Stephen Friedland of ‘Fat Randy’ talks new album and more
Formed at the University of Connecticut in 2015, the self-described “Heavy Steely Dan” began performing at house shows for miraculously interested college kids, eventually releasing their debut album, “Reggaenomics,” at the tail-end of 2017. They immediately embarked on several two-week tours across the East Coast and Midwest, honing their craft and engaging in their trademark shtick, which at one time included waterboarding their drummer with scalding hot tea.
Fat Randy is fascinating but weird (in a very good way). The band’s sound is eclectic and off-the-wall for sure, a mix of jazz-rock and progressive tendencies with an accidentally large dose of punk irreverence for good measure, the band will remind you of a thousand different things but never quite congeal as anything other than its own thing. At the tail-end of 2017, the band debuted with “Reggaenomics”, a heavy and sludge-adjacent with stoner undertones that befit the band’s humble college days: slightly hedonistic and more than a bit ticked off by late capitalism.
The band’s sophomore album was in the works when the world came to a screeching halt with the rise of the pandemic, the album itself was plunged into limbo, but out of this wait emerged something of the tongue-in-cheek project titled (Randy) Alex G, a live band dressed in the vernacular of DIY indie, bedroom-pop acts with satirical intent but with entirely genuine sound. (Randy) Alex G became a live band alter-ego that Fat Randy inhabits from time to time even to this day, in 2022, they released a self-titled album as this alter ego, just before the release of “Slow, Incremental Change”
The band’s true sophomore album “Slow, Incremental Change”, is a bit groovier than their debut, but the lyrical themes and narrative have quite a bit more gravitas to it as well, it gets down and dirty into the touchier aspects of post-modern human life, including the tragedies surrounding substance abuse and mental health issues. Still, the band never quite leaves its humorous side behind, and at no point will you feel a dour pamphletarian presence preventing you from enjoying “heavy Steely Dan”
Today, we bring you an interview with Stephen Friedland vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter for Fat Randy.
Releasing two whole LPs in the same year is not entirely unprecedented, but neither is it a common practice. How was the whole process handled? How long did it take to make both albums and didn’t you feel in the least exhausted after all of that?
Considering we hadn’t put out a body of work since the end of 2017, it felt long overdue. We started writing Slow, Incremental Change in late 2018, recording in late 2019 and then got super delayed with the advent of the pandemic; we couldn’t go to the studio, and it’s too expensive to get everything done in one short, discrete period as it is, so there was a not insignificant lull before we could resume going on a once or twice a month basis before that record wrapped in late 2021. (Randy) Alex G was done primarily by myself in Connecticut over the course of maybe 7 months in 2021.
Once we had both albums, we sat down to figure out how we were going to “market” them and agreed that it was ideal to put the latter first because if anybody outside our immediate circle of friends heard the record and learned to associate that kind of sound with us, they’d be in for a rude awakening by the time the former came around. Musically disappointing people seemed like a funny prank to us.
We’re more exhausted having sat on the material from both for so long. We’re raring to do more and move on and see what else happens.
Then again, “(Randy) Alex G” isn’t exactly the same thing as Fat Randy. How’d that work, having an alter-ego for the same band and the same people?
(Randy) Alex G is completely different stylistically. Its musical lodestar is obviously Alex G, but also has elements of bands like LVL UP and Porches, bands I very briefly went to school with at New York’s SUNY Purchase. Our goal was to make an album that was both a parody of that genre and subculture and be satirical, cloying and annoying, but with songs so good it was even more annoying how good they were. As the primary writer, I wanted to challenge myself to make songs in a style I don’t usually operate in an attempt to live up to this more specific mandate.
Nowadays, because it wouldn’t truly be us if we didn’t overcommit a bit, we have the (Randy) Alex G live band, which is comprised of myself and very close CT-based friends of the band. My personal goal with that was to play a show like that immortalized in the classic (and also timeless) song, “Asymmetrical Bangs Pt. I,” and lo and behold, our first gig was at Cafe 9 in New Haven, CT on a Tuesday.
