Electro-rock duo FITNESS meets up with us at Cafe Aficionado in Northridge, CA to celebrate the release of their debut album Karate, as well as discussing the major changes they’ve faced as independent artists coming from well-known major label bands.
FITNESS is comprised of:
Max Collins – vocals
Kenny Carkeet – everything else plus the kitchen sink
*Note: Both Max and Kenny took part in the interview. Kenny only speaks through Max. That is how Kenny rolls.*
So to start us off, I wanted to say congratulations on the release of your debut Karate!
Max Collins: Thank you!
What inspired the lyrical and instrumentational elements that you guys incorporated on the tracks?
Max: So FITNESS for us is an exercise of a given moment. It’s not like there’s necessarily an overarching theme in our cohesive work, at least not one that I’m aware of. Although with records I’ve made in the past sometimes, I did notice that there is one, but it was sort of unconscious. Maybe there is one with Karate. I think when Kenny and I get together we just stop and really take the time to figure everything out. It’s an instinctual process, it’s not so much an intellectual pursuit as much as it is what feels good right now musically. Kenny will make a track, and then I’ll do like a melodic sketch and then start to plug words into that melodic rhythmic blueprint, that’s just been our process and we haven’t really deviated from it. And yeah we just follow our whimsy wherever it may take us.
And how was the recording process for Karate different than your EP Aggroculture?
Max: I think Aggroculture was our first foray into a little body of work. I think we hadn’t yet totally discovered what we were, and I guess that’s sort of an ever-changing thing. Anyway, I don’t think we’ve landed in some fixed place, but I think with Karate we had more of a band identity. Even if that’s not something that I could articulate the specifics of, it’s sort of like we’d exercise this FITNESS thing. Also with Aggroculture, we wrote five songs and those five songs were the EP. With Karate, we probably wrote thirty, and up until the last couple of weeks before it came out, we were still writing new songs and subbing things out. So we had more to choose from and probably a higher bar, a little bit more self-imposed kind of. Not pressure in a negative sense, but we wanted it to be as good as possible.
Which song was your favorite to write and record? And these can be different songs because I know the processes can be different sometimes.
Max: Yeah, actually the processes aren’t as different with FITNESS as they have been for me in other projects because we generally do write and record almost simultaneously. Sometimes you’ll have more of a finished track. Sometimes it’s a chord structure and beat. But I write to that as he’s filling in the blanks production-wise, and usually sing right away after that and track vocals. I really enjoy the way that we record because you don’t lose that urgency. In the past, it’s like if I was writing a song on acoustic guitar, it had a certain energy like in the two hours after it being written in a certain way, and that invariably changes when you’re recording like five months later. So with this, I think everything is sort of more immediate and we go on that instinct thing. Favorite song. It’s usually the last song we’ve done. I think with Karate, “Cold Rain” was one of the later songs that we did and is probably my favorite song on the record. It’s one of those that kind of wrote itself. It was sort of just about getting out of the way. The musical bed is so evocative that it didn’t feel like I had to do that much, just kind of spit a little bit here and there, sing a couple of notes.
Cool! And what is Kenny’s favorite song?
*Kenny Carkeet turns to speak into Max’s ear*
Max: Kenny’s favorite song is “Long Gone,” which was the last song we did, literally two weeks before we were supposed to turn in a record for distribution. It’s sonically a little bit different than the rest of the record because it relies more on guitar and a really simple percussion pattern than some of the more electronic elements that we often employ. It’s just got a single vocal. In the verses, we usually like to play with a lot of stuff. We double everything and love writing harmonies. “Long Gone” is a little bit simpler and, yeah, that was Kenny’s favorite song to record and write.
Now, Max, you have fronted the band Eve 6, and Kenny, you were the keyboardist for AWOLNATION. Do you feel there’s sometimes a pressure from your past fans to be like your respective previous bands on a musical scale?
Max: *sighs* I think we both have a healthy enough dose of artistic narcissism to not really care that much. That’s sort of the honest answer. I think if I was trying to write to please Eve 6 fans, a lot of whom I think probably stopped listening to new music in like 2003, that’s just not an inspiring invitation. And I’m not trying to deride them, but I think that’s probably true of a lot of that fanbase. People do tend to get stuck in certain areas, and there’s definitely been a welcoming group of big Eve 6 fans who also love FITNESS, and the same with AWOLNATION. But no, that’s not a pressure that we feel.
