Local folk-rockers Fairfax, AK fuse hardship, religion, politics, Springsteen into 'Wasted Youth'

Fairfax, AK

Fairfax, AK Jason Larkin

Based on an imaginary city, Minneapolis band Fairfax, AK boasts a sound that's like a Venn diagram intersection of folk and rock.

Their new album, Wasted Youth, is a sharp experiment that examines the search exposure in an age where everyone is hollering as loud as they can. The first single, “Jesus Goes to Hollywood,” mixes politics and religion, turning its lens on the current political climate. You hear what sounds like a folk band that chugged caffeine before racing into the studio. 

Before their album release Thursday at Icehouse, City Pages caught up with Fairfax, AK's frontman -- who goes simply by "Doc" -- to talk about the four years between albums and politicians that preach “strong Christian values.”

City Pages: What have you been up to since your last album four years ago? Why do you think it took a while to put this out?

Doc: A lot of life happened in those years. A lot of hard life ... life has a way of throwing you into situations that rip your whole world apart, and you just have to find a way to pick up the pieces and move on. That’s what this record is about. Every song in its own way is how I processed some pretty pivotal moments in my life that I’d rather not live again.

I won’t be a total cliché and say, “This record was the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” but the years between Love Stories and now were definitely some of the roughest we’ve had -- both as individuals and as a band. This record was the soundtrack to all that.

CP: How do you create such a big sound around folk music?

D: Dave, Tim, and Corey are all trained musicians and damned good ones. Haley and I just go by ear. It’s a nice balance, and comes in handy when I write new material. Describing what rattles around in my head is not exactly my strong suit. I give it the ol’ college try but I’m a rambler.

We arrange tunes by hacking them apart. We’ll play with tempos and dynamics. We’ll dissect entire sections and improvise around ideas. At the end of the day it’s about serving the song. If anyone creates a part that’s better than what I originally wrote, that’s the correct part.

We all know each other so well at this point. Dave, Tim, and I have been playing together in various projects for the better part of a decade, and when you add Haley’s uncanny ability to hear anything and instantly put in so much emotion, it just clicks.

A huge part of the record’s sound came from what Rob Genadek brought to the table. We recorded Wasted Youth at his studio Brewhouse right across the street from Icehouse. The five of us got in one room and tracked everything live. He knew the project had a lot of baggage and he brought the best out of us. He’s a zen master. I don’t really know how to describe what he does without starting to sound like a post-game interview on Monday Night Football.

When it came to crafting tones, I really wanted to put my spin on something that felt like mid-'70s Jackson Browne or Bruce Springsteen. I grew up with that music, and I hated it. Now it’s crept into my desert island. The idea of writing about painful experiences while chasing a childhood sound I eventually learned to love sounded cathartic, but I was still a little uneasy about going through with the idea.

CP: You all have big ambitions outside of this band. What draws you back to this project to move it forward?

D: We’re all really good friends and I feel making music together is a large part of what makes us good friends, but I suppose that doesn’t actually explain what draws us back to Fairfax. Maybe there’s something self-fulfilling about naming a band after a fictional place in your head. You’re not quite sure what brought you there in the first place. It’s just a place you go sometimes. You can’t stay there forever, but it’s nice to know that if you ever leave you can come back.

CP: Tell me about the song "Jesus Goes to Hollywood." How did you come about writing it? What was it about this political election year that prompted you to write a political song?

D: A year as absurd as 2016 got the election cycle it deserves. We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been a long time coming. The rhetoric on both sides of the aisle has gotten so hollow it’s beginning to border on self-parody. The people in power most likely don’t give a fuck about the people that put them in power. They have power now. They don’t want to lose it, and they will say whatever it takes to keep it.

Christians are a large demographic with a strong voter turnout in America. Why not exploit them? If Jesus was actually running for office, most of these politicians that preach “strong Christian values” would be the same talking heads on Fox News branding him as a dangerous, left-wing, socialist nutjob.

I’m not telling you who to vote for, and I certainly don’t want to paint everybody with the same brush, but if Jesus came back we’d probably kill him again, and a lot of the people with blood on their hands would be wearing crosses around their necks.

CP: What other songs on this album stand out to you?

D: It’s hard to say. If you’ve never seen or heard Fairfax, AK I think “The Neighborhood,” “Borrowed Melodies,” or “I Could Never Fall in Love” would be good places to start. “The Saddest Words” is probably the most delicate track on the record, and a healthy chunk of the performance was improvised in the studio. I really like playing “White Lies of the Freeway” live, but gun to my head?

My highlight would have to be “Wasted Youth.” I’m a sucker for a horn section and we had Matty Harris, Ben Bussey, and Bryan “Lumpy” Highhall come in. They play around with bands like Hennepin County Millionaires Club, Black Market Brass, and Sonny Knight and the Lakers. They were total pros and super fun to work with!

CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?

D: Honestly, I’m just excited there’s finally an album to share. For a while there I was beginning to think this thing was cursed. Maybe it was .... maybe we won?

I’m glad it’s going to be a dual release with Maya Elena. Our projects have had all these kooky-cosmic connections that are hard to explain. Releasing them together seemed like a thing that needed to happen. She’s one of my favorite musicians in town and one of my favorite people. If you haven’t heard her yet I strongly suggest you change that.

Fairfax, AK 
With: Maya Elena
Where: Icehouse
When: 9:30 p.m. Thu., Sept. 15
$6-$8; more info here