Chris Farren is not Lydia Tár — or at least so he claims.
Yet, as he sits inside of the Oaxacan decor of Guelaguetza in Los Angeles wearing a Warehouse T-shirt, it’s hard to say that he definitely isn’t Lydia Tar. They both hire LGBT womenthey’re both constantly haunted by ghosts and ghouls that may or may not be figments of their imaginations, and it seems wrong not to mention that Lydia Tár’s entire rise and fall conveniently happened in the time between Farren releasing Death Don’t Wait (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) in February 2022 and Doom Singer in August 2023. We’re not saying Chris Farren definitely is Lydia Tár, but we certainly can’t rule it out.
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If you’re sufficiently confused up to this point, welcome to the wild world of Chris Farren.
Farren — who initially made a name for himself with emo band Fake Problems before moving into a solo career and occasionally working with Jeff Rosenstock as half of Antarctigo Vespucci — has created an entire world around his music and himself that’s endearing to fans and borderline gibberish to the uninitiated. While repeating characters like the hated Ghoul, The Cup (a plastic stadium-style cup that Farren sold to promote Death Don’t Wait until it became sentient, hinted at world domination, and had to be replaced by its offspring, The Cup-2-Go), and Lydia Tár may not have any direct ties to the singer-songwriter’s poppy brand of indie rock, they give him a level of online engagement that most artists his size could only dream of.
But even before the post-pandemic birth of Farren’s current internet incarnation, his sense of humor and unique way of seeing the world has always given him the freedom to pursue whatever odd ventures he desired. After the viral success of his 2014 “The Smiths” shirt depicting Will Smith and his family, indie labels are willing to let him do things like release an alt-Christmas album called Like a Gift from God or Whatever or a mostly instrumental soundtrack for a spy movie that doesn’t exist.
On Doom SingerFarren breaks new ground. It’s his first album “about his feelings” since 2019’s Born Hotbut there’s one major difference this time around. According to Farren, he’s doing something that possibly no solo artist has ever done before: playing with a drummer. Is Doom Singer his Mahler’s Fifth? Only time will tell.
AltPress sat down with Farren (who, in hindsight, likely wore the Warehouse shirt in an attempt to prove he isn’t Lydia Tár — even though wearing her own merch seems like something Lydia Tár’s ego would be big enough to do) to discuss the album, new potentially viral merch, and touring with another live human being.
Seeing as your last album was a mostly instrumental soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist, what was it like to go back to writing more traditional songs?
It’s always a little harder when it’s not themed because it’s basically just a State of the Union of myself and my feelings. I wake up every day for like three months, write a song first thing in the morning, and then go back and look at it to try to figure out if it makes sense. It’s hard to write songs, so it’s like torture for me for the first few months. When I start, I feel so far from where I think I should be or want to be creatively — the chasm between my taste and my ability is so evident to me. On this album, I spent three months trying to shorten that distance, essentially. Once I put the bones of the songs together and shared them with Frankie [Impastato, Farren’s new drummer]it made them so much more fun to work on.
And what was it like bringing Frankie into the fold? It’s no longer the Chris Farren Show. Now it’s the Chris Farren Band featuring Frankie.
Frankie and I have been friends for a while, and she’s the first person I wanted in the Chris Farren Band. It makes the experience so much more joyful to be able to share it with somebody. Back on the Born Hot headline tour in early 2020, it was cool because it was my first actually successful solo tour where promoters were happy and talking to me at the end of the night. But after I’d play a really great show, I’d be alone in my green room like, “Oh, that was fun. I wish I had somebody to high five like, ‘We did this!’ as opposed to me just like, ‘I guess I did this.’” I’m really excited to have somebody just to share this experience with. It’s not fun being alone.
After Born Hotit feels like you really kept that momentum going both online during the pandemic and onstage after. Does it feel like Doom Singer is releasing to a bigger audience compared to your previous traditional albums?
I think I was really lucky in 2021 and 2022 just to start touring again in both Europe and America. It was nice just to get back to that feeling of, “Oh, this is the thing I do.” I think you start to lose your identity when you don’t do it for too long, so I’m feeling really good again this time around.
Was there anything drastically different for you creatively when you were making Doom Singer?
I think the writing period is essentially the same every time I make a record. As soon as I finish it, I go, “OK, I should start writing the next one right now!” But I inevitably get all bogged down in making music videos and posting stuff on Bandcamp and Spotify. It’s just the way I do it. I have to shift gears and go into “promote the album” mode, and it’s hard to write songs during that. So I inevitably go a year or two without writing a song, and then I’m like, “Oh, I have absolutely no idea how to do this.” I have to reteach myself every time, and hopefully I expanded my musical vocabulary by just listening to music since the last time. My life changes in both subtle and extreme ways every two or three years, so I always have different things to talk about and different perspectives on art and songwriting, too. One thing on this record that I was interested in was not trying to hand over the “lesson” of the song in the lyrics or even think of songs as needing a lesson. They can just be like, “Here’s how I feel. I don’t know if this is good or bad. But this is what I feel like.”
At this point, you can’t just put out an album. There’s an expectation of incredible viral merch to go with it. How did you decide to follow up the global sensation of The Cup with The Cup-2-Go?
It’s kind of scary. I’m always worried that I’m not going to be able to escalate my merch because there are only so many plastic items that I can put my name on. But once I figured out The Cup-2-Go, that was exciting. For one thing, it’s a funny little thing. But also, we had to replace The Cup because people were dying. It’s poisonous and would just kind of explode after a certain amount of time, so people have to buy a new one now.
In addition to the merch, you’ve also released some really high-budget videos, like the reveal of Frankie in “Cosmic Leash” or the James Cameron-level visuals of “Bluish.” What’s your inspiration to not just take a more conventional approach?
I’m making these music videos just for me. I can’t make a video for somebody else. I want all of my videos to be something that people want to watch at least twice and show their friends for some reason, and I’ve been lucky to work with Clay Tatum on a lot of my videos. He’s just a really funny person, and I trust his taste a lot.