Super group Fashion Bird Danger Danger is bringing their unique sound to our ears with Phanerothymes. Combining the talents of the band members, they take you on journey of discovery where you uncover music you never realised you needed. Comprised of John Wlaysewski (vocals, guitar, bass, drums), Matthew Milligan (bass, vocal samples, synthesizer), Lisa Hammer (vocals), Olive Hui (vocals, synthesizer, sound effects) Levi Wilson (vocals, vibraphone) and Joey Slater (vocals). We sat down with the band to talk about their album, coming together over lockdown, blending genres and much more!
OSR: The band started using COVID-19 lockdown as a way to flesh out Avant Garde song ideas. How did it progress into the supergroup it now is?
Milligan: Initially it was just me and John bouncing ideas off of each other and building songs by swapping files back and forth. I had just come back from a tour where I was playing keys/sampler for Mike Doughty and had gotten really into the idea of chopping up vocals, resampling them and creating this weird sort of melodic gibberish. John had this fantastic dance beat he was working on and I performed some of these chopped-up vocal samples over the top. John wound up naming the song and ultimately the project itself “Fashion Bird Danger Danger” based on what he thought he heard in those samples. That phrase is in no way actually in the sampled vocal I used, but that format became the initial template for our collaboration.
As we continued working together, we expanded our instrumentation and started bringing in more friends and collaborators who had unique voices we wanted to add to the mix. I hadn’t thought of it this way until now, but really, a lot of this project is centred around unique vocal performances and textures, whether they’re sampled or performed live.
OSR: You have recently released your album Phanerothymes, can you tell us a little more about it? Is there a theme to the album?
Wlaysewski: The album is very psychedelic and kind of weaves in and out of lyrical coherence. The driving ethos of Phanerothymes is letting go of control and letting inspiration come from anywhere. Looking for samples and sounds and making songs out of them. Also, every Fashion Bird release has at least one song for the drummers out there. This record has ‘Timey Wimey Waterpark’, which changes tempos constantly as it’s weaving in and out of parts. Phanerothymes is “enlightenment through psychedelics”. I wanted the record to reflect this.
OSR: Your music is a fantastic blend of genres from rock to psychedelic pop, do you actively try to blend genres or is this something that happens organically?
Milligan: I think it goes hand in hand with our interests. When John and I first met years ago we quickly bonded over our mutual love of bands that blur genre lines like Ween and The Flaming Lips, as well as outsider artists like The Shaggs and Y. Bhekhirst who seemingly make music from another dimension entirely. We’ve both previously played primarily in the pop/rock genre and I think we both were very excited by the idea of an “anything goes” creative outlet. We established a policy early on that no idea is too weird to consider and in almost every situation pushing each other to the edges of weirdness in this way has ultimately yielded the best results.
John Wlaysewski: Thus far, in three releases, the records have gotten better and more integrated as more contributors have joined the process. With the addition of Olive Hui, Lisa Hammer and Joey Slater as co-writers and vocalists have really opened up the record’s creativity and style.
OSR: What is your creative process for creating your music? Do you have a structured plan or do you go with the flow?
Milligan: Most songs begin with one of us sending the other an unfinished, work in progress piece of music. We then take turns adding to it, occasionally extending the invite to our extended family of collaborators. We swap these ideas and mixes back and forth until they feel complete. The song always decides where it should go, what we should play on it and how many people should be featured. It’s never a conversation or plan beforehand. It just seems to happen.
OSR: The members of the band have all worked on various projects over the years, how do you feel this impacts the music you make together?
Wlaysewski: It’s true that we all bring our own musical paths to the project. Honestly, nothing that is added by any of the contributors is stuff I would have written. Our life experience and musical journeys are so different, and it enhances everything into something special.
OSR: With the album being created remotely during lockdown, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Milligan: For me, it would be sheer motivation and drive to keep making the music at the highest possible quality. I tend to go through phases of high and low levels of creativity and motivation but John is an absolute machine. He would crank out these amazing ideas and song templates so fast. My primary motivation to continue coming up with killer ideas/contributions of my own was really just trying to keep up with him, to be honest.
Wlaysewski: I do tend to follow all my ideas down a rabbit hole, either making something I like or beating the idea unconscious and deleting it. I try to listen to the world when it speaks to me and demo the idea on my phone, to work on later.
OSR: The album contains a bonus track featuring MC Lars, how did you connect with him?
Milligan: He’s a good friend! I’ve played bass on and off with MC Lars for many years and he’s also toured with my band Wheatus several times now. When we were working up ‘Pretty Fly’, we had a vision of someone rapping from the perspective of the fly on the head of Mike Pence and Lars came to mind as someone who would know how to handle such an odd concept. His verses added so much to the song we built a whole new mix/arrangement of the track around them.
OSR: What is the one thing you would like people to feel while listening to your music?
Wlaysewski: I want people to feel like they are getting something special that’s made for them. It’s left of centre enough that it’s for music lovers with a wide range of influences who like giving songs repeat listens.
OSR: What advice would you give to others who are interested in breaking free of traditional genres?
Milligan: Listen to as much music as you possibly can! Weird or not, traditional or not, there is songwriting and production inspiration to be found absolutely everywhere. The more music you have an awareness and understanding of, the more tricks you’ll have up your sleeve when writing your own. As I said above, one thing we learned here is that there really is no such thing as too weird an idea. See those ideas through and see where they take you.
Wlaysewski: Make sure that you can listen to the song all the way through. There’s a difference between exploratory and indulgent. Also, don’t be afraid to get musician and non-musician input during the process. Non-musician creativity can be an interesting jumping-off point for inspiration. Write on a different instrument than you are used to.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the coming year?
Milligan: Almost definitely more new music, and hopefully a show or two? We haven’t totally settled yet on a good format to perform this music live but we know that we desperately want to do it. When COVID allows, I’m sure we’re all gonna get in a room together and see if we can figure out a way to pull a show off. Maybe we’ll even jam together and see if we can come up with ideas that way. That’s one writing style we’ve yet to explore.
Wlaysewski: Currently working on making single edition NFTs (Crypto art) of songs with special artwork to add to the metaverse. It’s a brave new world and I’m trying to approach how people can get the music as creatively as we approach the music itself.