Interview with Ryan Lee Dunlap of Fan-Tan

Photo: Claire Ogilvie

How are you today, Ryan?

Good. How are you?

Not bad. So you guys are doing some shows?

Yeah, we have a little five-day tour down to Austin for SXSW. We’re still booking shows down there; we’ve got two confirmed right now. We hope to play as much as we can while we’re there.

You’re touring with Sensual Harassment?

Right.

Have you played with them before?

No, we haven’t. This will be our first time, but we’ve met many times, hung out at shows.

Excellent. Are they also with Sinister Foxy [Fan-Tan’s Booking Agency]?

No, she just added them to our tour down there.

When do you hit the road?

We leave on the 9th. The last time we toured was for two and a half weeks in December, so it’ll be nice to get out of town again.

So tell me how Fan-Tan got started.

Photo: Claire Ogilvie

We — me, Kuki and Sandee — met in Chapel Hill, NC. We all used to live there. We had all played in bands that had played shows with each other in the area. There’s a lot of good music down there, but a lot of it is very college-y, very indie. None of us were very into all that stuff, so when we got together, we started making stuff that was more influenced by post-punk and Manchester bands. Six months later, we decided to move up here [to New York].

Ah, so you all moved together.

Yeah, we moved up here together. We had a fourth member for a while, for most of the time that we’ve been here. [He] played analog synths. It was good, but in the last year we decided we wanted to become a trio and take it in a little bit more post-punk direction, a little less new wave-y. We actually have a full-length which is tracked already, but not mixed, and the synth parts on there. We’re going to leave them on there, but we might downplay them a little bit. That’s what we’re going to be doing when we get back from tour.

That’s what I was going to ask next. You had an EP which came out last year, and I wasn’t sure if that had all four people on it.

Yes, it did.

OK, and so that leads back into where I was going to go with it, which you already basically answered, which is that the full-length also has all four players on it.

Right. The keyboards won’t be as prevalent as on the EP. I’ve put so much guitar in it, [the keyboards will] be a little bit more buried. When we play live now, the guitar sound is kinda shoegaze-y, but there’s enough there to fill that space. I’ve had people come up to me and ask if [someone] was playing keyboard, or if there was a backing track or something, because they thought they heard keyboards. But there was just the three of us on stage.

You use a lot of pedals?

Yeah, a good amount. Trying to get a crunchy 80s sound. Right now, us and Kim [Paris] from Sinister Foxy are shopping the record around to labels. When we get back, we’re going to finish and master one of the tracks to do a digital download. And this summer we’re going to do a residency at Pianos rather than do a tour.

So you’re hoping to have the record out for the summer?

If someone is interested in it. I don’t want to self-release it, I want someone to put it out. There’s been a lot of interest — several labels have asked for more. Nothing’s for sure yet. If it’s not out by the summer, at least that single will be, and we’ll be inviting a lot of labels to come out to Pianos.

I’m sure it’ll come together. So the future of the band is to go in a more stripped-down, shoegaze/post-punk direction…

Yeah, we started playing that way at the end of last year, and it was just better. It just came off better, and it’s easier as well, especially for touring. We’re still friends with keyboard guy, but it’s just better this way.

There’s something about trios that can be really powerful.

Power trios [laughs]?

Yeah, power trios [laughs]. I don’t know, there’s just a magic that can happen.

It kinda looks cooler too, I think.

[laughs] Totally. Well, I know I’m kinda jumping around, but do you have a name for the LP?

Not yet, no. That is at the forefront of my brain right now. I am trying to figure out what direction to go there.

Maybe you’ll get some ideas while you’re on the road.

Photo: Claire Ogilvie

I think so. In comparison with the EP, it’s a bit mellower. The songs are just way better. I mean, we like them a lot more. We had grown up a bit as a band between writing the ones on the EP and the ones on the LP. We recorded the EP at Stratosphere Sound with Arjun Agerwala. Kind of a pricey place to record. It’s in Chelsea. It’s run by James Iha and one of the dudes from Fountains of Wayne. We knew Arjun, the recording engineer, through our friend Mikey [Jones] from Heaven. We went in with him, and it was good, but we couldn’t spend a lot of time in the studio. We had to do it as fast as possible.

So this time around, we worked with a guy I know really well in Bushwick. He has a really nice studio called Exit Floorplan Studios. It’s relatively new. I’ve known him for a while, so we got to spend a lot more time sitting around doing stuff, and re-doing stuff. On the EP I would do two or three guitar tracks per song, max. On this one I’ve got at least ten or twelve going per song.

Awesome.

There’s just a lot more to work with.

Are you concerned about recreating that live?

No, it’s no problem. We played all these live before we ever took them into the studio. That’s how they got written and fine-tuned. I’ve always been able to pull off a big guitar sound live. On the record, I want it to sound like it’s a little more than just [our] live [sound].

Are you adding other instrumentation that you wouldn’t have live?

Mike Walters, who was our synth player, brought in a Polymoog. It’s like the size of a coffin. It’s massive. We never played with that live, but he brought that in [to the studio] for some string sounds on a couple [songs], which may or may not make it into the mix. Again, we still just have only the rough mix, so it’s hard to say until it’s finalized. There will be some little twerps and beeps in there, but not too much.

To jump back to SXSW again, what events or parties are you playing at exactly?

There are two confirmed. First, the Brooklyn BBQ on Thursday at Hotel Vegas, which is sponsored by Brooklyn Lager and The Deli Magazine. There’s a bunch of free BBQ and free Jack Daniels. We play at 3:00 PM. And we play the Sinister Foxy showcase on Friday, which is also at Hotel Vegas.

Based on how many great bands are on her roster, I’m sure that will be an awesome show. This is Fan-Tan’s first time at SXSW?

Yes, it’s Fan-Tan’s first time and also my first time at SXSW.

That’s pretty exciting.

Yeah, I’ve never even been to Austin. I’m really excited to be going somewhere that I can wear shorts.

Well, have a great time!

Thanks so much!

Pick up Fan-Tan’s EP, Age of Discovery.

Tour Dates/SXSW Schedule:

03/09 – Washington, DC – The Velvet Lounge*
03/10 – Charlottesville, VA – The Tea Bazaar*
03/11 – Durham, NC – The Pin Hook
03/12 – Charlotte, NC – Snug Harbor*
03/13 – Asheville, NC – Broadway’s*
03/14 – Athens, GA – The Go Bar*
03/15 – New Orleans, LA – Siberia*
03/17 – Austin, TX – SXSW – Deli Magazine/Brooklyn BBQ Day Party @ The Hotel Vegas (Dive Bar)
03/18 – Austin, TX – SXSW – Sinister Foxy Showcase @ The Hotel Vegas (Dive Bar)

* with Sensual Harassment