- by Tom Dumarey
Fake Names got its start when Brian Baker (Bad Religion, Minor Threat) and childhood friend/guitarist Michael Hampton (S.O.A. , Embrace) started writing together without any real plans back in 2016 and ended up with a handful of songs right away.
With the addition of Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén on vocals and Johnny Temple of Girls Against Boys and Soulside (another fellow student at their elementary school) who also shared their passion for what Temple refers to as “loud, angry, visceral music,” Fake Names' line-up solidified and expectations were raised. Expectations the band more than delivered on with the release of their self-titled album on Epitaph last month. If you are in the market for bare-bones punk with big dollops of power-pop greatness, they have got you covered.
We caught up with Baker and Hampton to get some more information about the band’s origins, the album and their electronic studio project from back the 90’s.
PRT: The name Fake Names is in part a Raising Arizona reference, one of the Coen brothers’ earliest movies and the start of a collaboration that has already lasted over three decades. The two of you have known each other even longer, but Fake Names marks the first time that you have worked together. What has that experience been like so far?
Brian: Seamless and rewarding. Plus Michael does all the heavy lifting, so I mostly sit around eating chips and yelling at Twitter.
Michael: Although Brian and I have known each other for decades we have never “officially” been in a band together. We have spent many hours playing music together over the years though, Joke tapes, bedroom recordings, pretend bands etc. and even an ill fated, somewhat illconcieved electronic studio project in the 90’s! I was reminded recently that he asked me if I wanted to play bass in Minor Threat in his quest to play guitar instead of bass but that sadly, did not come to pass. Fake Names is our first ‘real’ band together and has gone surprisingly smoothly. Brian, of course, is a phenomenal guitar player and we share the same musical reference points. Neither of us are too precious about ideas, parts who plays what etc.
PRT: An electronic studio project in the 90's?
Michael: I was doing some atmospheric triphop-ish recording around 1996. Brian wanted to do some kind of dance thing and we thought it would be fun to cook something up. It was in the Prodigy zone, indie rock Chemical Bros. Sampled some Dischord records for it, actually recording in a studio. We decided to not keep working on it, but funnily enough, stuff that sounded like it kept coming out for the next 10 years!
PRT: When the two of you got together to play some music, you immediately ended up writing a handful of songs that day. Did any of those songs make it on the album?
Brian: Yes. All of them.
Michael: Brian came over to my place in NY while he was on tour, perhaps to run a load of laundry? We started talking about music and what we were working on and I said, “weirdly, I was trying to write a Dag Nasty song the other day”, and he said “great, Do you want to start a band?” That song became “All for Sale” and it kicks off the LP!
PRT: I read you wanted Dennis as the singer when you saw him perform at Riot Fest. What was it about him that immediately made you think he was the right person for the job?
Brian: Johnny had brought him up in our discussions about potential singers, and frankly I thought it might be punching up to get him, but at Riot Fest I saw he had a Void tattoo on his neck and I knew we could rope him in.
PRT: When you recorded what is now the album, it was more with the idea of recording a demo. When Brett Gurewitz suggested you release it as the album, were you immediately won over by the idea? Or did you have any reservations?
Michael: We had rough mixes that didn’t sound finished to me. I had lined up a mixer I liked and wanted them to finish it off, I guess to make it seem more legit.
Brian: I was so shocked that Brett wanted to sign the band that I agreed immediately to his terms. He could have asked us to dress like Slipknot and I would have been in.
Michael: Brian pointed out that if the label liked it as it was, why would you change it? Good point. I did go back in and re mix it with Geoff Sanoff but most of the mixing was minor, the end result retaining the quality of the roughs.
PRT: While recording you had one rule, which was that you did not want to do anything that you couldn’t reproduce live. I feel like it has led to a very open, uncluttered sound. Was that why you came up with the rule?
Michael: Basically the idea was to keep things simple. We’d noticed bands lately use LOTS of pedals, regardless of the kind of music they play and wanted to try something different. Perhaps to play more like we did in our bands 30+ years ago but also as an interesting way of informing the dynamics of the song with the actual playing. When it came to recording we had a similar refrain - no effects, no pedals no reverb - nothing. In the mix a bit of delay and reverb did creep in (barely) The drier late 70’s records we love had hand in informing that aesthetic too.
Brian: It was really more to suppress the temptation to go overboard with the outboard gear. There is a little of grease on a few parts but in general it’s just guitars into amps. We basically wanted the record to sound like it was made in 1979, in England, by a four piece band that didn’t smoke too much pot.
PRT: Was it a refreshing way of doing things?
Michael: It was refreshing. You have to be honest in your playing because you can’t hide behind the effects, as I often do. There is nothing better than a loud tube amp with an electric guitar plugged into it.
Brian: It was. It’s fun to play clean, and it’s challenging as well. You can hear all the flubs!
PRT: Between the five of you, you have played in an absolute shitload of amazing bands, which leads to Fake Names immediately getting the ‘supergroup’ stamp. Is that something you wear as a badge of honor? Or something you would rather not see at all?
Brian: Oh, I cringe every time I hear it, but apparently no one has thought of a better way to describe a band made up of people you might have heard of. I just succumb to the promo folks and let them do their thing.
Michael: I associate the term “Supergroup” with “Asia” or “The Firm” so no, not that comfortable with the term Ha HA! Also is SOA supergroup worthy?
PRT: When you listen to the album, you hear friends with nothing left to prove who are making music for the sake of it, outside pressures be damned. Would you say that is a pretty fair assessment?
Michael: Yes. Of course, we hope people like it but we really enjoyed making it and like the songs a lot.
Brian: I mean, that’s putting it a little more aggressively than I would. I’d just say we are having great fun with no expectations, and I think you can hear that on the record.
PRT: Where do you place Fake Names between all of your different projects? How much of a priority is this band for you guys?
Michael: Well, this is my only ‘working’ band at the moment. It’s a personal priority for me to try play and record more when we can.
Brian: We are all excited about playing shows, and have plans to weave in as many as we can within the Bad Religion and Refused touring cycles. I can’t wait for people to see and hear this band.
PRT: You were only just starting to get the band’s name out there when Covid-19 reared its ugly head and the whole world went on lockdown. What is it like trying to get a new band’s name out there in these strange times?
Brian: I have no idea. I’m in a Supergroup.
Michael: Well the biggest disappointment for us was we were going to play shows in May for the release and those were obviously cancelled and I have wondered if more people heard about the release because they were looking at a screen instead of out and about - strange days indeed.
PRT: You played one show so far at NYC’s Union Pool... aching for more?
Brian: It’s more of a throb, but yes. Absolutely. More please.
(photo credit: Glen E. Friedman)