Unlocked: The Fleeting Ends on the studio versus the stage, The Beatles versus The Stones

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Photo by Emily Morgan | emilymorganphotography.com
There’s no one thing that The Fleeting Ends sound like. Their songs can be gritty rockers, hooky pop numbers and sensitive balads. Their influences are worn proudly, and span decades – the 60s to the 80s to today. The one thing this Philly trio definitely sounds like is itself, and its new album Our Eyes are Peeled is a great introduction if you’re just meeting them for the first time. All week we’ve featured the album on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia-area artists. It will be released next month, though its first four songs can be streamed here,  preorders are available here, and the band plays two shows this month – at The Millhill Basement in Trenton on Friday, and at MilkBoy on New Year’s Eve. Earlier this week, songwriting partners Matt Vantine and Matt Amadio visited WXPN and I got to know The Fleeting Ends through a nice chat about music – their own, as well as the bands that shaped them.

The Key: How long have Fleeting Ends been together and what got you collectively working together?

Matt Vantine: We’ve been together about three years. Matt and I were calling ourselves Vantine / Amadio at the beginning, he was just playing drums and singing, I was playing guitar and singing. Which doesn’t sound bad! We practice a lot like that. Rusty, who comes from Vineland, was in a band called Raccoon Fighter. He saw us and was like “If you guys need some bass, I’d love to play.” And we took him up on that immediately, he moved to Philly, we made some singles with Tommy at MilkBoy. This was the first full-length that we made together.

TK: What about your first full-length, the self-titled with the orange cover?

MV: That was just Matt and I. We did a division of labor on bass, he did all the drums, we both sing. He hits the high notes, sometimes he hits the low. We try to keep it very Jagger / Richards, though I feel that the album will get Beatles comparisons because there’s a lot of melody in it, and it’s impossible to navigate melody without being compared to The Beatles. But we’re a Stones band.

TK: How would you characterize the Jagger / Richards dynamic?

MV: If you watch us live, there are just two singers. And the harmonies, Matt goes high kind of like Keith Richards and I have more of a raspy voice, and I have as much of a stage presence as I can with a guitar in my hand. And we’ve just been so incredibly influenced by the band that I guess we characterize ourselves as a Stones band more than a Beatles band. But we love The Beatles. Our partnership was set upon from “I love Abbey Road, you love Abbey Road, let’s start writing some music.”

TK: There’s a lot going on Our Eyes are Peeled, it feels very imaginative. Even though there’s just three of you, you’re doing a lot more than just a regular rock trio might. What led to that?

MV: Instrumentally, this is what we’ve wanted for so long. For the past year, we’ve gotten into Blur Parklife, and that’s a very orchestrated album, the violins are beautiful. It’s just that big sound, and we really never imagined that we would have violins or an orchestra on our album, but halfway through the recording process, Larry Gold approached Tommy and asked “Do you need help with your band?” And we’re very glad to be Tommy’s band. And Tommy said yeah, and it was pretty quick. They picked the songs that they wanted violins on. There’s three tracks – “Operator,” “Unlike That” and “Elaine (Until Now)” – that have strings on them. We’re just really happy to have the presence of an orchestra on them. It’s not something you’ll be hearing live, but we’ll find a way to cover it up.

TK: It might not even be covering it up. I’ve seen plenty of bands do this thing where, they might have a sax solo on the album, but there’s not a saxophonist in the band. So another instrument picks up that melody, and it doesn’t feel like it’s missing. Or you take it away altogether, and the song stands up.

Matt Amadio: It’s a whole different live experience. The Stones are a perfect example. Sometimes on their songs, there’s so much production and then when you see them live, it’s so bare bones and rock and roll, it doesn’t even matter what the record sounds like. You’re just like, this is awesome. You’re not missing that sax part or whatever. That’s how I see it. We’re gonna get up there and play our songs the best we can, and it’s gonna be raw, there’s only gonna be three of us.

MV: And you don’t want to reproduce the album bit by bit. You get up there, play the songs. Sometimes you make a switch in the arrangement or whatever. But you want to play the song and give it the best live performance it can have.

TK: On your debut album you covered a Smiths song, “Girl Afraid.” And you play “Barbarism Begins at Home” live. Between them, the Stones, Blur, The Beatles, do you feel an affinity towards UK rock and roll?

MV: I hate taking a stance on this. But absolutely. When I go through my iPod, it’s like got to be something British. I’m mostly in the mood for it. But there are bands like Ween, The Doors, Dylan…

MA: Pixies are one of my favorite bands.

MV: …that I absolutely love. I feel like American music has a lot of bravado, and a lot of “Hey, look at me,” image-wise, you know? And the UK, and Europe in general tends to have the talent and the writing, and the majority of my favorite groups do come from across the sea. Even the Stones, even though they sound like an American band.

TK: As far as starting out as a duo, and then locking in as a three-piece, what made that locking-in happen? How did you know?

MA: I feel like Matt and I knew from the beginning that this was what we wanted. We always locked in. I used to play bass and he would play guitar back in high school, and then I moved to drums. It just locked in. Any instruments he played, any I’d play, we made it happen. We started singing together and that worked. And then Rusty came in, and he’s serious too, he’s a great bass player. For some reason, when we’re together, it tends to work. We got this album now that I’m really proud of. It feels good.

TK: So with this album being such a step forward for you guys, what’s the next step for The Fleeting Ends?

MA: The complete opposite of this album. Making us sound exactly like a three-piece band. Just guitar, bass, drums, two vocals. We’ve talked about it a bit, we knew this record was going to be a pretty big production. We wanted these songs to speak fully, and I guess they needed a lot of stuff to do that. So we thought maybe the next album should be way less stuff, not as much at all, back to basics.

Our Eyes are Peeled is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted song “Operator” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review; go in the studio for the “Operator Video” in yesterday’s post and check back tomorrow for a Spotify playlist of the band’s influences.

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