By Dave Schwartz
Photos Courtesy Serafin
Many bands have traveled to the prestigious South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas for an opportunity to play in front of the movers and shakers of the record industry, but rarely does a band travel as far as Serafin. For Ben Fox Smith (vocals, guitar), Darryn Harkness (guitar, vocals), Ben Ellis (bass) and Ronny Growler (drums), the journey began when they signed to the UK label Taste in the autumn of 2001. It wasn't long before they had entered and won the "In The City" music conference in Manchester, England. Their new-found notoriety paved the way for Serafin to come to America and attend SXSW, where they put on the amazing live performance that sparked a seven-label bidding war won by Elektra Records-- signing the band in an unheard of 10 days!
A stand-out performance in Austin and the fact that Serafin had already achieved limited success in the UK with their debut single, "Things Fall Apart" (charting at #49 in the official U.K. top 50, at #6 in the independent charts and #4 in the 7" charts), proved to Elektra that the boys had a future. The deal was struck and the band was immediately shuttled off to Los Angeles to begin recording their first major release. As if that wouldn't have been enough, the band also signed deals with Na´ve in France, PIAS in Benelux and Sony in Germany.
When I caught up with Smith and Harkness, they had finished recording "No Push Collide." They had already begun touring in Europe to create a buzz for the new release and had flown back to America for press days in Los Angeles and New York. Being a new band, there wasn't a tremendous amount of information available on the Internet, so I found myself opening the interview with a couple questions to better understand Serafin's origins.
Having had some early success in the UK, it was a surprise to me that they would venture all the way to America to record their debut album.
"The first country to be interested in us was America," Harkness began. "We got signed at SXSW by Elektra, they were the main company we were dealing with, and then we chose an American producer, Dave Sardy, so it was his call really. For practical reasons he chose L.A. It's his favorite place to record."
"We also liked the studios that we recorded in, Sunset Sound Studio," Smith continued. "We liked it for drums. So it just made sense really."
Serafin spent several months working in L.A. and it was an experience that wasn't lost on the two. When I asked about the most significant difference they responded with the obvious.
"It was the weather!" Harkness declared.
"Yes the weather inside the recording studio. It was freezing!" Smith clarified.
I asked about the origin of the title of their new record, "No Push Collide."
"It just came naturally. It just came out of nowhere actually. It seemed like a sensible title because it accomplished a lot in only a few words," Harkness explained.
I began to ask about producer, Dave Sardy, commenting that they were utilizing his talents for a second time when Smith corrected me, apparently my information I had gathered off the Internet was wrong, "We're finding out that there are all sorts of stuff written about us. We constantly get ask all kinds of crazy questions during interviews."
As it turns out "No Push Collide" is the first album that Sardy has worked on with Serafin, but he has a diverse history of album credits including Marilyn Manson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Harkness explained how they had first met Sardy, "Our manager sort of thought even before we were signed that Dave Sardy should do our albums. When I first met him he came into my work which was a restaurant in North London. He sort of popped in and I sat at a table with him one night and I said to him, 'You're going to do our second record.' His background is alternative rock. We like the records that he had worked on and most importantly, we could trust him."
But bands like Marilyn Manson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have little in common with each other and conversely, little in common with the Serafin sound. I asked how they knew Sardy was the right man for the job.
"Dave has an ear for good sounds," Smith professed. "The thing that puts all of us together is drums, basses and guitars. Dave is good with all of that. I think that is why he has such diversity in the records that he has worked on. He's really good. We wanted to make the album kind of timeless album with a more dry approach production wise and I think he has done it."
"He can get on someone else's wavelength pretty quickly and figure out what that band is all about and then push that to its limits. That's what he tries to do," Harkness added.
The importance of finding a producer that helps a young band discover its own sound cannot be overstated. Some producers are hired because of a sound that they can bring into a project, but with a new band it is always crucial to allow the organic chemistry of the group to shine through. Sardy seems to have found a way to walk that fine line with all of the bands he produces.
Finally, I asked Harkness and Smith if there was a song on "No Push Collide" that they felt was a good stylistic representation of Serafin. The two briefly discussed their answer before explaining, "We make every song different and therefore no one song sounds more like Serafin than any other."
"No Push Collide" was released in Europe August, 2003 and Serafin has been touring ever since. The American release was postponed to allow the band the opportunity to capitalize on their immediate success. Elektra has notified me that the record should be released stateside in the first quarter of 2004, followed by a tour. Our European readers already know what our American audience will soon learn. Watch for this band, as they will be playing in your city soon.
Return to DaBelly