten”, except high fives.  I am in no way talking about our album cover – I’m just talking about the sculpture they whittled.  The dudes in question are Haima Marriott and Gus Franklin.  Haima works with Architecture In Helsinki recording with them and doing live sound, and Gus is a member of the band.  We recorded it here in San Francisco with Jason Quever from the Papercuts.

What are your plans after the album’s out? Will there be a tour? Are you coming back to the UK?
It’s out in April and we’re doing some US touring around then.  I’m looking forward to coming back to the UK but that won’t be until July.  Come party with us when we get there.

Can you recommend some up-and-coming artists to us?
What immediately comes to mind is my friends so I hope that’s okay.  I can guarantee no one in the UK has heard of them.  The first is our friend Flip whom I sing about in our song Forever Dudes.  He bought a cell phone after our trip on the party bus.  Anyway, he’s a rapper of sorts.  Fantasy prog rap.  It’s awesome.  He’s called the Flip Scoldjah and he’s got two albums. Myspace.

There’s another fantasy rapper called Excalibrah (full disclosure – this is Still Flyin’s band guru who designs all our artwork and writes our tour itineraries).  He just released his second record and it’s starting to get a little blog hype so watch out!  WILD stuff. Myspace.

Last recommendation is a real dang band called Night Moves Gold.  They were Night Moves but some stupid Bob Seger cover band in the UK made them change it.  Anyway to me they sound like Hall & Oates crossed with the Bee Gees.  Total mind rip. Myspace.

At For Folk’s Sake we followed your Xmas and New Years itineraries to the letter. Most of us ended up in hospital. Do you have any tips for Easter?

• Wake up at 5am.  Think about how Easter is about the resurrection of the Easter Bunny.  Get a mind link going with that rabbit because you just resurrected yourself from sleep. 

• Go to the grocery store and buy all available eggs in the store.  Buy the whole store out. 

• Now you’ll probably have a thousand eggs or so.  If you don’t already have some paint, break into the paint store and steal some.  Carefully put the eggs in a pile and dump the bucket of paint on them.  The paint can be any pastel color.

• Don’t worry about the paint drying – there’s no time.  Quickly distribute the eggs all over your neighborhood.  Put them everywhere.  Just lay them in the street – it doesn’t matter.  Throw them in the direction of kids if you see any.

• Cook a rabducken.  This is a variation on the time-honored turducken that we Americans have for Thanksgiving (a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey and deep-fried).  To make a rabducken, put a real chicken inside of a real duck inside of the biggest chocolate rabbit you can find and deep-fry it.  What a feast.

• Congratulate yourself on another successful Easter.

Interview: Lynn Roberts

Still Flyin’s new single ‘Forever Dudes’ is out now on Moshi Moshi. See the video on YouTube.