That’s good to hear. I feel like a lot of artists right now feel like they can’t change, and that if they do change then their fans are going to hate them.
Max: Yeah, I can see how that could be an oppressive thing if you if you let it. I think we’re just too self-centered honestly to really let it affect us.
*Kenny nods his head*
At least you’re honest about it. *laughs*
Max: Yeah. *laughs*
So everyone loves a good, ‘this is how we met’ story. I wanted to ask you how you guys met and what made you decide to start a music project together?
Max: Yeah we have a pretty good one. We were touring in our respective old bands in 2012. Kenny in AWOLNATION and myself in Eve 6. We did a show in either Buffalo or Syracuse, New York for a radio festival, and we were walking backstage, Kenny was wearing a T-shirt that I owned, I remarked on that fact, and we just kind of got to just chatting about it. It was a brief chat because Public Enemy was about to go on. So we said ‘Let’s go watch Public Enemy’ and so we watched them from the side of the stage. Pretty surreal moment. But yeah we just exchanged contact info after that. Both of us being from L.A. via Florida. So we have that in common.
Apart from the shirt. *laughs*
Max: Apart from a shirt yeah. *laughs* And I knew Kenny does a lot of production and songwriting work. I do some of that too, and that’s always best to do with someone that you vibe with and have, you know, similar tastes and influences and stuff, which we had. So we started working together in that capacity kind of on and off when our bands weren’t touring for a few years.
Cool! And what is the story behind your name FITNESS? I’m assuming it’s not because you guys love working out. *laughs*
Max: No no, we hate working out. *laughs* Kenny brought up the name, I think it’s the only name that was ever brought up for this thing, and I loved it just because, I mean, it’s a lot of things, but it’s definitely not a band name, you know. Band names are so silly. I mean you have all these names like ‘The Black Demons,’ and it’s like, ‘Give me a break. Really?’ I think FITNESS sort of exposes band names for what they are, which is kind of a silly thing. But yeah, I loved it immediately.
If you could make your own niche fitness class, think goat yoga or beer yoga, what kind of class would you do?
*Kenny turns to Max and speaks in ear*
Max: Yeah, I both think it would probably be a dual sort of fitness class. We both have these signature moves that we do on stage, like Kenny does this hip hip hip shake thing and then he throws his hair back and he kind of like humps the air, but it’s usually just in the place he can find where there’s the least amount of people. So whether that’s behind the drummer or the side of the stage, he does this sort of Primal Vietnamese Dance. And I do this kind of thing where I go like this *showcases signature stage move of bobbing head and upper body with arms out to side* really fast, so I think we’d probably start with that. And then to cool down we do vape yoga, where it’s focused on your breathing so every breath is coordinated with a motion. You take a deep inhalation, and then you exhale through your nose. *laughs*
We’d be very relaxed for sure.
Max: Yeah! Very relaxing and centered.
Would you ever do a cover or a remake of one of your old bands’ songs if your fans had asked you to? Maybe even for YouTube or a stage performance?
Max: No, I don’t think we would. Two or three disparate worlds that ought not to converge.
*Kenny shakes head*
Understandable. And if you would choose three artists to go on tour with, and you could totally bring them back from the dead if you want, who would they be and what would you guys name your tour?
Max: Well, number one would be Crowded House. Neil Finn is still doing shows, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t done a Crowded House show in a long time. The Psychedelic Furs, and probably Minor Threat. And we’d probably call it the ‘Worst Of Us Tour’ and we’d have the ‘F’ in ‘Of’ be our FITNESS logo.
Speaking of touring, you just wrapped up your first a summer tour together, and you’re getting ready to go on tour again!
How were these experiences different than touring with your previous bands?
Max: Well, with FITNESS we are kind of completely starting over, building a completely new base, touring in a van, carrying our own gear. We have a very DIY ethos, and it’s more validating because of that I think. We just did a month long tour in a van, and at the end of it we were like, ‘I could go another month.’ That was sort of a pretty powerful limit test. It’s kind of like if you love something, the work doesn’t feel like work. And when it does, it’s work with a purpose.
