Expose Yourself: an interview with The Happy Fits

Cello-Driven Alt Pop

By: Rebecca Carroll

December 04, 2018

"Melodies come to me at the most random of times without warning or context. The lyrics come from hours of thinking and rhyming..."

Winners of our Expose Yourself contest (sponsored by Manhattan's Music Building), NJ-based indie folk band The Happy Fits has recently gained local celebrity status with the release of their LP, Concentrate. Comprised of vocalist Ross Monteith, cellist Calvin Langman, and drummer Luke Davis, this three-piece has fostered attention for their high-spirited hits and catchy melodies. Their sunny sonic disposition is evident in their blues-driven instrumentals and soulful lyrics, showcasing a lighthearted balance between carefree experimentation and thoughtful songwriting. Each of their tracks is densely packed with layered harmonies, plucky beats and busy instrumental sections that blend to form a multifaceted interpretation of rootsy pop. For those enjoying the "bastard child" musical comparisons, The Happy Fits could be Mumford and Sons and Portugal the Man's baby, with the voice of Alex Turner (The Arctic Monkeys).

 The Deli recently went behind the sounds with the band to find out more about the roots of their inspiration and the rapid development of their trio – read our conversation with The Happy Fits below.

In your band’s early years, what motivated you to pull in your drummer Luke Davis following your formation as a duo?

I grew up listening to indie rock bands like The Killers, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Young the Giant. All the music I write is inspired by the music I grew up listening to/am listening to now, and an overwhelming amount of it has drums. Drums provide such a vital element in our music- sure the cello thing is "cool" but the real energy that makes you want to move is provided by Luke behind the kit. 

Did you have a certain vision for your new LP prior to creating it, or did start from scratch with this one? 

We didn't really have a vision for Concentrate. We want our music to be something that gets you excited when you listen to it at home and in concert. It would be fun to create an entire concept album that's planned out start to end like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips, but I'm still rather new at songwriting and don't feel confident enough to make something like that yet. For now, I'm focused on making high energy music inspired by the great indie music of the past decade and any albums we release in the near future will just be a compilation of whatever we're jamming hard to right now.

Your song “Hungry People” seems to comment on some of the insincerity that exists within the music industry - with the surge of recognition your band has recently received, how has your opinion on the industry changed now that you’re looking at it from the inside?

I wouldn't say we're looking at it from the inside yet. All of our music has been self-released and there's a lot of behind the scenes work that fans don't get to see; hours programming our website, keeping track of merchandise inventory, keeping track of finances- basically everything that's not "rock n' roll." I'm not able to be a full time artist yet so I don't feel like I'm inside the industry yet. Our song Hungry People is not really commenting on the industry itself but rather my shallow desires to become a part of it without putting in the hours first.

The style of Concentrate has been described as a blend of Vampire Weekend and Young the Giant, did either of these bands play a role in influencing this new record’s sound? What artists would you say played the largest role in inspiring this new work?

I'm always on the hunt for new music. When I was in 7th grade I really started devoting hours of my time to find the best unknown indie rock music I could. It's been awesome watching so many bands blow up like COIN, GIVERS, Generationals, Two Door Cinema Club, and Shannon and the Clams. One thing all these bands do in common is that they write AWESOME melodies that make you want to scream and dance your butt off. It's the exact feeling that drove me to love indie rock music.

Are there any artists that have emerged from New Jersey’s local scene that you look up to as a rising band?

Of the approximately 7,000,000 bands in New Jersey, there are definitely some that ROCK OUR WORLD. Shoobies are our best friends from Asbury Park and all their songs are bangers... their live show I'd say is one of the best I've ever seen.

Calvin, what was your experience with adapting the cello to fit the The Happy Fits’ sound? Was it a tough transition from traditional playing to a more contemporary songwriting style?

When we first started writing and playing music together, music was kind of binary to me- there were chords and there was melody. If I could play the chords on the cello, why not? My view on how our music should be recorded and performed has changed drastically since then, but it's never been a struggle to play along with Ross on cello. Sure a song may not sound how I initially envisioned it in my head, but if Ross thinks it's good and the audience says it's good, then I might as well keep playing it like that.

Your music has a very playful energy that overlays more meaningful and intimate lyrics – when creating music, is your songwriting fueled more by your songs’ lighthearted charisma or by the more sober aspects of your content?

The lyrics and the music come separately. Melodies come to me at the most random of times without warning or context. The lyrics come from hours of thinking and rhyming and finding out what life lessons and observations we want portrayed in our music. 

Which song off the new record do you find yourself craving the live performance of most and why?

When we're playing to a reactive crowd, we love performing Relimerence. At the end of the song we get everyone to jump and fist bump in solidarity for Dirty Jerz and there's a general feeling of happiness in the air (I mean, how weird is it to fist bump without a smile on your face?).

You have fostered an incredibly dedicated fan base in such little time. How have you managed to form such strong relationships with your followers?

Spotify has helped us out immensely. Our first and only big break I'd say was when our current Tour Manager Tyler Miranda got us on the Fresh Finds playlist through one of his friends that was interning at Spotify. From there, we were recognized by the ever elusive Spotify algorithm and have been invading listeners' Discover Weekly's every Monday ever since. On our part, we try our hardest to respond to all of our DM's, fan e-mails, and comments on our posts. To make one thing extremely clear, we value every single one of our listeners because they're making our dreams come true. I've probably written to a majority of the bands I've listened to and haven't heard anything back (which is totally understanding because touring musicians are SO busy). The few times I have heard back from a band I like, it makes me very happy- and that's what we try to do with our fans. 

What other emerging artists from the NYC area are you enjoying listening to these days?

Of the approximately 9,000,000,000 bands in NYC, I'd say Surf Rock is Dead is our favorite. We worked with Joel on our album Concentrate and he is by far 10/10, one of the best dudes, engineers, and musicians I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.