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Here’s an interview with Lars Finberg, who recently released his second solo record Tinnitus Tonight on Mt.St.Mtn.. It’s a great record and we decided to ask Finberg a bit about his songwriting and his time with The Intelligence – a group that appears to still be rolling after almost two decades, although Finberg has been the only constant member. Apart from that he has also played with Thee Oh Sees, Wounded Lion, Unnatural Helpers, Rubber Blanket, A Frames and Puberty.

RT: We both thought it was really cool when we realised you were reading some of our content. The Intelligence is probably the band that’s at the top of our list of common favourite bands. What was it that made that group special in your opinion? Was it about the chemistry of the members, or did you fight about everything, like most bands do? Were the songs born out of strife or collaboration?

That is so nice to hear, I love the care you put into writing about obscure or relatively unheard music, it’s sad that is so rare these days and it reads like a labor of love.

I think maybe it’s good that The Intelligence doesn’t have its ‘sound’ completely figured out, early on I wondered if we were weak because we didn’t have a concise idea or do a certain ‘thing’ but fumbling around in the dark is what’s kept it interesting to do.  I can’t think of any fights really, being the sole original CEO usually the players are looking to me to tell them what to do, if anything my hurdle is getting them comfortable enough to do the thing they can do but I can’t do or haven’t thought of.  

RT: I’ve seen a bunch of photos of you playing a Squier 12-string, which makes me think of New York group DNA. Can you name someone who has influenced the way you play your instrument?

I only strung it with 6 strings, I just liked how obnoxious the headstock looked.  I also loved when people would ask what kind of guitar it was telling them it’s a Fender Venus designed by Courtney Love and watching them groan.  I’ve watched some old DNA live stuff back when people played you their VHS collection before youtube and I just remember the bassist doing some cool swizzle steps but don’t remember the guitar but I’ve just got into Arto Linday a little recently, I love him. Art Punk to Bossanova? Sure why not.

Someone taught me the Jimi Hendrix “Foxy Lady” chord I use all the time and I love the tragically made-fun-of white Strat ‘reissue’ modified pickup Fender made.  I got one and people groan at that too. Ben Wallers playing a riff on one string in the song “Panty Shots” is irresistible and I’m forever chasing that magic reduction.  I love the clean guitar recorded too loud, icepicky guitar chords of the Electric Eels, and recently been listening to a ton of Deerhoof. They are miles beyond me but the interplay of non-obvious notes is so sick. Maybe the Spits a little too in the sense of keeping things simple to great effect. 

RT: How has the way you write songs changed over the course of your various projects like A Frames, The Intelligence and solo records?

In the A-Frames Erin wrote all those songs I just embellished some of the drum parts here and there.  In The Intelligence I went for more of a first-idea-is-the-best-idea approach in the beginning, but I enjoy spending more time on each piece the last couple years.  Now I just sit there playing guitar manipulating riffs and notes until it’s something I don’t think I’ve heard or I’ve overdone.  I work on the lyrics so hard it’s not even fun anymore.

RT: Can you tell us a bit about when the new album was recorded and why you decided to make it a solo album despite recording with some previous collaborators? In the past the Intelligence line-up has changed several times and often we thought the band was over. When you look ahead – will you continue reviving that name or are you looking for new directions?

The initial idea was half of the Intelligence was living in Seattle and so perfect to play with I wanted to keep that intact but have another outlet to record and maybe tour Europe once a year.  Rather than bother with a new band name I took Dave Hernandez (Intelligence guitarist) suggestion of having your solo stuff be your side project and not tarnish your legacy (LOL).

Drummer Kaanan Tupper lived somewhat close in California and is the best drummer anyway so we wanted to get a little band together that could practice more regularly and play the occasional crummy Tuesday night show for fun without flights and money worries.  We planned to record with Ty but he was busy for a while so we went to make a 3-songs thing with my favorite engineer Chris Woodhouse, who’s quick and fun to work with and we had extra time. So we started winging a bunch of demos I had with the extra time and realized we could make a whole record for relatively cheap if we hauled ass. 

I like the Intelligence to be a response to what went wrong or right on the record before it and when I wasn’t operating under that name I felt freer to do different stuff and evolve or devolve.  I’ve been working on an Intelligence record this year that is all over the place.

RT: Did you have a personal connection to LA before moving there? did you know the people at In the Red? What’s it like to be a part of the music scene there today, where you have played with many people who ended up being more ‘successful’ than your bands?

I’m from Bakersfield which is pretty close and spent a lot of weekends sleeping in the car skateboarding and cassette / bootleg CD shopping in high school.  I knew Larry from In the Red and Josh and Monty from the Lamps got me jobs and let me stay with them when I moved, that was major. I am still kind of shocked and impressed some friends found a substantial audience doing what they’ve done since we met.  We just sit around hoping to open for ‘em. 

RT: What makes a good album in your opinion? Will people still care about albums in the next few decades?

Our music is on there because I get that is the future and the billionaires make the rules, but I don’t use Spotify to listen to music because I think it cheapens the experience.  You know how you scroll through Netflix for an hour looking for the absolute perfect movie that defines me at this second in time and then don’t care anymore and watch whatever or nothing to keep from the dull act of choosing? Or your friend with incredible taste texts you a song on youtube and you go ‘ohh great homework’.  Or they send you their jazz playlist with 523 incredible songs on it and ten minutes in you are paying zero attention.  I think all this stuff dulls the magic effect and there’s nothing cheaper than free. When I got a car that could play music from my phone in random I thought ‘this will be the death of listening to whole albums in the car’ and in 2 days it was.  So I don’t think anyone that doesn’t already like albums will care about them in the future, but no one likes my top hat either. 

A good album? Some originality or personality, even just a smidge. Good lyrics can really help since they aren’t really even that necessary. Non obvious chord changes. Or even just one note you don’t expect. Gosh, I don’t know, I’m still cracking the code everyday.  I think it’s enhanced by the volatile times but I’ve been moved to tears by music lately when it’s really good.  The Fiona Apple song “I want you to love me” because you could tell the song was going to be great in the first 30 seconds and the lyrics are so moving. And the Deerhoof song “+81” just listening to 4 people play together so ripping are recent examples.  In trying to figure out why I’m so moved by it I think it’s because they are expressing a real THING or as Jon Brion said somewhere “not just reproducing an archetype of what we expect an ‘artist’ to be”.

RT: Thank you so much for your time and the insight into your process. And the photos from the recording session.

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December 11, 2020

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