Faint Signs of Intelligence

I chatted long-distance on the phone with F.S.O.I. singer/keyboard player Phil Taylor on June 7, 2006. I also chatted with bass player Phil Williams in-person, as he toured the United States as a member of the Keith Emerson Band. Our topic was how music fans will detect "Faint Signs of Intelligence," their latest musical project.

At my website, I hope that music fans will read about a few new bands and their records. If they like what they read, hopefully they'll link to the band's website or Myspace page from my site, and give them a listen. With that in mind, tell me all about your musical project and the self-titled record "Faint Signs of Intelligence."

Phil W: Faint Signs of Intelligence is a project we put together more out of need for having an album than anything else. I needed a product to sell at merchandise booths when I tour with Keith Emerson. Phil Taylor and I had been on the road endlessly for the past 10 years. At the point in the evening following the gig when equipment is being packed up, Phil and I would find a piano somewhere out back, sitting around it drinking a few beers and singing silly songs. All of the lyrics and ideas from that ended up being used on "Faint Signs of Intelligence." Our name fits what we're all about as a band. It comes from a program by N.A.S.A. that listens to the universe, trying to hear broadcasts or other audio signs that will tell us there are other life forms out there.

Phil T: In 2004, Phil Williams was going to tour North America with Keith Emerson, who kindly offered his band the opportunity to add their own records to the merchandise table. Phil and I were always busy playing with other people and I had a bunch of lyrics that are silly, quirky, or even stupid. They're very English in their stupidity, very quaint and surreal. There were no plans to put them on an album or even do anything with them. Once we had the reason to do an album, we decided to record all of the songs we had accumulated. Faint Signs of Intelligence's music was conceived with a "band sound" but without a band, sort of like the Steely Dan model. After the music was ready, we brought a band together and told them what they had to play.

Describe the musical direction of your record and talk about a couple of the songs.

Phil W: Despite the silly lyrics, we also love instrumental music and we write music that lets us play a bit. We're big fans of Weather Report and Jaco Pastorius, who is one of the main reasons I play bass. He was amazing. Any guitarist will call Jimi Hendrix a pioneer; the guy who opened all of the doors for guitar players. Jaco was exactly the same for bass guitarists.

"Kon Tiki" is a fun song that I believe was written on the road in Dubai of all places. "Mumbling" is a country/western and Latin flavored song where you can't hear all of the lyrics and verses because of all the mumbling. "Looking For Chemistry" is on the album because it fits the bill with its element of comedy. We offered our friend Simon Levy, who did the artwork on the album, a trade-off by including a song he wrote on the record.

Phil T: Stylistically, Faint Signs of Intelligence is an incredibly mixed bag: a complete mish-mash. Phil and I have lots of things in common as far as musical tastes. We were exposed to a lot of great music in England, and we're really into American bands like Steely Dan and Weather Report. After amassing all of our musical tastes, we put bits and pieces into our own musical stew and simmered it for 20 years. What came out, hopefully, is a good mixture that represents our feelings musically. With Phil's bass playing on these songs, we thought music fans coming to an Keith Emerson show would expect his band mates to record similar material with fast playing and solid musicianship. Our plan was to surprise them, making the songs more important than the playing. We didn't want to blind anyone with musicality, feeling that an emphasis on the songs would give the record more of a shelf life.

Hopefully, people will find our songs funny, and at the same time they'll get into the loads of musical layers. A good example is "Will You Look After My Hamster While I Go On Holiday." The title is right there for you, stating that it doesn't want to be taken seriously. But it's not a novelty song because it doesn't sound like one. We put the same effort into making the music for that song as we would for a song with a serious lyric. That becomes the whole point. It's our reaction to the over-seriousness in lyrics today. It's an antidote to that and the pre-determined formula that defines most records being released today.

Another song, one of our instrumentals, is "Quince Jam." It's a nod to Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, and funk music. It's titled after a very English type of jelly or marmalade. It's my memory of the 70's, sunny and laid back. I use my voice as an instrument, without being scat. The vocals have a cheesy "Age of Aquarius" sound. The song has a bass solo that is an unashamed tribute to Jaco Pastorius, and it was written and constructed, not improvised. When all of those things are combined, the song almost becomes a scrapbook of an era of music that is very dear to us.

Your website is www.faintsignsofintelligence.com, and that's one of the places that people can purchase the CD. Is it also sold in stores or by online retailers? Also, where can people hear samples of the songs?

Phil T: Townsend Records sells it in the U.K., but purchasing it through our website is probably the easiest way for fans in the United States. We have song samples at our website and at our new Myspace page, www.myspace.com/faintsigns

I'm sure that your focus is spreading the word about F.S.O.I. and the challenge of getting people to hear the music. What's the next step, playing live shows or will you concentrate on writing new material for a follow-up CD?

Phil W: The follow-up record becomes the next challenge. Hopefully, it'll be a concept album that's very adventurous musically while staying with the comedy angle of stupid and silly lyrics. Almost like a Frank Zappa record. Not his type of humor but ours, and with solid musicianship.

Phil T: Playing live will be a challenge because we don't have an assembled band. We don't want to play without being able to perform everything from the record. Our next step is creating new material to reinforce our band's identity: the uneasy marriage of great music and quirky, unexpected lyrics. Record companies can't push or market that type of material, so another challenge is creating our own niche market that'll grow big enough to justify doing live gigs and videos. Plus, we want to keep it all fun. That's another challenge.

Talk about some of the other people who worked on the record such as guitarist Richard Barrett, 4-year-old singer/songwriter Oliver Taylor, and The Vicar.

Phil W: Our guitarist Richard Barrett is amazing. He did some studio work with the Jones Gang, a project from Kenny Jones of the Small Faces. He's a fantastic player and his solos on our album are awesome.

Phil T: Ollie Taylor is my son. I'd never try to encourage my kids to be musicians just because I'm a musician. Ollie strums on a guitar and sings lyrics that can be about anything. Unknown to him, I recorded him singing and built the song "I Like Sleeping" around it. My other son, Eddie, adds his voice to another track on the record. Every parish in our country has its own vicar. I thought "Why can't a record have its own vicar?" I took something from the real world and incorporated it into our record's world. The Vicar welcomes you to the record.

The section of my website where I upload these interviews is titled "5 and Dime" as a tribute to guitarist Dimebag Darrell. I've asked 5 questions where you talked about your band, but the final question is about the late, great Dimebag Darrell. He was a guitarist in the metal band Pantera, and he was senselessly murdered onstage in December 2004 as he performed with his new band Damageplan. I don't think his style of guitar playing or songwriting influenced your band, but I hope you'll comment on either his music, his life, his death, or the topic of crazed fans and concert security.

Phil W: Obviously, the music world lost a great player. When his death happened onstage, it made it that much more tragic. His music, and the music of Pantera, has a much harder edge than I look for personally. Some of my earlier gigs were in pubs that maybe I should have reconsidered playing. I've seen brawls break out and I've had to dodge broken furniture, but thankfully I've never felt threatened onstage.

Phil T: His death was so tragic. When you lose a musical hero, it's like losing a family member. With that topic in mind, I think about the complete futility of the early death of Jaco Pastorius. The death of a great musician at an early age robs the fans of hearing all of the great music they would have continued to write had they been alive.

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