FOCUS // The short and colorful life of Faraquet

I had caught Devin Ocampo, the ex-frontman of math rock trio Faraquet (ˈfærəkɛt/), after he’d spent a long day in the studio managing the audio for various television series. Devin is an audio engineer for the National Geographic Channel, and today, the main focus was narration for the disaster documentary series ‘Air Crash Investigation’. It was an experience that I hoped wouldn’t become an analogy for our conversation.
Devin Ocampo, former frontman of Faraquet

Enigmatic and often shrouded in amongst a late 90s post-hardcore flurry, Faraquet are a band known almost entirely for their standalone debut LP, The View from This Tower, released on Dischord records in 2000. But the Faraquet story extends beyond this record, and Devin was willing to speak to me about the finer details.

1992-1995: Leaving home

Devin’s musical journey takes root in a love for late 80s bands like The Cure, Madness, The Damned, and The Jam, which then morphed into the harder punk rock sounds of The Exploited, Black Flag, and Minutemen. It was the style of the latter that inspired Devin to be in a group. After a brief excursion in the Mod culture, he found himself to be a pariah of any particular scene around the turn of the decade.

By the time Devin and school friend Chad Molter had left high-school in 1992, they’d been playing together for a while – Devin playing guitar and drums concurrently and Chad on bass. They formed a band together called Boyd and self-released a 7-inch record whilst playing low-key shows in the L.A. area. Whilst the project received positive feedback from a small fanbase, the collaborative aspect of the local music community that they felt was necessary to drive their band forward simply didn’t exist. They got involved with a local post-hardcore band called Loomis Slovak for a couple of years. But the city was laid-back and casual; too much so – L.A. musicians didn’t share the passion that Devin and Chad had for playing music. This eventually led to a desire to immerse themselves back into the punk rock sound that Devin had been in to from a young age, and a carefully planned notion to move to the East Coast emerged.

This move was motivated by the emergence of an exciting and overdriven sound that was beginning to take form in epicentres of activity all over the USA. Washington D.C. was a major focal point, with bands like the Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi employing a melodic yet dissonant and experimental approach to hardcore punk. Lyrics focussed on the dismantling of the establishment and DIY ethics were still present from the early day of punk. D.C. was also the city that gave rise to stalwart punk rock label Dischord Records. Devin cites Sonic Youth and Polvo as major drivers of this community.

An important method that contributed toward the discovery of this network, in a world before the Internet, was to connect the dots. Credits on the back of records – the producers, the labels, even who the band thanked – provided clues as to who these bands were, where they came from, and who else was making similar music in that area. Cities that played a pivotal role included Olympia in Washington and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, home to Merge Records and Superchunk.

A further introduction came through Devin’s sister, also a musician, and who had been living in New York City for many years. Although Devin and Chad had their sights set on D.C., the country’s capital felt a million miles from L.A., a city which Devin felt to be full of bands trying to ‘make it’ – something he had no interest in. He had decided early on to focus on the production of sound as art, and not as a consumable commodity.

So at the beginning of 1995 the pair packed up their gear and headed to N.Y.C., a realistic option and an opportunity to escape the L.A. bubble. However, it initially proved too difficult to play music there. They needed a dedicated practice space due to their living in a flat, and despite Manhatten being relatively cheap to live in at the time, it was unaffordable. Devin worked in a record store and Chad as a busboy in a restaurant, and the cost of renting an additional practice space was too costly. Their desire to engage in the newly discovered community didn’t quite manifest either – the early to mid 90s in N.Y.C. was largely void of anything like the D.C. scene they had been inspired by. Devin wanted to be heard by the wider audience and play alongside the figures he saw as important.

The beacon of Washington D.C. burned brighter with each passing moment, glowing on the horizon of a short four-hour drive. They noticed that many of the bands on Dischord had shared members, or new groups would rise from the ashes of others. The same group of people explored new styles together under different aliases. This justified their belief that the city contained a solid network of musicians that were consistently making art; so Devin and Chad made the move.

1997-1999: D.C., Smart Went Crazy and the birth of Faraquet

To further their musical agenda, the pair needed a drummer. Up until this point, Chad had played bass, Devin had played percussion, and then overdubbed guitar parts – a method which proved frustrating to recreate in a live setting due to obvious anatomical restrictions. Soon, a lifeline appeared for the duo – local band Smart Went Crazy, who had already released on Dischord, had recently lost their drummer and were searching for another. Although he hadn’t heard much of their music, a mutual friend that shared the same practice space as Devin and Chad suggested him as a replacement, under the impression that he was a drummer at heart. They offered him the part after a successful audition. He accepted, but he was vocally adamant from the beginning that it would always be a side-project for him – his commitments were with his main band, playing guitar with his buddy Chad.

Devin contributed drums to Smart Went Crazy’s second and final LP, Con Art, released in 1997. Throughout the recording of this album, Devin and SWC’s guitarist Geoff Boswell formed a close relationship. This led to Geoff offering his help after discovering Devin wanted to develop his original project. Chad learnt to play the drums and Geoff took over on bass. And so the lineup was formed for their new project: ‘Faraquet’.

