We threw some questions at Fort Lean‘s lead singer and guitarist Keenan Mitchell – widely regarded as one of Brooklyn’s “hometown” bands. I’ve only been here a short time, but these guys have stood out, ironically, as one of the city’s best kept secrets. Brooklynites are well-versed in their appeal and tend to take their genius as matter-of-fact. (“How didn’t you know them?”). The band isn’t Fort Lean without bassist Jake Aron, guitarist Zach Fried, keyboard/guitarist Will Runge and drummer Sam Ubl – all of which add the perfect amount of grit, seamless layering and dope ambience to the very engaging, charismatic and talented group of guys. SXSW goers can attest to this: They won’t be a secret for long. Their new record is out now.
How’d you go about naming the band? I heard that you guys met at Wesleyan, how did that go down?
We named the band to conjure a physical space, which is the world we hope our songs will transport our fans to — a place where they feel happy, in a weird way. We all met at Wesleyan, because we were all a part of the small group of people on a small campus who liked to play rock music.
Has Brooklyn influenced your sound a lot?
As much as any one place could, I think… It’s great living in a city where you can go out any night of the week and see incredible live music, and as a result I think we have the great opportunity to be exposed to a lot of music we might not necessarily seek out, in addition to seeing all of our friend’s bands basically every goddamn day. At the same time, it’s hard to say how much it has influenced our sound, because we haven’t lived anywhere else as a band. If we lived in Baltimore I imagine we might sound a little different, but since we make all our music collaboratively, it would still probably sound a lot like Fort Lean does now: like five guys playing the music they like to play with each other.
You’re headlining the Lotus Play Beats festival – can you pick five other bands you’d want in the lineup?
CHAPPO, Harriet, Wet Leather, Bear Hands and Watermelon
Who are some of your musical and lyrical influences?
Brian Eno, Captain Beefheart, Bradford Cox and Courtney Love.
Would you say you’re more concerned with setting a vibe at a live gig or getting a message across?
Getting a vibe across… getting the message across that everyone should stand up, come right up to the stage, and act like this is the last concert they’ll ever get to attend before an asteroid collides with the earth. In which case, they should probably dance.
That’s so dope. Can you talk about the layering/writing process behind ‘Beach Holiday’?
We recorded it live in our practice space.
If you had to listen to five songs for the rest of your life, what five would you choose?
Driving Me Backwards – Brian Eno
Tropical Hotdog Night – Captain Beefheart
Jazz Burger – Loukos Thanos
Dying Crapshooter’s Blues – Blind Willie McTell
Was there a moment or gig growing up that made any of you think, “I have to make this my job”? What was it?
Playing to a crowd of two people with blinking, light-up, rave-gloves, who were practicing Shakespearian stage-fighting on ecstasy at Cosmic Charlie’s in Lexington, Kentucky. And they didn’t stop the entire time we played. And no one else was there to
A) Watch our show.
B) Watch THEIR show.
Well… that’s quite the setting. How do you stand out in a city where thousands of bands come to make it and where aesthetic appeal often supersedes talent?
Play our guts out whenever we get on stage.
You guys expressed your use of intentional layers of sound at SXSW and I found that to be so evident in ‘Cut to the Chase’. It felt familiar, but still surprised me; which is so refreshing – What layers would your perfect song have?
For a live show? Three guitars, three voices, bass, drums, synthesizers, and a drum machine. That’s about as many instruments as we have hands to control…
Do British festivals symbolize a level of success you hope to achieve? Or are you just concerned with playing, touching people and continuously loving it; not chasing a spotlight?
OH MY GOD YES I WANT TO GO TO THAT GLORIOUS ISLAND! PLEASE TAKE ME THERE, WORLD!
That being said, as the question suggests quite clearly, we’d always rather be touching people who are continuously loving it than standing in a spotlight…
Can you describe vibing with a crowd in one sentence?
Demanding that they follow my commands to have more fun than usual.
You can catch the band and lose your shit as if it’s Armageddon in Cambridge (July 8), Philadelphia (July 9), Hollywood (July 13), San Francisco w/ CHAPPO (July 14) and many other dates this summer. You can find tickets here.
This is a GREAT BAND – check ’em out on this tour while you can.