‘IKE’ frontman John Faye on musical failures, successes, new band members, and the Philly rock scene

You may know John Faye as the former frontman of The Caulfields: the Power Pop band who had a major label deal with A&M in the ‘90s and scored a minor hit with Devil’s Diary (how can anyone forget lines like “I’m bigger than Jesus now” and “It’s never good to be understood by a girl in acid wash”?)

Or, you may know him from his first solo effort in 1999: The John Faye Power Trip. Or, from the band he currently calls home, IKE, who have just released their fourth record; Tie The Knot With All That You Got.

If none of this rings a bell, it’s time we change all that. Get to know John Faye of IKE by reading our interview. (But just before you do, seeing as IKE is not a one-person band, let me introduce you to the remaining members: Brett Talley (guitar), Susan Steen (bass) and Tom Kristich (drums).)

Q: Looking at the latest release, Tie The Knot With All That You Got, my first thought was that this record was going to be an advertisement for getting married, but what is the real story behind the title?

A: [Laughs] Well, I think that after listening to the record you’ll probably sense just a tiny bit of irony in the title where marriage is concerned. The way that line is used in the song of the same name is more related to lacing your shoes up tight because you’re in for a crazy ride: “An epic adventure in the forces of nature.” The title itself comes from my friend Brittany Rotondo, who co-wrote the song Last Act with me. It was a random line in one of her poems and I asked her if I could use it as the title for a new song [and] she generously obliged.

Q: I’ve noticed that IKE has once again undergone some personnel changes since the last record. Can you tell us about Susie Steen, the newest recruit to the IKE fold?

A: Susie is, first-off, probably the most talented all-around musician I know. She plays bass, piano, guitar, and the French horn, and does them all well. She’s also a songwriter and singer in her own right and just happens to be married to our lead guitarist, Brett Talley. Actually, Brett and I are Sue’s backing band for her solo stuff. We’re called The Sizzlers.

Anyway, when Joann left the band at the end of ’08 I was at a kind of creative crossroads; I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen with the band, but I knew that Brett and our drummer Tommy Kristich were still enthusiastic about playing music together. Luckily, for the sake of our band, life took me to some pretty song-worthy places in the first few months of ’09 and that’s where the majority of the material on Tie The Knot was inspired.

Once we knew we had a record in us we did some gigs to test the material. At first we played shows with our good friend Josh Berger (The Crash Motive, Ian Walsh) on bass, but his schedule prevented him from a full-time commitment, so we turned to Susie who fit in immediately. Once she got in the studio she literally cut half the bass tracks for the album in about three hours.

Q: On IKE’s first record, 2003’s Parallel Universe, Butch Walker produced ‘Welcome Home’ and ‘Katy Cry’ – how was your experience working with him?

A: It was great to work with Butch Walker! I’d always been a fan since Marvelous 3. It was a very fast, whirlwind kind of experience. Even at that time, which was before he produced the Avril Lavigne stuff and really blew up, he was a busy man. So we were only with him for about three days total. He was a whiz at ProTools and he got some pretty energetic performances, so even though it was pretty much a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am experience, I remember it fondly. It’s also been nice to open for him a couple times over the years – he always puts on a great live show. He’s one of the best live performers out there in my opinion.

Q: Do you mind telling us more about the demise of The Caulfields in the late ‘90s?  ‘Whirligig’ and ‘L’ are considered Power Pop classics by many and fans are curious what some of the original members are doing these days…

A: Well, I still keep in touch with Ritchie Rubini and Sam Musumeci, who are both based in Delaware. Mike Simpson now lives in California and I don’t speak with him much. Ritchie has done a lot of production and artist development over the past several years and he still shows up on every one of my records in some capacity. He did the drum loop for our song The Notion on the new album and also played synth on Everything You Love. Sam plays bass in a band called Bos Taurus, who we are actually doing a show with soon.

The demise of The Caulfields has been pretty well-documented, but basically we fell victim to typical record label politics. Our first album scored us a little hit as you mentioned and it allowed us to tour the entire country and places like Canada and Australia. We shared stages with everyone from The Ramones to Violent Femmes to Collective Soul. We landed songs on TV and in movies; things were looking up. We felt really great about L and thought it would do even better than Whirligig, but about two weeks before it came out A&M fired our A&R guy. We knew that was bad news, but we tried to make a run of it anyway on our own dime. After six months of that though – we were done.

I still love the music [though] and we have done a handful of reunion gigs over the years. We actually played as recently as December 2008.

Q: Do you stay in touch with former IKE bandmate Cliff Hillis?  He’s been doing some excellent solo work these days, but I wondered if you two might ever collaborate again?

A: Yes, I still stay in touch with Cliff. We don’t really cross paths in person too often but there’s still a lot of love for him from our camp. He makes great music – we’re all fans. As for collaborating, I think all of us have learned over the years to never say never, although we have no specific plan to do anything together. He did come up onstage with us a few months ago to sing Big Balls by AC/DC though.

Q: You have an interesting way to help finance the making of your records – you invite your fans to be patrons and donate money to the band: who thought of this idea and what more can you tell us about it?

A: I can’t recall exactly where I had heard of the idea, but I know other artists were doing it when we first gave it a shot. It’s been a Godsend; we have such amazingly generous fans! The whole band has been really floored by the amount of support we’ve received, and it’s surprisingly quite spread out geographically. All that said, I still put a lot of my own money into IKE to support all the things that happen after the record is done. I need me a Sugar Momma! [laughs]

Q: You’ve been thriving in the Philly rock scene for some fifteen years now, but who impresses you? Anyone in Philly you see as a rising star?

A: I guess it’s true: I’ve seen a lot of cycles in the music scene come and go. IKE has been lucky to sort of become like the cockroach that survives everything, knock on wood! Right now I think things are very up in the air in this region. I honestly feel like there are too many really good artists to name. I don’t see anyone in particular skyrocketing past everyone else though.

One of the main things I really hold dear is the idea of “scene building”. I’m out probably two, three nights a week at shows other than our own gigs, just to try and support what’s going on. I just had a great conversation the other day with my friend Bryan Weber from Zelazowa about building up the scene to everyone’s benefit, and how a lot of bands might be talented and be nice people, but so many of them lack the component of really working hard to market their band. One of our goals in IKE is to align ourselves with bands that have all three of those elements. That’s not so easy to find.

Q: What can we expect from IKE in 2010, and beyond?

 

A: Well, we’re very proud and excited about Tie The Knot, and my main goal this year is to get the record into as many ears as I can. It’s obviously a very personal album, but the initial reaction has been very strong because I think a lot of people are relating to the songs in a very real way. Beyond that, I don’t really know the answer. Life is never without its surprises, so I’ll be taking them as they come.

For more IKE: http://ikeonline.net and http://www.facebook.com/jfaye

 

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