Panspermia and Extinction: an interview with Fanfarlo's Simon Balthazar

Sjimon Gompers

Fanfarlo

Fanfarlo, captured in photos by John Best, cover shot photo courtesy of Helen Woods.

Fanfarlo's recent album Let's Go Extinct brought more of the band's bright audio endearment to the world, with reports of some wild conceptual framework. In between their current batch of tour dates, we were able to talk about a wide range of theoretical notions with the Sweden by London frontman, Simon Balthazar, in the following conversation that covered the complexities of Plato, the intergalactic hypothesis of 'panspermia', to the soothsaying wisdom of The Giant from the metaphysical worlds of Twin Peaks. So pull up a chair, and get comfortable as Simon spells out the current Philosophy of Fanfarlo 101 that cuts throug the didactic—and strikes straight at the heart of matters.

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I'm interested in hearing about how you and the band fostered this kind of family like humanity while recording Let's Go Extinct in Wales. Do you see yourselves like a family band, like the London Osmonds/Partridge Family or anything like that?

You have to become a family to make something together. When we made the record we tried to build our own world around ourselves, a little bubble where we didn't care about the world outside.

I have heard that one of the philosophical ideas you and the band were playing with was this whole origin of life from an asteroid or something. Can you further explain how these discussions between you and the band came about and in what ways did you notice it making its way into the music?

The collective name for these theories is Panspermia, which has to do with the seed of life arriving on Earth in the form of the necessary chemicals, perhaps carried by an asteroid. It's a more or less viable theory, depending on who you ask. But either way it's a tantalizing concept, especially for us when we on this record are concerned with spinning different perspectives on life, evolution and the mind.

The album pits these kind of deep inner gazes of self-analyses, like “Myth of Myself (A Ruse to Exploit Our Weaknesses)”, and then there is this “We're the Future”/”Life in the Sky” where you are pushing into this tomorrow, or space age. Were you setting out to paint this kind of continuum of life, “The Beginning and the End”, or illustrating a sustainable sort of extinction? Maybe something in that poignant lyric on the closing title track, “the dust will rearrange itself again?” Probably one of my favorite lines.

So one of the main points of this record is to take all these various aspects of where we are now, as people—where we are, but also how we got here and where we might go next—and play with those aspects. So in “Life In The Sky” we talk about the idea of a faint memory of being nothing but a molecule heading towards our planet on an asteroid, in “Cell Song” we talk about how you can see the body and mind as a marriage between billions of tiny individuals, cells, rather than this one unity, or individual, that we normally think of.

I should say that some of these ideas or propositions are kind of out there, like how “We're The Future” is this vision of having evolved into a dual being— lonesome no more! Which actually goes back to a famous and rather romantic idea proposed in a dialogue by Plato, but either way, some of this is very playful.

That's not to say it's a joke. In “Myth of Myself”, there is a serious point being made about the deceptive concept of the self, of seeing yourself as separate from the world. Especially as we live in a culture that highly promotes individuality, you should question who stands to profit from this concept.

How did you find this kind of enthusiasm in these ideas of extinction?

I guess these songs are all meditations on things that for me at least are very present in everyday life. I'm always thinking about the nature of the relationship between what's inside my head and the things around me. Regarding the whole extinction thing: what we're talking about is, again, to see beyond yourself. To accept that the world doesn't end just because you, or your relationship, or even the entire human race, ends. The world goes on, and there is comfort in that.

What are your thoughts on the current state of modern age amid all of our geo-politco-eco-socio-whatever problems and the threat of our own extinction?

It's not too far-fetched a scenario that we're fairly quickly pushing ourselves to extinction. But if so, that's just the way it goes. Species come and go, right? Extinction is the rule, survival is the exception. I don't have a problem with that. However it's very exciting to imagine the human race a million years from now, if we survive, and how different people would be then, how we would live our lives in a very different world from this one.

What would the Fanfarlo path for the world be to avoid this kind of calamity and how should it be administered?

Trying hard to not sound like a big sage guru here, but the key is to get people to ask questions about themselves and the world around them. And after all the job of art is just that, to ask questions, rather than provide answers. In general, more avocado for everyone is a great start though.

I have heard you have a big interest in cinema, the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Sergei Parajanov, and was wondering what cool films you had seen as of late, new or not so new?

I was really happy to see how The Act of Killing absolutely exploded. I naively thought it would remain a fairly obscure documentary when I watched it as it came out. Having Errol Morris and Werner Herzog onboard of course must have helped a great deal.

Seems like film, and film scoring, etc, really plays a big hand into how so much of music is conceptualized and materialized into being these days. How do you describe that connection and adaptation of film to music translation, and influence via the creative process?

So I'm not sure if I quite understand this question, but I'd say that most filmmakers write and edit under the influence of music. Probably more than songwriters write to film to be honest. But I suspect there's always been a symbiotic relationship between music and cinema right?

You're touring with our friends Lilies On Mars, they are really cool, and rock some great sounds and know their keyboards. Any collaborative projects perhaps between Fanfarlo and Lilies On Mars, or maybe a remix? You both have so many cool dreamy sounds and styles.

I'd be surprised if something didn't come out of all this time together. The Lilies are friends of our drummer Valentina and they've played together in the past. Plus we tend to jam together at soundcheck.

Favorite tour memories and moments on the road?

So many. On this recent tour, we had a bit of an emergency where our bass player Justin had to go to hospital. We then found out he needed an operation and was going to have to stay in Valencia, Spain for a few days and so we had to figure out a way of playing shows without him. We ended up doing these totally unrehearsed acoustic shows which was really scary. It turned out beautifully though, because we were playing these sit-down shows in big theatres that stretch of the tour, and the audience were really on board and supportive of what was happening even though they probably hadn't at all expected these quiet, acoustic shows.

What will you all be doing this summer?

There will be some festival shows around Europe, possibly South America. Cathy and I both have side projects coming up that are quite exciting.

Parting Fanfarlo philosophical words of encouragement or enchantment?

The owls are not what they seem.

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