The Figgs

The Figgs

By ROB DUGUAY

For over 30 years, The Figgs have been ripping up stages all over the globe with their energetic brand of rock & roll. The band originally from Saratoga Springs, New York have a habit of electrifying a venue, making people move and having a rhythmically tight structure. Guitarist and vocalist Mike Gent, bassist and vocalist Pete Donnelly and drummer Pete Hayes also have quite a following around the New England area. They’ll be showing why when they come to The Parlour on 1119 North Main Street in Providence on December 11. Adding to the amplification, Pawtucket based indie rock act The Benji’s will be opening up the show.

Gent and I had a chat ahead of the show about getting an exclusive honor, working on a bunch of solo stuff, a cover song he released with a contemporary and the band always having a ton of music to play around with.

Rob Duguay: Back in October, The Figgs got inducted into the Capital Region Music Hall Of Fame in Schenectady, New York. How would you describe the experience of the induction and did it feel gratifying to be recognized like that?

Mike Gent: Yeah, of course it did. We’d never been inducted into anything so to be recognized by them was really a good moment for the band. I’m glad that all four of us were able to attend, they switched the date of the ceremony at the last minute and at one point it looked like only Pete Donnelly and Guy Lyons were going to be able to go so I’m glad that we were all able to be there and give a little speech. It was very cool, it was a really nice occasion for us.

RD: That’s awesome and congratulations on being inducted, it’s really cool that you guys got that recognition.

MG: Thanks.

RD: No problem. Last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, you released two compilations with Singles 2018 and Archives Vol. 1 – NYC 1997/1998. Were you originally planning on putting these out before the pandemic shut everything down or did you put these out as sort of a project to keep you occupied while being in quarantine?

MG: The songs off of Singles 2018 had already come out on Bandcamp throughout that year so that was a project that I kind of put on myself. The idea was to write, record and release one song per month which turned into quite a challenge. At first, I was using some songs that I had half finished for the record before that Headphone Music so it was stuff that I had left over and kicking around. I figured this single series would be a good way to get some of that music out, then as I got more into that project probably around May or June I realized that I had to start coming up with stuff that was brand new. That was good because it added to the initial challenge I put on myself which forced me to create stuff quickly.

I had these 12 songs kind of sitting there on Bandcamp so that compilation was basically the idea that I was going to do a physical release of that but it hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, I just gathered all 12 singles and put them all together while in quarantine during the pandemic in 2020 so that was kind of easy to do. Then I started working on a new solo album at some point last year when I realized that The Figgs weren’t going to be in the studio anytime soon. My initial hope was that we would try to bang out a record together while in quarantine remotely but both Pete and Pete Hayes had their own things going on for some solo stuff and because of that we didn’t do much recording together last year. Once I realized that wasn’t going to happen I figured I’d start making a new solo record while being stuck in the house.

I started doing that and whenever that archive thing came out in November or December, I realized that I wasn’t going to have anything with a new record finished to release. Bandcamp was doing that “First Friday” thing where all sales go to the artists at the top of the month so I started thinking about that and I released one single that’s probably going to end up on the next solo record. I started listening to these tapes that I made in my apartment when I lived in New York City and I realized that I had literally hundreds of recordings from the time that I lived there during a good chunk of the ‘90s. I started listening to a lot of that stuff, a lot of those tapes and for me going back and listening to them were ideas and sketches of songs that were never finished or they eventually became Figgs songs or whatever. Sometimes it’s a painful process for me personally, I don’t really enjoy going backwards too often.

I’m always thinking about the next set of songs and whatever the next record is going to be, so going back sometimes can be painful for me to do but I did it and I went through about 200 songs that were on these tapes that I found. I didn’t pick what I thought were the best 14 songs but I picked the best 14 songs that I thought fit together the best basically from around the same period or ‘97 and ‘98. I then put them all up on Bandcamp not thinking that anyone was going to pay much attention to it but it turned out to be the best selling thing I’ve put on that platform, I was shocked. It was incredible how many people were interested in that, so I put that out at the end of last year and then I decided to put aside and basically scrap everything that I had recorded for my next record to completely start it over this past January. I’m still kind of working on that second record, so who knows? If I don’t get that finished soon maybe it’ll be a second volume of the archive thing but I just don’t know at this point.

RD: Play it by ear, that’s the best you can do these days.

MG: Yeah.

RD: During that time in December you also released a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” with Tanya Donelly from Throwing Muses and Belly on Bandcamp.

MG: Oh yeah, I forgot about that.

RD: Was that also because of Bandcamp’s “First Friday” thing? The liner notes say this recording was 7 years in the making, so how crazy was the process for you to put this rendition out? What took so long with the song?

