Words: James Frostick
Dion and Jake of Fever Pitch talk about their return to the scene after taking some time to fine tune their sound.
As much as the wannabe musician inside me wants to believe otherwise, being in a band is probably very hard work. While I’m sure it’s all fun and shenanigans in the beginning, once you start taking the endeavour seriously it takes a lot to make your music into something listenable, marketable and profitable. A lot of young bands never make that jump. Those that do either a) luck into it or b) work really, really hard at it, but the fact is that most never get there and it’s probably because they fail to fall into those two categories.
Fever Pitch are a young band, with only one EP and one brand new single under their belt. They have been around for a year or two but they are still trying to make solid mark on the Brisbane music scene. These guys have done the rounds; they are simply in that period of limbo that many young bands go through before they hit their stride.
They have had setbacks and periods of self-doubt that I’m sure many bands experience, but each setback provides a chance to reassess and try again.
The thing that sets Fever Pitch apart from many other young, up-and-comers is that they are also a band that applies the lessons learned from the mistakes and setbacks in order to further their craft. They take advice, they learn from experience and they try to get better. It is paying off.
Recently, Fever Pitch released their new single, In My Veins – a punchy track that doesn’t waste time and gets to the point. Simple, with no bullshit, but is clearly a message to audiences – ‘listen, because we are for real.’ It is a track that sounds as if it could have been written by The Strokes during a lost jam session.
Fever Pitch is Dion Shaw, Jacob Siwers and Blair Westbrook. The trio have been active since 2010 and are entering 2013 after a lengthy period of – not reinvention per se – extensive tweaking.
“I think we formed in 2010, sort of,” says Dion. “We went to school together. Jacob was a year above us but we had extension music together. School finished and all that, but while we were friends in school we weren’t really tight or anything. But in 2010, I bumped into Jake and he asked if I still played guitar. I said yeah and he said we should get together and start playing.”
“We wrote together for like six months, or something like that, but we didn’t have a drummer. Blair (who also plays in Nikko), who was in my grade, said to me if I ever needed a drummer, give him a call. Luckily he is one of the best drummers you will ever meet in your life. He’s, like, the best musician in the band, so we are very lucky.”
After 12 months of writing and rehearsing, Fever Pitch began playing shows around Brisbane in early-to-mid 2011, lining up a lot of gigs in a short period of time before releasing their first EP in November of that year.
Their debut EP, a selection of 4 songs from their early stage, didn’t meet the bands expectations and subsequently, didn’t create much momentum. Followed by extensive local gigging, Fever Pitch found themselves underplayed, but overexposed – an undesirable combo for a new band.
“It was good experience though,” says Jake.
“It was a lesson, it was a good lesson,” adds Dion.
“It was good to do it, but it taught us not to rush things,” says Jake. “We went in and recorded it in two days, basically. We did four songs in two days and then on top of that Dion had to go and record the lyrics at the engineer’s house.”
“The vocals sounded raw. When you listen to our stuff now it sounds better produced, I think. You could hear it being played on the radio, but with the first EP it just sounds like glorified demos.”
This seems to be a common trap for many fresh-faced musicians. The excitement to release something often overrides the need to slow down and take a considered approach to the production of material. Although Fever Pitch had been writing consistently for the better part of a year, their lack of experience with studios and recording processes did a disservice to their hard work and sound.
Dion and Jacob informed me that they were working with another party at the time whose job it was to help young bands avoid such pitfalls.
“When we released the EP we were working with a company to help us release it but we were really unhappy with what they did with us,” says Dion. “They didn’t really help us in any sense, we just gave them a fuck-load of money and they were like, ‘Here is the EP launch you organised yourself’, which was pretty brutal.”
For most bands of a certain level, a team is required to help organise and manage the needs and wants of the music industry, if the band is gaining traction or wants to. For a band like Fever Pitch to take the step to seek guidance shows that they were serious about their music, and believed that they were worth the time and effort needed to cultivate and assist.
Perhaps this company didn’t share Fever Pitch’s belief and were quite comfortable accepting money in exchange for minimal effort, but thankfully for Dion, Jake and Blair, their next and current partnership has been much more beneficial.
“We are pretty new to being in a band, although Blair has done stuff with Nikko, so we were all a bit lost and we kind of needed people to tell us what we were doing wrong or whatever,” says Dion. “So we were put onto this other company who we are still with now. I said we have some new stuff and they told us to record some demos and send them in. One of them got back to us and he told us that the songs were ok, but not very good.”
This company in particular was The A&R Company, and the man in question is Matt O’Connor. His initial critique and advice might sound disheartening, but in reality it was just what the guys of Fever Pitch needed to hear and subsequently the new partnership was formed.
“It was exactly what we needed to hear,” says Jake. “We needed someone to tell us that parts were good but we needed to do this, this and this better – go and do it and come back.”
