SXSW was kind of a mess and a blur and this one day it was hot as shit outside and Luis and I were at Hotel Vegas just kind of shooting the shit until we had to get to the venue for our showcase. I couldn’t figure out if was hotter indoors or outdoors but I went indoors anyways. It was dark and somehow sort of damp despite the scorching heat.
Numb.er was on and it was some Lynchian shit—like stepping into a haze, it’s a world of ambiguous noise, the sound pulsating from everywhere and nowhere. I don’t know why I was so confused—maybe it was the fact that I was so hot and cold at the same time but there were also four people on stage but I couldn’t figure out what was coming from where. For one thing, I couldn’t identify a front person and there was an empty spot in the middle of the stage—you know where’d you expect to see, well someone. Hiding behind hair and a keyboard is Jeff Fribourg, a former and founding member of Froth and the person pummeling their vocals through the waves of synth. The performance haunted me for weeks and I found myself sort of humming choruses and tunes I couldn’t identify, I didn’t really even know where they had come from.
Eventually I got my hands on Goodbye, Numb.er’s debut record, and it’s a parallel universe that exists without limitations of space or time—it sounds like the type of music that you dream up when the window’s open, it’s a hot summer day and you fall asleep and it’s light out but when you wake up it’s dusk (maybe)—you’re not sure where you are or what time is it and where has everyone gone. You’re also kind of sweating but you head out in your disoriented state and get drunk in a dive bar and then wake up still feeling the hangover and spend the rest of the day in a complete state of disorientation.
The record is an enjoyable piece of gray and black fuzz and within it are sonic highlights namely “Father,” “State Lines,” “Again” and my personal favorite “We Hide.” The last of which has been subtly rearranging my brain since I first saw Fribourg step out from behind his keyboard to perform it.
You guys are such a new band. If you weren’t, I would skip all the really boring questions. But what were you all doing before this? I know that you were in Froth at one point.
Jeff Fribourg: Yeah, I was a founding member of Froth. Me and Joo-Joo grew up together in El Segundo, pretty much right next to the airport, right at the landing strip. We started that way back then, way back a couple years ago [laughs] And that was the first time I started playing music. I stopped doing that for a while and then, Numb.er started. Some of the other members from Froth helped me start it, recorded on the record and played around with me for a bit. But Nick Ventura, who’s in the band, he was in Froth as well.
The sound in Froth, at least with the early records, and this new project, they’re completely different. And I know there’s some emphasis being placed on your visual arts background. How do you think the visual arts played into what came out of Numb.er?
I’ve been doing graphic design and stuff for bands for quite some time. Doing posters and album layouts and album artwork. I’ve done all the Froth artwork and stuff. I’m a super visual person. I went to film school and I loved film and I worked as a photographer forever and I still sort of do, I still shoot a lot of photos, contribute to music publications and art shows and stuff. My visuals had a big part of the sound for sure. I’ve always been inspired by certain imagery and I wanted to portray that in audio as well.
What was the creation process like for the record? It’s feels insular.
It definitely was. I started recording and writing at home, kinda solo. I ended up taking those recordings into a studio and working on them with my good friend, Robert Cifuentes. He was in a band called Corners and has a band called Billy Changers. I took what we did there, those ideas, and then moved to another studio and kinda started fresh again. I took that stuff back home and worked on it at home again so the record is very much done in a lot of places and comes from a lot of different walks of life and different times. It’s all very much just me riffing off of things and ideas that I’ve had. For the intro for the record, I recorded it at home as an exercise—just by myself on an iPad. And then, the last song was recorded all at home as well.
“We Hide?” That’s my favorite song on the record, actually.
Thanks! I’m glad that came through. That was something I had done when I lived in Echo Park and then sat on it for a while and tried to recreate it in the studio, but didn’t feel like the energy or the feeling or the emotion was really there. I ended up just using my home recording for that.
I remember during your set, you performed that song and it was the first time I had seen you guys and this record wasn’t out. But when I got the record, I immediately recognized it, but it felt like it was in some bizarre Lynch-ian fever dream, Melrose Drive type shit and that mood permeates the record.
That’s a pretty fun description of it. The way I work on things can be pretty strange sometimes. I’ll fully demo out a song and it’ll sit there for a long time. And then I’ll randomly hear or see or think of a certain thing and I’ll just run back to my computer or any of the machines at the house and just start working on that thing again—months or even a year or two down the line.
I did a lot of it myself and then we went into the studio the last time with our friend, Dante, who pretty much tracked the main band recording stuff. We had been playing the songs for a little while. Cameron Allen from Froth came up with the drum part, really fleshed the drum stuff really amazingly. And then Laena is a crazy good bass player so she wrote some awesome bass lines for it. So the band contributed as well. It wasn’t fully just me. It was my idea, my first little weird fever dream snippets that were fleshed out live. And then we went into the studio and recorded it.
So when you’re working by yourself, how do you get to place where you can understand the quality differences what you’re making…I feel like when you’re stuck with your own stuff, it’s hard to tell at some point. You’re just like, “This all sounds the same to me. I’ve been with it for so long.”
