Interview: Fast Romantics

Photo by Jen Squires

Photo by Jen Squires

In times of adversity, it's incredibly easy for bands in this competitive industry to just give up and throw the towel in when things just aren't going well. In 2014, Fast Romantics could have easily taken that route when only Jeffery Lewis and Matt Angus were still left in the band. However, they persevered, and have come back stronger than ever. Under The Rockies got to talk with lead singer Matt Angus about their latest record, American Love, and what the process of writing and rebuilding the band had in shaping the album.

You’re in Montreal, Canada today, with Said the Whale. How is the tour going so far?

It’s been going really great. It’s been really nice to get to know those guys, and their record is amazing so it’s been really fun to watch them play it.

You guys are about to release your third album, American Love, later this month. How did the recording of this record differ from your previous two albums?

I’ve been telling people that it’s really our first record, because the other two were done with basically a whole different band. It’s really just me and Jeff from the old Fast Romantics. We had so much turnover and we went through so much overhaul, so that’s why I’m saying this is our first record. We’ve been trying to get closer and closer to being a pop band that doesn’t sound like pop. I’m a huge fan of Phil Spektor and that kind of production and those old recordings, but I also wanted to make something that felt relevant today, and I’ve been getting into synths and fooling around with that kind of stuff. So I think musically, it came together really organically in this way that wasn’t planned. Before we were just making guitar music, which was cool in it’s own way too. From a lyrical standpoint, I spent a lot more time focusing on the lyrics. I wrote the lyrics first and then branched out into the music, whereas before I’d always write the lyrics first.

Your latest single, “Why We Fight,” is a social commentary and relevant today, no matter where the listener is from. As a musician, do you feel obligated to share your perspective through your art, or does your perspective shape the music and take you in new directions?

I’ve always felt obligated, but sometimes I’ve felt forced to shut up because the medium is so unwilling to accept any sort of depth, especially in pop. I’d have people tell me to dumb it down. It’s always been a journey. I want the message to be simple, and I want it to be clear. I feel obligated, but also it didn’t happen that way. I wanted this record to be a simple love songs record, that was the plan. That remained the context, but the last two years of traveling around changed everything. It happened to me, it’s not that I felt obligated to share my political feelings, and it just happened to the songs. That song, in particular, got rewritten four times over the course of the past two years. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all.

Like you mentioned, this album took two years to write. What was that experience like, in terms of focusing and narrowing down what you wanted to say and what you want your songs to sound like?

It wasn’t like I sat there in a room for two years. We had a new band put together, and we spent a lot of time on the road. When a new song would get written, we’d try it out on stage, and that was really valuable. That’s one of the reasons why the songs evolved so much. When you play a song in Columbus, it feels different than when you play it in Calgary. That really changed the songs, so that’s why it took two years. It actually only took a period of weeks to record it.

You originally formed in Calgary, but later relocated to Toronto. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of each city in terms of making music, and making it in the Canadian industry?

When we left Calgary, we felt like it was thriving. We were thriving, and we felt really at home in Calgary, which is one of the reasons we had to try something else is because we were getting really comfortable. We always had packed shows and we always had so much fun. Everyone was always talking about Toronto in both positive and negative ways. When we made that first trek, it wasn’t about necessarily making it big in Toronto, because I don’t think that actually is what happens at all. A lot of the music industry is there and all that. The value of being in Calgary is that you are all separate from that. You really incubate yourself in a way that’s genuine, and you probably aren’t under the influence of that layer of the music industry. The benefit of being in Toronto is that I felt like nobody. I think that’s what I needed, I needed to feel like nobody gave a shit and I really needed to be challenged. It was challenging for a few years, but that’s the benefit. I think that anyone that makes the trek to Toronto thinking that they’ll get signed to a record label or get an agent and that everything is gonna be awesome is gonna be totally disappointed because it’s not how it works. It makes you work way harder.

I was just in Toronto, so I definitely know what you mean. It’s basically the New York City of Canada - there’s such a hustle and bustle, you’re basically gum on the sidewalk.

Totally. It’s a lot like Calgary, it’s funny because everyone always thinks there are so many differences. There’s pockets of Toronto, like where I live, where everybody knows everybody. It’s peaceful, it’s like a small town. It’s like if you live in Mission in Calgary - although I’ve heard Mission’s gotten ritzy lately - but what do I know. I used to live near 17th Avenue so everyone I knew was within a four block radius, so we’d just go to The Ship every night.

You and Jeffery Lewis had to essentially rebuild the band in 2014. What was that experience like, and has it made for a tighter knit unit?

It was really refreshing. We’d lose a member and we’d just try to replace that member for the longest time, and that was really unhealthy because we were trying to keep something together that was falling apart. When 2014 came, it was just me and Jeff. We were starting from scratch. Because of that, we started building the band up. When Kirty joined, we could see what the band was going to be. When everybody else came on board - it’s so much stronger because we feel like we formed it together. Now that we have a record that everyone played on, we definitely feel like this is ours. It is the tightest group I think we’ve ever had. Everyone’s so gung-ho and excited to be on the road right now. We couldn’t be happier. It’s like a rebirth.

What are you most looking forward to on the Fast Romantics’ string of headlining shows to support American Love?

To us, there’s no difference. All these shows are great. I know that’s what it will say on the poster, but I don’t really think that much about it. I think every show to us is that we just get up there and do what we do, and people come to see it. Every night on this tour has gotten better for us, everyone has been so receptive. To be honest, I’m super stoked to get back to Calgary, even though that’s not a headlining show. It’s one of my highlights of this trip. It’s cool that we’re playing at Commonwealth, because the last show that we played before we moved from Calgary was at The Warehouse. It’s cool that we’re playing the same building. There’s gonna be so many highlights. We’re happy to be on the road and to get this record out. It’s like, the best thing ever.

American Love is out on April 28th through Light Organ Records. You can catch Fast Romantics on their Canadian tour supporting Said The Whale in Calgary on May 4th at Commonwealth, or head to their website to find out when they'll be stopping in a city near you.