Photo credit: Jen Squires
Ivan of Noteworthy here again (Mondays, 6PM-8PM at uicradio.org). Make sure to mark your calendar for this Wednesday, June 28. Fast Romantics, an indie rock band out of Toronto with a flair for big Springsteen-style hooks, will be performing at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) in support of their latest album, American Love. I spoke with lead singer/guitarist Matthew Angus through e-mail (pictured 3rd from right) about love in times of political turmoil and rebuilding the band.
Noteworthy: For folks who may be hearing about you for the first time, tell us the origin of the name Fast Romantics.
The name Fast Romantics precedes this band. It was the result of a brainstorming session we had in the very first version of the [group] many years ago. We just locked ourselves in a room and came out with those words. There’s no meaning behind it really. But when we reformed Fast Romantics a couple of years ago with all these new members, we decided to keep the moniker, and now it’s just one of those meaningless names you give to anybody. Like “The Beatles” or … “Fred.”
NW: The band got its start in Calgary and you recently filmed the video for “Alberta” there during a tour off day spent visiting family and friends. What is one surprising thing about the town that most people wouldn’t know about it?
Calgary is known for the Calgary Stampede and most people in America picture it as full of cowboy hats and boots and rodeos and farms but really it’s nothing like that at all. It’s become a pretty cosmopolitan town with a lot of amazing subcultures and a thriving music scene.
NW: Another American Love track, “Why We Fight” was recently played during a broadcast of this year’s NHL playoffs. What was that moment like and do you have any all-time favorite players from the Calgary Flames?
It did, that was a trip. As Canadians, having your song open up a hockey playoff game is kinda like playing the Grammys, it’s a big deal y’know. You’re talking to a band of mostly Toronto Maple Leafs fans, believe it or not, but Jeff’s still holding out for the Flames. Me personally, even though I’m a Leafs fan, you gotta love former Flame Lanny McDonald. Not only was he a badass hockey player but I went to school with his daughter and met him a bunch, and he’s just a super nice guy.
NW: After your 2013 full-length, Afterlife Blues, you experienced one of the biggest turnover of band members I can think of for a group between albums. What was the process like to rebuild and what are some of the big differences you’ve noticed?
Yeah, we’ve now accepted that we’re a brand new band with an old name, at this point. It was a scary process, and there were times when we weren’t sure if the band would survive. At one point it was just down to me and my longtime pal Jeff on bass. But I got lucky and met some amazing people in the Toronto scene. Kirty, who is an amazing songwriter in her own right, came first and then everybody else followed. Suddenly, there was this magical renewal with six people that are like total family to me now. And because we were such fast friends, I think there was this enthusiasm you couldn’t ignore while we made this record. Everything felt new, ideas just came easy. So the biggest difference I’d say is I no longer feel like this band is fragile or at risk. Every member is in it for the long haul and contributes in a way that means something to them and to the rest of the group.
NW: How long has the band been based out of Toronto? What’s the best thing about the Toronto local music scene and the aspect you like least?
We moved to Toronto five years ago, shortly after it started falling apart and bleeding members. And then the reformation happened a little over two years ago. Toronto is incredible for music. It’s rare to find a bad player on a stage anywhere, there’s a lot of creative electricity throughout the city, everybody’s making something interesting. There’s something to see on any given night of the week. There aren’t many things I don’t love about Toronto’s music scene, except maybe that we keep losing amazing venues. The city is going through a bit of an ordeal with legendary music venues having to shut down and right now there’s a movement to stop the bleeding – which brings me back to what I love. It’s a city full of believers, making big sacrifices to keep the music scene alive.
NW: The latest album, American Love, has a recurrent theme of love in the midst of chaos. What drove that narrative?