What is ‘faraquet’ exactly? As it happens, the story is not all that interesting. The members wanted a name that didn’t mean anything and had no connotations so, naturally, they just started spouting out made up words. Jeff’s suggestion (“far-uh-ket“) resonated the most. It’s bold, exotic, hard to pinpoint etymologically. Devin tells me that the hardest part, surprisingly, was figuring out how to spell it.

We both acknowledge that despite not being a drummer originally, Chad’s swung drum licks are a key ingredient to their sound. It was Devin that taught him to play, meaning that he could maintain creative control and help shape the drum part from the song’s inception. A symbiotic relationship developed between the three players – Devin had a preconceived notion of how the song should sound and then parts were allocated to each player.

On Devin’s prominent vocals and lyricism, he tells me that he has always written original music, and has never been interested in playing someone else’s material. He tries recreate the melodies he hears in his mind, which in turn furthers his playing ability. The lack of theory, I propose, lends itself to Faraquet’s atonal and unique compositions. Having originally been into bands with traditional song structures such as the Beatles, Husker Du, and The Who, a foray into the jazz-infused progressive rock of King Crimson, Can, and Yes, proved vital. Whilst the clean tones of traditional jazz guitar is of no interest to Devin, it was the rough saxophone timbres and be-bop styles of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane that informed his guitar-playing – ‘…the saxophone is a lot more percussive that most guitar players play. They’re stabbing, it’s very intense, percussive, and rhythmic, and weaves in and out. So that’s kind of what I was going for’.

The newly-born band, with the insider help of Geoff, began getting their first gigs within months of forming. By the time Con Art was finished, Faraquet was ready to perform, and did so by opening for SWC on a five-week US tour of that album. Still a victim of his own multi-instrumental abilities, this meant Devin was performing guitar and singing as Faraquet before switching to drums for the headline slot. On this tour they took with them a seven-inch record of the songs ‘Parakeet’ and ‘Um Die Ecke’, recorded by Devin’s sister. Despite the trio being relatively unknown, it was received surprisingly well – although headlining shows remained out of the reach for now.

They began work on The View From This Tower, their first and only album, in 1999. Dischord Records showed a genuine, if cryptic, interest. Devin demoed some of their material to founder Ian MacKaye, and this led to a string of support slots for Fugazi in the southeast US. Devin recalls the time as being ‘intense… crazy… we were playing to 2,000 people+ a night – no-one knew who we were…’. During this tour they started to build up a following that exists to this day. Fans subsequently attend shows of Devin’s later bands, Medications and the Effects, on the strength of memories from that Fugazi tour.

The record was engineered by Jay Robbins of Jawbox, and produced at Inner Ear Studios in Virginia, where the vast majority of Dischord’s discography was recorded. It is tracked live, mostly using an early 80s Gibson SG and a 70s Marshall amp. You can also hear cello, banjo, and trumpet – the latter two of which are played by Devin himself.

Despite its careful construction, The View From This Tower was released to a resounding cry of ‘pretty much absolute silence’, Devin recalls. Faraquet disbanded months after it was available, so fans never got a chance to engage with it live. As Devin puts it, it’s tough for a band to gain an audience when they don’t exist. Bands that existed so soon before the turn of the millennium often gained posthumous cult status, driven by the Internet uncovering recordings that at the time weren’t able to find an audience. Or perhaps the music was just too far ahead of its time. Certainly listening to the record now evokes a strong sense of nostalgia that feels like an introspective insight into those heady D.C. days.

1999-Present: From the ashes of Faraquet…

A project called Medications slowly formed over the next three years. They enjoyed being propelled by the quiet success of Faraquet, and played in Japan and all over Europe. They also toured in Brazil, which is where Devin met his eventual wife in 2007. Deciding to have the wedding ceremony there, Devin wanted his best friend Chad to be in attendance. A pleasure trip to South America is no cheap affair, and so they hatched the plan to a book a short Brazilian tour for Faraquet – this would pay for Chad to be at the wedding. They found a Brazilian bass player to cover for Geoff, who was out of contact at this point. Invigorated by these shows, they broke the silence with Geoff and reformed for a one-off gig in D.C., at Black Cat on 14th St. Whilst the reception was positive, it became apparent why they didn’t last as a band. Creating music was difficult with that particular group of people. Devin recalls that being the main songwriter became a burden, and he was too often relied upon to create the next material.

Medications fans can expect new material very soon. For Faraquet fans, however, new movements remain to be seen. The trio are still friends, and when questioned about future reunions, Devin does tell me that all is possible. As 20 years approaches since the release of The View From This Tower, I vehemently assure Devin that any resurgence would be hugely celebrated from what is now a global community. He admits a strong distaste for reformed bands that miss the mark, and, knowing his incredible attention to detail and stringent artistic focus, I can’t help but feel that this is the only view that we are going to get.

Still curious about this odd little math rock genre? Try our three-part History of Math Rock series.