The live band experience has been great because I love the band and welcome them into the Greater Fat Randy Extended Cinematic Universe, and Fat Randy is so spread out – Connor (drums) and Steve (bass) live in Boston, Evan (saxophone) lives in Maine, and I live in Connecticut – and it would be a very hard ask to get them to play satirical material they don’t have much of a relationship within a different state at a bar on a Tuesday.
You cite Steely Dan as a progenitor of sorts to the Fat Randy sound, but I heard some Melvins, some Primus, a little Butthole Surfers, and some Zappa in there as well, would you say any of them are part of your musical DNA?
For me, honestly, no; I hate Frank Zappa haha. I like all of the other bands to an extent, but I’m not super versed in their entire discographies. Connor has a Melvins tattoo, so I’m sure their influence is coming from somewhere. In the musical phylogeny of The 10 Weird Bands, the closest thing I identify with is probably Mr Bungle or Ween.
Question of the Century: Why the name Fat Randy? Where does it come from?
I think we’re all wondering why the name Fat Randy is at this point. It’s like a birthmark you keep telling yourself you need to get removed because it might be a tumour, and then you don’t because dying slowly and discreetly is actually way more appealing than doing all that work. Regardless, as much as I personally dislike the name, I do think it suits us in a very holistic way, ultimately. Trailer Park Boys and smoking weed when you’re 19.
Likewise, the album’s title is a bit puzzling- could you elaborate for us? it almost seems like it’s part of the whole statement.
It’s multipronged: on one level, it’s a reference to the long slog in between our debut and now and all the general musical work and growth that happened in four to five years in our 20s. On another, it’s a more all-encompassing reference to the unsexy plod of life – the way all of our goals and dreams never have quite the payoff we’re looking for because it’s either too gradual or too subtle to get high off of. On a third, in the way that Reggaenomics, at least nominally, was a comment on the Trumpist appropriation of Reaganism (but outwardly dumber and with more mask-off authoritarian aspirations), the name is kind of a dig at the centrist wing of the Democratic Party’s pragmatic incrementalism, which couldn’t be less suited for the urgency of the many crossroads-type moments we find currently ourselves in.
Your debut album was titled ‘Reggaenomics’ which seems like a pun on Reaganomics of course. Now, your latest release features an image based on a Photo of the Reagans. Is this a funky coincidence or is Fat Randy part of the extended Ronald Reaganverse? What does it all mean?
Unfortunately, pursuant to my last sentence, I thinkwe’re all part of the extended Ronald Reaganverse.
The new album cover came about because we like to ask whoever is doing the album artwork with listening to the album and deriving inspiration from there. I mentioned to Dicky Stock, the artist and comedian who did the artwork, that I enjoyed this surrealist picture he did of this, like, melting JFK, but with all kinds of eyes across his body, so that could’ve served as inspiration. We liked it because it conveyed a sort of deep loneliness and isolation, what with space and stuff.
One of my favourite things I’ve seen on Twitter was someone took economic data (e.g., the cost of tuition over time at universities in Illinois or something) and superimposed Reagan’s head to indicate when he was inaugurated and when the data inevitably dip or rise, whatever the worse societal outcomes are. This works on so many graphs and it’s not even a little surprising.
With the ‘Spiritual Healing’ tour behind you, what was your favourite show? Which crowd stuck with you the most?
Some of our favourite shows were in Philly or Albany. Probably the most receptive crowds overall, and the venue in Albany was so far away in the woods it looked like somewhere Ted Kaczynski would live. Any member of the crowd that bought our artisanal pickle merch collection, Dr Randall’s Pickles (which can be purchased at all of our gigs and on our Bandcamp), is someone that sticks with us.
What will the band be focusing on this upcoming year?
We’re working on three EPs: a (Randy) Alex G follow-up, a slightly mellower and jazzier take on the Slow, Incremental Change sound, and a hardcore/noisier record in the vein of bands like Converge and Chat Pile.
“Slow, Incremental Change” took a lot of suffering to beget. Any additional parting words of wisdom?
Regarding opioids, don’t do them, not even once.
Regarding music, some of my favourite artists’ albums nosedive in quality after the suffering and/or drug use ends. We’re looking forward to rising to the challenge of making work we believe in just as much that transcends Slow, Incremental Change’s quality and will be created in the emotional and mental primes of our lives so far.