Interview: Luke Top from Fool's Gold on Being a Paralegal, Singing in Hebrew, and the Lost Art of Improvisation
Bands that list too many influences tend to sound like a mess. So what does Fool's Gold, a band that's a goulash of Ethiopian soul music, Touareg music from Mali, Congolese secousse music, Eritrean soul music, tropicalia, and '80s dance hits (and with Hebrew singing thrown in for good measure) sound like? Basically, they sound like a wide-open dance party. The Los Angeles-based octet, led by guitarist Lewis Pesacov and lead singer Luke Top, is playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight, and so we got the frontman on the phone to talk about the musician's day job, the lost art of improvisation, and singing in Hebrew.
I'm calling you kinda late at night because you just got home from your day job as a paralegal. Do you ever have moments where you're sitting at your desk, staring at some memo, and you just sort of take a deep breath and go, "I'm going on tour next week, I'm going on tour next week, just five more days, and I'll be on tour..."?
[laughs] You know, sadly, there haven't been enough moments where I can pause and think about my life in any sort of way these past few months. It's just been about getting through the now, and I'll deal with the next moment when I get there. I'm just so busy with so much shit. But obviously, in the back of my head I have visions of the open road, snow falling, being up on stage and people dancing. There's not a whole lot of joy in my office.
I was surprised to hear that you and Lewis [Pesacov, Fool's Gold's other founding member] both have real, grown-up jobs. I've been conditioned to think that everybody who plays in a band is either a bartender or a barista or sells pot or something. The only exception I can ever remember hearing about is Girl Talk. He was some kind of bio-mechanical engineer or something, and in interviews he used to talk about how desperately he tried to keep his co-workers from finding out about his music.
That's funny, I had a similar experience. I've been a paralegal for so long, and one day somebody in the office just Googled me, and things started coming up, and I had to explain to everybody that this [music] is what I do; this is just my job. [laughs] But this is my last week of being what you'd consider a level-headed adult. But I think having this thing that I have to do every day makes music-making that much more important. There's this weird tension of having all these different identities at once, and I feel really accomplished because I made two records this year and held down the day job. It feels really good. I think when you're stagnant, I tend to not get a whole lot accomplished. So when I've also got to work, it makes it even more important that I get music shit done.
So let's get to your musical identity, then. Your songwriting partner, Lewis, already had something going musically with Foreign Born, a group that Fool's Gold has kind of swallowed up.
I don't know if everybody shares the opinion of Fool's Gold swallowing up Foreign Born...[laughs]
...Oh yeah. I bet some of them don't.
Yeah, my priority's Fool's Gold, but they're all my really good friends.
But there's no jealousy simmering beneath the surface?
I don't think so. They're all my really good friends, and it's all really open. Most of Foreign Born is in Fool's Gold. Like the singer from Foreign Born plays guitar in Fool's Gold, and their drummer has been our drummer since we started.
The whole thing with Fool's Gold is that it's not like we sat down and said, "Arright, we're going to branch out, we're going to restructure, and we're gonna take off!" It was never like that.
No hostile takeover.
I mean, the first year we were a band we'd say, "Anyone who wants in, come down! We're playing a barbecue, we're playing a party, whatever." It was such an open environment that rather than hostility, I think everybody who played with us felt liberated by Fool's Gold. It was kind of a free and open thing where there was no answer, where there weren't any rigid roles or anything, and that's kind of emblematic of our band and our music.
Let's stay with that subject of openness for a second. Your live shows are so wide open and free compared to most western rock/pop bands. I read another interview where your bandmates made it sound like you all start feeling and thinking the same things. Can you elaborate on that at all?
There's definitely this thing that happens. Sometimes, when we start our songs, I think what we're all trying to do is tap into a moment together, and sometimes it takes longer to do that, but what I love so much about this music is it allows you to be patient. And if you're patient when you're playing, then sometimes you can just walk into one of those magical things that makes all the hard work and all the bullshit that comes with it worthwhile. You know, eight people from different backgrounds finding this place together. And the audience definitely can feel that. I feel like we're all living in the moment, and locking in, and thank God it keeps happening, because it makes me want to keep doing shows and going on tours. And I think it's more special because there are so many people involved; it makes you feel more selfless.
I feel like that's become something of a lost art in North American pop music. It's kind of gotten to the point where if you describe a band as a great live band, or a party band, it's almost a backhanded compliment.
I agree with you, I don't understand it. Music is all about having a moment shared. I think there are a lot of bands out there who have a business model and all these priorities. Our only priority is to make it fun and different every time, and the only way to do that is to have it be different every time. I really feel like I can dig into this music every single time. It's like a miracle. It's so open, you have so much freedom--I mean, there's a lot of structure too--but as a singer, I can come in whenever I want, I can yelp and scream and also sing. I dunno, with my personality, I just [enjoy] the feeling of, "Wow, I don't have to sing my part right now!" I can get into it a little. It's such a cool thing.