Chris Farren: “I want to present joy and carefree and fun, but I cannot help but have these dark thoughts.”

An interview with the solo punk favourite

Chris Farren: “I want to present joy and carefree and fun, but I cannot help but have these dark thoughts.”

By Katherine Allvey

Aug 9, 2023 11:56

Onstage, Chris Farren radiates happiness. The former punk frontman has become a multimedia underground favourite, creating shows which are a delight; a veritable pick-n-mix bag of visuals, samples and honest punk rock. However, in conversation, he’s a lot more introspective than his stage persona makes out. “I think I really want to be a ‘half full’ person,” he says. “I think my vibe to the outside world is very glass half full, but I’m really fighting against a glass half empty mindset here. I want to present joy and carefree and fun, but I cannot help but have these dark thoughts. I’m wrestling with that in my life and it translates into my art as well.” It’s this contradiction between his peppy melodies and insecure lyrics that make him such a compelling artist.

Farren’s fifth album ‘Doom Singer’ is out now, and perhaps the most noticeable change since 2022’s ‘Death Don’t Wait (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’ is that he’s no longer fully a solo artist. By adding Frankie Impastato on drums rather than relying on a drum machine and his own ingenuity, Farren aimed to challenge himself, not just in terms of his songwriting but also in building a connection to his fans. “To me it all makes sense,” he smiles. “It doesn’t sound like there’s a totally different band or anything. I wanted to raise the stakes on my whole thing and feel like I was progressing in some way. I want my fans to be constantly engaged and to be excited about what’s happening, and if I do the same thing over and over again that’s not exactly interesting.”

Of course, he also has his own connections to consider, and by adding a drummer to the mix he’s solved an emotional problem as well as bridging an artistic crevasse. “I would be alone onstage, and have backing tracks and projectors and stuff, and it was really fun. But it came to a point where, especially when I’d been having really good shows, at the end of the night I would just be in my green room alone like … [he stares emptily as if having a realisation] “I’m lonely”. I just want to someone to high five, y’know?!”

‘Doom Singer’ is a tremendous album by any measure, filled with pop gems which are profoundly intriguing. Farren seems confident that it’ll be well received (“I would be nervous if I thought it was bad. But I think it’s good. At least to me it’s good. That’s giving me piece of mind”), and those who love his intelligent brand of indie punk electronica will surely love every second of it. But it’s the final track, ‘Statue Song’, which stands apart from the rest. It’s a spooky little ballad, coloured by eighties melancholy and shades of the Pet Shop Boys at their most serious. It’s also one of Farren’s favourites, and it hints at a future direction for his releases. “I don’t remember why I was looking at this, but I was looking at a diagram of the biggest statues in the world,” Farren recalls. “The Statue of Liberty, a Big Buddha… for some reason I was looking at these gigantic statues shaped like humans and a story started forming in my head from the point of view of the statue. You’re worked on for years and years and years and then the people who build you finish you and leave, and then you have a never ending cadre of tourists just come through and look at you. I love it so much because it felt like I unlocked a whole new writing style, like I’d just discovered something for myself that I can continue to explore.”

His career has already taken many twists and turns. He looks back on his early years critically, with his trademark reflective tone: “When I first started playing, I was playing acoustic, then after about a year of that, I was like ‘there’s a lot of people who are really good at this, and I just don’t feel I’m one of them.’ I think it’s because I’m bored onstage. I can’t in good conscience convince people to be entertained by me when I’m not even entertained!” 

From an inauspicious start, he formed cult punk favourites Fake Problems. Aside from a very neat set of albums to add to his musical CV, his time in Fake Problems also lead him to find a lifelong friendship with Brian Fallon. “Fake Problems brought Gaslight Anthem on their first tour in the United States. It was just basement shows and stuff, and we had just been around for a year longer than them or something like that. And then they became very big and successful, and Fake Problems… we didn’t for some reason? I’m like, “Wait a second…I’m supposed to be big and famous, and now you’re famous?” That blows your mind. 

“Just from then we stayed friends,” he continues. “Just from touring that first time. We both just love songs and songwriting and the songwriting process, that really gets us going and talking. Since then we’ve been touring at least once every two or three years together, kinda hanging out. I know he likes my music, and I like his as well, but we like hanging out. Many times I think he’s just looking for a good hang on tour. I’ll reap the benefits financially from that,” he laughs to himself.  

