Interview with Garfunkel
Noah Turner sat down with Francesca Forristal (vocals), Joe Zacaroli (horn section), James Mission (horn section), Huw Braithwaite (guitar) and Tom O’Connor (bass) from Garfunkel at the end of Hilary term for an interview about the place of Wii music in their sound, the potential for an album release, and what you can do to go about joining Garfunkel. Intrigued? Then read on!
Can you start by introducing yourselves to us: who are you and what style of music do you play?
Joe: We are Garfunkel. We are a student run band – we play around in Oxford, a lot of balls and parties, usually our sets consist of funky stuff and popular stuff – basically tunes you can sing along to.
Francesca: We try and take stuff that people will be like ‘Oh my god it’s this song’. But still make it funky.
Are there any songs that you would never try and make funky?
Joe: I would’ve said no, until a week ago when we covered ‘Shape of You’ and managed to make it sound really good.
Francesca: Samba beats are harder, it kinda has that nod-your-head-to-it and sway feeling, but it’s harder to get excited about. We’ve vetoed a rap from Lady Marmalade in one of our songs, because the song was about her Creole identity and it would be inappropriate.
Joe: It turns out that rap is a very appropriate place for a slap bass solo!
How do you go about taking solos?
James: Normally Huw takes solos, and then Toto moans about it enough and will take one.
Joe: We’ve chatted about trying to switch this around, but normally we’ll have a song and we really like, for example, the sound of a sax solo in it.
James: For instance, ‘Let’s get it on’ is just so clearly a tenor sax solo.
Francesca: One of my favourite things we’ve started doing more is having solos which play off each other. For example, we’ve started doing this call and response thing. This takes something which is inherently quite self-indulgent, in a set which is designed to make people have a good time, and transforms it from ‘and now we’re going to play this solo because we’re virtuoso musicians’, and turns it into ‘look what these 2 people are creating on stage, together’.
Tom: There’s a balance to be had with this kind of band, trying to make it not too self-indulgent and not have too many solos. In a single song, we won’t really do back-to-back solos because it’s really hard to maintain the level of crowd energy.
James: Yeah, in the back of my mind there’s always this idea that we’re being paid to create an atmosphere.
So, what do you value most in a crowd?
Tom: I think a thing I really enjoy crowd wise is when you start playing and there’s not very many people; it’s a bit dead. If you can then get those people moving and other people start joining in its really cool.
Francesca: Yeah, like do you remember playing the caves in Christ Church? It was a very intimate setting, and the audience just gathered around the edge of the room and left a massive gap in the middle. We were a bit uncomfortable, on the same level as the audience without a stage, at eye level with them all. So, I take the mic and walk into the middle of the room, because I could and it was small, and was just like ‘Come on – come dance with me – come on, I know you want to!’ Eventually everyone ended up having a really good time. For me, I value a crowd that is fun, and has an unbridled, unironic enthusiasm for music and having a good time.
Have you ever had ironic enthusiasm?
Francesca: No but we’ve had people that are like ‘I’m going to dance, but only in a way that shows that I’m not dancing’.
Joe: I think the best crowds we’ve played to have been composed of freshers. And I think potentially it’s because everything is exciting and new to them. I remember the first time I saw one of these bands, I was like, wow, these are my peers making this.
James: But at the same time, we’ve played gigs like the grad ball and it was massive.
What have you most enjoyed about playing in Garfunkel?
Francesca: I’ve never paid for a ball, and I must have been to over 20 balls in my time here. When you think about it, that’s remarkable – the number of free drinks I have got, and popping candy for days!
Tom: The thing I’ve enjoyed most about being in a band is getting to see so much of Oxford, and so many colleges! Especially all these weird little rooms. I feel like it’s a great chance to see all the venues and all these places for free.
James: Yeah, I really enjoy seeing all of these little rooms that we get given as green rooms. When we went to Hertford we were told to leave all of our gear in this side room that seemed as though it was essentially being used as a storage cupboard. On the back wall there was the original painting of Evelyn Waugh just hanging up there. And they told us to put our stuff in there. Kinda crazy.