Well, it’s just how you described it — I was falling in love in the midst of chaos. So that made it pretty natural to write. The songs started as love songs and then evolved as we toured them around in both Canada and the USA. Our experiences in the USA especially had a massive impact on the themes and even the sounds on the record. It was during the two year nightmare of an election campaign. We talked to a lot of people on both sides of the political fence and I was really affected by the experience, became quite fascinated and disturbed by the division in this country, by the confusion, and by the tunnel vision some people seemed to have. There was a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty and it just seeped into the songs. But at the end of the day it became a really hopeful record, and you said it right, it’s about finding love despite the madness. You can’t fall in love or have a good life in a vacuum — you have to find that life despite the chaos.
NW: The music videos for “Julia” and “Why We Fight” feature edited footage of iconic American figures, Fred Astaire and an actor portraying President Abraham Lincoln, respectively. What brought about this fascination with tinkering with vintage footage and was it intentional to use such legendary Americans?
I’ve always had this kind of weird fascination with it. I remember as a kid watching Forrest Gump and that was just when I was getting into film, and I started playing with manipulating old footage back then. So it’s just continued on. It was very intentional, yes. Fred Astaire comes from what some in this country consider a “golden era” of pop culture, so using Fred was a no-brainer. Lincoln is a president that seems to be well loved and represents another side of the American dream and storybook American values. Our record is littered with that sort of imagery, so it seemed like a no- brainer, just kinda worked. I think there may be a few more like that in the tank. We’ll see. They take a long time to make.
NW: Where did you find the Lincoln footage? I had a difficult time locating the source.
That was from this super weird Greyhound-sponsored propaganda video that I found. It was done in the fifties and it was half commercial for Greyhound, and half American propaganda. Super trippy to watch.
NW: While listening to American Love, I could hear some sprinkles of Bruce Springsteen in there. For someone like myself who is only familiar with the big hits, do you have any recommendations on which albums and songs to start with?
Sometimes sprinkles ,yes. Sometimes blatant Bruce bombs. Nothing on our record overtly sounds too much like Springsteen but I keep getting these comments so he seems to be making his way in. Beyond the hits, you gotta listen to Nebraska. Beautiful mellow record start to finish. Another one of my favorite Bruce songs that isn’t a standard “hit” is “Streets of Philadelphia” from the soundtrack of the same name, kinda later Springsteen but it’s just…so…damn…good.
NW: I saw that your tour van was recently stolen and then recovered shortly thereafter. Can you give us a timeline of the events and what was going through your mind?
The story would be a full novella if I told the whole thing, but in brief: went out to drive to a radio station performance, van not there. Presumed towed. Get to radio station. Realize it’s stolen. Go on air and tell city of Vancouver it’s missing. Post on Facebook. Yada yada. 10 minutes later a lady posts a picture of our van driving in front of her car. Says she heard us on the radio. Called the cops. Ten minutes later, another photo of our van surrounded by cop cars. Most of our gear missing. The next day someone anonymously Facebooked me and ominously said “I have something you want.” Turns out he bought our two guitar amps and two guitars off the thieves for like $100. He drove them back to us. The rest of the stuff was recovered by the cops the day after that. The story is much more tumultuous and emotional and intense than that, but that’s the gist. We realize we’re one of the few lucky bands ever to have gotten all their [stuff] back after a van theft, so we’re all feeling pretty lucky and karma’d out right about now.
NW: What can people expect when they come to a Fast Romantics show?
A lot of loud noises, a lot of soft noises. A lot of feelings. A lot of storytelling. A lot of singing and voices and celebrating with a few melancholy moments mixed in. It can be a pretty high energy event, and we don’t always know what’s going to happen, we like to leave a little to the unknown. The crowd in front of us often dictates the kind of show we put on, so every show is a reflection of the people we’re playing for, I think. All in all, we like to have a good time, and if the people we’re playing for feel the same way, it usually turns out to be a memory-maker of a night.
Fast Romantics will be at Township on June 28. You can keep up with them at fastromantics.com and don’t forget to listen to Noteworthy w/ Ivan Mitchell live every Monday from 6PM-8PM at uicradio.org, with clips and past interviews at soundcloud.com/NoteworthyRadioShow.