It’s his friendship with Fallon which has given a lot of us here in the UK our first taste of Farren’s music. Of those joint tours, at least two have included visits to London in support of both Fallon’s solo shows and Gaslight Anthem. For an artist like Farren, it’s reasonable to assume that to play the vast space of Wembley Arena might have been a life goal, but that’s not the case. “It’s very cool on paper to say you’ve played at Wembley Arena when, in reality, you’ve just played a giant convention centre and a bunch of people are staring at you, wondering when it will be over,” he remarks. “It’s cool to say to your parents, but it doesn’t mean anything truly.”  

Of course, exposure to that kind of stage can be inspiring too. “When you’re in a bigger band like Gaslight in a giant arena, you can really find new ways of expressing yourself and your artistry. The light shows bands do, like the way The 1975 do such interesting stuff with their production. I’m interested in that, and in some ways I’d like to grow like that. For now I enjoy the smaller club shows, and bringing the epic ‘whatever’ of an arena show to a smaller place. That’s why I’ve got the projections and everything, to make it action packed and fun to watch.” 

The visuals at a Farren show are half the fun, partly reflecting the music but also adding humour and twists to the narratives of his songs. “I started thinking of ways to expand the sound, and then I started to playing to backing tracks. Then after the show I’d go on Instagram and look at a video of me playing with the sound off, and think “well it still looks like it’s me playing alone and just… nothing.” That’s when I decided I should expand visually, and I started getting the projectors in and just making it something that people wouldn’t get tired of looking at for half an hour.” While there are pre-recorded elements to the visuals, Farren’s live performances are anything but static. “There’s a mixture between music videos I’ve made, and friends have made for me, but also I’ve got music synthesisers which can react in time to the music. I have my tracks feeding into them so they move with the sound waves, which I feel adds so much.”

Despite the name, ‘Doom Singer’ is not a destructive final record. There’s a whole host of potential next projects bubbling in Farren’s head, from dream guest stars (‘‘You know what would be cool? To have a Lyndsey Buckingham guitar solo in one of my songs. I dunno why I feel like I could do it. It’s probably impossible, but there’s a small part of me which is just like “I bet I could get him to play guitar, to just get him to send me a thing…”) to more movie soundtracks along the lines of ‘Death Don’t Wait’, a prospect he enthuses about. “[Soundtracks are] really fun to make. I don’t wanna say ‘easy’, but when you’re writing songs for yourself, for your own thing, you’re constantly making a ‘State of the Union’ for yourself and it’s exhausting.  You’re constantly mining your own personal experience for gain. It’s annoying and ridiculous. But when you can turn it off and tap into whatever you’re good at, that’s fun.” 

He has a point. An average person’s life can only contain so much heartache and drama, so after a while that vein of deep emotion will be fully mined, but creating a movie soundtrack for a film that has never existed, and never will exist?  That’s a positive way to get out of your own head. “Another thing that’s fun about it is giving yourself specific parameters in creating stuff. It makes creating something feel more like a game, in a really cool way,” he says with glee. “I like making those records, hopefully I’m gonna do it forever.”

His upcoming UK tour will undoubtedly feature a mix of both his imagined cinematic songs and his new releases. Farren’s experiences performing in the UK have been a pleasure for him, so he awaits his arrival eagerly. “I’ve always had great times. Last time I was on tour with Brian, we started in Europe, but – let me just make a statement before I say this: I love Germans, I love Europeans, they’re all so great – there is a just a cultural vibe shift then you get to the UK when you realise that “Oh, nobody has been nice to me for two weeks until today!” You forget what it’s like for people to be friendly to you, that’s what’s great about the UK.”

Regardless of how optimistic he feel inside, Farren’s sure to find a warm reception from fans and critics alike when ‘Doom Singer’ drops and he’s back in the UK. We always have room in our hearts and playlists for an artist as skilled and colourful as Farren, and the warm fuzzy feeling we get at his shows will no doubt bounce back to him and get channelled into even more eccentric, genre stretching punk. 

Kate Allvey


‘Doom Singer’ is released on August 4th via Polyvinyl Records.