INTERVIEW: Your Favorite Enemies – Being DIY and chasing dreams; it’s all about the people

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Your Favorite Enemies are a Canadian (hence the spelling) alternative punk/rock band, who can boast a variety of successes, from charity songs to a huge tour in China, to music for a Final Fantasy game. But at the end of the day, front-man Alex Foster is all about bringing it to back the people.

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Ben Lemelin

On their first trip to Australia, the six piece played a string of intense performances, including at the BIGSOUND Live showcase. “This is what I love about Australia, everybody’s very open minded and the scene is very eclectic as well” begins Alex. “When it’s crafted with honesty, music is the best way to communicate and to share.” One thing you learn very quickly about the band is that everything they do is driven by a ethos revolving around honest and community.

“There’s bands who are political, more aggressively activist. I think we’re like the counter balance. For us, it’s more about the people.” As an example, Alex draws upon their experiences in China, where they toured for over a month. “We went into places where we were the first Caucasian people they were seeing, it was that kind of human experience,” he explains.  “We did a major festival, 70 – 80 thousand people.  After the set, we were talking about the people, and this guy came (he was from England), and he said: ‘You guys played it so safe tonight. Everybody was waiting for you to say something provocative and political. But you just talk about dreams and very elusive things.’”

Alex admits that acting provocatively would have been a selfish act, and contrary to what the band is about. “It was special for me to be confronted like that because it gives another dimension of what we are about.”  He pauses to think. “It’d be very easy to make the news for stopping the festival, and then the authorities take you away – that’s very selfish, some kind of publicity stunt.”  Rather, Your Favorite Enemies like to spread their message of community through the music – and directly to the kids.

“Afterwards kids were coming and saying: what do you mean, ‘having dreams?’ You can define that next generation, based on a dream. That’s our way to make, I guess, social revolution if you want. It’s not about you the artist; this is your nation, your generation: what do you want to do with it?”

YFENot that the band members haven’t done their share of activism. As well as working with Amnesty International and The Red Cross, Alex explains how in the beginning, they were the ones at the front of the line. “But as you grow and travel, I think you’re able to understand a different spectrum of your social involvement,” he says. “Then it always goes back to the people. Not only can you learn from them and their reality, but you can be impacted as well. Then you can inject that in your art, because you’ve been transformed as a person.”

To that end, the band also run a non-for-profit “Rock N Rights” – as well as promoting human rights, the organisation aims to give youth the opportunity to express their feelings and dreams through music. “We’re saying: ‘Turn compassion into action.’ It’s all those very local, and sometimes individual actions that really makes a difference,” he explains. “We’re still involved in all those campaigns and stuff, but you know, I’d rather have kids doing those things, rather than having myself posing in front of whatever media is there.”

Before all the extensive travelling, the band also to head into high schools to inspire the youth through one on one talks.  Alex laughs as he recalls, “We were never really popular kids. Except for Jeff – he’s always been the coolest kid around! It’s always funny to go back and say ‘I used to be like that guy in the corner that everybody was kicking around.’”

“Music, it’s such a wonderful bridge,” he explains, “even if everybody can play now with two, three, four buttons on something plastic. You can talk on a similar level, rather than “us”, the so called rock stars, and ‘you’, the kids.  We have the privilege to use that as a medium to get across the differences and talk about real issues, and that’s a lot of fun.”

In between promoting humanitarian issues and making those important, everyday connections, Your Favorite Enemies do somehow manage to make music and tour. Jeff Beaulieu recalls a young band asking him for tips.  “My first question was, ‘how many hours do you sleep at night?’ They were like ‘Well, seven or eight.’ I said ‘Well start sleeping four or five and things will start happening!’”

Musically, the band have brought immense ambient rock overlayed with heartfelt narratives.  The expansive sound is recreated live through the bands huge amount of technical gear – mostly belonging to guitarist Sef, who is known to play his instrument with a violin bow. “He’s such a character, bringing his lab everywhere he goes,” laughs Alex. “When we play a small stage, you always get this guy taking up half the stage with pedals.”

The album, entitled Between Illness and Migration is being released in stages across the world – not only to give the band time to properly tour, but also to have a custom album for each country. “It’s quite crazy actually – everybody working with us was like: ‘You guys are always pushing the boundaries of how you should not do things!’ But this is something we were envisioning, creating a moment with the people. We love to make it fun for us as well. We have our own studio, we are creating everything by ourselves, and we can do it.”

between_illness_and_migration_coverThe Australian version features unique cover art and a special bonus track only available to Australians. A similar approach was taken in Japan, the first country to have access to the LP. “We decided to create a journey through it with the fans. That’s when the cool part of it starts, because you can go local, and have a real good time with everybody,” says Alex. “This is really how we’ve been working from the very beginning, having different communities on social media, translating everything for the fans to communicate with them; also to be respectful to their culture.”

“What happened with Japan was a very special story. We started to translate everything, and then started to receive messages. People were talking a little bit more about their own cultures – what they’re going through. We’ve been able to talk about social issues, but on a personal level,” he explains. “Suddenly people were gathering together all over the country, based on the fact that they were fans of the band. We were still at the point where it was difficult for us to eat. But somehow they managed to invite me to go and see them. So they paid for the ticket and everything – we weren’t even playing!  There were like meet and greets, and it was unreal. I fell in love with the country, and so it’s really a love story that started there.”

Japan isn’t the only country though that the band have an affinity with. “In all the places we’re going. we’ve got special stories everywhere, because we’re open to that. It’s not about us trying to create some kind of pedestal, for others to look as us.”

Alex FosterThe band release their albums through their self managed label Hopeful Tragedy, which was born out of a desire to create free of restriction. “It was very naïve in so many ways – like a succession of happy accidents. We wanted to have a place that we can create, without having the boundaries and limitations. We didn’t want to face the brick wall of no fun no more,” reflects Alex. “I think it’s just about trusting yourself. And when you’re honest, obviously you’re gonna make a shit-load of mistakes. But when you’re resolute to really go all the way with your vision, based on your values, all those so called ‘big tragedies’ are no longer.”

He continues, “We didn’t know how to do it, but we had people who wanted our album. When you’re facing a very difficult situation, you need to be creative. We kind of looked at each and said: “People are saying that we are a record label.  Well…we’re a record label.” It’s not always as easy as that though admits Alex, the band do hit roadblocks “all the time, from writing songs to releasing an album in Australia. But when you’re honest with yourself, you’ll always evolve. How much do you want it? How resolute are you about this decision? Be honest with yourself and humble yourself, and say: we need some people to help us along the way.”

Your Favorite Enemies tackled the song-writing and production of their newest album with the same instinct. “I think the Australian people can relate to the album in so many ways – everything was live, so it was more about living in the moment. So you have that wonderful epiphany and enormous catastrophe living, not all in the same album, in the same song! There’s a real freedom when it’s all about the music, rather than trying to make it in the music market.”

“Was it something we relate to, and we want to share with the people?  And the answer is yes. I mean, who wants to play a twelve minute song on the radio now? I don’t care. We’re very privileged, we’re with our best friends. And doing what we love, travelling the world, sharing with other people and growing from all those experiences.”

Your Favorite Enemies have plans to visit Europe and continue releasing their album across the globe. You can keep up with their stories and amazing experiences at their website. Otherwise, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter. You can check out a further excerpt of this interview here, in which Alex talks about Canada’s new laws affecting touring Australian artists.

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