I recently had the honour of conducting an e-mail interview with with the vivacious Fine Fine Titans. They are a four-piece post-hardcore ensemble from the Great Lakes of Grand Rapids, Michigan. They are the brain-child of married couple Evan (bass) and Jennifer (vocals) Bartlett. After a few lineup changes, the band settled on Joe Smith as their drummer and Kris Sosa as their guitarist. Fine Fine Titans has been compared to bands like Every Time I Die and Letlive.
MEB: Is it tough being a female fronted band in a scene that is mostly dominated by male fronted bands?
Evan: It’s not as tough being a female fronted band in this scene as I thought it would be going into it. Sure there are times when people either write us off or place stereotypes and generalizations on us, but that usually changes after they’ve allowed themselves to listen or see us perform. I would say we’ve been welcomed into the scene with open arms more so than not.
Jennifer: I’m not sure I really can answer this question because to me it’s not a matter of how tough it is or is not, but I literally do not have an option if I want to front a band. Of course, if I had the choice, I would not chose to be a man but either way, I try not to focus too much on our sexual orientation but instead hone in on who we are and what we want to project as people, not sex objects. There have been quite a few times where I’m not taken seriously until I hit the stage but I try not to take it personally, I just make sure I do my job as an entertainer and an artist.
Joe: As a guy in a female fronted band, I love the uniqueness of having a girl singer in a scene that is majorly considered male. Being as rare as it is in our genre, the band really tries to use it to our advantage, because it is something not many bands can say they have. We see it as an asset that we are extremely lucky to have!
What are your feelings on the post-hardcore scene being dominated by these male fronted bands? Is it something you’d wish to see change in the future?
Evan: I don’t really have any negative thoughts towards the post-hardcore scene being dominated by mostly male fronted bands; I just don’t see as many female fronted post-hardcore bands out there. However, I would like to see more support for the female fronted bands that are out there, just as much for them as you see for the guys.
Jennifer: There is not a question that the genre is overrun by men…I just read an article that listed some twenty best unclean vocals in metalcore and frankly, I wasn’t shocked to see not a single woman listed.
This will change, though. Maybe not soon and maybe not within what we know as post-hardcore today, but women are growing more confident to stand out on their own every day and the underdogs will arise.
Joe: I wouldn’t necessarily say I would wish to see it change, but that would be awesome if more girls started to join post-hardcore bands. Girls add a very different dynamic to the band, both live and while writing!
What events or feelings inspired the writing of “Dance of the Omega”?
Evan: Jenn would have to speak into the lyrics and feelings behind “Dance of the Omega”, but what I take of the song is just the fact that you can be written off, beaten down, but you just have to shrug it off and keep chasing whatever it is that you’re after.
Jennifer: “Dance of the Omega” was written during a time when I was tired of being not only brushed aside, but kicked around by people who held power over us with their principles. The band was in a dark place at the time and none of us were really getting along because of the pressure we put on each other to keep the music going and the band on track despite our struggle. We were lost and broken down by the negativity in not only our local music scene, but also by the people in our lives who thought our dreams were stupid and outlandish…that what we had to say was a waste of time. At this point in our lives, so much is expected of us. To land a full-time position with a decent living, buy a house, start a family, pay your taxes and make sure you vote the right candidates (whom you actually know nothing about) into office. “Rock and Roll? That’s ridiculous. You want to play music for a living? That’s absurd. You’re a woman and you don’t want to have children? Your marriage will fail, you’ll change your mind or you’ll be lonely for the rest of your life.” I couldn’t let the pressure bring us down anymore…so “Dance of the Omega” was just a start at standing up for us and our dreams.
What is the deeper meaning of the music video of “Dance of the Omega”?
Jennifer: The animal costumes represented the underdogs; they represented us. So the idea was to display the blind power that one held over another to represent the emotional damage that the song is actually about. To see innocent, cute animals being abused and come back with a vengeance that the aggressors wouldn’t have guessed in their careless arrogance was to really stay true to the lyrics: “Just wait and see how gnarly this dog’s bite can be/because the underdog knows just what the alphas are missing/ The best time to strike is when nobody is looking.”
What influences your songwriting and musical style?
Evan: Well stylistically we obviously are influenced by bands that we love like Every Time I Die, letlive., Glassjaw and Norma Jean to name a few but songwriting-wise I feel that we’re all influenced by life events and things you experience daily. I feel that definitely plays into the sincerity of our music both lyrically and musically.
Jennifer: As much as I’ve studied vocals, I’ve equally studied the flute. With this, jazz and blues have always been the key focus for me in the instrument. This directly affects my melodies, whether that translates to listeners well or not. I’m just not into heavy-hitting everything all the time…I really want to relate to the music that I listen to. So in our music, I’m always searching out a way to somehow weave in beautiful melodies with depth and charm right through robust breakdowns.
