The Happy Fits are a trio from New Jersey who appear to be onto something big. Their monthly following is at half a million and with every release, their audience grows. Their debut EP and their debut LP stream numbers are in the millions. Their latest album, What Could Be Better appears to have tracks that are well on their way to that status too. From Pittsville, NJ - The Happy Fits are cellist/vocalist Calvin Langman, guitarist/vocalist Ross Monteith and drummer/vocalist Luke Davis. Alternative Addiction talked with Langman and Monteith last month about the band’s sophomore album, their online presence, learning songs backwards, and an overall crash course on the group.
“All three of us grew up in the same county. We all went to high school together,” said Monteith. “It’s a small town called Pittstown. There’s lots of farmland, lots of horses in fields, not a lot of people,” he added.
Pittstown helped shape the band, in fact the record was supposed to feature an homage to their hometown with an open peach and a pit with the town’s welcome sign. They couldn’t get it to work and then they went down the rabbit hole with old record player and grapefruit-sized vinyl. That’s kind of a microcosm of a lot of things about The Happy Fits. They take one approach and then that eventually leads to something completely different. That’s where the band was at with their first EP Awfully Apeelin’ and their first LP Concentrate, but it was something they tried to mend with the creation of their latest record.
“When Ross and I started, we didn't know anything about pedals, or tones, or anything like that,” said Langman when talking about the sound difference from their last releases to their latest record. “When we were recording that first EP we had "While You Fade Away" and "Too Late" and those were two of the rockier songs we had. They were fun and the two most successful songs on the EP. Some of our main influences growing up were like Tokyo Police Club, Bombay Bicycle Club and bands like that - bands that were heavy on rock and heavy on the energy in the percussion section. That's the direction we took in our music. We realized that those types of songs make for exciting live shows. That became our passion after we made that first EP. With this album we have a lot of upbeat songs hoping we can go out and play shows and see fans again.”
While playing shows isn’t exactly something everybody can do now without having access to numerous drive-in theatres, that doesn’t change the intention the band had while making this record. Langman, Monteith, and Davis wanted to have plenty of bouncy/upbeat songs to play live, but they had to do it with some limited resources.
“On this album we tried to make these songs sound as large as possible with just the three of us,” said Monteith. “We like to add as much as we can to make it sound as big as we can.”
“We had help from our manager Ayad. He used to be in Passion Pit and Team Spirit,” added Calvin. “Now he produces and manages a bunch of bands. We're lucky to have him. He has a ton of knowledge on producing rock music. Then Jim Stewart was our mixing engineer, he mixes Welshly Arms too. We were so happy when we heard the mixes for the first time. We thought it sounded better than we ever thought it could. All the songs were written and arranged as we intended them to be, but Ayad helped us tweak things here and there too.”
Langman and Monteith also talked about writing songs and how they wrote the set that turned into What Could Be Better.
“When we write we usually start with a riff and then we have the chords and the melodies already written out. Then, we try to incorporate something personal into them,” said Langman. “In the past three years, after dropping out of school, we found ourselves with a lot of time. Not all of it was spent in the best way. That led us to a lot of inspiration for us. We realized that we wanted to do this, but we didn't know if what we were doing things were written well or in a way, we could really make that happen. That self-doubt tends to come out in our music but when we're working on songs it's a very cathartic thing for us.”
“We found ten that worked the best together and sounded the most cohesive,” added Monteith. “It was a goal of ours. The last record it was hard to pinpoint a genre because we hopped all over the place. These ten fit together well.”
It would make sense for early Happy Fits music to be all over the place. The three members have wide tastes for different styles of music, and they all have a really strong foundation with their musical education too. They like a lot of different stuff, they’re influenced by it, then they can turnaround and play it too. As an example, the cello is a huge part of the band’s sound and that’s because Langman was classically trained in it and something he grew up loving to do.
“I was always passionate about classical music,” said Langman talking about his cello playing. “When I started, it was a bit about my parents forcing me into it. My siblings were incredible prodigies - I was the third child and I didn't want to be the dud. I didn't become passionate about it until I started doing in a program in New York City. I had an instructor there and he played a lot of contemporary stuff around the city. That was inspiring to me. Then, 2CELLOS started, and that made me realize I could play rock music and play the stuff I was passionate about. I honestly loved playing cello growing up. When I got to conservatory right after we released the first EP, I realized I wasn't really into classical music and I wanted to be doing the music that I love.”
Highlights for The Happy Fits lately haven’t included a lot of shows. Touring is off the menu, but the band has still played plenty of shows on live streams and they’ve upped their social media presence in some substantial ways. They went from hardly posting anything to posting stuff almost daily. Their music video creation took a step up – they made a backwards video for “Go Dumb” and Langman had to learn the entire song backwards so they could record it in one take. They did that after he worked on it for a couple of weeks and then they tried to get the take for the video for more than a week. The online stuff is fun, and the band takes a lot of pride in making people smile, but they’re really hoping to get back to playing shows eventually.
“I have no idea what's going to happen,” said Monteith. “We're still hopeful to be able to tour next year. We've had to rebook our tour three times. We're trying to stay active on social media. We realize that we haven't been using that as much as we could have in the past. We're trying to keep people engaged with it. It's uncomfortable at first, it feels like you're saying 'yeah, look at me!' but sometimes you'll get comments about making peoples days better and things like that and that makes it worth it. We've been filming a lot of stuff these days, it's something to do. We've got a lot of time on our hands. We do livestreams every Thursday, but who knows maybe we'll put together a new EP or an album before we get to tour again. We just kind of pay attention to other artists because we're all in this together and we all have to do everything pretty similarly. Our album cycle will probably shorten from two years to whatever, but it's cool. We're having fun.” -aa