There is a certain fairytale reality perpetuated in the music business, one in which it is possible for hipsters in ironic mustaches to gain instant fame by producing quirky videos for music that blends so seamlessly into the ocean of content we are barraged with every day that you forget what it sounds like instantly. Not that I have anything against quirky videos, mustaches and irony, but they mean nothing to me besides a quick chuckle unless the music is memorable, and often it is not.
There is a flip-side to that coin, a world in which a host of faceless bar bands inhabit a multitude of dingy stages, regurgitating the same playlist of crowd favorites to the inebriated masses ad nauseum until everyone collectively forgets that music is actually something people are still inventing.
Now, there is truth in both these scenarios, as there is truth in any cliché, but not the whole truth, and predictably, it’s all a matter of perspective. The bands in the bar trenches find it easy to dismiss hipsters because of the emphasis they place on “surface” values like how they look, while the hipsters ignore the bar bands for precisely the same reason.
Thankfully, once and a while, a band comes along which makes it clear this whole divide is malarkey. A band that paid its dues in the trenches, played its four-hour sets filled with cover songs, and then produced a rollicking, genre-bending original album that stands with any of the albums released by any of the trendier Birmingham bands this year. That band is FisherGreen.
A collaboration between brass-master Chad Fisher and soulful rocker Heath Green, FisherGreen has its beginnings in late night free-form jams.
“A couple of years before, Heath began hiring me and guys like Rob Alley, Gary Wheat, Brad Guin, and Chris Johnson to play horns with his band The Starmakers,” Fisher recalls. “Heath Green and The Starmakers was a rotating cast of musicians, as was The Chad Fisher Group. Heath’s voice and his songs immediately struck me as something special. We would play four hour nights at Bailey’s, The Open Door, and just about anywhere that paid. The energy of playing unrehearsed and with different personnel is awesome, but it has a flip side. Some nights are better than others. ”
The two decided that the chemistry they were forming on stage was too good to release into the ether, so they joined forces. “What we were coming up with naturally on the bandstand at that time was very unique,” Fisher says. “It seemed like a logical step to try and tighten things up and get a steady band together.”
That the newly minted FisherGreen found its way to its current sound through such late-night experimentation is as good a proof as any that such noodling shouldn’t be dismissed.“FisherGreen has always been somewhere in between [a cover band and an original band],” Fisher explains. “Early on we were playing a lot of three and four hour nights; covers were essential. Some folks look down on original bands that play covers. This seems silly to me. Good songs are good songs. Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett covered the Beatles. The Rolling Stones covered The Temptations. Learning and playing covers helped us learn how to play together.”
Learn to play together they most certainly did, and people began taking notice. Already known for their ability to get a late-night scene hopping, they were brought on to finish the final evening out at this year’s Secret Stages, a local music festival featuring up and coming bands from across the nation, and were featured in B-Metro’s latest music issue. They’ve played the hipster haven Bottletree, and didn’t think twice about bridging the divide.
“Birmingham has several scenes,” Fisher says. “I have been fortunate to play with bands from all over the area. Some bands have been better at putting out records and getting reviews, while others have been great at putting on shows and getting people to dance. Some people notice the records, others notice the shows. It just depends on what scene you’re in. I have noticed over the last year or so that the lines are beginning to blur. Musicians from all over the city are coming together on the bandstand and as friends. It is good to see.”
Finally, with enough new material under their belt, FisherGreen began the process of laying down tracks. They approached Les Nuby at Ol Elegante studio, whose stellar work includes the recent Delicate Cutters album Ring.
“Les was awesome,” Fisher exclaims. “For the initial sessions, we wanted to track the whole band together in one room and Les had the capability to do this. We also knew he had been doing some great things at Ol Elegante. Throughout the process, Les was great at being the mediator and voice of reason in the studio, and also did most of the mixing himself. We would give him notes along the way, but he has great ears and we knew we could trust him to get the job done.”The resulting album, Keep It Together, is another victory for Nuby and Ol Elegante, and FisherGreen couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to their hybrid funk/rock/soul sound.
From the very first track, “Tearin’ Down My Soul”, it’s clear that one thing FisherGreen understands very well is how to build a crescendo. It begins as many of these songs begin, with a simple guitar riff, but as the horns join and Heath cranks his gritty soulful vocals, it swells and transforms, becoming something else entirely.
In fact, most of what I love about this album comes from the interplay between Fisher and Green’s disparate styles. Green’s rougher electric soul is elevated by the sense of melodrama that brass lends it as it bubbles up from underneath, full of portent, and Fisher’s atmospheric instrumentation is weighted by the earthier presence of Green’s blue-collar rock.
Take, for instance, the song “Flicker”, which at first glance is a twangy, simple song until the horns enter on the bridge, which is almost cinematic in the way it changes the entire emotional texture of the song.
Keep It Together also keeps things interesting by peppering tracks with style-changes, such as adding a little bluegrass harmony on “Free to Play” before kicking back into a thoroughly bad-ass breakdown. These accents almost never feel forced, and they fit organically into the song-structure.
Lyrically, the album is bitter-sweet. These are songs by men who have been struggling to make something happen on stage for a long-time, and there is a certain weariness in them, a certain anger at being marginalized, but it doesn’t taint the joy they clearly have in making their music, it only serves to tint it with a little melancholy. Or as Green sings on “Sick or Well”: “Sometimes it all gets you down, don’t give in to the fear or doubt, got to get up, get it out, make a sound, ‘cause you got a song to sing.”
Keep It Together was released on September 18, and there will an album release party at Bottletree this Friday, Septemper 21, with Banditos opening. FisherGreen just recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost of making the album, including pressing vinyl, so you’ll be able to get it on wax, if that’s your preferred listening method. To purchase Keep It Together, or for more information about FisherGreen visit www.fishergreenband.com.