“The Chauvinist” sees a lot of anger being directed towards the typical male stereotype. Were there any particular events that inspired the writing of this song?
Jennifer: I can’t recall a specific incident that inspired this song but instead, at least a decade worth of hostility built up over the hyper-sexualization of women in pop-culture. “The Chauvinist” isn’t aimed just towards men, but plenty of women as well who continue to re-instill this notion that women have to be sexy to get what they want or just to be noticed. With that being said, I would not judge someone who chose to utilize sex to advance their position, but I certainly would never encourage our youth to do that when there are plenty of other ways to assert yourself as strong, intelligent and independent. Watching around me as women quickly gained attention in our industry solely based on lust forced me to put my foot down and promise that I could offer something more for our younger generations.
This is probably a bit of a touchy subject, but would you consider the music industry to be sexist in the way it treats women? Especially considering that it is difficult for a woman to make it in the industry without being provocative.
Evan: I wouldn’t consider the music industry as a whole to be sexist in the way it treats women, but there’s definitely a lot in the industry that do. It’s funny to me how people can write off women in a band and crack jokes because it’s a woman, but as soon as she’s showing skin or being the least bit provocative, it’s suddenly cool and everything’s great. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone writing off a male for no reason and not showing skin?
Jennifer: The industry today is absolutely sexist and it’s merely a reflection of our society as a whole. Is it as harsh as it was 20 years ago? I doubt that as I do believe we are making strides. But the hyper-sexualization still runs rampant and all you have to do is log on to YouTube and see just how much traffic a certain pop singer (with a country artist as a father) is creating based on her naked swinging body alone. Like I said though, I believe we are making strides. When people are starting to understand the true meaning of feminism, we’re breaking down barriers and a lot of men are standing up alongside women for what’s right: treating everyone like humans instead of sex objects.
What is your stance on the post-hardcore scene being divided into two camps? One containing the more underground and “pure” bands, like La Dispute and Touche Amore, and then the more mainstream bands like Of Mice and Men and Sleeping With Sirens.
Evan: My stance on the post-hardcore scene is that I truly love the diversity within the genre, it’s so broad. However, I don’t really like how it’s divided up and hearing stupid arguments of how one is truly “post-hardcore” and one isn’t. I know one side of it may be more someone’s taste and the other not so much, but I love the diversity it brings, especially at shows and on tour lineups.
Jennifer: Labels are arbitrary! I understand that when we label something, it makes it easier to compartmentalize and therefore relate but music is SO subjective! Who gets to decide what the difference between hardcore and metal is or find the dividing line between country and pop music? I don’t know if I will ever grasp the concept or care to understand the emphasis we place on genres so my stance is this: shut up that hasty little judgmental voice inside your head and actually listen to the music.
Joe: I think both groups of bands are equally important to the scene because there are so many unique people with such diverse tastes in music who listen to post-hardcore music. By having the more “pure” bands and also the more “mainstream” bands, there is a wider range of bands for people to choose from, and overall, the more groups of people you can appeal to while still being classified as the “post-hardcore” scene, the more the scene will grow!
Are there any records that all of you are particularly enjoying at the moment?
Evan: Two records in particular that I’ve been enjoying at the moment are Tree of Tongues by Exotic Animal Petting Zoo and Diamond Eyes by Deftones. I’ve been listening to both of these albums nonstop for the last couple of months and can’t get enough of what they both have to offer.
Jennifer: I was just reaquainted with Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes. The album has such a beautiful storyline and the musicianship is impeccable. I love writing to it.
Joe: Evan, our bass player, has actually been turning me on to Between the Buried and Me lately! He has been playing some of their records at practice and I’ve really started to dig them! I like how on a lot of their newer stuff they throw genres out the window and don’t stick strictly to metal music!
If there was one band you could do a collaboration with, who would it be?
Evan: There’s definitely a few bands I’d love to collaborate with, but if I had to pick one it’d be letlive. Not only is what they do real and from the heart, they’re also the most down-to-earth guys we’ve ever met. Such passion for what they do and the way they seem to bring everyone together is really powerful.
Jennifer: Everything Evan said!
What are the plans for the future?
Evan: After Omega drops on April 8th, we definitely plan to start playing out as much as possible. Writing a full-length would also be something that I personally would love to start working on later in the year as well.
Last question: would you ever play shows in countries like South Africa?
Evan: We would most definitely play countries like South Africa. In fact we’d love to if the opportunity were to come up. I don’t think there’s too many places we wouldn’t go to if we had it our way.
Jennifer: I will play anywhere! Music bears no boundaries and I love travelling.
Joe: I would love to gig in South Africa! I don’t think people in America realize just how big of a music scene there is over there. South Africa has a lot more going on than just Dave Matthews! I think it would be fun to tour in a place unfamiliar to you, where along with touring and seeing new places, you’re also seeing a new culture with traits different than your own culture. Also, South Africa gets points in my book because the man himself, Cobus Potgieter, is from there…