“DIG DEEP!” Great Good Fine OK’s manager yells across the lobby of Shoreditch’s ACE Hotel as I begin to wrap up my interview with the Brooklyn synth poppets. We’ve been chatting for about half an hour, covered everything from their gratuitous sandwich video to their debut album, but still the boss wants more.
Tell me about your first dead pet.
“First dead pet?” Reminisces Luke without flinching. “It was a crayfish named buddy. It was third grade. It’s like a little underwater cockroach with pinchers. I had one friend who lost his behind his parent’s washer and drier. Just went down the crack, never to be seen again.
“I have another weird dead pet story; so my younger brothers both had various hamsters. One of them escaped during the middle of the winter, they couldn’t find it. We set traps out to try to catch it, and finally my other brother found it outside, just like a skeleton of a hamster.”
“I haven’t had too many dead pet experiences because my mum had a cat named Mitsy that lived 23 years,” chips in Jon. “So the cat just died recently, and that’s my only experience.”
“I want the headline to be ‘GGFO - Into dead pets.’” Laughs Luke.
Well, you ask, you get at DICE.
Originally from upstate New York, Great Good Fine OK formed on the artistic streets of Brooklyn, the kind of place where you can’t swing a (dead) cat for fear of hitting an indie band. A duo in studio, live they play with a full band and an array of instruments that’ll stretch your imagination.
Bursting across ears with their gloriously sparkling pop, falsetto heart sighs, and hooks sharper than their stage outfits, debut track You’re The One For Me caught the attention of every blog worth reading, knocking up near a million streams on Soundcloud alone.
Over in the UK for a small run of shows we sit down for their first ever British interview. But before we start talking bulldogs and mushy peas, let’s go back to before the beginning.
Every interview with Great Good Fine OK tells the same tale; vague acquaintances Jon and Luke bumped into each other on a street corner in Brooklyn, decided to collaborate on some music, and there a band was born. But what had they been working on before that fateful night?
“We were both doing our own musical projects before this,” begins Jon, the clean-shaven front man who bears a passing resemblance to Andy Samberg. “We were each doing music since we were little; I was writing songs since I was nine years old, he was making beats when he was probably that age too. And so we’ve both had full lives of creating music and doing our own thing with different artists and with our own projects.
“Then because he was living with one of my friends I met him, Luke, and we decided to collaborate on something. And as the story goes, we ran into each other on the street after not seeing each other for a while and we were like, OK, let’s actually do this.”
Most stop-and-chats I have on the street tend to revolve around the weather and hangovers. I ask if forming a band on a street corner wasn’t a little intense? Bearded keyboard master Luke is primed to answer. “It didn’t seem that intense because when you’re in New York and you’re friends with a million musicians everyone’s always saying, ‘We should collaborate.’ That stuff happens all the time and nothing ever comes of it. You see a musician; ‘Yeah, what’s up man? Let’s do something! Let’s hang!’”
So how had Luke and Jon met before? Jon begins, “The piano player in the band I was doing before, which was just my name, Jon Sandler, my friend Dominic was producing it and he was my piano player and he was Luke’s roommate. And so I was constantly over there working and I met Luke and actually had Luke mix one of my songs, co-produce one of my songs, but during that time I never thought Luke and I would eventually start something together.
“We just kind of worked together, and that was that. So that night that we ran into each other on the street, Luke sent me You’re The One For Me, the music to it.”
“I’d just kind of been working on that in my free time for a couple of months before that,” Luke adds, before Jon continues. “And that night I listened to it and was inspired because it was amazing and I wrote the lyrics and melody pretty much that night. And then got together and went back and forth polishing it up, but that’s how that song came to be. And then we kind of sent it to people who went crazy and loved it, so we decided to write some more songs.”
Luke is the music guy, while Jon writes the words and the topline melody. Both from upstate New York, they bonded over ridiculous radio commercials from their youth and began to work on more material, mostly in the same pattern where Luke would send a track to Jon and it would be passed back and forth.
“We knew each other well enough when we decided to write this song that we felt comfortable writing, but in our process, it’s sort of like we let the other person do what they do,” explains Jon. “We’re not in a room soul-searching together. We kind of soul-search separately and then come together once we both feel strongly about our parts.”
When I first heard Great Good Fine OK with Jon’s falsetto croon and Luke’s unashamed pop gloss, the band Passion Pit came to mind. Not only in sound but also in circumstance. When Sleepyhead hit blogs in 2008, specifically the hyped Neon Gold who released their 7”, everything seemed to go stratospheric for them. But sudden fame came at a cost. I ask if it was similar for Jon and Luke. Were they ready for the success of You’re The One For Me? And did they have anything in line to follow it up?
“Yeah, it was definitely a pressure that wasn’t there when we created that first song,” shrugs Luke.
“The good thing for us is that we love writing songs, and we’re pretty quick at it,” Jon continues. “For me, I would consider myself a songwriter first and foremost. I’ve written a thousand songs in my life. So for us to continue writing songs, for me, is not the hurdle.”
