Andrew Fanelli (Fanelli Fanelli), front man of NYC punk outfit SHAPES talks my ear off, gives a reach around to Oliver Ignatius and offers insight into the frantic mind of one of the worlds truest rockers:
Dingus: First and formost I want to hear the origin story of SHAPES. You’ve been a band for a while. Who were the founding members and how has the band developed over the years?
Fanelli: Wow. Well I guess I’ll start off by saying there have been 9 different versions of SHAPES. That doesn’t mean there have been 45 different members, & me; there has just been 9 different variations or combos of members.
I started the band in 2003 at the beginning of my junior year in high school. It was a 3 piece. I played guitar and “sang”. Nick Rupp played bass and Owen Canavan played drums. We were pretty terrible, but very punk; we were punk because we sucked.
The early career of the band was pretty strange. I don’t believe we were a real band; it meant the world to me, but we were kids and to certain members, being in a band meant doing drugs and not caring. I believe music is an escape; there’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, but that idea of an “escape” can be poisonous. It did indeed poison the band.
Then in the summer of 2006 we released, “The Sound of SHAPES.” It was a 5 song EP and I’m the only current member of the band who played on that release; I intend on putting that up on bandcamp soon. My longtime friend and at the time manager, Christopher Kulukundis and I were really into debut albums from early British bands so we wanted to give it that kind of name. Ya know, like, “Meet The Beatles”, or, “England’s Newest Hit Makers.” Shit like that. So we came up with, “The Sound of SHAPES.” Shortly thereafter Mark Fletcher told me he was going to join SHAPES. I laughed and said ok. We got wasted off a bottle of Jameson. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was very important.
It’s through Fletch that the band became what it is now. Asher, Julia, Danny (who played drums before Eli) and Eli all joined through Fletch. I brought Eamon into the band and at first that lead to tension; I wasn’t playing guitar then. Mark was the only guitarist, so to add another guitarist made him feel a little weird. I think he took issue with the fact that I hadn’t consulted him first. Or at least that’s what he says, hahaha. But now Eamon and Mark are the best of friends. They’re like the wonder twins. Except instead of putting their rings together, they spoon each other.
We’re at a weird place in our career. Asher and I are 3-4 years older than everyone in the band; I’ve been in the same band for 8 years now and I’m currently the only one out of school. Other band members are expressing themselves in ways outside of the band as they should; they’re doing really great work. It reminds me of why I am so fortunate to play with them. They add a lot and you’ll hear that on the EP I made for my girlfriend; you can tell the songs are written by they guy who writes SHAPES’ songs, but the arrangements aren’t indicative of what we currently do.
I suppose it’s stupid to say we’re in a weird place in our career. We’ve always been in a weird place. We’ve been an up & coming band for some time now haha. I don’t know. I’m just now breaking free of the desire to be part of a scene. I’ve always wanted to be part of a scene, but SHAPES has never been accepted by any scene. You could argue we have, but that’s just us semi successfully making our own scene and any acceptance we do have is either accidental or due soley to Eamon and Fletch. They’re both younger than I am, & I guess more with it or something. I personally don’t like what the modern sound calls for; if you’re covering your song up with washes of reverb your either covering up a shitty song or you don’t have the balls to be who you are. I’m repulsed by the desire to be cool and come off as apathetic or insouciant. I care about what I do. It is all I do. That said, I’ve completely given up on any notion of success. What I do isn’t cool. It won’t be accepted by the tastemakers. I don’t live in Brooklyn. I’m from Manhattan therefore I must be some spoiled prick and I’m not polished or soulless enough to be in the mainstream. So I absolutely no longer believe in any future for what I’m doing; I just don’t want to do anything else, it’s the only thing that makes me happy.
You’ve been a band for a long time, what is the single most memorable anecdote?
That’s a hard question to answer; you’re asking me to sift through 8 years and come up with one moment, or anecdote as you said… A single defining moment of greatness would, without question, be playing to well over 300 kids at Bard when we opened for Titius on Halloween. That was great, but if you’re asking for an anecdote, a wild experience… without question, the 30+ hour trip to and from Austin, TX.
We got a semi-last minute offer to be part of a SXSW showcase that Night Manager was also playing; Tassy from Night Manager was our main hook up for that gig; it was a Storychord blog showcase. It was cool. We didn’t really play to many people at all, and we played rather early. Also we were kind of divided; it wasn’t a super harmonious trip and it was rife with miscommunication, but that’s not really important. It was just a wild experience.
