"Now, this is something I'd actually wear," says Les Savy Fav guitarist Seth Jabber, as he steps out of a Beacon's Closet dressing room in an ultra-soft T-shirt featuring a baby-blue tie-dye background and a tiger with black and white stripes.
"Oh wait, this is one of those companies that makes 'vintage-like shirts,'" he adds, looking at the top's tag. "That kinda takes all the fun out of it, doesn't it?"
Indeed it does, especially when the whole point of us being at this hangar-sized Brooklyn store is finding creative outfits for one of Les Savy Fav's infamous stage shows–a performance-art spectacle rather than a simple concert, featuring the ADD-addled stage antics and shirt-shedding costume changes of Fav frontman Tim Harrington.
Speaking of indie rock's gentlest grizzly bear, he's having a hell of a time sifting through potential "WTF?" wardrobe pairings in the women's section right now. He's donning stuff most people would never think of putting together, from gigantic Elton John glasses to neon-hued scarves to the kind of flow-y, Summer of Love tops Devendra Banhart wears without a hint of irony.
"Style needs to be singular," explains Harrington, "something that defines itself. You can be completely insane and still have style. Hell, then you have a little something called panache! Like, there's this one guy in the neighborhood that always dresses like a goth school teacher from the Victorian days. He wears an Amish-looking hat, a stopwatch, a black blazer, knickers, and fancy shoes, and he carries all his books around wrapped in leather. He's got so much more style than someone that's completely trendy, wearing a soft foam cap and having a San Francisco skater thing going on."
To Harrington, style isn't just about clothes, either. For musicians, it includes everything from elaborate packaging to, you know, the music.
"The worst thing is when a band is like, 'The reason why our album sounds like The Cure is we were trying to sound like The Cure,'" says Harrington. "Eh, why didn't you guys try to sound like something more intense or different? That's how you make up new things or stumble upon an impossible pastiche–out of total nothingness, which is what our band usually does."
Les Savy Fav's latest LP, Let's Stay Friends (French Kiss), does all of the above, jumping across genres (twitchy post-punk, morose and melancholic synth-pop, Pixy Stix rock) without ever adhering to any specific aesthetic. This is just what the band's been doing since they met at a Rhode Island art college in 1995 and recorded their first album (3/5, which was remastered and reissued last year) with future DFA/LCD Soundsystem don, James Murphy.
Hoping for some insights into how Harrington stays singular in an Urban Outfitters/Hot Topic age of mass-marketed looks and attitudes–including his own accessories line, Deadly Squire–we asked him to share some general style tips in between searching for "the ultimate buckskin outfit."
1. Don't try to look like a 'hipster,' at least how it's been defined in magazine stories (see a recent cover of Time Out New York) and movies.
That style is such a mild one. Look, if you love politics, you don't want to see everyone happy and shaking hands. You want to see everyone going for each other's throats. If you like sports, you want a fight. The same thing applies to fashion.
The only time I thought a lot of dip-shits were walking around looking ridiculous–being different because they were told to–was in 2000 or so, when someone invented electroclash. You know what, though? Punky Brewster is cool. Having a little flair and a little flash is a good thing. I really like when someone shows up to a party looking all My Little Pony-like.
2. If you're in a band, don't let your bottom line get in the way of your art.
I'm really into elaborate band t-shirts. That's why we always design our own. If we want to make a shirt that has 10 colors and sparkles, we're going to make a shirt that has 10 colors and sparkles, even if it's a little more expensive. I'd rather make something nice and not make a profit on it than make something shitty and sell it at a high cost. When a band becomes something that's useful for paying the rent, [they 'll] always think twice about making a shirt for $19 and selling it for $20. It's more like, "Let's make a shirt that costs 50 cents and sell it for $20."
3. One other band tip: Don't let your fashion sense define your sound.
I hate when bands use fashion as a shorthand way of saying "We sound like this." Like when they dress up in eyeliner and all black, clearly ready to open for Interpol in front of bright white lights. So what if you don't have a 28-inch waist! My biggest problem is my bulk. I'd probably go with a more extreme style if I had a slight build. When I find something I like and it fits me, though, it's great. If everything were accessible, that'd ruin the needle-in-a-haystack fun of it anyway.
Also, remember this: The worst ideas sometimes turn out to be the best ones. Like this one time I bought a wide-brimmed, floppy summer hat for women; I got that as a joke but I was really into it the next year.
4.Don't be afraid to splurge on a unique piece.
Sometimes style costs money, and it's worth it. I don't buy that many clothes anymore, but when I do, I sometimes stop by a proper designer store because I consider what they do art as much as I consider what I do art. It's worth it if there's a legitimate value to it, you know? Even if it's just the aesthetic of one person–that can be as cool as crawling through a pile of vintage clothes.
I remember the first time I bought something nice. My sister was like, "Look at you. You're buying clothes now, you New York person, you. I remember when you used to wear anything!" Except I didn't wear 'just anything.' I'd spend 10 hours a week going through thrift stores. I may have not had a lot of money, but I was still picky. I'm really specific about what I like. That's part of why I don't buy that much anymore. I'm kinda waiting for [all trends] to die. After touring the country 20 times and hitting a thrift store in every city, eventually you'll have enough amazing t-shirts. I mean, how can you beat a blue shirt with puffy letters that says, "Please Feed Me?"