Fool's Gold: TAS In Session
Throw together a mélange of Afrobeat, Congolese grooves, Sephardic flourishes and even a slice of Smiths-style pop and you'd have a vague idea of sparkling sound of L.A. rockers Fool's Gold, who releaed their accomplished sophomore album Leave No Trace on IAMSOUND Records earlier this year.
Taking a slight left turn from Luke Top's Hebrew-sung lyrics of their eponymous debut, opting for English-language vocals this time, Fool's Gold have also trimmed themselves down to a tight quintet, down from the sprawling collective of up to 15 players from groups like We Are Scientists and Glasser.
The current incarnation of the band — Israeli-born Top, Lewis Pesacov (who also plays in Foreign Born), Garrett Ray, Brad Caulkins and Salvador Placencia — recently came by The Alternate Side's Studio A to play a shimmering four-song set and talked about their jam-based roots and their more focused present direction.
You can hear the session on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, December 2, at 11 a.m. or streaming on The Alternate Side.
Russ Borris: Brand new record is called Leave No Trace. I love this album. It’s a really great piece of work. Luke, you want to talk a little about how the band came together?
Luke Top: Sure. The band really started out as a free-form experiment about four years ago. Lewis and I kind of bonded over all kinds of different world music and we decided to invite all our friends to these super-informal jam sessions. Whoever could come, friends, relatives could come in and join in and we’d lead these trance-inducing jams based on simple musical motifs. That kind of evolved into songs over time.
Russ: It’s interesting that you say simple, because these songs don’t necessarily sound like they’re simple. There’s lots of intricate playing.
Luke: I think in the first record the gestures are a lot more broad with our songs. I think this new record is a better example of a kind of refinement that happened over time. It’s definitely extremely colorful, that first album, but as far as compositions … they’re jams, more or less. That’s where we come out of. Our band had members numbering from 10 to 15 at any given time and now, after a couple of years of touring and making that record, we’re left with all of the beautiful people you see here which is five.
Russ: And clearly making it more cohesive.
Luke: Definitely. We’ve definitely honed in on what we do. I think we know who we are more than we did. We’re just evolving.
Russ: How long has the band been together in this form?
Luke: Just the five piece, I think December. Since we ended a touring cycle of two years. All these guys were members of the fifteen piece. This is the reduced version.
Russ: You mentioned earlier, Luke, the different influences. There definitely Afrobeats, Caribbean, a little Middle Eastern vibe here and there. Where does the 80s dance vibe work itself in?
Luke: You want a percentage?
Luke: We spend a lot of time together listening to music, especially when you’re touring. So a lot of music gets played and we sing along to a lot of stuff. I think we must have spent a total of 95-212 hours singing along to Smiths songs in the van on tour. That’s seeped in.
Russ: You can hear that. That Johnny Marr guitar, those elements.
Luke: The whole spark of this band, when we got together, was whatever influences we wanted to present into the forum would be accepted, no matter how ridiculous. I think that blind confidence led us to incorporate lots of different styles that we’d never played together before.
Russ: It sounds like it all makes sense.
Luke: Ideally, that’s what it would be. Now that these influences are coming out seamlessly, filtering through us and our songwriting. I think with this new album we can focus even more on what that sound is.
Russ: Lewis, you produced the new record. Going in, did you say, I don’t want to work with someone on the outside?
Lewis Pesacov: You know, I think it just works for us. Luke and I have kind of a cohesive vision going into the process. It’s easier to get in there and get it done rather than having to filter it through someone else’s aesthetic or outlook. Someone else mixed the record, though, which was a really great thing at the end. We had a third party come in and sift through it — do his own little thing — which I think was really important. It helped us, timewise and moneywise, to have someone in the band produce it.
Russ: The record is so fun and catchy. The lyrics, you take something simple like, “No, I won’t stop staring,” but it hooks on, on of those things you can hear in your head later in the day. How does songwriting work? Lewis and Luke, you handle the songwriting?
Lewis: Yeah, you know for this album we’d just come off tour. We’d been on tour for two years and that last tour was in November, we got home December and we jumped right into the songwriting process. Luke and I went and isolated ourselves from the world in a house a couple of hours away from Los Angeles, in the middle of the nowhere, and solidified all our songwriting ideas. I had little licks, riffs, musical motifs and he had lyrics and melodic sketches and we sat in a jacuzzi and talked about what the album was going to be. Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve.
Luke: What an awesome honeymoon. (laughs).
Lewis: We wrote the album basically in a week.
Russ: The lyric that sticks with me most on the record is, “No, you’ve not ruined me yet, despite all your best efforts.” One of the catchiest lines of the year.
Luke: And we’re still not ruined!
Russ: Luke, whereas a lot of the first album is sung in Hebrew, most of the songs are in English this go-round. Was that a conscious effort? How did that change your approach as a singer?
Luke: With this whole process of honing in on what we’re doing, I’ve been drawn to utilize my language, English, the language I speak every day, that’s more readily available to me. I wanted to apply what I learned by singing in Hebrew, which was a lot, and it opened me up, cracked the shell open and allowed me to write and sing in whole new ways. I wanted to apply that to some English lyrics. It makes it more personal and intimate. It just felt right with these songs, to sing in English. Who’s to say where we’re going from here, but for these songs, that felt appropriate.
Russ: You meld those Hebrew sounds, Middle Eastern and Caribbean sounds … I think I read a description where you guys called it “Trop Pop?”
Luke: That was my vote for the album title! Trop Pop! It came from a Canadian border crossing. Some border guard was kind of being a schmuck and he asked us what kind of music we play and I said, “Trop Pop.” He looked at me like he had no idea what I was saying.
Russ: But that has to be a sort of norm for you guys. You say you’re in a band and you try to describe what you do, it’s not something you can describe in two words.
Luke: I just start crying. Or laughing.
Lewis: Depending on what authority figure is asking us, I say we’re Christian music.
Luke: It depends on how much time we have, too. It helps to just listen to it.