AUX: TRACK BY TRACK Fang Island walk us through ‘Major’
It’s easy to make fast music in a major key and call it happy, but Fang Island have made positivity their band’s mission. The Rhode Island trio described their self-titled 2010 full-length debut, a collection of frenzied, triumphant guitar anthems, as ‘everyone high-fiving everyone’; titling their majestic new follow-up Major seems equally as fitting.
“We wrote this record to be played live, and to just go off on certain parts,” guitarist/vocalist Chris Georges says. “We wanted things to be louder and bigger, focus more on grooves, and not make it so spazzy. We’re hoping people can dance at the shows to this new record.”
Using more vocals and lyrics than ever, the band hopes Major’s optimism has an even greater reach. “I think it’s our choice,” Georges muses. “But it’s also very natural the way Marc, Jason, and I are very positive people. I’m proud that we have a positive message.”
Georges took a break from prepping his sampler for tour to talk us through the huge and happy new album, track by track.
This references a video that Jason [Bartell, guitar] and I made when we had just gotten out of college and played to a bunch of kindergarteners, and how important that experience was for us as a band. We were all living in this house together in Providence, RI, and one of our roommates and friends was a kindergarten teacher. One day we were sitting around and thought it would be a good idea to go play in front of his class. It was one of our best concerts, just the way the kids responded to the music, just so naturally. It felt good and it felt how I’d want people to react to our music at a show. That was a very special time for all of us. I think [musically] it’s an homage to the opening of Metallica’s …And Justice For All. It opens with big guitar swells that slowly break into the rock.
When Jason first sent me the demo of this song, he said, “check out this Dave Matthews Band song,” and I didn’t listen to it because I guess I really hate Dave Matthews that much. It was a while before I listened to it. He was like, “what do you think about that song?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” But I love this song. I wanted to work some funk into it. We had a lot of fun recording it. The woman who sings the back-up vocals, who kind of mimics the guitar line, Reba Mitchell, is in a band called Made In Mexico from Providence, and she just has an incredible voice. It was awesome to get some female vocals on a song. We were really excited about that. We just got back from doing a video for this song in L.A.. We’d never done a video like that before, on a sound stage, and with a director. I do a lot of production assistant stuff on music videos in New York, so it was nice to not be a production assistant on the set. Though I was tempted to pick up brooms and stuff.
3. “Seek It Out”
We started playing this on the tour for the self-titled album. This is the first song we started working with more pop structures, while trying to maintain the energy of our sound. I’m very proud of the solo on this song. It’s got a cool harmonized bend on it. Jason has a really crazy solo at the end where we do a bunch of pitch bends. I think a lot of people think that guitar rock is stale, so we try to get new tones and textures out of guitar. The melody is very sweet sounding, but juxtaposing it against the huge distorted guitars was really fun to do. And it’s really fun to play live.
4. “Make Me”
One day Jason and I just started playing in my house and this came about. We both said, “quit making me work for it,” and then we wanted to put a positive spin on it so we said, “keep making me work for it.” We really wanted to play around with dance music ideas and production techniques. We had a lot of fun doing the middle section with the four-on-the-floor kind of disco beat, and the guitars kind of remind me of some kind of space-disco Santana. We love all types of music, and I think we just want to put challenges on ourselves and still give it a Fang Island sound. Still have big group sing-alongs, and big distorted guitars. Jason and I love playing together, and I think they way we play together is very special.
5. “Never Understand”
Last minute, this kind of turned into Jason and I doing a dueling guitar kind of friendship thing, back and forth, then we all start singing. Which was really fun to do. We wanted to put a lot of personality in our playing. The solo is kind of a nod to 50s rock, those romantic old guitar players and guitar songs. I love those. But it still works in finger-tapping Van Halen ideas. And the drums are really cool, some backwards snare sounds give it a Mick Fleetwood sound. Fleetwood Mac is big. I love the Bee Gees, Krautrock, Brian Eno, the Misfits, the Ramones, and a lot of electronic music, which I listened to a lot during this recording for production ideas. We listened to a lot of Steely Dan during this record, pretty much constantly. They’re such incredible players and the way they use the studio and get a great record is something that really inspired us.
This is our droniest song. It’s kind of a meditation on a riff. Focusing on textures and harmonies to push that riff. We used a lot of guitars on this song. I did a lot of sparkly guitar stuff I was really into and really proud of. This is the first song where we started doing a lot more singing. Jason really challenged himself with the singing and the harmonies that he does. It was really exciting to start playing this song live. People were really responding to it and made us feel really excited about our new material. Our first records are very instrumental, almost completely instrumental. On the self-titled we started singing a little more, on songs like “Daisy.” And this one, it just felt right to use our voices as instruments. The challenge of that was really exciting in recording.
7. “Dooney Rock”
The saying during this song was “I’m a little bit country/I’m a little bit Kill ‘Em All.” I love country music, and I love Metallica, so I kind of wanted to honour those and try to fit them together as tastefully as I could. I’m very proud of the playing on this song. It’s one of the only instrumentals on this album. We always wanted our guitars to be as lyrical as possible, and I think they are here, especially in the soloing.
We wrote “Regalia” when we were listening to a lot of the Clash. It’s a straightforward rocker with a few twists and turns at the end. The working title for this song was “Game of Thrones” for a long time. Were we inspired by that? Maybe. I won’t say for sure. We were jamming in my room and this song came together through divine inspiration. I didn’t want to have a lot of solos on it, I just wanted it to be a rocker, so it’s more chordal solos and goes back to the idea of 50s guitar rock. Surf rock I guess. This is the surf rock section.
“Chompers” is one of the oldest songs we have on the record. We never recorded it, but this is the song we did in the kindergarten video. I think it’s nice how we put it on there to go along with the song. It’s an old instrumental that we had and revamped with a new solo, and our drummer Marc [St. Sauveur]‘s playing on it is really exciting. He’s still my all-time favourite drummer to see. And our touring guitarist Josh played a little riff in there.
10. “Chime Out”
This was a real brainteaser to learn with the really strange patterns, but we layered so many guitars on it and I’m so happy with the tone we have with the guitars. I think it’s a makeout song. I’m really happy to have a makeout song. It’s pretty romantic and I think it’s one of the first times we talk about relationships and love in our songwriting. It leads right into the next song, where we talk very openly about love. All I can think about is playing the same riff over and over again, tweaking the tones on the guitar to make it as explosive as we could. We wanted the snare to have a big, 80s kind of Phil Collins sound. I think like My Bloody Valentine ‘Loveless’ is a great makeout album. That’s pretty romantic.
This is very openly talking about love. We had a bookend idea with this record. It starts with a piano ballad, and it ends with a piano ballad. We wanted to see what we could do with pianos, and that was really exciting. It starts with our friend Sam playing the flute to a lecture crowd, and the applause that he got. Sam’s been there for every other album. He couldn’t make it to this one, so it was nice to have that sample.