I eventually invite people in, for sure. I always bounce ideas off of people. I like getting something to a point where it’s either like, “Okay, this is fully done and I’m just going to see what they say and no matter what, this is the way I’m gonna do it,” or it’s so fresh that I’m like, “I think this is good, but I don’t know.” Whether it be with my photography stuff or my graphic design stuff or my music, I kinda know what I want, but then I see what other people think as a form of quality control.
[laughs] That’s funny. I think you’re the first artist I’ve ever spoken to who’s said that they get early feedback.
I love it and I hate it. Sometimes, you’re so set, you’re like, “Yeah, this is it! I’ve done it. I’m really excited about what I’ve just made.” And then, someone’s like, “I don’t know. Maybe you should change that.” It’s always cool to hear what people think and have a difference of opinion or to take what they think about the product or the idea and maybe think about that for a little while. Because, sometimes, it’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, I actually really like how this synth line goes.” I ask people who I trust. That’s my main thing. I don’t solicit random advice, for sure. I have a solid group of people that I really trust.
It’s not Twitter polls [laughs]. Sometimes, when you hear other people’s opinions, it’ll solidify your own, at least how strongly you take your own opinions. If you think you’re set on something and someone contradicts you and you end up questioning it then obviously you weren’t that committed to it. So do you perform, for most of your shows, behind the keyboard?
Yeah, I do. There’s the one song, “We Hide,” that I come out from behind the keyboard for. We’ll see in the future, maybe I’ll just start singing and fronting. I like the ambiguity of there not being a true frontman in a world where everyone wants to be seen and glorified for doing something. I like having my hair in front of my face and just playing synths. It’s nice for me. Maybe, one day, I’ll sing a little more and get out front a little more. I had this thing that I did up until pretty recently, maybe even until SXSW, where I just didn’t look out at the crowd ever. It was amazing for me because I could judge a show not based on, like, if some dude was dancing up and down or if there was a mosh pit or if someone was bored. It was just truly based off of my own personal emotions and what I gave to it. So that also ties into the bit of sitting behind the keyboard and just trying to be a little more ambiguous.
Yeah, it took me a minute the figure out where the vocals were coming from.
That’s amazing. At first, everyone wanted me to be in the middle of the stage, as well, and I didn’t even want that to happen. So I’ve made it so we’re like a “V” so everyone’s there and you don’t really know if keyboard left is making the weird sounds or keyboard right or which guitar is playing lead.
Yeah, it is pretty interesting that in the center of the stage, it’s no one’s domain, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen. Do you think staying behind the keyboard is a protection measure or a comfort thing?
Maybe it is–it definitely is more comfortable for me because I don’t have to put on a persona or have to worry about being a boring frontman. But also, in a way, maybe it’s my one bit of control. It gives me a bit of sonic control and I mainly care about tones—that’s my favorite thing. When you listen to a band like Chrome—there are two chords for 10 minutes and it’s outstanding because the tonal structure is so phenomenal and the subtleties are insane. I’m also a huge Brian Eno fan and he’ll do songs that are the same thing forever, but it’s amazing because there are subtle differences in the inflections. I think that’s also a thing with me wanting to play synth, wanting to be that guy who can add that subtlety, it just makes me happy.
When you’re performing, where do you get your energy from? What do you interact with or play off of?
It’s hard, actually. A lot of it is within, which sounds so stupid. I guess I go off the energy of the band. I’m not huge on performing, but the thing that I really get out of performing is it’s a space for me to tackle the shit that I’ve been going through throughout the day, it’s a way for me to print it out on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and light it on fire. I guess that’s where I get my energy from—all the bullshit.
Do you ever notice ever if you’re not creating for certain amounts of time, maybe not just music, do you feel like you get a little stuck in your own head?
The times I’m most depressed, the most bummed out, is for sure when I’m not creating. The way that I see that I deal with that now is not fully doing one specific form of art. I used to only make videos and then when I wasn’t making videos or I wasn’t satisfied with that, I’d get super bummed. Then I started just taking photos and then if I wasn’t producing something that I like, it would get to me. So the way I see that I’ve dealt with it now is that I do music and I do photos and I do graphic arts. I bounce between them all the time so that I’m never idle. If I’m idle, I go stir crazy.
That sounds sustainable [laughs]. Not your favorite record, but is there a record that, on some level, you’re like, “I wish I had created this,” for whatever reason?
That’s a tough one. There’s so many, there’s too many—probably every record. That Rowland S. Howard Pop Crimes record is absolute gold. And it’s so amazing because the songs are there, the lyrics are there, just a pure pure emotion is there and maybe Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys.
I ask New York bands this a lot when they’re really noise—what they would sound like if they made music in LA, and I would have assumed you were a New York band because you seem gritty and less surf rock oriented that a lot of what’s going on out there.
I don’t want to say that it would be industrial music, but that city has such a rhythm to it. I think of A Place To Bury Strangers, that’s what New York sounds like to me. It’s harsh, it’s dirty, but there’s also glimpses of really pretty shit happening. It’s a weird emotional roller coaster. That’s what New York is to me for sure but it’d probably be something similar, but probably unlistenable.