Let’s Talk Figures mastermind Bob Icon is a busy guy. He works at a prolific pace, recording and performing with a number of projects. Perhaps his most personal venture is Facebook User, a solo endeavor that, despite its nondescript title, covers a wide variety of styles while simultaneously rendering them in an utterly singular manner. Unless you’re already familiar with other Let’s Talk Figures artists, you’re probably not going to have a great frame of reference for Facebook User’s sound. It’s weird and trippy and very electronic and postmodern. If you’re really into Soundcloud rap or vaporwave, you’ll probably dig it, but there are still strong elements of traditional guitar rock present as well. Experimental is probably the best hashtag to apply here.
Facebook User’s new album, Statuses Vol. III: 2016-2018, is out now via, you guessed it, Let’s Talk Figures. As the title implies, it’s the third Facebook User album, and like its predecessors it is comprised of songs detailing the past few years of Bob Icon’s life, albeit in sometimes cryptic, but also sometimes emotionally bare manner. Facebook User recently spoke with Shindigmusic about the record, his aesthetic, the current state of Let’s Talk Figures, and a bunch of other stuff.
You are involved in a number of projects. Can you walk our readers through your body of work, and explain where Facebook User fits in?
I’ve played live music for a number of years with a number of bands, such as Don’t Stop Please, Comfortable Brother, Manchild, Youth Pastor, Rocket Coma, The Inner Party, Goldfish Waterslide, The Jackson Jennings 5, The Lampliter Boys, S H Y T VV N S, and my “solo project” Bob For Apples.
I’ve also always loved hip-hop and electronic music and have made a number of ventures in those directions – an electro-pop outfit SHYTVVNS, outsider-art electronic music like LRG, Xellow, and The European Experience, and a hip-hop duo, I C O N I C, with my good friend and local vaporwave artist PZA.
I also started recording music at the same time I started playing it, and so I’ve always been very interested in production and sound design. We started a record label and recording studio, Let’s Talk Figures, in 2013, and since then have recorded and supported a wild variety of Arkansan artists, from hip-hop like Devin Nu Phlo to electro-folk like Sister Fox and indie rock like High Lonesome, Monk Is King, and Hazemaze – as well as LTF darlings and authors of the hit anti-Jason Rapert song “Arkansas State Senator”, The Ronald Rayguns. We’ve also been a part of a number of compilations in the internet vaporwave scene and have released albums from artists like Terror of Evil, Ezhak, and 1998 Toyota Corolla.
The Facebook User albums I see as a culmination of all my disparate musical interests, packaged together in a constantly-shifting postmodern hellscape.
There are 26 songs on this album, but they’re all pretty short. Was that by design or did it just work out coincidentally to where all of these songs were in the one-two minute range?
Most of the songs on the album I wrote while browsing Facebook, just endlessly scrolling until some article or status [or meme] grabbed my attention and sparked something. Unsurprisingly, my attention span at the time wasn’t very substantial and so the material that resulted was a very rapid moving through whatever emotions I felt at the time. I had begun thinking that it was a very strange thing for a person to move between Angry News Story, Cute Puppies, Fancy Vacations, Old Flames etc. all in less than a minute of scrolling, and I wanted to try and capture that with music.
The 26 songs is also a motif I’ve maintained across all the Facebook User albums, and the numerology behind that is my birthday is August 26th (Virgo-life) and I just like it. There’s obviously a strong electronic vibe throughout this new record. What do you prefer about working in electronic music versus the slightly more traditional rock of some of your other projects?
There’s obviously a strong electronic vibe throughout this new record. What do you prefer about working in electronic music versus the slightly more traditional rock of some of your other projects?
I’ve always felt that All Music Is All Music – any melody, tone, rhythm, means of production, etc., they all communicate something – and nothing should be shied away from, a painter wouldn’t exclude blue or a writer the word “moist”. I’ve never considered anything off-limits and have often really enjoyed the bizarre novelty that can happen when things that aren’t usually combined together are.
Electronic music also allows a lot greater precision when comes to some music, and the ability to easily modify it afterwards – it’s comparatively very easy to rearrange a drum or synth part in MIDI as opposed to acoustic drums or instruments, and I tend to tweak and change songs a lot over the course of working on them, as new elements are introduced and new ideas come to mind.
Also drum machines and synthesizers are just really cool, nothing in this world can get me going quite like some 808s.
You were the primary force behind the Let’s Talk Figures studio, which unfortunately closed a few months ago. Do you have any plans to reopen a new studio in NWA? Where does Let’s Talk Figures go from here?
With Let’s Talk Figures, we aim to continue supporting and releasing music from outsider-art-minded folks, from Arkansas and beyond, as well as exploring further into other media ventures (keep your eyes peeled for future Good Television episodes). As far as a physical LTF studio location, time will tell!
Even though Facebook User is a solo project, you did have a few collaborators on some of these tracks. Tell us about working with them and what they brought to the table.
On the first song, “LOVE BOBBY”, I recorded multiple versions of the song, some minimal hip-hop oriented, others with a live-band format, with different players playing different instruments across the various takes – on one we had a 3 guitar set-up with me, Preston Whittenburg [of Open Fields], and Sean Johnson [of High Lonesome, The Inner Party] with Brent Morgan [Open Fields] and Will King [Sad Palomino, Youth Pastor] for the rhythm section. Preston also plays drums on another take that constitutes the third chorus of the song.
