The Body & Dis Fig Hash Out Their Tour Logistics

“We can play some Phantom of the Opera in between.”

Lee Buford — along with Chip King — performs in the Portland-based duo The Body; Felicia Chen is a Berlin-based artist who performs as Dis Fig. The Body & Dis Fig just put out a collaborative record, Orchards of a Futile Heaven, so to celebrate, the two got on the phone to catch up. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Lee Buford: My [first exposure to your music] was through, Zac [Jones], MSC. 

Felicia Chen: Word.

Lee: I don’t know how Zac heard it. 

Felicia: I mean, probably just being on the internet! But I think my first knowing of you guys — I feel like someone had told me about you guys, but the one that I remember is watching some live recording of a DJ set of Goth Trad, and he put one of your tunes in. I think it was the Haxan Cloak collab. I was like, What the fuck is this? And then I dove in.

Lee: Yeah, Chip and Seth [Manchester, engineer] actually went out and played with them in Japan.

Felicia: Sick. Did you slip the demo underneath his door one day or something?

Lee: No, he asked us to come out and play something he was curating, and Chip’s story is that Seth got very drunk and messed it all up. 

Felicia: [Laughs.]

Lee: Well, not messed it up, but was was sloppy. And Seth’s story is that he was not drunk and that it was just very loud. [Laughs.] But they said Goth Trad rocked. 

Felicia: Yeah, he’s amazing. How are you when you travel?

Lee: I’m OK. I mean, it’s all driving, so it’s not as bad. 

Felicia: I’m actually pretty good with traveling. I’m usually not stressed. I think maybe before when I was mainly DJing and would stay up really late, drink a lot, I definitely had my moments in some bathroom in some airport being like, Oh, fuck, how am I gonna get to the plane? How am I supposed to leave this toilet? I’ve learned from my lessons and I don’t really drink so much when I’m on tour anymore. So I’m pretty chill. I’ve probably only missed one plane that was my fault. I think that’s pretty good.

Lee: That’s very good. Flying — that’s too much for me. No thank you.

Felicia: For me, I just put my headphones on and I’m in my own little world. It works, I guess. But I don’t have a fear of planes and stuff, luckily.

Lee: That’s good. Chip’s really good too, because Chip’s dad was a pilot, so he’s totally fine. He’s used to traveling. The one time he’s told me that he kind of freaked out was, he was going to Australia and he was in the middle seat, and he fell asleep and woke up and the person in front had their seat back. Everyone was asleep, and he was like, Oh, shit, I’m trapped in here. I would have lost it. I would have freaked out. But he handles it very well. He’s the yin to my yang.

What else do you got planned, Felicia? Before July? 

Felicia: Well, I’m going to London for three months for a residency to try and write this solo album that I’ve been wanting to write, and now actually have the mental ammo for.

Lee: Where are you staying there? What kind of setup are you going to be in?

Felicia: They set me up pretty well, I’m not going to lie. I’m going to be staying in South Kensington, which apparently is where all the museums are. Fancy. And then they also set me up with a studio space in Somerset House, which I guess is an old palace that was built a long time ago that some Queen Elizabeth used to live in — the older Queen Elizabeth. 

Lee: Wow.

Felicia: Now they’ve turned it into a hundred artist studios. It’s actually not even a music studio, it’s just a room with a desk and a chair, and I’ll bring my own gear and maybe some speakers. It’s all different multidisciplinary artists that are going to be in there, like writers, film people, graphic designers. I think it’s all across the board. I’m excited. Also, I kind of missed big city vibes. I feel like Berlin… it’s a city, but it kind of feels like more of a village.

Lee: Oh, interesting.

Felicia: It stresses me out when I’m in London, because you try to meet one person and you look up how to get there and it’s, like, an hour-and-a-half away. Then you’re like, OK, well, maybe it’s just the trains. And then you try to take a cab and it’s also an hour-and-a-half away.

Lee: No thank you.

Felicia: But, I mean, there’s a Chinatown and good Caribbean food, which we’re lacking in Berlin. So I’m happy about that.