Huw: As you can probably tell, James is our English grad.
So, I think I’m getting a sense of it already, but which do you enjoy playing more – balls or bops?
James: Do we still play bops?
Huw: We’ve been offered quite a few, but they’re the sort of thing where the budget is quite small. They’re fun, but we’re often going to lose money from it. It’s difficult: we’d love to play them, but logistically we just can’t afford to be losing money on stuff or turning down stuff that we’d make more on.
James: It's always more enjoyable for us to play somewhere with good sound quality and where we can hear ourselves. Most of the time at balls they hire a sound guy, whereas at the bop level it’s a bit more student run.
Hearing yourselves is really important for you guys then?
Francesca: Yeah. We wanted to get in-ear monitors, but the problem is a lot of the gigs we play don’t have the capacity to put on the caps, so you could end up getting deafened when it squeals with feedback.
Tom: It's weird – if you don’t get the levels with them quite right, you can feel a bit isolated from the audience because it feels like you’re just listening to yourself and the band. Especially if you’ve got ones that really block a lot of the sound out- you can see the audience singing and dancing, but what you can hear is the most chilled thing ever. Kind of detached.
Francesca: I think that’s one of our strengths as well – our ability to connect and interact with our audience, in the sense that we as a band are quite a charismatic group of people. You might not choose to listen to our set as an album on the radio and think this is innovative, but we’re hired because we do give people a good time.
Have you ever thought about releasing an album though? People like Out of the Blue and The Oxford Belles do.
Huw: I’ve always thought it would be nice to release some of our work. There are songs in our set that we’ve done a lot of work on and it would be nice to release that. There’s a lot we’ve completely reworked, and we’ve got some interesting arrangements. This is stuff we should discuss, but it’d be cool I think.
James: We started doing ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ mashed up with ‘Shape of You’ recently, and that’s the first thing we’ve done that I’ve wanted to listen back to at a later date. Generally, I don’t think people want to listen to another cover of ‘Superstition’ unless they’re there, live.
From the the tracks I’ve heard it sounds like you’ve taken the lyrics, but changed the harmonies and the melodies.
Francesca: That’s very true, we change the singing line melodies.
Huw: We have enough good live recording that we could release. We’ve got the whole Bully [The Bullingdon] set from last year.
How was the Bully? You said before we got going that that was one of the best gigs you’ve ever had.
James: The sound at the Bully sound was really good. And DFO know how to put together a really good gig.
Do you play often with DFO? The website it said ‘teaming up for one night only’, so I imagined you two at each other’s necks every other day of the year.
Francesca: That should have read ‘One night only ALL the time’. We did a crewdate with them; a funk crewdate.
Huw: Yeah, we’re good friends with them. And the thing we did at Bully with them is becoming something of a yearly tradition. It’s really good fun for us.
James: I think without DFO there wouldn’t be a Garfunkel. They’ve been going for 12 to 13 years – a bit longer than us. We started in about 2011.
Francesca: There’s been about 7 years, around 4 different guitarists. There’s going to be a lot of turnover this year though.
Huw: For next year, we need 3 singers, 1 trumpet, baritone sax (maybe), bassist and anything else funky. In Michaelmas term, we’ll have a stall at the freshers’ fair, and try and get people signed up. We normally do auditions about 2nd/ 3rdweek Michaelmas Term.
Doesn’t it change the band dynamic with so many new people coming in?
Tom: For me (this is my third year), in Michaelmas there is a feeling of having to put a lot of effort in to get this back to where we were before. But once it’s beyond MT and you’ve got a band that can play sets, you feel like you’re back there. I think it’s important we give the new people the freedom to take the band where they want to. There’s nothing set in stone like ‘oh you have to play this song’, if the band next year decide they don’t want to play any of the songs we’ve been playing this year, that’s completely fair game.
