Live & Listen's 'Bands You Should Know': The Fritz July 29, 2016 13:48

Photo by Joshua Marc Levy and Asheville Art Family

Live & Listen is pleased to continue a brand new weekly feature known as Bands You Should Know.  This new concept will highlight a different band each Friday with an interview, general background information, current happenings, as well as videos and audio from each band.  After nearly two years of various interviews and artist spotlights, we feel that installing a consistent weekly feature is the perfect move as we progress forward.

For our fifth edition of Bands You Should Know, we sat down with Jamie Hendrickson (guitar) of The Fritz, a progressive, five-piece funk project that has been making major noise out of Asheville, North Carolina in recent years.  We were fortunate enough to catch The Fritz's recent String Cheese Incident Afterparty in Atlanta, and we haven't stopped listening since.  If you're looking for a fresh dose of soulful funk with elements of improvisation, look no further than The Fritz.  You'll end up with an impromptu dance party of epic proportions.  

Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen

The Fritz is going on five years strong now.  Tell me a little bit about this band's background and how everything ultimately came together in Asheville.

Jamie: We all actually met in Jacksonville, Florida.  Everyone was in school studying music.  We started playing together; maybe a local show every couple of months.  We were writing a lot of music.  Once everyone started graduating, we decided that this was something worth pursuing.  That's when we moved to Asheville, about five years ago.  From there, we started doing everything ourselves from the ground up.  We were booking our own gigs, buying a crappy old van, and just trying to be a touring band.  It's been a very long, gradual, slow process of getting there.  It's been a lot of hard work, but now, it's really going well.

Yeah it's definitely not an easy task, and it takes time to build anything great.  

So, many people tend to think of cities like New Orleans and Nashville for their music scene, but Asheville's music scene is certainly strong as well.  How much of an impact does such a strong, tight-knit music scene have on a young band like The Fritz?

Jamie: We moved to Asheville because it was a booming, central location on the east coast.  We knew that we wanted to be playing up and down the east coast.  We didn't want to get too far from the southeast, because we had already started building a following in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Atlanta.  Asheville is a beautiful place.  It offers a lot of things we love, like camping and hiking.  It's a very affordable place for a musician to live.  It also just has a great, bustling local music scene.  People go out and support live music.  The Tuesday Night Funk Jam has been an Asheville staple for 8-9 years around different venues.  That really helped us out when we first moved here.  We would go out and play often.  The guys from Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band hosted it and welcomed us with open arms. We were able to blend into the community pretty quickly.

Watch The Fritz perform "Calculate" with The Horns from Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band on 07.08.16 here:

It's really cool that a city the size of Asheville still manages to have such a nice variety of venues.  It seems like there are multiple spots for a band of any size to get out and play.

Jamie: Oh yeah, exactly.  Asheville is a music destination.  That's why a lot of great music comes here.  Even the really big bands, like Widespread Panic and String Cheese Incident.  Phish even came and played here several years ago.  Nine Inch Nails and other bands like that come and play the arena.  Then you have mid-sized venues like The Orange Peel, which still holds about 1000 people.  Smaller than that, you have the Asheville Music Hall, New Mountain, and The Mothlight, and tons of other venues.  There is so much music coming through all of the time.

I've had some really fun nights at The One Stop as well.

Jamie: Yeah, of course.  That was actually the first venue we played when we moved here.  They’ve done an awesome job to build the smaller bands into regional bands.

That makes sense.  I've seen some great music in the corner of that little bar.  I can only imagine how many great bands have come through there at one point or another.

So, I recently saw you guys for the first time at Aisle 5 in Atlanta, and that funky, soulful nature of this band really gets a room moving.  There seems to be a whole lot of room for creativity within each song.  What's your strategy towards improvisation?  I'm always interested to hear about this concept.

Jamie: Most of the time, we improvise within tight parameters.  Sometimes, there will be some slight improvisation over a section where it sounds like it isn't improvised at all.  We know exactly how long it's going to be and when it's going to go into the next section.  Most of the parameters are planned and rehearsed, but hopefully, we're trying to fool people into thinking that we're coming up with it on the spot.  Once per set, we like to have a part that is purely improvised.  We know where it's going to go, but we don't really know how it's going to get there.  Ideally, people wouldn't even be able to tell the difference.  It would be nice, at the end of the set, for people to really have no idea where we improvised.  

Watch The Fritz perform "Another Way" from The Shoe Sessions Vol. 1 here:

You guys got in the studio back in 2013 and recorded Bootstrap.  I'm sure that was a pivotal moment.  What was the recording process like?  Any plans to get back into the studio this year?

