Fort Lean was a long time in the making.
“We all met in school, at Wesleyan,” frontman Keenan Mitchell explains, discussing the musically fertile Connecticut college that also birthed Das Racist and MGMT (Fort Lean graduated in 2008/9). “We had all played in different projects and then finally, about a year and a half ago, we had our plates clear at the same time and could get together, so we jumped on the opportunity.”
The five-piece, New York-based group — Mitchell, bassist Jake Aron, drummer Sam Ubl, guitarist Zach Fried and keyboardist Will Runge — was worth waiting for. But with the release of the Change Your Name EP (out today), the band is still coming into its own, a difficult thing to do when you’ve already gotten praise for who you are. “This is a big band playing small rooms that, especially compared with many of the acts performing this week, feels comically out of place,” the New York Times wrote of a 2011 CMJ showcase the band played. Not to set the bar too high.
“We were obviously all kind of shocked and super pumped when that happened,” Mitchell recalls. “It hadn’t been a hard slog of years and years, so we felt really lucky and honored.” So Fort Lean decided to slow things down. “This time it was an opportunity to spend more time writing the songs and to make all of the different pieces along the way sound better; the last EP we did at our practice space,” Mitchell says of the new EP, produced by Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly at Manhattan’s Germano Studios and mixed by Michael Brauer, who has worked with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. “We were all pumped to step it up in terms of quality in terms of quality and the time we had to spend and the people who were involved.”
The four-song EP has a big-rock sound that seems to justify the praise the band earned early on. Still, it isn’t without intricacies and crafty touches, like the arena-rock vocals on “Do You Remember” and the sing-along sweetness and handclaps on “The Mall” that make Fort Lean feel like a discovery. “We’ve had more time as a band and to settle into our sound,” Mitchell explains. “On the first EP we were just getting to know one another.” At the bottom of it all, however, Mitchell says Fort Lean’s core ambition hasn’t changed a bit. “We’re a rock band that makes you feel good and real weird,” he says. “Our strategy is to make rock music we’d want to listen to and to play it as best we can.”
Fort Lean’s Change Your Name EP is out today. Stream it at Spin.com.