For many musicians in St. Louis, the idea to one day hop on a plane to Europe and play music in a foreign land is a lofty and adventurous goal. Kickstarter campaigns, plane tickets and months of arduous planning are the hallmarks of the process, and even then more than just a pinch of luck is necessary to ensure that the trip is successful. But for Ste. Genevieve native Ian Fisher, it's as easy as walking out his front door.
Fisher moved to Vienna, Austria, several years ago for a musical Kerouac-style journey, and it wasn't long before friend and St. Louisan Ryan Carpenter began joining him for months at a time. Together the two formed Ian Fisher & the Present, a folk-rock duo that backpacks, hitchhikes and buses through Europe, searching for artistic inspiration and occasionally dodging shady mob guys. Vienna-based Seayou Records just released the band's self-titled album in Europe on Friday, March 1, and Fisher is hoping to find a U.S. distributor soon.
We caught up with Fisher and Carpenter during one of their rare visits back in Missouri. Initially, we thought chatting with these globetrotting Missouri sons simply would offer an interesting read on modern-day, bohemian music life. After all, who wouldn't want to hear the tales of local guys writing songs in Paris, playing to an unenthusiastic Italian crowd and getting picked up by a niche European indie label?
Little did we know that the wry Fisher and boisterous Carpenter would provide almost as much entertainment as the old "Who's on First?" routine, but with a lot more F-bombs and beards. Carpenter and Fisher quickly proved themselves their own best interviewers, and through back-and-forth jabs and shared stories, our presence was essentially negated. Here's what we learned.
On Fisher's affinity for Vienna:
Fisher: The week after I initially got to Vienna, I could tell that I was going to want to stay. I moved to Berlin two years ago, but that was a mistake, and now I'm thinking about moving back to Vienna. It's basically a city version of me. Dark and cynical. Small. [Thinks for a moment] Filled with cafés and sausage.
Carpenter: "Filled with cafés and sausage." [Shakes his head at Fisher] Really? What's she going to do with that?
On arranging shows during their recent three-month return to Missouri:
Carpenter: I'm doing all of the organizing, since I know people here. But Ian organizes our appearances in Europe because he lives there full-time.
Fisher: I have a lot more contacts all over Europe.
Carpenter: I've been working my ass off here, you know? And when I say "working my ass off," I mean popping into cafés and chatting people up.
Fisher: It's something that I absolutely hate. I used to be really good at that type of shit, but then I got Europeanized, and now I hate everybody and don't want to have small-talk conversations.
Carpenter: But it's not small talk!
Fisher: It is total small talk.
Carpenter: But it's small talk that means something!
Fisher: It matters, it matters, I know. [Rolls eyes] But it's really hard for me to get over this Viennese mentality of "Oh no, I have to talk to that person at that table." [Sighs]
Carpenter: I think some people in St. Louis feel that way.
Fisher: Yeah, but I don't know that people are open about it. It's an unstated, understood thing that when we're small talking, it's like, "You know that I'm only talking to you because you're here, and I would look like an asshole if I didn't talk to you." That drives me crazy. I would rather just not talk at all. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there. Gosh, and now I'm running late." I do that a lot. I'm a terrible fucking person.
On staying friends despite intense conditions:
Fisher: We both have a pretty good idea of our limits. I know when I shouldn't pick on Ryan. But the majority of the time, it actually is good for me to pick on him because it keeps him in check. His dad and brothers always give him shit, so I know he won't feel at home unless he has that.
Carpenter: That's very true, actually — except they don't give me shit by taking photos of me when I'm so hungover that I can't function. That is what kills me.
Fisher: It's so fucking funny.
Carpenter: As soon as I wake up, Ian's like, "Oh, this is great." He gets out his camera [Pretends to snap photos] and says, "Wait, I have to turn the flash on!"
Fisher: There is a digression as human beings when you spend so much time on the road.
Carpenter: Dishing out shit is a very important part of making this relationship work.
On teaching the world about geography:
Fisher: When people ask where I'm from, I say Missouri. I don't tell them I'm from the U.S., because if they don't know where Missouri is, then they obviously don't know very much about the country. And if they're going to try to put on that they know more about the United States than even I do, which some people do when you go abroad...
Carpenter: Especially about politics.
Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, and I have a good-old time with that. If I'm confronted by a narrow-minded piece of shit who wants to tell me about where I'm from, then I'll lead him into a trap and just rip him a new asshole.
Carpenter: Even people who aren't narrow-minded! I remember there was this sweet girl, and you guys were talking about some political thing. And you were just grilling her. God, it was terrible. I remember feeling so bad, but I didn't know how to stop it.
Fisher: Everybody loves being grilled. Everybody's a masochist deep down. They love suffering.
On treasured keepsakes:
Carpenter: I pick up doodads. I've got a bell that should be on the neck of a tiny little dwarf cow from this crazy flea market in Switzerland.
Fisher: I carry around my notebook, a picture of my girlfriend, some guitar picks...
Carpenter: I've got a lighter.
Fisher: I keep a lighter that says "Fuck you, you fucking fuck."
On Sicilian culture:
Carpenter: We played a concert with all these crazy technical problems. Afterwards, I was stoned and drunk, so I was on this level of otherworldliness, ready to dance. I asked the DJ, "Can you play some Michael Jackson?" Then this guy comes in and completely changes the atmosphere. He's very well dressed and looks like he's got some business. He goes to the DJ, says one word, and everything shuts down. So I was like, "Come on, man, let's just listen to the end of this song." And this dude gets right into my face and says, [Assumes a menacing Sicilian accent] "You are breaking my balls!"
Fisher: I still remember that evening vividly. We also had a conversation with some guys who told us great things about the Italian language. One guys says, [Mimics a know-it-all Italian accent] "In Italian, 'cazzo' means 'dick,' but it also means 'fuck,' but it also could mean 'shit.'" [Laughs] Yeah, some crazy shit.
On switching careers:
Carpenter: We've talked about becoming a comedy duo completely aside from the music.
Fisher: But it would only work if I mimed everything, because I sound like such a jackass when I speak.
Carpenter: Or if we didn't do actual shows — if we just had people pay us by appointment to hang out.
Fisher: We should be charging you for this interview right now.