“The best part was like, he wasn’t there to write new parts for us,” says Dion. “It was good to have someone to literally mentor us and push us along.”
This is where Fever Pitch seemed to drop off the local music radar although it might end up being the most important part of their early career. For most of 2012, Dion, Jake and Blair re-evaluated the music they had written for a second release at the insistence of Matt, and went about tweaking their songs and their sound to a point where they were 100% happy. At first, the band was uncomfortable with the prospect of being quiet for so long, but all admit that they were happy that they took the time needed to work on their material and get some advice from a few industry professionals.
“I was expecting to have a song out by May, last year,” says Dion. “We didn’t get into the studio until September. But it was definitely worth it. We wrote four new choruses for this new song, In My Veins. Now we are really happy with it, and we got put onto a producer-slash-engineer. He really helped us in the studio.”
“He helped us get the sound we wanted from our instruments, how it is all layered,” adds Jake.
After the hiatus-of-sorts, Fever Pitch are returning with something new up their sleeve, but are they confident that they have learned from the errors made over a year ago?
“We hope so,” says Dion. “I think another lesson we learned was don’t just release 4 songs at a time because no one really cares. You need to build up a bit of momentum first – release a few songs and then put them all on one disc!”
“I think we (also) played too many shows. It sounds weird, but when you first start out everyone says play as many shows as possible, but what we learned at the end of it was that we played so many shows that no one cared about us. One week we’d be playing somewhere with $10 entry and next week we’d play for free. No one would come to the $10 show. Then we’d play the week after that as well.”
“I think we were happy (before), but we didn’t take it to that next step with the songs,” says Jake. “We thought we were at a good spot with these songs, but it we weren’t overjoyed with it. We thought, ‘that’ll do’. When we worked with Matt, he had the balls to say ‘It doesn’t sound as good as you think it is, you can do better’. So we thought, ‘Ok, we can do better, let’s try something else’.”
And so they did, and now they have a collection of songs and a more of an idea of what to do with them. While no second EP is explicitly planned, the songs they release from now on should help get that momentum that they lacked and regain some interest. The band are an experienced touring machine, they don’t need to be taught how to play – they simply needed to be patient with themselves and make sure that their music is the best possible representation of their ideas.
Now that they have worked on that aspect, I asked Dion and Jake if they were on a position to stand on their own and continue without any sort of mentoring.
“I don’t think we ever will,” admits Dion. “In a sense Matt mentors us, but we also give him 150 discs and he takes it around the world to radio stations. I don’t think we’d ever be able to stand on our feet that way. We can write songs by ourselves, but it gets to a point where you do need a team around you. There are bands that get played by triple j, and people might think they put their songs on Unearthed and that was it but in reality they probably gave their stuff to a guy who went down to Sydney to meet with people there.”
If there was a sure fire way to get your music noticed, I’m sure everyone would be doing it. There is no guaranteed success in this industry and getting lucky can only get you so far. Fever Pitch seem to think they are now on the right track, with proper guidance and a hardened desire for perfection and self-satisfaction, Fever Pitch might embody the perfect way to earn success.
Fail first, learn from it, try again.
“You gotta keep trying,” says Jake. “We wouldn’t keep doing it if we didn’t love it, either. We all listen to music, we all play music, and we love what we do. We all get along, we are all mates.”
“It’s only been 3 years for us so far,” says Dion. “To some it only seems like a year or two because we’ve only been playing shows for a little while. Last year we only played like 5 shows, 4 of which were in Sydney.”
I asked them what they thought it took to make a band work, to make them successful.
“I’d say we are doing it now,” says Jake. “You have to be willing to invest money and time into it. You have to believe in yourself and know that what you are doing is good. Not trying to talk us up, but I listen to our music and I genuinely like it – and I want other people to like it as well. That sort of drives you to do it. It’s an investment with money and you have to be willing to invest in someone like Matt who is going to be there to help you. They are willing to help you, willing to tell you if something is shit and willing to give you some guidance.”
“The biggest thing is you have to work for the band, says Dion. “You have to work a shitty day job, just to earn money to spend on the band and you have to be willing to throw everything at the band. DZ have worked really hard, they worked the day jobs and threw all their money into it.”
The way I see it, being in a band is supposed to be fun. If it wasn’t, music would be dead. It’s like working your way to any goal in any project – it takes practice and dedication to make it into something worthwhile. I suppose those that half-ass it don’t get to experience the feelings of pride that goes with accomplishment, because what did they work for?
Think about that when you are driving home from an interstate tour, your shift at your day job looming in the horizon, remember what you are doing it for, and take some solace that you aren’t the only one on the grind. Fever Pitch don’t forget it, rest assured. That’s why they are in it, still.
“It’s the only thing we’ve got going for us,” jokes Dion. “It’s something we are good at, it’s just something that we want in the end. People who don’t make it are the ones who quit.”
Fever Pitch don’t sound like the quittin’ type, so look for bigger and better things from them this year.