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The term 'under the radar' could have been coined for the band Farrah. Releasing their first single ten years ago plus three critically acclaimed albums, which have propelled the band to sold-out tours in the Far East and Europe, the UK mainstream has taken a long while to wake up to the band's shimmering hook-laden pop.
Singer Jez Ashurst is bemused but unphased. "We're confusing, I think, and hard to categorise – and a lot of people like to categorise bands. We've always recorded, produced and owned our records, plus we make our own videos as well, so we're as 'indie' as you can get. Yet we try to create polished, ageless music you might think sounds like it couldn't have come from a punk or DIY aesthetic. People sometimes say we sound 'too commercial' – as though these two things are mutually exclusive. We just make the music we like."
Gig highlights over the years have included sharing stages – both clubs and arena-sized, here in the UK and abroad – with the likes of Ben Folds, Ash, The Feeling, Hard Fi, Phantom Planet, Nada Surf and The Thrills, to name a few. But in recent years, Farrah have only rarely been coaxed out of their South London studio (tours of Japan, Australia and Europe aside). In fact the band often put on spur-of-the-moment gigs in their Bermondsey studio-cum-club-house to test drive new songs live to friends and fans while encouraging the bonhomie with a BBQ and the odd bottle of wine. It's how the band likes to do things, which is partly why Farrah have unintentionally always been one step ahead of the major record companies in this rapidly changing online world: they were tweeting before many bands had heard the term, were vlogging when other artists were barely blogging, broadcasting live webcasts from the studio and engaging directly with their fans on every level – no "middlemen" at all.
On the surface, the four individuals in the band don't have much in common. Vocalist and principal songwriter Jez Ashurst has a penchant for quirky couplets, wry rhymes and bittersweet melodies. Andrew Campbell, a Swedish-born Scot (who went to Jez's rival York school) is the technical wizard – a multi-instrumentalist, installation artist and self-confessed synthesizer nerd who also helms Farrah's video escapades (one of which involved taking 10,000 still photos of the band and piecing them together). Michelle Margherita is as rock & roll as her name suggests. When she's not adding her helium harmonies to the mix or occasionally taking over lead-vocal duties (see "Got The Best Of Me"), this diminutive Australian patrols the stage with her bass like a young Chrissie Hynde. Dana Myzer was the drummer in Cotton Mather – Noel Gallagher's favourite band and music-press darlings – before leaving Texas and relocating to the UK to join Farrah in the hope he could teach them the finer points of 'groove' and 'feel'. Four individuals from four corners of the globe, united by a joy of defying expectation and making glorious noise.
The New Album
"We simply called the new record 'Farrah' because this record sounds like everything we've been searching for. It just sums up what we are," says Jez. Namely, 12 outstanding songs that walk a delicate line between bitter and sweet. "Life can be beautifully sad," continues Jez. "We all have dreams that taunt us, we all want to be different but are also desperate to find someone who feels the same – that's what we wrote about on this record."
From tales of office romances in faded seaside towns ("Scarborough") to the aching simplicity of "DNA" (perhaps the first love song about the human genome?) to uplifting pop anthems ("Swings And Roundabouts" and "Stereotypes"), "Farrah" is a feast for the mind and ears, effortlessly mixing genres and styles. "When you're making music on your own terms and not necessarily trying to appeal to a particular market, you can be as diverse as you like," says Andrew. Jez adds, "And you can get away with murder if you have a gorgeous melody. We love hiding a dark lyric under a whistle-able tune."
With their penchant for genre-hopping and magpie-like appropriation of spiky New Wave guitar sounds, 70s-soft-rock layered vocal harmonies and retro synth flourishes, it's easy to see why Farrah don't fit into any one musical genre. Echoes of classic records from the likes of Steve Miller, Tom Petty and ELO to Ben Folds, Squeeze, Fountains Of Wayne and Elvis Costello resonate throughout the album.
Perhaps there's something beautiful about a band who aren't cool, who aren't chasing fashion but instead only care about making records that stand the test of time. Perhaps there's a blip about to appear on the radar. Farrah are flying high.