MG: I started that track back in 2013 when I started this record called The Rapid Shave and I left it unfinished for a real long time. I had the skeleton of the track with the drum machine, vocals and guitar, then around that time I asked Tanya to do that song with me at Hot Stove Cool Music which is an annual charity event I used to play. I had said to her at that point I had a recording of that song started and it would be great if we could both sing on it. She agreed to it, but we just never got around to it. I stumbled upon it while I was working on Headphone Music, I just found it in a folder in some files.

I contacted Tanya again and I may have sent her a rough draft of what I had at that point but again, I started working on it some more and then I put it away again. That’s the reason why it took so long, I would rediscover it, work on it a little bit and then put it away. With it being a cover, I never had the idea of the track going on a record. It was a thing where I wanted to eventually finish it because it’s kind of cool and I definitely wanted to have Tanya on it so it was dependent on finally getting her involved but also me figuring out how to use it. Once I realized that I could use it on a Bandcamp “First Friday”, I got a hold of Tanya and she did her vocals.

I worked really hard on that song just from mixing it and editing, I spent a lot of time on that track but I like how it came out. It was really cool to have Ted Collins come in to play keys on it as well, there was an issue where he couldn’t get the keyboard in tune so I figured out a way to get it in tune with the rest of the track. There were some hurdles but thanks for reminding me because it’s been a year and I completely forgot that I finished and released it.

RD: You’re welcome, I dig the way it came out too. I’m a big Fleetwood Mac fan so I think it does the song justice. The Figgs have a discography of over 30 albums along with a handful of EPs and a couple live records. In your opinion, what inspires the band to have such a prolific output?

MG: From the get go, we decided very early on that we wanted to try to write our own songs. There’s always been an extra amount of songs floating around from the beginning and we were a few years in before we even went into a real studio. Leading up to that we had all these groups of different songs from the first few years of being together and then that kind of snowballed into always kind of playing catch up. When we were working on or finishing a record, we were already onto the next new batch of songs. By the time we got around to making Banda Macho, we had too many songs on that album to begin with and when we went on tour for that record we were already writing the next record and that was going to be made two years from then.

We’ve always been kind of ahead of ourselves when it comes to writing songs. We’re big fans of bands and artists that do have a ton of records like Neil Young, Frank Zappa. The latter released so many records in his lifetime, sometimes he would release two double albums and a single album in one year. Then the following year he would have a triple album and the next year he would have another double album, it was just unbelievable. That’s always been kind of an inspiration for us, when we did our first double album Palais that was a big goal and achievement for the band and no one told us that it was a terrible idea, we just wanted to do it.

We just wanted to have that in our discography, now we have two double albums and a triple album that came from a lot of songs leftover from various sessions. Neil Young has done that a lot, if he recorded 20 songs with 10 of those songs not really fitting the record he had in his head then the next record he might look back at those 10 songs and find a couple that fit. He would cherry pick what he had in the can so we like to do that too and I also like to start fresh to make a record of brand new stuff rather than see what we have sitting around. It can happen a bunch of different ways when it comes to having enough material for a record. Especially with Pete Donnelly and I, we’ve always written a lot of songs and we have songs that we’ve played live that we’ve never even brought into the studio.

There’s some songs that we’ve cut in the studio that we’ve never used and we’ve never played live. We’ve always had an extra amount of material which has been really good for us, I’d rather have too much material than too little.

RD: I can totally see why. After this current run of shows, what do you and The Figgs have planned for 2022? Do you plan on revisiting that solo record you were working on last year?

MG: The solo record I was recording last year I put aside so it’s still not finished and I started a new one at the beginning of this year so I’m hoping to have that done and out by the spring. That’s the plan right now. We also started making a new record back in the summer so I hope that will be out sometime next summer for a new Figgs record. We always have reissues and unreleased stuff along with ideas to release old material. Back in 2014, we released a record called Badger which went out of print ages ago and people have been asking for it on vinyl so we decided to do an expanded version of that album.

It was initially successful, we sold out of it and it was a really good reissue so we always have those kinds of ideas in the back of our minds. There’s a couple records that we haven’t put out on vinyl yet so they’ll be released in that format eventually. We have tons of stuff for a box set or even a live box set that might come out next year and we also had to cancel this West Coast tour last year because of COVID-19 and everything. We were going to play a few shows in Seattle and a few shows in Portland so we need to reschedule those at some point next year. I know there’s been talk about us going to the Midwest in the spring and playing some shows but it all depends on getting a feel for what’s open and how many people can come out.

This current slate of shows were on will give us a good sense of whether people will come out or if they’re still weary. It’ll be interesting, we have done a few shows in the past couple months that have been good but we haven’t played in a proper venue since the pandemic. Our draw in Providence is better than our draw in Boston so it’ll be interesting how these shows end up going.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.