FIGHTs Take Flight
Inspired by Eno, built by Burton, The Formal Institute of Great Hit Tunes is ‘Music for Villains’
By Nick Pittman
Nov. 1, 2013
It took Brian Eno less than four minutes to change J Burton’s musical outlook. In 2009, Burton and his band Dire Wood were trekking to Austin for South by Southwest when he heard Eno’s 1977 song “King’s Lead Hat.” Instantly, he knew he needed to start a new project — FIGHTs.
|Photo by Leah Graeff|
“Sometimes life shows you a shining light. It will hold it in front of you and let you feel it. Then it will take it away and throw it really far down the road. Then you have to chase after it for years, with minimal clues. You know what it looks like, you know what it feels like, you know its scent,” says Burton. In “King’s Lead Hat” Burton heard something he never noticed before: a juxtaposition of sloppy rock with a dance beat, varied arrangements, dense sounds, noises as instruments. More importantly than Eno’s experimentation, Burton realized music is not just about the artist, it’s about the audience. Genre defiance is fine, but does it make the crowd sweat? “Things just changed for me. I’m still chasing it,” admits Burton.
Now four years later, Eno’s influence is still very present as FIGHTs releases its first full-length album, Music For Villains. The result runs close to “King’s Lead Hat” at times, as songs like “Out There Part 1” melt perfectly into a Talking Heads- or Eno-populated set list.
However, FIGHTs is undoubtedly its own band that definitely requires an extra application of Speed Stick. Keeping with Eno’s left-of-center style, Burton, who handles lead vocals and Rhodes piano plus samples, assembled a crew of Lafayette rock scene staples in a fairly odd configuration. There are no guitarists, only bass player Matthew O’Neal. Borrowing from Burton’s work on a King Sunny Ade album at Dockside Studios and African talking drum music as an inspiration, both Dallas Griffith and Danny Devillier play drums in what Burton describes as a lead and rhythm drum, respectively. The lineup and sound are rounded out by Brycen Gaddis on synth (and drums when Devillier picks up the fiddle) and Jessie Lalonde on backing vocals and sampler.
Music For Villains is a concept piece loosely following a day in the life of a man Burton describes as having “a pretty bad attitude towards life. He’s a villain, basically, a low-life. There are some dark themes, some glimmers of hope.” Despite the subject matter, it’s not a bleak album. Straddling Eno’s inspiration and a modern sense of melody, it’s quirky and light, playful and harmonious. Tracks such as “Lowdown Dirty Orphan” are downright zany. Eno’s “King’s Lead Hat” now seems dated, a wacky song you may hear on a 1980s movie about a teen club in danger of being bulldozed to create a shopping mall, but FIGHTs’ “In Spades” would not be out of place on a commercial for the latest Apple product. It’s tempting to dismiss the odd configuration of performers and put it on the shelf as a weird art album that experiments for the sake of experimenting, but it is easily accessible.
“FIGHTs is the first band I have belonged to that has rebelled against this idea of music for the self,” says bassist O’Neal. “It is consciously created with the audience in mind. Ideas are worked and reworked until they seem approachable and accessible to anyone. ... The outcome is never meant to be solipsistic. We make dance music, plain and simple. Not post-this or indie-that, but simply music that we hope helps to make the audience feel good.”
Though they put stock in pleasing their audience, it’s not that FIGHTs does not reflect its members. The band’s humor shows in songs and even the name itself. Originally, it was to be called NEWBAND99, then took FIGHTs as a reflection of the band Battles. After settling on it, Burton developed it into an acronym for the Formal Institute of Great Hit Tunes.
“We try to bring that sense of humor and lust-for-life attitude to the stage and to the records we make,” says Burton. “It seems to work, and that has set this band apart for me from previous projects. ... It’s like I was in a romantic comedy, now I’m in a horror movie, a good horror movie.”
Nick Pittman is a freelance writer living in Acadiana.