“We sort of just put it out and hoped for the best,” smiles Luke with a touch of disbelief. “So we were floored when we got such great reviews and people connected with it so much. And then the second song we put out, Not Going Home did even better. So that’s when we started feeling a little more confident in what we were doing and knew that we were kind of in it for the long run.”
At the time of our interview it’s one year since Great Good Fine OK played their first live show in NY, their debut outing ahead of six very important, high pressure gigs at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “It was so stressful and crazy,” laughs Luke.
Live Luke and Jon play with a drummer, guitarist and bassist. Jon slicks across the stage, terrifyingly pitch perfect on even the highest of notes, while Luke steals attention with some pretty fancy keyboards and something called a malletKAT?
“The malletKAT, yeeeaaah,” Luke nods. “It’s basically like an electronic vibraphone or xylophone that kind of makes whatever sounds I want it to make. A lot of the stuff is parts that I come up with on the keyboard, but I actually was trained on mallet percussion. I played in a percussion ensemble. So I had always wanted to get one of these malletKAT things but never had a super good reason to do it until this band.”
“And I feel like a lot of the parts you write are very percussive so I feel like there’s an element of, you actually can play those parts better, don’t you think?” Justifies Jon. “We both love performing and we’re fans of bands and fans of live concerts. So right from the beginning we knew we wanted this to be a real live experience.”
Luke confirms, “Right from the outset we had wanted to make it kind of a band thing just because for me, it tends to be really boring to watch just like two people on stage. I mean there are exceptions to that. I feel like it’s just a lot harder to make something that’s really interesting to watch with two people. We wanted to perform. I think that’s super important.”
“Yeah,” agrees Jon. “And another thing about our music is we wanted people to dance at the shows, we wanted people to come away feeling like they just saw a real show and not just a music performance. We wanted to put on a show. And so to do that we knew drums are important for people dancing and everything else, and the more visual things you can see, the more sound. And so the full band was important to us.”
If you want a four-minute taster of the lengths GGFO go to for visual impact, the video for breakout attention grabber You’re The One For Me is an excellent, gut-churning example that won’t let you look away. For a song that’s indebted to such deep sentient and romance, it’s hard to see where the sandwich came from…
“So there’s a blog called The Wild Honey Pie,” begins Luke, drawing in a deep breath. “I was doing a bunch of audio and video stuff for them at the time. So I was actually in the car with Eric [Weiner, Editor], driving to a session at the time to film a band in a barber shop and we’d just finished the demo of You’re The One For Me and I put it on and he’s like, ‘Holy shit this is awesome.’ He’s sort of just describing this music video to me, he’s like, ‘I’m picturing it’s a beautiful day in the park and there’s this girl and she’s eating a sandwich and just taking bite after bite.’ And I’m like, cool – you wanna make that?”
Jon interrupts. “What’s funny about it is then Luke came and told me what had happened and he was kind of explaining the music video idea, but wasn’t really explaining it right so he’s just like, ‘Dude, there’s someone making a sandwich.’ And I was like, who’s making a sandwich? I didn’t get it. I was like, what’s cool about that? Then they’re talking about it more and I’m like, oh a DISGUSTING sandwich. And it’s a hot girl? Ahhhhh!”
“I think the original concept was quite different than what it ended up being,” admits Luke.
Having just released their 2M2H EP, focus has now turned to that full-length debut album, not that either band member seems too stressed out about it. “Like I said, we write songs often and pretty quickly,” Jon shrugs. “So we’ve accumulated close to twenty songs. We released our first EP about a year ago and now we’re releasing another EP and that’s basically because we’re not quite ready to put out a full album, but we have a lot of songs.
“We want to share more music with our fans. We’re really proud of this stuff, but we have a lot of songs that we’re working on right now.”
In fact, it’s not just their material GGFO are working on, but collaborations too. The day before our interview a new track with The Chainsmokers premiered online. It seems like an odd pairing, these two romantics and the kings of Selfie.
“Right, so what happened is, before Selfie was even written The Chainsmokers approached us to co-write a song with them,” explains Jon. “And so it was the same process that Luke does basically, they sent me a track and I wrote the song on top of it, sent it back to them and didn’t think much of it. But they really loved it and I actually really loved it too, and I was hoping something would happen with it. And then this big craze with Selfie happened and so it put everything on hold for about a year, and they blew up in the meantime. So now they’re releasing the song. Those guys are awesome.
Luke continues, “If you hear Selfie, I don’t know what you would think, but they’re actually really amazing musicians and really talented producers and I hope that our song with them shows the world that. I think they’re going to have a long lasting career.”
And we hope the same for Great Good Fine OK, a band with melodies that refuse to leave your subconscious, a live show that will fill you with euphoria, and a talent for writing songs full of sentiment, ideas, and imagination. Great guys, even if they have got a weird thing for dead pets.