Comet Gain
All the Right (and Wrong) Reasons
by Stephen Slaybaugh

For a music obsessive like David Feck, the 17 years he’s spent leading the ragtag indie pop group Comet Gain have served as one long love letter to that object of affection. Like, say, Jonathan Richman, Feck has written as much about music itself and the way it’s entwined itself into every social facet of his life as much as any girl. Sorrow is tempered with long nights spent pouring over record sleeves (always stained for some reason—someone needs to buy this guy some poly sleeves), while joy is expressed dancing out at a club. Similarly, he’s presented life in the underground, where Comet Gain has always been comfortably anchored, as part of larger social ideals and utopian dreams. His indie pop about indie pop is up there with the post-modern works of Pavement, while sonically falling in line with the likes of the Pastels and Vaselines.

Though a seeming contradiction, perhaps it isn’t so surprising that he’s taken a casual, bordering on ambiguous, approach when it comes to Comet Gain’s affairs. This may be explained as the result or the cause of Feck’s split in 1997 with the entirety of the band’s original members, who went on to form Velocette after releasing two full-lengths with Feck. In the years since, records have come intermittently; the band’s last studio record was 2005’s City Fallen Leaves. Meeting with the band in person before one of just four shows in the States in support of their new odds-and-ends compilation, Broken Record Prayers, makes this attitude even more apparent. Feck and his cohorts, which for some reason didn’t include perennial members Jon Slade (guitar) and Woodie Taylor (drums), seem worn out. And their performance that night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn wasn’t anything spectacular. But a well rehearsed band probably wouldn’t have made the great records that are 1998’s Tigertown Pictures and 2002’s Realistes, so with Comet Gain the paradox is part of the price.

Nonetheless, we spoke with Feck and singer Rachel Evans. Somehow it seems fitting that the recording of our conversation was noisy and hard to decipher. (Note to self: buy digital recorder.) Original drummer Phil Sutton happened to be in attendance too and gave his two cents.

Given that the latest record is a compilation, is there a new studio record coming out?

David Feck: Probably.

Rachel Evans: There is, there is a new studio record coming

DF: We recorded a single yesterday. It’s just a process of picking out the best 12 songs and then just wait for the money to roll in.

Is there a reason it’s taken so long?

DF: Well, we’re lazy. And we have jobs and stuff like that. We’ve never had any high ambitions for success.

Given that the compilation begins with 1998, do you see a real separation between...

DF: Oh, you mean when Phil left?

Yeah, that period of the band.

DF: Well, it was that period when the professionalism left.

Are you playing?

Phil Sutton: No, I live in New York. I’d say that the line-up pre-1997 was certainly professional, but this line-up is slightly more professional.

DF: It also had to do with that those early records were on Beggars Banquet, and I just didn’t want to have to deal with that and possibly pay some money. The other records were done with people that were friends.

In your own mind do you hear a sonic difference?

DF: Yeah, I think there was lot more a kind of gloss in the production. It was a bit poppier.

PS: I think the band is a bit more focused now.

RE: After honing the craft for a number of years...

In the liner notes, you make mention of the band starting as a joke. Can you elaborate?

DF: Well, that was me and Phil. I had no idea. This guitar was completely going out of control. Gain? I knew what volume and bass were, but gain? All I knew was that I turned it up and everything went mad. Phil was using pots and whatnot. So it was funny to us.

In the way you were talking before, you have a casual approach to doing this, but yet your lyrics indicate a very serious attitude to pop music. How do those things mesh?

DF: The songs are very serious, but the way that we do them and the way we run the business end of Comet Gain are not very serious.

Do you think having that approach to the business side of it makes the music more pure?

RE: We’re not business oriented in any way. I don’t know that it makes anything purer. We put out records, but other than that we don’t have anything to do with that side of it. So in that way we’re pure. We’re not tainted by the pound, not motivated by money.

In general, a good deal of the songs’ content deals with youth culture. Is it hard to have enthusiasm for those sorts of concerns as...

RE: As we get older? Older and jaded?

DF: No, because sometimes it’s a metaphor for something else. Or the dream of what it means.

There was a whole series of quotes in the notes as well. Are those specific points of reference?

DF: Yeah, they kind of echo are own sentiments.

The first time I heard “The Kids at the Club,” I immediately thought of Paul Weller singing, “The kids know where it’s at.”

DF: But the kids in that song are supposed to be the awkward ones.

In “Ballad of a Mixtape,” you sing that “mixtapes are memories.” Are most of your personal memories attached to music?

DF: It usually is the tape or tapes, like the handwriting of the person that made it. You remember what you were doing or that person who you don’t really hang out with anymore. It’s a distant time and it brings back that memory, this thing that was made for you by that person.

But in a broader sense, do you attach personal memories to songs?

DF: Yeah, every record I have, I remember where I bought it and how I was feeling. Instead of writing in a diary, I remember with my record collection.

In that song, you also sing about the underground. What’s it like to be an underground band in the UK...

DF: It’s hilarious.

Are the lines drawn the same as they are here in the States?

DF: Well, we feel very isolated. There are a couple bands that we had built some sort of kinship—friends whose music we liked—but we’ve outlived them. Bands like Yummy Fur and Huggy Bear—we became friends, but they broke up and then you see those people less. So we’ve become more isolated because we’re still going and they’re not.

I mean, is there an underground?

DF: We are our own underground.

I interviewed your labelmates Love Is All, and they seemed to feel more of an affinity with American bands.

DF: We do now as well. A lot of the American bands have become our friends. English bands—and London bands especially—seem like they care too much about what’s in fashion or playing at a particular place. American bands seem to be doing it out of imagination.

In general, that last record seemed to stick out as feeling forlorn. I don’t know if you’d agree.

DF: It’s melancholic, but they all are. It’s hard to get up in the morning. I think they’re all depressing.

Why are they all depressing?

DF: I don’t know. Writing songs, it’s easier to be depressing. It’s hard to write happy songs.

“Kids at the Club” seems very uplifting.

DF: But it’s also bittersweet. And some of the ones that sound really sad aren’t so much. “Just One More Summer Before I Go” is actually quite a euphoric song. It may sound sad, but the words aren’t.

The next one is going to be even more depressing, the next album. Probably. I always wanted to make one of those records that you put on at 3 o’clock in the morning and it’s very morose. And then the last track will be some sort of great uplifting rock opera sort of thing.

Just given all the people that have come and gone from the band...

DF: Well, they never really go. They turn up again.

Is it Comet Gain so long as you’re in it?

DF: Well I’d prefer for it to be Comet Gain when I’m not in it. That would be my dream.

For it to continue on indefinitely without you?

DF: Yeah, Jon Slade can take it over.

Where’s he?

DF: He’s at home having a bath.