Jamie: We recorded that album a few years ago down in Florida at Crooked Tree Studios.  We had some great engineers help us with that.  It was a lot of fun, and it was just us taking our first batch of songs and putting them together.  We only play about three of those songs live now.  To really excited to say that we're recording our next album in January.  There is this great band, Turkuaz, and the singer/songwriter/guitarist of their band is producing it with us up in Syracuse, NY.

Wow.  So, that would be Dave Brandwein, right?

Jamie: Yeah, it's going to be really fun.  We’ve played a handful of shows with Turkuaz in the past year and have become great friends with them.  We just loved them. They're great people.  We had discussed it then, and once we started seriously thinking about a time frame, we gave Dave a call.  It ended up working out with everyone's schedule.  We've been writing a ton of new music, and we can’t wait to get it all down in the studio.

That's a great idea and a perfect fit.  I'll be looking forward to hearing this one.

Jamie: I don't know if you've heard the most recent Turkuaz album, Digitonium, but it's amazing,  It's really, really good.  He's really creative.  The plan is to have a single out next summer.

Very cool.  I've probably listened to Turkuaz more than any other band in the past year.  They are pretty amazing, and they put on one hell of a show.

Jamie: Oh yeah...they're great.  They are a huge band, and they are power funk.  They advertise power funk, and that's what you get.  It's ballsy, and it's great.

Photo by Nick Sonsini: Sonsini Media

Things really seem to be taking off over the past two years.  You guys have been touring more extensively and playing a lot of new cities.  What have been the band's favorite cities and venues thus far?  Any particular shows that have really stood out?

Jamie: I would say that Atlanta is getting to be a place we really look forward to.  We really just started playing there regularly.  Of course, we always love going to Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.  We're actually heading down to the Roosevelt Collier Summer Splashdown this weekend.  We'll be back there in October for Hulaween.  Collectively, that's probably our favorite place.  It’s just a one of a kind music venue.

I can relate.  Suwannee is definitely an amazing place.  There is a little magic in the air there.

Jamie: It's great.  We were down there this spring for AURA, which was a blast.

We're in the midst of a time where album sales are nearly extinct.  There's also more bands and more music than ever before.  What do you guys have to focus on moving forward to allow this band to flourish and take things to the next level?

Jamie: I would say number one...and this seems like a cliche thing to say...but it's just the music.  I think it all comes down to that.  You have to have a good product to put out there.  There are all sorts of important business things as well, but when it all comes down to it, it's all about the music.  We try to make it as good as it can possibly be.  People can tell if you're constantly pushing it, spending time doing it, and assessing over it.  People can tell that difference right away.  They might be able to translate what it is right away, but they know it's good.

That's a great point.  You can't let yourself get caught up in the business aspect.  You've got to stay true to yourself and the music.  Nothing can replace that tight-knit chemistry of a great band

Jamie: You can have the greatest music in the world, but if you don't have the right business strategy, it's not going to work.  So that's really important.  The things I love the most about the bands is just seeing them and thinking, "Wow!  That is undeniably amazing."  We just saw this band in Asheville last night called Mingo Fishtrap.  They're from Austin, Texas.  Oh my god, this band...they are so fantastic.  From the first song you hear, you're just like, "Wow!  I don't know what this is, but this is amazing.  I have to know about this."  Trying to have that WOW effect is our main focus.

Watch The Fritz perform "Sawbones" at 1904 Music Hall on 07.02.16 here:

Aside from what we've discussed, what's on the horizon for The Fritz the rest of this year?  What do you guys have on the calendar that you're really looking forward to?

Jamie: Well, the thing that I'm most excited about, as far as this summer goes, is the cool festivals that we're playing here over the next few weeks. We're doing a festival around Asheville called SoulShine with Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band and The Mantras.  That will be a late night set.  We also have Camp Barefoot, which we're excited about.  We should be super busy this fall all along the east coast, which will culminate at Hulaween.  That's going to be a blast.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get some hang time after we play our set.  We love that place so much.

That would be a difficult festival to leave as soon as the set is over.

Jamie: Usually, we will hang out for the night after our set. This is one that I would certainly like to stay for at least two nights.  The lineup is amazing.  The production staff does an excellent job.  I haven't actually been to Hulaween yet.  Since the band is usually playing elsewhere for Halloween, this will be our first time playing and going to the festival.  I've heard really great things, and I am pretty excited about it.  We were hoping it was going to work out, and fortunately it did.  We've been playing around Florida for a while now and have a lot of family friends down there!

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Photo by Nick Sonsini: Sonsini Media