Absolutely agree. It’s the perfect quote, very relatable. And how do you guys balance your personal lives with your professional lives? The recording, the touring, just anything about being a musician?
Max: There’s a lot of FaceTime calls on the road. We’re very very diligent about that. Kenny and I are both family dudes, and it’s important to us that we touch base a lot. Yeah I mean, when we’re on tour we’re on tour. And when we’re home, you know, for us there are like six hours in the day where the tank is full enough to work. And beyond that, it’s sort of like you stopped being able to hear things as they are. So we work really hard, but we also do have time for family. It’s not like we’re one of these clinicians doing this formula thing for sixteen hours and churning stuff out, it’s a genuinely creative thing. Maybe some people can be creative and good for longer than us. I doubt it though.
It’s tricky. Being a musician is not easy. Being in the Entertainment Industry is not easy.
Max: It’s not brickland, no.
And with the rise of music streaming and social media kind of being the main form of advertising, do you think that it has made it easier or harder for artists to make names for themselves?
Max: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I guess all we have is our experience to kind of go on. And for us, it’s been a net positive for sure. I mean we’re able to distribute our music to a fairly large audience without a label or any of the traditional machinations that were a necessity just a few years ago. So, with the streaming services, it’s been a great way for us to find new listeners. We’ve had tremendous support from some of the curators from Spotify and Apple Music. So our experience has been a positive one.
That’s always good to hear. In what ways do you think the modernization of the music industry is going to provide to artists in order for them to succeed?
Max: You know, I think slowly but surely, monetization and internet streams and plays have improved. Obviously, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I mean, even with Eve 6, we sold like 3 million records and never really made money off those record sales. We made money off of the live shows and off of publishing, and that’s kind of the way it is now. I think what we’re doing, why it serves us and serves others who do it similarly, is like we own our masters. Spotify and Apple Music are paying us for the recording and not paying a label, so we’re actually seeing something. We don’t have a crazy amount of streams, but we’re making money from the master and we’re starting to see some money from the publishing. And you know, we’re not stopping. We’re building this thing. The future’s so bright, we have to wear shades because it’s so bright from the future, because it’s so powerful, its luminescence is just blinding because of its incandescent qualities. I know that’s why Kenny wears sunglasses. I don’t need them as much because I’m a little bit more vital than he is. Mind you a barely perceptible amount, like, to the layperson. I’m a little bit just a tiny bit better than Kenny, but not so much that you guys would probably notice. You don’t have to say if you have or haven’t.
I mean, Kenny was just nodding his head in agreement, so I think I need to just base my answer off of that. *laughs*
Max: Yeah. Kenny’s affirmations. That’s what we’re calling the next record, Kenny’s Affirmations.
In spoken word style.
Max: Yeah. He doesn’t do a lot of speaking, but it definitely will be.
I think it’s going to be a hit. Definitely a Grammy in the future.
And what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Max: What do I hope that they take away from our music? Hmm. I guess what I take away from music that I love which is, you know, just kind of a respite from the world. Good music sort of reminds you that you’re not alone in this weird human experience, and it offers I think something like forgiveness for being human. Not in like some weird religious way, but like when I’m into a song that I love, it’s transcendent. So I hope people have a transcendent experience listening to Karate.
About Cafe Aficionado:
Ah, the valley. With its consistent ten degree higher temperatures and lack of proximity to most areas that we want to go to, Angelinos tend to forget about the fact that there are still great coffee places within its far depths. Whether you live in the area or a visitor from the other side of the hill, Cafe Aficionado in Northridge, CA should be a stop on your valley coffee lover’s bucket list. This hidden gem among in a long line of specialty shops on the Reseda Boulvard strip that creates the perfect blend of arts-y and home-y for whoever walks in the door.
It’s overall atmosphere showcases a clear rustic influence on its furniture from wooden tables to wicker chairs to aluminium accents while also displaying the artwork of local talents, which includes a colorful mural of Bruce Lee painted on wall coming into the store from their parking lot. Classic options for beverages and pastries give customers a touch of familiarity as they spend their day studying, playing board games, relaxing after swim lessons, or even just waiting for their new car to be installed at the shop across the street. Reggie and his crew do a fantastic job at making sure that you feel welcome when you step in, which proves that they truly care about their customers and the community.