Mix one part Caribbean rhythm, two parts Western pop, three parts African music, and one part Hebrew prayer and you’ll get Fool’s Gold, a world group in every sense of the word. The group originally began as a loose 12-15 person collective headed by vocalist Luke Top and guitarist Lewis Pesacov (of folk-rock band Foreign Born), but have since tightened their roster to a five-man band that specializes in tropical music, or what the group calls “trop pop.” Songs feature sunny guitar licks, squelchy keyboards, a multitude of percussion and horns aplenty, and often lend themselves to sprawling live jams that prove undeniably danceable. Barely a month out from the release of their second album Leave No Trace, this release is just as upbeat as their first album. If you’re looking for a lively way to start the day, look no further. Check out my review of their recent performance at FYF Fest here, and my interview with Lewis Pesacov (lead guitarist) below.
Lewis: Luke and I have known each other since we were about 16 years old. We didn’t go to the same high school, but we both were in bands in Los Angeles. Our bands in high school, [Luke] was in a band called Racecar that played Britpop and I was in a band called The Americanos, and we played lots of shows with each other. So we knew each other since then and we played with each other since we were teenagers, then we went to college together.
How did you guys decide to form a band together if you were working in separate groups?
Though I played keyboards in his band and he did something-or-another in my band for ages, we had never actually been co-collaborators, co-songwriters ever. It was kind of like, the day that we formed we were like “hey, why don’t we write some songs together?” [It was] very positive for our mutual appreciation for world music, and that was that.
Where did you guys go from there? If it started with the two of you, how did you round up the other members of the band?
Well for a long time we were a very open-ended collective of up to fifteen people, it was kind of like everyone in the neighborhood of Echo Park/Silver Lake side of LA, all of our friends would invite other people to come. It was always a different lineup for years, people would just show up. Two of the guys who are in the band now, I had never met before except for either onstage or in rehearsal for a show. It was interesting how organic it happened.
When you were starting out did you feel like you were very much a part of the Echo Park/Silver Lake music scene?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we know a ton of musicians and people in bands, and we all play shows together and are a community.
How does the songwriting process go for Fool’s Gold? You guys were saying you started out with ten to fifteen members, how would you form songs that way?
You know, I’d write a riff, Luke would write a little melody, we’d come in and play and then I’d kind of direct other musicians. A lot of early songs are pretty open-ended and trance-oriented, so we’d split people into certain directions and let them go.
How did you coordinate your band if you had so many people? Was it mostly jam sessions, or…?
Yeah, there were some changes in the beginning. It was pretty open-ended there because we had so many people and it was easier to keep it a little bit on the more open-ended tip. But you know, it’s like five years later, flash-forward to now, it’s kind of a different situation because now we’re only five guys in a band.
Let’s talk about that a bit. How do you feel that has affected the dynamic of the band?
In a good way, in a positive way. You know it was always really open-ended, you never knew who was going to show up to a show. It was always a different lineup, every tour we did up until last November was [with] a different member or lineup of musicians. And so now I feel like with a stable lineup of guys, and [there being] only five of us, it’s much easier to hone in on details, to kind of get in there. Which actually then kind of creates for more freedom in a way because you’re less concerned about having to keep teaching people the songs every time you go on tour.
Yeah, Brad [Caulkins] and I do most of the multi-instrumentalism. Brad plays saxophone, guitar, and keyboards and I play guitar and keyboards. And the percussion is, for our new set up… he’s taken on a lot of roles. There were some people in the band previously that just would do very simple, bigger rhythmic patterns with like keys or gourds. We kind of made our own instrument kind of like a foot pedal. Our percussionist now, Salvador Placencia, is playing one rhythm with one foot, something with each other hand, playing keyboard parts… he’s taking on a lot heavier role in the absence of all the other members.
What would you say your strongest musical influence is?
African music. But I mean we also work with a lot of other music.
And do you feel like your experience playing with [folk-rock band] Foreign Born has influenced your playing with Fool’s Gold?
You know, in a way. I wouldn’t say it influences it, I think that a musician is a musician. I have a specific voice, and a way I play guitar. You can probably hear it from one to the other, [but] they’re different bands, different dynamics, different energy, different people, it makes for different songs.