Lee: Yeah. But Berlin seems cool. I feel like everyone moves there, everyone likes it. 

Felicia: It is cool. I mean, it gets really dark, and that’s why I don’t like it so much. It’s also really not the nicest city to look at. But there’s a lot of community here, I guess. I know a lot of like-minded people and there’s always shit going on. It’s easy to get places. It’s not too expensive. And, you know, it’s not like in New York or London where people are very flaky — where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, let’s hang out,” but then that never happens.

Lee: Yeah, definitely. I feel like every time we’re in New York, our friends come out but then they don’t hang out independently.

Felicia: Right. Everyone’s too busy.

Lee: Yeah, everyone’s too busy, and you get stuck in your neighborhood.

Felicia: I guess in Berlin, most everyone is in the same neighborhood. Ish. And public transport is pretty good, it’s pretty reliable. Also in the summer, everyone’s on bikes, so generally to most places I can bike for 25 minutes max.

Lee: Yeah. That’s how Portland used to be. I think things started moving out as it got fancier, but it used to be a joke that everything was 15 minutes away no matter what. But now that is definitely not the case.

Felicia: [I was just in Indonesia and] traffic over there is a different kind of insane. Everyone’s riding motorbikes or scooters. It’s got its own flow — it’s like a sea and you just gotta go with it, you know? For me, it was way more hectic than traffic in the States, because of the noise. I get really kind of disturbed when there’s too much foreign noise. It’s hard for me to think.

Lee: Yeah, because you’re focusing on every single thing.

Felicia: Yeah. I also have ADHD, and it’s like heightened sensations. Over there, you constantly have the motorbikes, the sounds from that, and then also honking. Which is good because over there, honking is kind of just like, “Oh, hey, I’m here.” It’s more like announcing your presence. But that means honking all the time. 

Lee: Yeah. Which is something good about New York — you can’t honk.

Felicia: True. I actually love driving in New York. I feel like it’s a video game.

Lee: Yeah, and everyone else is on the same page and highly alert. But then you go to, like, Chicago, where people are eating meatball sandwiches in their car or something, not paying attention. [Laughs.] But I have an issue with noise I can’t control — like if I go to a concert and people are clapping really loud, I don’t like that. It kind of freaks me out. But if [our own] show is really loud, it doesn’t bother me. I think if I went to go see a band like us, I probably would not like it. But since we’re playing it, I know what’s happening, so it doesn’t bother me. I like it.

Felicia: I also don’t feel like our music is a lot. Maybe it’s full in terms of volume and vibration and stuff. But I actually really don’t like super maximalist music. That, for me, is really a lot, and it makes me anxious. I feel like it physically hurts my ears. For me, it’s cranking [the volume] up until it feels good.

Lee: Yeah, you gotta have it a certain volume to make sense. I think also if you’re playing it, it’s hard to differentiate. Because to me it doesn’t seem that crazy. I mean, there’s some times when Chip will get new stuff and I’ll be like, “Holy shit, that’s fucking wild,” or intense. But that usually goes away, I feel like, after a day or two. So to me, it doesn’t ever seem that wild, but also I’m sitting right in front of it, as opposed to the sound having ten feet to really go out.

Felicia: Do you ever wish that you were in the audience when you guys were playing?

To actually fully experience it. I mean, maybe Zac and Chip have practiced before and you were out there experiencing it…

Lee: Yeah, but even that is different. I definitely wish I could experience it in that way, just to be like, What works and what doesn’t work in this setup? What are we doing wrong here? [Laughs.]

Felicia: I’m always curious for even my solo stuff. I wish I could be out there watching and seeing what it looks like, or what it feels like.

Lee: Yeah, definitely. 

Felicia: I think also for me, I feel like my experience on stage must be so different from the audience, because of [my] being so vulnerable, that I wonder how it feels to watch that.

Lee: Yeah, that’s a good question. Because it’s so personal, other people are not gonna feel the same way you do, obviously. So it is tough to be like, If this resonates with someone, I wonder why it resonates with them as opposed to how it resonates with me personally. But that’s the eternal conundrum of performing. I guess we should also figure out — side note — how we’re going to do it live. 

