By his own admission, David Best isn't all that great of a singer. As the voice of the Brighton, England-based four-piece Fujiya & Miyagi, Best provides a careful, static presence that works in conjunction with his band's Krautrock-indebted post-punk. He eschews wild notes or anything complicated, and instead uses a spry whisper.
This approach doesn't easily lend itself to engaging listening, so to make up for his lack of vocal pizzazz, Best pens bizarre but fascinating lyrics that rely on non-sequiturs and strange turns of phrase. When he first began putting together his own words, he took cues from Captain Beefheart, The Fall, and Pavement -- all bands whose lyricists wrote "words that weren't necessarily obvious when you heard them" -- and that inspiration remains evident today. "I liked words that weren't necessarily obvious when you heard them. There are so many records on the radio where you can hear it the first time and you can guess the next rhyme," Best says. "Often, like with Bryan Adams or something, you knew that if he was walking down the street, he would look at his feet, and it was just like, 'Ah, geez.'"
In anticipation of Fujiya & Miyagi's date at The Independent this Monday, Jan. 30, alongside The Frail, we pinned Best down to talk about four of his more evocative lyrical forays.
Lyrics from "Knickerbocker," off 2008's Lightbulbs
Vanilla, strawberry, Knickerbocker glory
I saw the ghost of Lena Zavaroni
Vanilla, strawberry, Knickerbocker glory
Hans Christian Andersen plays musical statues
So don't take it out on this world by Adam's apples
Sprinkling hundreds and thousands on a Knickerbocker glory
What prompted you to put the phrase "Vanilla, strawberry, Knickerbocker glory" together?
Well, the song's about Lena Zavaroni, who was this childhood star. She was Scottish, but she was a big star in UK television when I was a kid, so the ice cream reference is a reference to my memory of my childhood. The rest of the song kind of talks about her life coming down from Scotland. She was from a remote place in Scotland where they didn't have traffic lights or things like that. But also I think that "Vanilla, strawberry" initially -- you know MF Doom? I think it's on Rhymes Like Dimes, he goes, "vanilla, strawberry, chocolate wafers" or something like that, and I always thought it was funny, so I remembered it, and I think that might have been the link. [Note: The lyric is actually from "Kookies" off Mm.. Food: "I hope wanna hit people's cookies with a fried pack/That's three different flavors/Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry wafers."] Especially at that time, a lot of our songs were images of childhood put into other contexts.
When you were coming up with "Knickerbocker," did you set out to write a song about Lena or were you inspired at one moment or what?
Yeah, I was just thinking about her. Me and my sister used to really like her. Maybe we had a conversation or something, and then I just sat down and wrote it, but it didn't have the "Vanilla, strawberry, Knickerbocker glory" bit; it was just the whole other chunk of words, which kind of gets swamped by the repetition of the ice cream [name]. We've got a few songs that are specifically about people. There's one about [English singer-songwriter] Vivian Stanshall called "Sore Thumb" on Lightbulbs, and there's one about Bobby Fischer, the chess player, on Lightbulbs as well. I quite like it sometimes. It kind of frees you up. I don't always like it when words are all about 'me' or 'I.' It's always nice to be yourself from another person's point of view.
Do those three subjects you've mentioned have something in common?
No, not really. Vivian Stanshall is a big hero of mine, and he had a pretty interesting life. Bobby Fischer -- I think I read an article, and I didn't know an awful lot about him. It's just nice to have different subject matters and maybe I thought that if someone liked Fujiya & Miyagi and they hadn't heard Vivian Stanshall, they might want to check him out if they knew we wrote a song about him. Maybe that's a bit over-egging it, but it would be nice if that happened.
"Ankle Injuries" from 2006's Transparent Things
As I pretty
As of the band
Lowercase letter S
Spray painted red
It's spray painted red
Yeah, your little arms
Swing on monkey bars
In search of your plot
Like pixelated scraps of jazz mags in your head
Is any specific image or motif guiding this?
Words-wise, I know exactly what that's about, and that song makes total sense to me. I can picture that song like there's a map of my route to school when I was a kid. You'd see the pornography magazines in the bushes that freak you out when you're, like, eight, and you pass the playground. It's kind of abstract, but when I think of those words, I can picture those roads I haven't been to for a long time. But also, that again is the same thing with [when] you asked me about "Vanilla, strawberry" and "Knickerbocker." [With] "Ankle Injures," one of my favorite footballers had an ankle injury and he left my team to go somewhere else because he couldn't do it anymore, so that was like a memory kind of stuck in there. It's kind of fragmented, but it does mean something to me.
Who was the player and who did he play for?
His name was David Rocastle and he played for Arsenal. They're my team.