Will King appears on several tracks on STATUSES VOL. III – I’ve played music with Will for a long time (since our college days back at UCA) and over the course of time he’s become one of my most valued musical partners. After a long time of knowing someone and playing music with them, you learn pick up very quickly on what the other is doing and are then able to react unconsciously and naturally, and that’s a very important thing in my mind.
There’s also a good deal of more incidental features – on several songs I throw in our Let’s Talk Figures tags, one of which is a sample of Willie Krzeszinski saying “Let’s Talk Figures has the best production values and the lowest prices.” Another is Jackson Jennings’s (of the Jackson Jennings 5) daughters yelling “let’s talk figures!” These sort of things I think give a real color to the album, which I think so easily could get bogged down in “oh Bob’s saying something again.”
On track 7 “GOOD STUFF”, there’s a segment at the end where an old friend of ours from Conway hired LTF to help him make a commercial where he talks about “real good insurance dot com”. The funk guitar and horns on the commercial were played by my friends Anna and Joel from Handmade Moments. I’ve included this segment in every Facebook User album, it’s just so cute.
A lot of these songs seem highly personal. Was there anything you were specifically trying to accomplish or convey with them?
I feel it’s a very personal album, with all the classic Bob emotions – love, loss, being upset about society, overwhelming cuteness of precious animals etc. – but underlying all of them was this questioning of “Is this reality? Do I feel this way? What does it mean to ‘feel’ or to be ‘me’?”
I’ve grown up in the 21st century internet culture – I’m very much “peak millennial” – and I think one of the biggest challenges of our time is this gap between the reality we experience and this symbolic narrative we see and live through various forms of media that we spend a substantial amount of our time engaging with. It’s hard for me sometimes, personally, to separate whether the “feelings” I am currently feeling are an honest biological/psychological truth or are rather “what I should be feeling”, performative even if there is no one other than myself that I am performing for. With Facebook User I hope to at least articulate this problem, even if solving it is probably outside the bounds of weird internet music.
You just mentioned being a millennial and a lot of your aesthetic, especially in this project, is very overtly influenced by things like memes. Are you trying to make some sort of cultural commentary with that, or is it just incidental to the fact you’re a young musician?
I think it’s inescapable as a young person these days, so much of our lives are filtered and experienced through these social media platforms that I think it’s impossible to deny the effects – but that’s also the exact sort of criticism I’m interested in, the omnipresence of these sorts of media and what the consequences are of everybody spending so much time “together” on them.
Ostensibly the idea behind a band name is to identify yourself as a brand. I’m hard pressed to think of a band name that would be more challenging to use in a Google search than Facebook User. What’s your motivation in using this name and have you ever had any trouble from the actual Facebook over it?
It’s funny you mention that, Facebook won’t actually let me make a “Facebook User” page – they’ve apparently got rules against making pages with “Facebook” in the name. However, I was able to navigate around this by just calling the page “FB User”, so give it a dang like!
As far as it’s un-Google-ability, I’ve never expected Facebook User to be attracting too much internet traffic, so it was always more important for me to try to honestly convey the intent behind it – this isn’t “me” as “brand”, but rather “me” as “anonymous person who is on Facebook and all the baggage that comes with that.”
As we’ve discussed, there are a lot songs on this new record and you have two other Facebook User albums. You’ve never performed live as Facebook User. Do you plan on doing any shows to promote this new one?
Some Facebook User songs have found their way into other live settings – “Fayettechill” off the first album we’ve played in Manchild and Bob For Apples, and “Black Helicopters” off the second album has been performed both with Youth Pastor in its original down-tempo vibe and with Goldfish Waterslide with a much more energetic folk-rock/country feel. However, a good deal of the Facebook User material is very production-focused and would be difficult if not impossible to pull off in a live setting – and that’s great! It’s exactly what the songs demanded and it’s very important to be honest to the songs themselves.
What do you have planned for Facebook User going forward, and are there any big future plans for any of your other projects?
You know with Facebook User I’m not sure. I’m definitely going to keep writing songs, and a lot of them I’m sure will continue to have irregular song structures and off-kilter production vibes. However, I do like the cleanliness of the current “trilogy” of Facebook User albums, and I do feel with this album in particular I’ve wrapped up one chapter in my musical and emotional growth, and I don’t intend on forcing future developments into any one particular mode or brand.
I’ve also deleted the Facebook app off my phone and Lord knows spending a lot less time on the social medias.
However, in other project news, there are two Bob For Apples albums that I plan on releasing before the end of the year, comprised mostly of rock songs and my feelings, as well as a solo hip-hop mixtape I’ll be releasing under the name Bob Icon. In Let’s Talk Figures news, we’ve also got releases from Goldfish Waterslide, The Jackson Jennings Five, Dystopia Jr., and of course the annual LTF Christmas Album coming out in the next few months, so stay tuned, it’s a great time for weird music in Arkansas!
Dave Morris is the Features Editor of Shindigmusic. He has written for the Arkansas Times, the Fayetteville Flyer, the Idle Class, and Fayettesound. His academic writing is featured in the book “First Amendment Studies in Arkansas”. He holds an M.A. in Rhetoric from the University of Arkansas and is a recipient of the Richard S. Arnold Prize in First Amendment Studies. He also attended Marquette University Law School. He currently performs with post-punk band The Inner Party when he is not dealing with his foolish cats or engaging in a shameful array of other geeky pursuits.