Feb. 10, 2005
by BOB DORAN
IT SEEMS TOTALLY APPROPRIATE THAT THE Ian Fays [photo above] are celebrating the release of the first "real album" with a show on Valentine's Day. The walls in the living room of "the pink house" in Arcata that they call home are decorated with paintings of hearts, and the songs on The Damon Lessons are mostly about the joy and pain of young love.
Then again, the living room still has a small silver Christmas tree, and Xmas lights still decorate the front porch, so maybe they just like holidays.
The Ian Fays sound is anchored by the sweet, delicate vocal harmonies of 20-year-old twin sisters Lizz and Sara Fay, with Lizz strumming guitar and Sara laying down dainty basslines.
Ethereal washes of melody from various "broken Casios" add texture and substance. There's no drummer; the rhythms typically come from preprogrammed synth beats. They're mostly handled by Julia Fay, 23, a relatively recent addition to the band (she took over from a departing keyboardist last summer).
"We love the little Casios, their beats rule," says Sara, "but at our last show the $5 one we were using broke." "We just got a new drum machine, a better one, a Yamaha," adds Julia. "It sounds a lot better than the Casios. It actually sounds good."
The newest Fay is Sara and Lizz' big sister Lena, 22, who plays "xylophone, triangle, boomwhacker, egg shaker, hand cymbals, electronic claps." Julia is not actually a sister, and no one's real name is Fay, although all band members have adopted the fictitious surname.
The first line on "Empty Alcohol Bottle," the opening track on the new CD, combines the album's recurring themes. "And the rose that you gave me when I finally came back home has died in an empty alcohol bottle. And you said, `Is that how we are now?'"
The (underage) girls express honest surprise when I point out that there are a number of songs about drinking, often as an escape from sadness.
"We don't really drink outside, not in public," says Lizz in self-defense. "You liar," interjects Julia, and they all laugh. "We don't like, get drunk," says Sara, "well, we don't mean to get drunk, but yes we do drink."
Sara and Lizz are the songwriters. "Sara wrote half the songs, I wrote half; we wrote them separately," says Lizz, and Sara adds, "Except the duets where one starts and the other one ends -- songs that are smooshed together, like [the Beatles song] "A Day in the Life."
Some of my favorite things on the album are little interludes, like Julia's synthesizer music box section at the end of "The Boyfriend Song," or the close of "Stuck and Slow," where accordion and xylophone provide an Amelie-esque coda.
While the girls describe it as their first "real album," The Damon Lessons is the Fays' third disc, following the handmade, home-burned efforts Benny; The Apple Cider Drunk and The Ryan Blackmore Project.
Since all are named for guys, I made the (incorrect) assumption that Benny, Ryan and Damon were ex-boyfriends who let them down, inspiring the various semi-tragic breakups that show up in several songs. I was wrong. Breakups (mostly Lizz') did provide inspiration, but Benny, Ryan and Damon are not exes.
"Damon was my bass teacher and Lizz' guitar teacher down in Santa Maria," explains Sara. "He was extraordinarily nice. He made us feel cool when we played our instruments. We, like, stalked his band J'n'D, Jive `n' Direct. He was a jazz musician -- went to Berklee -- he was really good. We don't really use a lot of the jazz stuff he taught us, but we know how to play it."
"And he was a twin," adds Lizz.
Sara, Lizz and Lena all come from Santa Maria, a town between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. All three came to Arcata for college, and surprisingly, Lizz and Sara have already earned degrees at HSU: Lizz in English; Sara, psychology. "We got out of high school early; we GEDed," explains Lizz.
Ryan was not exactly a boyfriend, says Sara, "We met him in the dorms; he actually took me out on my first date. He was cool. Now he's half of Cemetery Love Club," the indie duo that recently left Arcata for the big time in Portland.
And Benny? "Benny's our little brother," says Liz, and Lena starts to finish the explanation, "He likes to drink apple cider straight out of the bottle and pretend like it's alcohol" Sara completes her sister's thought, adding, "When we drink alcohol he drinks his cider, and he's like, `I'm so wasted guys. Man, I'm hung over.'"
Again, not an ex-boyfriend.
"The ex-boyfriends don't get things named after them," concludes Lena, who it turns out is indirectly responsible for the Ian Fays name. "Ian was a guy I knew back in our home town. He was, like, the coolest guy in town, and he was friends with me. Sara and Lizz just loved it. They lived vicariously though it, basically."
"We were like little awkward girls with no lives," says Sara. "It was a lot bigger deal than it would be now."
Now that they have lives -- as budding indie rock stars.
After a road trip to San Francisco this week for a show at the Hemlock Tavern, The Ian Fays return to Arcata for a CD release/Valentine's Day party at The 330 Club, where they share the bill with The Monster Women and Romanteek, a band from the city formerly known as Romantic Retardnation. The Ian Fays also play Friday, Feb. 18, at The Placebo with Space Mountain from Los Angeles.
For more on The Ian Fays, go to www.theianfays. com or become their friends at www.myspace.com/theianfays.
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