Huw: It does change it, but not as much as you think. People fit in quickly. It’s nice that we can start with a completely new setlist but there’s still this reputation that we’ve built up over 7 years.
You play a lot of balls – I imagine that’s concentrated a lot in Trinity. What do you have next for people to look forward to?
Huw: Next term… a lot of balls. Sandy’s in first week (not 100% confirmed). We’re likely headlining Wadstock but it’s not confirmed. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not confirmed.
James: The one we’re most looking forward to is Wadstock. Traditionally Garfunkel is made up of a lot of Wadham members, and Wadstock was kind of a homecoming for Garfunkel at the end of the year.
Huw: I think we kind of have a reputation as a Wadham band, or we were a Wadham band, but have now moved out. We still rehearse in Wadham.
Tom: And if anyone from Wadham wants to audition next year, we’d love that because it means we can still get the room we rehearse in in Wadham. Or if anyone from Wadham wants some kind of producer role-
Francesca: Treasurer… Coat-hanger… we’ll create a role. We’ll call it the logistics coordinator. Rehearsals coordinator! I.e book our room space please thank you.
Who is a funk or soul icon that you try to channel on stage?
Joe: The nature of the band is we cover all of the people we like. We channel everyone when we play them.
Francesca: It’s not funk or soul, but I love Ella Fitzgerald. In terms of not always going in with heavy vibrato, but having clean notes, precision. Most of my musical vocabulary is inherited from Ella Fitzgerald.
James: And obviously D’Angelo as well. I think a most of our rehearsals break down towards the end into playing ‘Sugah Daddy’ by D’Angelo.
Francesca: And the Wii theme tune! You know those moments in rehearsals where you’re waiting for something to happen - Toto once started playing the Wii theme tune and we all joined in! *Everyone begins singing, beatboxing follows with the beat drop*. So, yeah, I’d say that’s a big influence. I’d say we can do some meme band status things.
I guess that’s what comes with being a renowned band in the Oxford music scene? You can add in weird meme stuff?
Francesca: Yeah, you can also say weird stuff on stage, and everyone’s fine with it. At the Oxford fashion show, we had models walking past us all the time, and I was obviously enjoying it. I’d just whisper into the mic every now and then “fashion” or “art”. People were confused.
Tom: I think a really nice thing about playing in a covers band is that you don’t have to convince the audience to get into the music to the same degree as you would as in an originals band. In an originals band people stand there like –
Francesca: Impress me, bitch.
Tom: And maybe you win them by the end of it and maybe you get a following. It’s not the same in a covers band. We open with ‘Crazy in Love’ and have everyone at the start of the set. Maybe it’s a bit cheap –
James: So cheap
Tom: But it works!
Quick-Fire Question Round:
Who would you prefer to front Garfunkel for one night only – George Clinton and James Brown or Hilary Clinton and Gordon Brown?
James: Can we have Hilary Clinton and James Brown?
Francesca: I’ve seen a lot of her meme songs and she’s sick when she’s autotuned, so I’m sure she’d do well.
James: With Bill Clinton on Sax?
In their 1977 song ‘What is Funk?’, Rare Gem Odyssey say that funk is ‘When you go into the zoo, and you see a monkey, and it reaches out and grabs you, and bites you on the neck, and you come home with a monkey bite.’ What is funk to Garfunkel?
Francesca: Coming home with a bite on your neck, right?
James: There’s a really great track called ‘Jazz is the teacher, funk is the preacher’- that always sticks in my mind.
Who in the band has the strongest stank face?
Francesca: Huw, this was genuinely part of the discussion when he auditioned. His face when he played solos.
Joe: He was known as ‘that guy with the face’ for the purposes of discussion.
Huw: I’ve done alright out of it though!
Finally, do you prefer your funk uptown or downtown?
Joe: I think we groove on down. I think when you’re playing an instrument you get down, and when you dance you get up.
Francesca: We get down so people can get up.