So much great music was released this week. You may be sitting there listening to new albums by; Bastille, The 1975, Neko Case, John Legend, Dresses, Icona Pop or maybe even the new Sly Stone compilation ‘Higher’. Do yourself a favor, take some time and listen to ‘Smoky Wilds’ by Andy Fitts.
I had not heard of Andy Fitts before. I was contacted by his PR person, who also works with Torres. (You can read the songwriting interview with Torres on Friday here.) I love the intimacy of his songs and the “simple but right” production. As you read more about him below, you’ll find that you may have heard him on the road with some of his friends.
ANDY FITTS SONGWRITING INTERVIEW
Brief Intro: I’m a Seattle musician. I have played in Seattle bands including David Bazan, The Long Winters, Say Hi, and Aqueduct. I have released records under the band names Airport Cathedral and The Banyans, but Smoky Wilds, under my own name, is the first record that I have had the desire to promote.
OSW: The songs on ‘Smoky Wilds’ all are set in sparse and interesting soundscapes. The space feels right for each song. But, they all share a nice combination of; 8 Bit + Warm Distortion + Acoustic sounds. Were the songs written to rough forms of the tracks or just with voice and Guitar?
Andy Fitts: I made demos of the songs, some with a guitar, but mostly with other tracks I had built up with drums, bass, and keyboards. When I brought the demos to Yuuki (Matthews), I wanted to deconstruct them completely. As we pieced the kernels back together, it was Yuuki’s charge that I was able to perform each song on a guitar by myself, and connect with it in as minimal of accompaniment. From that point we raised high the roof-beams and decorated the walls.
OSW: You grew up in Hawaii and really did not hear non-Christian music until you were almost in your teens. What was the first secular music your remember experiencing and how did you feel about it?
Andy Fitts: The most obvious example of that would have been Amy Grant. I remember in the late 80s and early 90s all the talk about her crossing over into secular music. In my 10-year-old brain way of not understanding sex, it meant she’d come of age and some guy had her V-card.
OSW: What was the title or subject of the first song you wrote?
Andy Fitts: I was 13 and the song was a pastiche of mournful “why-me”s.
A girl that I had some kind of fornicating urge for was into my good friend who was a stronger and more charismatic Christian than me.
Sadly, it took me a long time to disavow that strain of sentimentality.
OSW: Seattle has become your primary music community. Tell us about your first trip out there and how you ended up there.
Andy Fitts: I stayed in Gig Harbor for a while in the summer of 93, and I was pretty into Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder was probably the first singer that I tried to mimic, and I was pretty good at it, except for the screaming, that was always so hard to do right.
I moved from Hawaii to Seattle after several years of travel abroad with my heart set on writing songs, playing shows, making records, getting on the radio, going on tour. I’ve had the opportunity now to do most of those things, but I was lost for many years. I would say that one of the mistakes I’ve made in life was in viewing my well-being as more of an inheritance than as a savings account. I am fortunate to have learned and passed through some of those lessons. To begin with, as a young adult, I viewed self-promotion with such distaste that it became closer to an auto-immune disease, nearly shredding my self-worth and respect. It wasn’t until I crossed into my third decade that my values started to make more sense. Up until then, perspective and expectation vacillated heavily upon the shoulders of people I depended upon to keep it together.
OSW: What are you most proud of?
Andy Fitts: When I was going to my Christian High School in Hawaii and heard music coming out of Seattle, some of whom seemed to understand my inherited world view, I felt visceral pangs of a future life. The first CD’s that I bought in Seattle (at Orpheum Records RIP) were Pedro the Lion – ‘Control’, The Long Winters – ‘The Worst You Can Do Is Harm’, and The Prom – ‘Under The Same Stars’. Years later, James from The Prom helped produce my first record in Seattle and I played both with David Bazan and John Roderick. In ways that were never forced or solicited, it seems upon reflection that I’ve been able to do exactly what I’d hoped for. In terms of my own songwriting, this record feels like I’ve finally reached the starting line. I’m so proud of Smoky Wilds, and that it represents the bar I’ve set to build upon for the rest of my lifelong pursuit in songwriting.
OSW: You’re closely connected to Dave Bazan. How has he influenced you and your songwriting?
Andy Fitts: Dave and I both grew up in very similar cultures and so we have a short-hand for just about everything. That happens with anybody when you’re in the same place at the same time for weeks on end, but the cultural fabric adds another esoteric layer. Growing up Christian, people often talked about being “Convicted by the Holy Spirit”. Basically, they would say that if they felt questionable about something they’d thought or did. People call it different things, but everyone, Christian or not, knows what that feels like. Dave is someone who has a lot of conviction in the way that one is compelled to acknowledge error or truth. I think his songs are the most convicting songs that I know of. I have a ton of admiration and respect for Bazan.
OSW: This line from your bio really connected with me,”These songs are ideas that help me close the gap between the life that I want and the one that I am living.” How do you balance out “telling the truth” in your songs with “creating the truth you’d want to live”?
Andy Fitts: Most of my songs implicitly suggest an either/or cause and effect. Either you try to murder a resting beast and you receive well-being, intellectual vigor and enlightenment, or you run for your life and start telling everyone that you’ll do it next time. They sound like rhetorical virtue-pacts to me. Everyone has a different set of seasonal pledges that they need to repeat. I generate new ones enough that songs serve well as a provisional document.
OSW: What lyric line do you wish you had written?
Andy Fitts: TW Walsh’s record ‘Songs of Pain and Leisure‘ is incredible. He is a devastating songwriter. The song “Rattling Jar” hits me pretty hard. The first line of the chorus is :
THE BELL’S ALWAYS RINGING
EXCEPT WHEN I’M SINGING
Everyone’s heard stories about the primal effect of music on the brain. My Mom photographed Brian Wilson once and told me his marbles were just gone unless he was engrossed in a song. When my grandfather (once an orchestra conductor) was in the last weeks of his life, he couldn’t remember anyone, but he played songs on his harmonica to the end.
OSW: If you could sit down and talk songwriting with anyone who would it be and why?
Andy Fitts: Chris Cohen – his compositions entrancingly teeter over the rubicon between impulse and calculation. Somehow I love listening to his music in the same way that I love listening to Christopher Hitchens. It super-soaks my thinking brain with an emotional marinade.
OSW: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Andy Fitts: Don’t expect some delusion of your prospective achievements to be the dopamine rush that equals the achievement itself.
Andy Fitts on the Web
All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Andy Fitts, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.
Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words
- Happy Album Release Day, Andy Fitts! (lineout.thestranger.com)