Make bad decisions. Have fun. Listen to rock music. Enjoy it. Dance to it. These are the teachings of Brooklyn-based band, Fort Lean. Haven’t heard of them? You will. Already causing headlines for their standout shows-NYTimes calls Fort Lean, “A big band, playing small rooms,”- they put comparable bands to shame with their frenetic energy, and vocalist Keenan Mitchell’s ballroom voice
With nothing but an eponymous four-track EP under their belt, Fort Lean, has been rocking venue-to-venue in downtown and Brooklyn alike. You can catch them this Friday, December 16, at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with Deleted Scenes and Bear Hands. For more info on the rockers, check out my interview with guitarist Zach Fried:
How’d Fort Lean come to be?
We had known each other since the we started college at Wesleyan. We started playing together in different incarnations immediately. After college we went our separate ways to play in different bands, but then this year, January 2011, we all were free, came together and went for it.
Going to an artistically liberal school like Wesleyan, did that give you more opportunity to grow as artists?
I think that we were given the opportunity to play a lot there. There were a lot of places on campus where you could make music whenever you wanted. We had the time and the freedom to pursue music. There were a lot of great musicians there, at the time. I was a freshman when the MGMT guys were seniors, and there was a direct example in our midst of someone taking something they did as a fun thing and really making it work. Throughout history, you’ll see with bands, if a friends band does really well, people around them see that it’s possible. They work harder. It seemed possible as a result of those guys. It’s not likely but it isn’t impossible.
Where are you all originally from?
All over the place! I’m from Virginia. Jake, our bassist, is from outside Boston. Our keyboard player, Will is from North Carolina. Drummer, Sam is from Long Island. Our singer Keenan is from Oregon.
Does the fact that you’re all from different places influence your sound?
I’m not sure it really does. Keenan is the one from beyond the urban or suburban area, and as a result he got into a different kind of music than us. Old blues recordings, playing an acoustic guitar as a kid. He was doing that. Me? I was listening to rock ‘n roll and listening to 90’s radio rock, learning from that.
You guys seem very open about your wants. You want to be stadium performers, right?
I don’t know if we want to be that kind of band, so much as we want to go as far as we possibly can. We’re all really focused on working in a very purposeful way. I think that looking to the example of the big bands, like U2 and Springsteen, those are people who have chartered a course to the top. It’s an example we’re trying to follow. We’re not afraid of that kind of success. I think that some bands start without a lot of previous experience and the whole idea of things working is kind of daunting, but like I said, we’ve all done this in different capacities in the past.
What happens when you get to that pinnacle point?
We want to be able to write, record and perform music forever. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. If we can get to a place where we don’t have to worry about paying rent, and we can make music as our job, we’ll be happy. It doesn’t have so much to do with getting wealthy as it does about turning it into a job.
And your jobs in the meantime?
I’m a real estate agent. Our drummer is an elementary school teacher at St. Ann’s. Our bassist, Jake, is a producer and mix engineer. He’s the “cool” guy. Our synth player, Will, works at a hospital and at an ice cream company. Two very different jobs. Our singer, Keenan, works for a boutique axe manufacturer. A company called Best Made. And he does freelance set design. We’re all doing what we gotta do to get by and pay the rent.
What’s the song writing process?
It varies. We’re all involved, generally one person will bring a simple idea and we all work off it. We start with a small idea and spend a lot of time in our practice space bouncing ideas back and forth. Recording it. Listening back to it. It’s arduous, but by the time you get to the end, everyone is happy and excited. I’ve played in bands in the past where there was one songwriter, and you’re playing their stuff. It’s not the same. We all trust each other. It’s been working really well for us so far.
When can we expect a full length from Fort Lean?
No official release date yet. We’re working on it in terms of the writing, and talking to labels, but haven’t committed to one yet. The goal is to record it in spring and have it ready for late summer and early fall. In some ways we’re at the mercy of other people that way. We’re not far off.
How’s it going to sound?
It’s going to sound better in terms of fidelity. In terms of the first recording, we’re really happy with the songs, but they were done quickly and for the purposes of launching the band. Not to say we didn’t put our best effort into it, but we recorded four songs in two days with the mentality of booking shows. People took the recordings more seriously than they were meant to, which is sort of a blessing because we’re capable of doing better and now we have the opportunity to show that. I’d personally like to see an upward trajectory in a young band from the beginning.
Have you guys given any thought to touring?
The only show we’ve played outside of New York, was at Wesleyan in September. Other than that it’s only been Brooklyn and Manhattan. We’re excited to get out on the road. That’s the way it works, building a fan base and getting people interested. Things have been going well in the city and online, but until you get out into the midwest it doesn’t really translate. We’re rearing to go.
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