Brooklyn musicians Keenan Mitchell (Vocals, Guitar), Zach Fried (Guitar), Will Runge (Keyboard, Guitar), Jake Aron (Bass), and Sam Ubl (Drums) are the architects of Fort Lean — a band officially established in 2011. On a foundation of equanimity, they have worked slowly but steadily, building Fort Lean with blueprints outlining honesty and sincerity. Rejecting facades of heavy reverb or diminished, recessed vocals, each release — including singles, Perfect, High Definition, Beach Holiday and Sunsick — bring them effectively closer to their ultimate vision.

Nearly a month ago today Fort Lean debuted Change Your Name, an EP as bold and charismatic as their lauded live shows. Carefully crafted, says Zach Fried, not with sonic excess but with intensity, the young band seem well on their way to creating a place of well-constructed permanence.


So, Zach, why is the name Fort Lean the best one to signify what you do?
The most important thing for us was to pick a name that didn’t have a lot of previous connotations, so we liked that about Fort Lean. It’s kind of a blank slate. Also, it evoked locality and the sense of a place that the music brings people back to — a place that people can bring their own interpretations to and connect with differently. We wanted to create a little world.

So when we go to Fort Lean, what do we hear proclamations, questions, or stories?
I think all of those things. Our music has a familiar sort of overtone, in the way that it references classic chord structures and forms. People perceive the music to be pretty upbeat and positive but the lyrical content often veers into darker, murkier territory. I think it’s a reflection of life: On the whole it’s a positive experience even though there’s always darker stuff going on underneath the surface.

What was the driving force behind the songs on the Change Your Name EP?
It was the first collection of songs where we had the opportunity to be methodical with our approach in terms of writing and recording. When we first started out as a band, we recorded [our self-titled debut EP] inside of a few days and mainly concentrated on getting out there and playing to the world. Our second recording was the Sunsick single, and we put a little more time into that but still not much. With Change Your Name, we were given the opportunity to get some perspective on the songs by working with them a little more. It was the first time we could apply more of a professional approach and it’s definitely a more thoughtful product.

Having recorded both ways — quickly and more slowly over time do you have a preference of one approach over the other?
They both have their benefits. With the quicker recordings, you go in and do it and it’s done. There’s no chance you’re going to over think it, so maybe some of that immediacy and ‘magic’ gets preserved. There’s an extreme value in that. Taking more time allows you to correct the things that are eating away at you — that you know aren’t just right or could be better.

Sounds like you guys take the business of music making pretty seriously. Is your overall intention to present something of permanence?
We want to communicate a certain complexity but we’re also a fun-loving bunch, you know? It’s more fulfilling to make something that reflects the breadth and scope of the human experience. We’ve been a band for two years and the longer we’re at it, the more important it becomes for us to have our music be about more than just shit-kickin’ good times because that kind of music just isn’t appropriate all the time. We want to speak to people across a wider set of experiences.

Research tells me you have a pretty stellar live reputation.
We all have a lot more experience playing music live than we do recording it. When we started, we were really focused on making sure that we were killer live. With the rising prevalence of computers in music and all of the technological tools that have been developed over the last decade or so, it seems the focus of being able to play instruments super well and the ability to communicate with the audience through those instruments on stage has been lost. It’s something we’re always working on.

So the live setting is where Fort Lean truly shines?
The live setting is a very dynamic and emotional experience and from the beginning we knew that we wanted to live up to that. If I like a band’s record, I’ll go to see them play. If they can deliver, I’m sold. I think you have to hook people with your recordings but seal the deal with the performance.


Stream Fort Lean’s Change Your Name EP — produced by Patrick Wimberly (Chairlift) and mixed by Michael Brauer (Coldplay, Grizzly Bear, The Vaccines)in its entirety below, then purchase a copy of your own via Bandcamp.

Look for our special Christmas Q&A with Zach Fried of Fort Lean next week on Talk Rock To Me.


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