I first came across you guys on the South By Southwest sampler that was released in 2009. I was instantly hooked on “Surprise Hotel.” Can you talk a little bit about the music video you guys shot for that? That’s one of the things that stood out to me.
Yeah, that gig was funny. We hired a director, Matthew Lessner, and he kind of was just like “go to town.” He kind of just had this crazy vision, and it all took place on one day. We weren’t working on a large budget or anything like that, we got a lot of people, a lot of the actors are friends that we found. And we just kind of hung out with dogs and lizards [laughs]. It was a really hot day, I remember. It was fun, and it definitely captures a certain lineup of the band, which is really funny because like I’m saying, the lineup always changed, that was definitely a certain era when we made that video. It was cool, I’m happy that all our friends were in the band at one point.
After seeing you guys play before, I feel that Fool’s Gold is very much a live band. How were you able to translate that energy and excitement to your albums?
I think that [playing] live and recording are different beasts, and they’re kind of meant in the long run for different senses in a way. But, in order to capture a lot of the feeling of what we do live, we all record simultaneously in one room. There are overdubs, don’t get me wrong, but rather than piecing it together the other way where you do the bass, then you do the drums… we just did it all at once, playing together in a room, which is really important for the feel of music.
What’s your favorite aspect of playing live? Do you prefer smaller club shows or bigger crowds?
I actually really like small, packed, hot sweaty clubs. That’s my favorite. I think that’s when it feels the best and there’s the most energy, and the people are vibing the most; that’s always my favorite.
But that’s not to say you guys haven’t played big festivals before.
Oh no, we’ve played tons of big festivals in Europe, we’ve played Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds. We’ve played for tens of thousands of people, which is really fun, too, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that you have less eye contact and less actual contact with people in the audience.
We are very huge fans of Tinariwen and we got in touch with them, and we played a couple shows with them, two of which were in New York. We shared the stage and hung out with them backstage and got to know them and it just seems like we have a basic mutual appreciation for each other. It was freaking awesome that we got to play with them, and Said [Ag Ayad] the percussionist is so amazing, [and] freaking Ibrahim [Ag Alhabib] the guitar player is such an amazing guy. He asked to play my guitar, which was a total honor. They’re really great guys. I mean, we’ve played with lots of different African artists at this point, and it’s mostly been a really really positive experience.
Do you have any other collaborations in mind for the future?
Yeah we’re playing this fall on tour in Europe. We’re playing a show in Paris and this guy named Bombino who is from Niger, he’s also a Tuareg like Tinariwen, but he’s a younger age, like my age, like 30. He’s really amazing, and he’s playing a show with us. Beyond that there’s another Tuareg band called Terakaft who’s playing a show with us in France. Funnily enough we were just talking with our booking agent in France and he got us Bombino’s phone number in Niger, he was like “call him and talk to him about it!” It was a really funny idea, calling Bombino in Niger on his cell phone, to talk about our collaboration.
Is there anybody else who you’d like to play with?
You know, we’re happy to play music, and to play with anybody else who also loves to play music, so that list could be really long.
And being a band that was once a huge collective, do you have any surprises planned for future shows, like do you have any special guests that are going to pop up on stage with you guys?
I think that we’re just getting used to being five people so we’re trying to keep it at that for a little while. At least for this album cycle, we’ll see how it works out. Maybe we’ll have someone else, later, but we’re really enjoying just being five people, being able to focus.
What are your future plans?
We do a two-week U.S. tour, we’re playing Austin City Limits, we’re playing Brilliant Corners of Pop. We’re playing some of our own shows, and then we go to Europe for about a month and a half. We’re doing France, Belgium, Netherlands then we’re playing with Red Hot Chili Peppers in the United Kingdom. That’s pretty funny, it’s like stadiums.
How did that come about?
It’s funny enough, I actually know the new member of the Chili Peppers [guitarist Josh Klinghoffer] is a guitar player who I’ve known since I was younger in Los Angeles, who’s my age as well. Their new album [I’m With You] is actually, oddly enough, kind of influenced by African music a little bit, so I think it all just kind of fell in place. It’s definitely going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hopefully not, but most likely yes [laughs].
Well thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this interview, I really appreciate it.
Good luck, take care.