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Arts and Entertainment

Make Your Particles Shake - Meet Firs

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Firs I Photo: Brice Shultz/LAist

Firs I Photo: Brice Shultz/LAist
A few weeks ago, I walked into the Bootleg Theaterand was hit with a wall of sound. I had to take a step back and ran over my teeth with my tongue to make sure my fillings were still in place. With all of my molecules a-quiverin' in perfect unison, I ventured deeper into the theater and was surprised to find only two men on stage one armed with only a keyboard and a laptop and a the other with a drum kit making some of the most beautiful, swirling, electro-ambient music I've heard in quite sometime.

Due to the set up of the venue, I perched on a bar stool and soaked up the vibe, but given my druthers I would have been lying on the floor, feeling the vibrations seep through my clothes and into my body. (In fact, if you're listening to this tune at work you should do just that. Crawl under your desk and turn it all the way up on your headphones. It sounds better.) Or better yet, just head over to the Silverlake Lounge this evening and hear it live. I'm sure they won't mind if we all lie on the floor.

After the set I met Firs (or as he's normally known Jonathan D. Haskell) and we had a long chat about his debut EP, New Hope in Soft Light. Here is some of what was said.

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Firs - New Hope In Soft Light

When did you first pick up an instrument?
When I was ten years old I decided I wanted to be a singer and so my first instrument was my voice. Growing up I was either playing music or playing sports, but when I was ten I started singing, I think I took a class at summer camp or something like that, and endured the normal ridicule of a ten year old boy trying to sing. My parents were totally supportive though. They just wanted me and my brother to be happy. All through high school I was in bands, and I picked up the guitar somewhere in there. In my last band I had played with the guitar player for ten years and were in a band together for five before we broke up.

What happened?
It was kind of the typical experience after five years. You know, you start touring and actually gaining momentum and stuff and then we all kind of decided we wanted to go separate ways. I wanted to continue touring, key board player wanted to just hang out at home, the guitar player bought a house. It was just one of those things. As soon as we started making headway, it all fell apart. Which was fine anyway because honestly the stuff I'm doing now with Firs is in a completely different genre than that band. I mean, I bet my old band members probably have no interest in doing anything with Firs.


Firs I Photo: Brice Shultz/LAist
So where did you come up with the idea for Firs?
In Edinburgh, Scotland.

How did you end up in Scotland?
When my old band broke up, I wanted out. I wanted to leave LA. I needed to do something else. So I bought a ticket and left.

Why Scotland?
Just...that was the place. Of all the places in the world, if you could pick one place to go because of the weather, because of the people, because of the culture, that was it for me. I've been there three or four times now, and it's just the place I'm most comfortable, even though I'm from LA. So I went there and rented an apartment and tried to start a new life in a way. I wasn't writing any songs or joined any bands while I was there. It's not like I was planning on going there on some artistic retreat. But I didn't anticipate how hard it would be to get a job there, so in the end I ran out of money and had to come home. When I got home, I started making music again and Firs was born. It started really organically. I knew I wanted to be alone and play exactly what I wanted, which is really liberating in a way.

Where was it recorded?

I ended up recording the entire record downtown in East LA, which turned out to be pretty fucking cool. It's an interesting area. I think there are parts of LA over there that are obscured by places like Studio City and Santa Monica, but it's gritty over there. It's really alive. I don't think it effected the sound on the record, per say, but it definitely effected the entire experience of recording it.

Did you let any of the other musicians on the album have any say in how the songs came out or was it a one man operation?

No, not at all. I think how I work best is with bouncing ideas off of other people. This guy, Wes Precourt, who has worked with Jenny Lewis, is mainly a string writer and there are strings all over the record, so when it got to him it was easiest just to let him do what he wanted with his part of the song. So that's what he did, it was a really collaborative effort on a lot of the orchestration.

What were you listening to when you recorded this album?
One cool thing that happened on this record was that I was really influenced by my engineer, Daniel Farris, who had a huge impact on the record, and he was really into Brian Eno, U2 and a lot of just ambient music. We also listen to a lot of David Bowie and Prince and Mogwai.

Mogwai's great.
Yeah, I caught them at the Orpheum around that time. They're so loud. I was wearing earplugs and my ear still felt like they were bleeding at the end.

Yeah, but the pain feels so good.
That's really one thing about Firs that I think is really important. It has to be loud. It just has to be loud. You have to walk out of the club like, "Shit, that was a lot of sound." Otherwise we're dinner music. Otherwise you're just not going to get it. It's going to be misunderstood.

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What was the worst show you've ever done?
Oh man, it was with my first band and it was one of our first shows. We played the Whiskey( A Go Go), and we were so excited to do it. We were young and didn't know anything, so we decided to tape it. We sold 150 tickets or something crazy like that and everyone we knew was there. And the show itself went great, but later when we watched the was the worst...tape ever. By all rights the owners of the Whiskey should have gotten out a hook and dragged us off the stage. I mean, there was the utter horror of seeing yourself on stage for the first time, but that aside we sounded awful, our wardrobe was atrocious, and one of the band members' girlfriend got on stage at one point and started selling t-shirts and doing this disco dance. Oh God. We talk about it to this day.

If you could sing with anyone in the world who would it be?

Louis Armstrong!

What song would you sing?

"What A Wonderful World."

If you were booking a party in Heaven and a party in Hell, who would you have headline?

For the party in Heaven it would be a round robin of Sigur Ros, Air, and Mogwai. It would be a three piece show so that when one band was done with a song the audience would turn and the next band would play. For Hell....probably the Kings of Leon, except their stylist would be on stage with them, making them pretty for the whole entire show and interrupting their songs. Like their guitarist couldn't play unless he had his designer pants on or until his hair was done properly.

That would suck. Well, thank you for talking with us, Jonathan.

Thank you!

Be sure to catch Firs' tonight at the Silverlake Lounge with Low Red Land and Appomattox. Tickets are $8. Firs goes on at 9pm.