Playing sharp but engaging post-hardcore with complex melodic lines, edgy guitar figures, and plenty of eccentric wit (their name, for instance, sounds French, but doesn't mean anything), Les Savy Fav were formed in 1995 by five friends attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Vocalist Tim Harrington, guitarists Seth Thom Jabour and Gibb Slife, bassist Syd Butler, and drummer Patrick Mahoney began making music together during downtime from their studies, and they spent two years playing clubs along the East Coast before their reputation spread to Seattle, where Sub Pop Records invited the band to record a single. "Rodeo" b/w "Blackouts on Thursday" was released in the fall of 1997, and by the end of the year, the band completed a full-length album, 3/5, released by the independent Self-Starter Foundation label. Les Savy Fav's live shows drew growing audiences, thanks to their striking music and Harrington's over-the-top stage antics, which sometimes included remarkable costumes and friendly invasion of the audience's space.
For their second full-length effort, 1999's The Cat and the Cobra, the group opted to release their album through Frenchkiss Records, an independent label formed by bassist Butler. The second album also featured a new drummer, Harrison Haynes, who replaced Mahoney. In 2000, Les Savy Fav shrunk from a quintet to a quartet with the departure of guitarist Slife, and Go Forth, released in the fall of 2001, was their first full-length effort as a four-piece, following the well-received EP Emor: Rome Upside Down. In 2004, Les Savy Fav collected a number of their small-label singles on a compilation called Inches, and they maintained an increasingly busy schedule as a live act, busy enough that it was becoming difficult for Harrington, who was raising a family with his wife, and Butler, whose Frenchkiss label was enjoying success with the Hold Steady, Passion Pit, Local Natives, and many more.
In 2005, Les Savy Fav announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus, but their sabbatical didn't last very long. By late 2006, the band reconvened to begin recording a new album, and in May 2007 they returned to the stage at the British All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Let's Stay Friends was released by Frenchkiss in the fall of 2007, and received enthusiastic reviews; it also found the band welcoming a new guitarist, Andrew Reuland, and working with a number of guest musicians, including Toko Yasuda of Enon and Blonde Redhead, Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces, and comedian and percussionist Fred Armisen. Les Savy Fav documented their strength as a live act with the digital-only concert LP After the Balls Drop (recorded at a New Year's Eve show that rang in 2008), and in the summer of 2010, they issued their fifth full-length studio album, Root for Ruin.