You have to understand, I don’t really come from a whole lot; I’ve lived in the same one bedroom apt with both of my parents for my entire life; I’ve never moved, and we’ve barely traveled, in my lifetime anyway. I’ve never been out of the country and I’ve only been on a plane 4 times; to LA, and back (to NYC), and to St. Louis, and back; both trips were taken care of by other people. I don’t have the money for a plane, and my parents aren’t going to throw what little money they have at me to go on vacation or something. My point is: any traveling at all is awesome, to me. I love it. I don’t do it often at all. In that way I’m kinda like Charlie in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
So the 8 of us (the 6 of us in the band, Maverick, our manager and Micah, our crazy Japanese-German sociopath with whom Maverick works – much love Micah we miss you) got into our beloved “rape van”, which I have named Cunt and we took off for Austin, TX. Of course we stopped in New Orleans to pick up, Sue Williamson, just because why the fuck not, and we, of course, dropped her off on the way back. So that was definitely a wild experience. We drove through 10 states. And WaHo’s are fucking dope. Waffle House over Ihop any day. I’m a believer. Anyway, I’ll leave it at that; I could write a fucking novela about that trip…
You just released your solo EP and played complete homage to Shapes during it. Why not break away and do something completely different?
Well the EP started off as just a simple idea: I had 3 songs I wrote for my girlfriend and her birthday was coming up. I thought, why not record those songs for her? It really began as simply as that. I contacted Oliver Ignatius, because I know him and trust him and I wanted this to sound good, which it does and that’s due solely to him. He ended up liking the songs enough and he wanted to collaborate on them with me; I was ecstatic about that. So it became this thing that I never expected it to.
The process was completely unique, to me anyway. When SHAPES usually record, things are done in a very systematic way. It sounds cool, and it’s great fun, but it feels more like working in a lab. The process with Oliver was very homespun and warm; I don’t mean to say it was BETTER but it was different and instead of a slow examination it was more of an unguided improvised journey; I had no real vision for how these songs should sound. I recorded my guitar and vocals with no click track, and without thinking that many (or any) other tracks would be added. You know? But Oliver though the tracks could really use drumsso we pulled in the amazing Felix Walworth; somehow he recorded drums PERFECTLY to my guitar, and vocal tracks. To people who don’t record music: THAT IS FUCKING INSANE, AND CRAZY. Oliver then added his magic; he actually recorded his bass with Felix’s drums, but everything else was just brilliance that Oliver gave to my songs.
To more directly answer your question: SHAPES has and always will be what I do. It is all I do but for the first time in SHAPES’ life, SHAPES feels like more than just me; these songs were done without the rest of the band, but what I do will always be SHAPES: we are separate and the same. It’s a little hard to explain but I believe you follow me. So to me, I couldn’t justifiably call this a SHAPES release but at the same time it is still directly from me; it is separate, but the same.
So why didn’t I just do it with them? Well that’s hard to explain and not hard to explain, actually. Simple answer: I didn’t expect this to be anything more than just my voice and my guitar. The more stratified/complex answer stems directly from the way this band is constructed: it’s difficult to coordinate a band of 6 people and it’s even more difficult to convince 5 other people that these ideas you have are cool. So just as the other guys don’t wait around for my approval, or anybody else’s approval with their side projects, I didn’t want to wait. I just wanted to jump in, and get this done without having to wait on everybody’s schedules to click so we could get in a room and work on these songs, let alone wait with baited breath to hear my bandmates’ opinion on the songs’ worth. These are love songs and that’s fucking scary, especially for a band that’s getting known to proudly proclaim things like ‘there’s no future’, or ‘don’t trust anybody’. So, I just wanted to get these done and put them out there and deal with the ripples they make as they come, ya know? It also makes it easy for people to see where a transition has occurred, not that anybody really gives a shit but who knows… at least for me it will be cool to look back at all this years from now, and be able to trace a clear trajectory. I see this whole process as also introducing a new way for SHAPES to behave. I hope this introduces a less formal, warmer, and more explorative and somewhat insouciant approach to making our music.
I’ve never been insouciant and I despise those who try and project that attitude because to project that is anything but insouciant. The desire to be careless is the desire to come off as cool and there is nothing I do that is cool. There is nothing cool about saying you are in love and I don’t care. I am in love, and I’m learning how to deal with that as an adult and that is more real, powerful and difficult to say than it is to say, ‘there’s no future’ or, ‘don’t trust anybody’. I’m putting myself out there now as an individual who has no protective shell of anger all the time; the ability to do that freely and confidently is the insouciance I hope to cultivate amongst myself and my bandmates. But to you, Andrew, and any and all SHAPES fans: don’t worry. Not everything is all sunshine, and rainbows; just listen to the last song on the EP. I may be in love but I am still Fanelli, and we are still SHAPES, and there is still no fucking future.