The LaFontaines: An Interview
By Payton Dembs
On Monday 7th October, before Patterns could be filled with 150 people chanting “The La, The La, The LaFontaines”, I was offered to watch soundcheck and sit down with lead rapper Kerr Okan to discuss the band’s new album Junior, which landed them number 33 in the UK Album Chart. Headlining Brighton for the first time, the LaFontaines have been together for 11 years.
This is your first tour as a three piece, how has it been? Do you have a favourite part so far?
“We’re about nine shows in so we’re in the swing of it now. It’s just been a really good tour. We’ve started to notice more people are coming. We’ve got three albums as well, we’ve got quite a lot of back catalog and it’s good because we can just kind of pack the best songs of each album and make it a set. It’s a nice show to play, for us as well. The best part would probably just be all the shows, man, just all the shows.”
You have quite a lot of fans here in Brighton. Do you think that social media helps you get fans to the shows?
“The social media thing; it’s kind of a gift and a curse. The great thing is that you can service music directly, you don’t need a label. You can just give directly to the fans but even that’s changing a wee bit now where, like, even though there are free websites like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, to actually get you fan base in algorithms, they kind of want you to pay for your posts to reach your fans. So that’s even changing a lot, the landscape of that. But if you want to make a living you have to either get with it or get left behind.
I find it can be tiring sometimes. Like I, as a person, am not very social. I don’t like to be making a post when I’m having my dinner, if you know what I mean. We find it like “oh, we have to do this again” but that’s just the nature of it. But yeah, I suppose it is good. I think social media can be so vain and so serious sometimes that we just like to have a laugh with it, just go on a green screen to talk utter nonsense and see if we can make something funny out of it.”
How did partnering with a label change the process of making the record? Aside from having a bit of money to promote it, that is.
“The main thing is – when we got the deal – the thing we had to retain control over was the music. There was no in or out guide, someone going “oh make that shorter on that song” or “take that riff out”. I think if that were to happen to us, we just wouldn’t do it. So, the only thing that changed for us really is that we submitted it and then were able to promote it instead of just posting it on social media and seeing what happens. And we were fortunate this time that Spotify got behind it with some good playlists. There has been a noticeable change in the shows as far as— well, we’re selling out now, which is nice. We’re massively bigger in Scotland than we are here so it’s nice to be coming into places like Birmingham and selling it out. Even tonight is like 150 tickets. Playing in Brighton is pretty good, this is our first time headlining, and it’s been a while since we’ve been here so that will be pretty fun.”
You guys have toured with a lot of cool bands over the years and I’m sure you’ve brought in fans that way too. Has there been anyone that’s been your favourite or inspired you?
“We’ve done everyone. We toured with Twin Atlantic, Don Broco, Def Havana, and the coolest guy we’ve ever toured with, Anderson Paak. He was just the coolest guy ever and he’s obviously massive now. Every time you tour with someone you take little bits from it and it just makes you overall more professional.
When we toured with the band called Don Broco. We saw a lot of similarities in ourselves and them in how they go about their business. They’re a super professional band. They’re outcasts as well… they don’t necessarily fit into any kind of genre. It’s not as cut and dry as “they’re just a rock band” and they’ve managed to make a name for their band now. That’s just through relentless touring and putting themselves out there. I think you see a lot of similarities of ourselves in that. They’re probably the most influential group we’ve had in terms of “just keep doing what we’re doing” because it can work. They’re an amazing live band and that’s also 100% what we go for. We are one of the best live bands and it’s because there is so much put in it. If you see us live you understand how much we put into a live show. I’d put our band up against anybody. I’m so confident because I know how much fight we’ve had and how much we care about it. I think if you can cut it as a live band then that’s what should matter. Everyone can distribute something out of the studio or a tuner so if you can play live you can do that.”
I’m glad you mentioned genre. You are a rock band, but you’re also rap and a little bit of everything else. How have you tried to develop your sound over the years while staying true to it?
“The gift and the curse of being this band is that it’s complete original. There is nothing that we’ve stolen from or tried to sound like from anyone else. But the cost is that the industry won’t know where to put that. Because it doesn’t fit into a box. They also claim they want something different, but it doesn’t. It wants to the same thing they can put the same machine behind and throw out. So when we come along we cause a problem.
But in terms of how we define our sound, it’s just been over the years fine tuning what we actually are. I think this new album “Junior” is the most concise music we’ve ever made. We know what we are as band now. I still couldn’t give you a genre. if someone were to ask, I guess we would say a rock band but that’s not even entirely true. We’re just this band that has this rap in it and we sing the choruses. It sounds terrible on paper. I always just say ‘a rock band but come see it. When you see it, it’ll make sense’. Just come and if you like it: cool.”
Do you mind walking me through the process of how this new album “Junior” came about?
“I think we already knew what we were going to do with the idea. We had one song called “Up” and it just sounded like it needed to be a part of something. Our first album is called “Class” and it is kind of about the class system and honestly, we just wanted a class record. The second one, it’s not really a political record but it’s got some politics in it which is quite common. This one is more of a reflection of self lyrically. If you look at our song “Alpha” it’s about being an alpha male and how in the way we grew up and the way we were raised the alpha male was stoic and strong and the man’s man. I think in 2019 it’s been totally deconstructed. I think to even get to the point that I can write about that and not feel embarrassed is a big step in my writing and the songs that have come out of it. We can talk about mental health and all that good stuff. I was able to write a blatant love song which I would never have been able to write. So, the writing has completely developed because there are more emotions to pull from that I’m comfortable in. That’s probably the biggest achievement on this record for us as a band: that we’ve managed to be comfortable with all these things. With “formation” and “class” we explored the situation we grew up in, and it’s very easy to comment on politically things in this day and age whereas this was the most reflective record. There was a process of trying to look inward.”
When you go to perform the songs live that are more personal and introspective, are there ever any nerves about how it’ll be perceived by the crowd?
“I think I’m comfortable. Plus when you take it into a live setting you look at the show as a whole and I look at it as- even though the lyrics can be quite dark- I look at it as a way to try to have a good time. I just want to jump around and have a good time, so I don’t really think about it too much aside from knowing I need to leave here sweating. No stage fright here, we’ve been doing it too long. It’s just fun at this stage.”
What is next for the band?
“We’re going to be in Europe until the end of the month. The 26th we finish in Paris, then we rest for like a week before going to Thailand for a festival, some recording when we get back, and a couple more shows before we start writing the next record. The idea is just to keep the show on the road. Keep playing bigger shows. Keep playing with other bands, supporting them and see if we can make something happen.”
Final question: if you had four words to describe yourself to someone who has never heard of your band or your music before, what four words would you use?
“really good live band”