Chris Farren is an enigma wrapped in a T-shirt.
In what almost seems like a past life, the former Naples, FL resident and self-proclaimed punk-rock celebrity, fronted the indie emo-pop band Fake Problems. Since then, he's been busy. He formed Antarctigo Vespucci with Jeff Rosenstock (of Bomb the Music Industry!), releasing two EPs in 2014 — Soulmate Stuff and I'm So Tethered — and the band's debut full-length, Leavin' La Vida Loca, last fall.
As a solo artist, 2015 also saw the release of Farren's EP Where U Are — released on a label he started with his wife, Boyfriend Island Records. Before that, he released a Christmas themed album Like a Gift From God or Whatever in 2014, and his debut non-holiday solo album is also set for release later this year.
But, if it wasn't for a fluke success in the T-shirt business, Antarctigo Vespucci might not have gotten off the ground.
[jump] Farren created a parody shirt of The Smiths, but instead of featuring a picture of Morrissey — as one would expect from a shirt that says “The Smiths” — he used a picture of actor Will Smith and his family. He had never made a T-shirt before — in fact, he doesn't even think he designed a shirt for any band he's ever been in — but he created the design and put 30 shirts online, with the hope that slowly, over time, he'd sell them and make a little bit of money.
The shirts sold out in 10 minutes.
Farren ordered 30 more shirts and went to bed. Overnight, some website (and Reddit) picked up on it. The shirts consistently sold for a little less than six months, and even showed up on Jimmy Fallon's first Tonight Show episode. Fallon presented the shirt to none other than Will Smith himself.
Farren didn't know that was going to happen, and was just watching TV when he saw it. But despite the success of the shirt — and the fact that Farren made more money from the shirts than he's ever made from a song — he isn't looking to keep developing them.
“I'm pretty clear that it was kind of like a lighting-in-a-bottle, weird thing to happen…I'd rather focus my time on working on music than sitting around thinking of more stupid shirts ideas,” Farren said. “But I'm happy to keep selling them, and yeah, it's cool…It gave me a little more freedom to work on my music, which is really the coolest thing about it.”
It's a somewhat sobering look at the current state of the music industry, a world where, Farren says for both creative and business reasons, it's better for artists to have new releases basically once a year. It can be hard for bands to keep their fire — and fan momentum — if they wait too long between record releases.
“You just gotta work harder, and not be so precious and over think things,” Farren said.
The latest Antarctigo Vespucci record — Leavin' La Vida Loca — was done in just such a manner, and similar to way they recorded past Antarctigo Vespucci records. In a process — — that Farren, ironically, also described as “precious” — he would send demos to Rosenstock, who would start working on them, recording the song over electronic drums in a process that usually took 10 or 11 days per track. Once they got into the studio with Benny Horowitz (of The Gaslight Anthem) in New Jersey, Horowitz would then play drums over the record.
“It's a really weird way to do it,” Farren said. “But it's just how we've always done it. We're always really happy with how it turns out, so, for now, that's the way we're going to keep doing it.”
It also allows Antarctigo Vespucci to record and release music quickly.
“The best thing behind Antarctigo, and the idea behind it, is that we just don't think too hard about it. We just make songs, record them, and we're done,” Farren said.
This weekend's show is the first time that Antarctigo Vespucci has played the West Coast. Farren himself recently moved to Los Angeles, leaving the Florida music scene behind him.
“I felt like I had written enough songs about wanting to not live in Florida anymore that I figured I'm going to start being redundant in my lyrics unless I change my scenery,” Farren said. “It's cool to be around people that are also creative and, you know, the music biz, baby.”
But, with Vespucci and his own solo work, where does that leave Fake Problems, Farren's older musical endeavor?
“I wouldn't say it's dead,” Farren said.”We haven't buried it. It's definitely something that we're all taking a big break from and exploring other parts of our lives.”
Farren added that while it's not impossible for Fake Problems to return at some point, in the foreseeable future it's “not on the plate.”
“But, once some festival offers us five thousand dollars, we would do it,” he said.
The rest of this year will see the release of Farren's aforementioned solo album, which he wrapped a few months ago and will be releasing on a “real record label,” as well as solo touring, including dates with Brian Fallon, Broken Beak, and some to-be-announced dates, as well. Farren and Rosenstock are also talking about new Antarctigo Vespucci material possibly being put together toward the end of this year or early next year.
“I really love being on tour and performing. I think that's like the sweet spot for me,” Farren said. “I really love recording, too. When recording is going well, and I'm not banging my head against the wall, I love that so much.”
Antarctigo Vespucci plays Thee Parkside as part of the Asian Man Records 20th Anniversary on Saturday, June 18, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16.