The power trio takes a big step forward with its new album "Major."
If one 3-credit class could guarantee the kind of musical success it’s given the Brooklyn-based hard rockers of Fang Island, a lot more kids would be filling out those college apps.
Three enthusiastic, optimistic art school kids - Jason Bartell, Chris Georges, and Marc St. Sauveur - met and found common ground in making their denser, thicker version of pop rock in a Rhode Island School of Design classroom.
“It was like a ‘Start-a-band’ class, basically just a way to not have to do anything real,” guitarist and vocalist Jason Bartell says with a laugh. “They were working on something, I was working on something. We just sort of merged.”
But seven years, two EPs, and two albums later, that blow-off class proved to be the start of something pretty substantial. In 2010, their self-titled Sargent House debut picked up Pitchfork’s Best New Music title for the week and landed them tour dates with recent Guinness World record breakers, The Flaming Lips, and classic ‘90s rockers, Stone Temple Pilots. Bartell calls it a crazy time.
“I’d be watching Stone Temple Pilots, and it was just like, ‘Holy shit, all of their songs are from my childhood.’ Definitely inspiring.”
So how exactly does a band keep pushing forward after that kind of initial success? By making a second record, titling it Major, and taking it on tour in a van with 290,000 miles already to its name. Or something like that.
Fang Island’s 2012 release packs a punch. Think aggressive, layered guitar tracks hammering out hooks as quickly as the kick drum allows, taking the listener on a dynamic heavy-rock roller coaster ride, one thrilling, downhill rush. Which makes sense, since Bartell says they want nothing but to create an endless utopia for their listeners.
“We try to be as uplifting as possible. Happiness is the clear goal. And we try to have as much fun and be as happy as we can onstage.”
Onstage is where this clan of optimists comes to life. Their current, month-long tour has them engaging audiences from East Coast to West, sending an undeniable message of glorious fist-in-the-air triumph. Happiness, in Fang Island’s terms, is the marriage of absolute precision and relentless energy. Oh, and hooks. Lots of hooks.
“When I’m not with the band, I’m an artist’s assistant. I do really detail-oriented drawings for people, and I like that detail. Editing and playing the same riffs over and over again, I really get into that kind of stuff. We’re very hook-obsessed,” Bartell says.
Another lesson that art school instilled: creativity, always. In addition to designing their own cover art and merchandise, the guys recognize a necessity for musical growth.
“I think we could’ve pretty easily made the same record twice, but we didn’t want to. Our style changed for the better, and that’s definitely a goal of ours.”
Consider it a goal achieved. Major gives us a tighter, more refined and sure-in-its-sound Fang Island, with no less enthusiasm and only a hint of sarcasm. The opening track on the hard-hitting record gives its listeners a catchy, lilting piano riff and an almost disheartening lyric: “All I know, I learned in kindergarten.” In actuality, Bartell only recalls two things of his own kindergarten experience.
“Art class and snack time. That’s all I can remember. Yeah, I ate a lot of gummi snacks.”