Guy Fantastico is as charming as his name. A moniker created by Los Angeles-based singer Isaac Lekach for his solo project, Fantastico’s larger-than-life persona reflects a voice equally adept at languid ballads and synth-heavy experimentation. (His press materials refer to him as a “space-pop troubadour,” which is remarkably accurate). One need only look at his album art to get a sense of who Fantastico is as an artist, in which he sits tuxedo-clad in a ballroom with the gosh-wow look of someone caught kissing your sister at a dinner party, and feeling sincerely bad about it.
For his new album, DREAMBOAT, Fantastico has enlisted the talents of multifaceted producer Roberto Carlos Lange (aka Helado Negro) with whom he’s toured in the past. (“I’d bounce the sessions over to him, he’d sweeten them up, send it back…[and] so on and so forth until the record was done.”) The result is a sonically lush series of pop songs—some romantic, some playful—with a hint of wry melancholy underneath the surface.
One of the highlights of the album is “Foreign Tongue,” a spectral love song that Lekach tells us is about an encounter with an ex-girlfriend—his first ever. You can listen to the premiere below, and read Interview‘s Q&A in which Fantastico talks writing the album, the history of his stage name, and a fateful encounter in the streets of SoHo.
NATHAN REESE: How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?
GUY FANTASTICO: Earlier tonight I was eating sushi with my brother. I kept getting a whiff of something really nice and soothing. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it made me happy. Didn’t take me long to notice the bouquet of lilies near by. It’s kind of like that: something subtle, pleasant, and maybe unexpected.
REESE: What’s the story behind the moniker Guy Fanastico? Does it have anything to do with the mockumentary, The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico?
FANTASTICO: It has everything to do with Guy Terrifico! My dad called one morning asking if I’ve ever heard of a folk singer named Guy Fantastico. I hadn’t, and he couldn’t believe that I hadn’t. So I searched online, iTunes, etc. but nothing turned up and I told him so the next time we spoke. He couldn’t believe it. Then he explained that he’d just seen a documentary about a folk singer named Guy Fantastico—that he’s real, and he’s great, and that I’d love him. I searched again. Nothing. Called him back and told him. Then he said, “Dude. Google ‘Merle Haggard punches Guy Fantastico in the face,’ because that happened, I saw it.” So I did. Anyway, one thing led to another and I found out that my dad wasn’t lying, except the singer is fictitious and his name is Guy Terrifico, not Fantastico. So when I called him back again and told him he laughed and said, “Now I know what to call your new project.”
REESE: How did you approach writing DREAMBOAT, compared to your last album?
FANTASTICO: For the most part, the songs on DREAMBOAT came together like a collage. In the past, I’d write the music first in its entirety on an instrument. I’d strum through chords and build the song structure while working on the melody—this time, almost all of it was programmed. I’d start with a sample, or an arbitrary selection of chords, piece it together, copy and paste, add, subtract, layer and layer—and then find the vocal melody. That’s the fun thing about working with MIDI: you can try any idea almost immediately. In the case of the first track, “Asleep In The Doll House,” I basically opened up Abelton and started playing with the MIDI window as though it were a Lite-Brite. I selected an assortment of notes, made a cool little design that happened to sound good, too, so I wrote a harmony and a counter melody, and then sang on top of it.
REESE: What was it like working with Roberto Lange on the album, after having played with him before in Helado Negro?
FANTASTICO: Being able to collaborate with him is really like having a transcendent meal, or watching your favorite movie. You know you’re in the presence of a master, and you’re both in awe and eternally grateful. I’m sure other people who produce or mix records go through the same motions he does, but he takes you somewhere. My songs are what they are. I write a certain way. I hear things a certain way, but I think the job of good producer, or mixer, is to turn out the best version of the artist and the songs, not try leave their mark all over it—sure, the nature of the process will leave some of their calling cards behind, but it shouldn’t overshadow the songwriter or artist’s efforts. He’s also an incredibly proficient engineer and mixer. I’m most assuredly the worst. On “Floating, Floating, Floating” I’d originally sampled something Woody Allen said. Roberto deleted it, handed me a synth and made me write some music in its stead—probably saved me a lawsuit, too.
REESE: Can you tell me a little bit about “Foreign Tongue”? What was the inspiration behind the song?
FANTASTICO: Originally I wanted to call this song “A Million Ways To Say I Love You.” My very first girlfriend moved away to Israel for college, or after college, to find purpose in her life, and also a husband, I think. She looked me up during a brief trip she had in NYC sometime after, while she was still living in Israel. We went to Fanelli’s in SoHo in the middle of the workday, split a veggie burger, drank whiskey and beer, and then she kissed me the middle of Prince Street. I distinctly remember there was a painter on a ladder just above me, and I opened my eyes mid-kiss and found him staring at us. He didn’t really care. He was just like, “Yo.” Anyway, the song is about her, as is “Champagne.” Actually, this song is more about my imagination running away with me. But, the truth is I fucked up. I probably should have written about the painter instead.
REESE: What’s the ideal listening environment for DREAMBOAT?
FANTASTICO: In a cool, dry place. Oh fuck. I don’t know. Do teenagers still put on music to make out?
DREAMBOAT IS OUT OCTOBER 9. FOR MORE ON GUY FANTASTICO, VISIT HIS BANDCAMP.