Felicia: [Laughs.] Yeah. 

Lee: [Laughs.] What’s your normal setup when you play live?

Felicia: My normal setup is super bare, minimal. I’ve condensed it, because I really hate carrying shit. At this current moment — even though in the future I want to change it up and do more stuff live — I just have my laptop and my MIDI controllers. All my vocal effects are going through my laptop, and I’m looping things on that too. Just because it’s so intense vocally, and I would prefer to run around, so it’s kind of just playing backing tracks, the instrumentals.

Lee: Are you running them through Ableton or ProTools or something? 

Felicia: Ableton. I used to work with a vocal pedal, but I realized that I just wanted the vocals to shine in different ways that I couldn’t just get through a pedal. So I prefer my own vocal effects chains — even though I would actually optimally love to get rid of my laptop for the live set. But I don’t know, vocal pedals aren’t very good. I haven’t found anything that really can do some cool stuff.

Lee: Do you ever have issues with Ableton live? 

Felicia: No, it’s pretty consistent.

Lee: On the Body/Uniform tour, because we played to so many backing tracks on that, we used this thing, the Cymatic Audio, which is basically a CD player kind of thing. It just has “play,” “stop,” “rewind,” or whatever, but it has 16 outs, so we had all the tracks — like drums on track one, bass on track two — and we had it so that we could mix it like a band.

Felicia: Oh, wow.

Lee: So the backing track sounded a real band, because everything’s going to the mixer as its own separate track. And then we had a click track going out to Zac, who played drums, and then we just kind of played to Zac. It worked pretty good!

Felicia: When you guys [play] just you two, do you use a click track or do you just kind of listen to each other?

Lee: Yeah, it’s just me and Chip playing. We’ve tried, and it’s tough for us with the volume on stage to get a click happening normally. But it’s something we’re definitely trying to get to, because there’s so many songs we have that have a million backing tracks that we can’t play. There’s definitely times when I would look at Zac and he’d be losing his mind like, I cannot tell what’s happening. [Laughs.] But I think if you have a good setup, it’s a lot better. I think Zac was using normal ass headphones, like fucking AirPods. But yeah, I’m curious what we’ll do.

Felicia: Yeah, I’m trying to remember which tracks have full drums and guitar and which ones don’t…

Lee: I think it might be best just to go all electronic.

Felicia: I think we should have drums.

Lee: I guess I could try to figure out… Well, we also do have our friend Doug, our sound guy, who is down to come, which will help a ton.

Felicia: Yeah, probably.

Lee: On that Uniform tour we ran into a lot of stuff like, “OK, the backing tracks we want the loudest, but the other stuff — still loud, but…” And people could not figure it out. Every night was like a battle. So I think having a person will help. 

Felicia: I’m down with that. I think there’s a lot of value in having the drum kit.

Lee: That is true.

Felicia: It’s more physical. I think also for me, I’m just used to being in the electronic world, and it’s boring. It’s probably just more electronic stems, figuring out who can trigger them. Maybe even we have to strip them down and not use some stuff, or maybe put in some stuff that isn’t on the stuff that’s out. 

Lee: Yeah. On the Uniform tour, Chip doesn’t play guitar and plays a keyboard through his noise stuff to mimic the guitar notes, which definitely sounds good. The last two tours on our own, we’ve had a sound person with us, and it is an immense help. It makes it so much easier. Also, it’s nice to be to control the music that’s being played in the venue.

Felicia: We can put some Phantom of the Opera in between. My vibe.

Lee: Yeah, I think that having the most control is the best. Controlling everything in the venue is the best. [Laughs.] Alright, Felicia — we’ll talk more tour logistics soon? 

Felicia: Yes!

Dis Fig, aka Felicia Chen, pushes electronic music into dark extremes, from warped DJ sets to avant production, from being a member of Tianzhuo Chen’s performance-art series TRANCE to being the vocalist with The Bug.

Her new record with Portland duo The Body, Orchards of a Futile Heaven, is out now on Thrill Jockey.