When you hear the front men from some of your favorite rock bands are in the studio working on a new project together, this is good news. When a few months later, they come out with an album that takes each of their best creative elements and combines them to make something that’s wholly new and is its own aesthetic thing, this surprise is even better news. When they come to your remote mountain town a couple months after that to play live, well, maybe you should go buy a lottery ticket because you are one lucky fan.
This is my story with Divine Fits, the new band with Britt Daniel from Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks. They play Belly Up on Wednesday, Dec. 12, kicking off a three-stop Colorado tour.
The story goes that Daniel and Boeckner had a little bull session at a Handsome Furs show a few years ago about starting a band together. When the Furs called it quits this year and Wolf Parade went on hiatus for the foreseeable future, the Daniel/Boeckner collaboration actually looked like it might happen. Then it did.
They wrote a song together over email, then recruited Brown as their drummer and Alex Fischel for keyboards. They went into the studio in March, recorded fast and digitally, and three months later they had an album (“A Thing Called Divine Fits”). By August they were playing their first live gig in Austin — and this thing called the Divine Fits was born.
You can call it an indie supergroup, but the band seems to be — and we can hope it is — something new and of its own piece that’s here to stay. Daniel and Boeckner share writing and singing duties, each bringing their own distinct voices — Boeckner’s ragged, blues-tinged David Byrne wail; Daniel’s gritty croon — to tightly arranged songs ranging from classic rock garage stomps to danceable New Wave-y synth-pop grooves.
There’s a litany of sub-par “supergroups” in rock history, one-offs that seem concocted as some crass marketing strategy — think Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys or Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and company in the Highwaymen.
I interviewed Boeckner via email, while Divine Fits was on a tour stop in Buenos Aires, where the Canadian singer/guitarist tapped out his answers to the “sounds of people f--king in the next room, Argentinean television and some kind of street drum-off.”
While it might seem a treacherous rock experiment to pull together the leads of established bands into something new and ask them to share the spotlight, he says the Divine Fits collaboration was smooth. And maybe that’s why they’ve gotten off the ground so quickly.
“It’s been basically the best aspects of starting a new band without any of the bulls---t,” he says. “We both have experience writing and touring ... it’s just been really exciting working with ringers.”
Still, they can’t seem to shake fans’ (and music writers’) suspicion that Divine Fits is less than a full-time project for these guys.
“It doesn’t matter how many times we say ‘this is a band and not a side project,’” he says. “I think it’s just going to take us making another album for that question to go away.”
Along with original material from the album, the band has been pulling out some unexpected covers on tour. Their live take on Frank Ocean’s R&B hit “Lost” has gone viral on the web. As Boeckner tells it, he played the song for Daniel on the way to a rehearsal, they tried playing it, and it worked.
“I love the minimalism of that tune,” he says. “There’s no trickery. No show boating or chin scratching progressive indie rock moments. It’s just good.”
The Aspen show, Boeckner says, came together after the Shins asked the Fits to play with them in Vail (Dec. 13). The band booked Wednesday’s show at Belly Up and Dec. 14’s in Denver to fill out the trip. Growing up in the musical hinterlands of British Columbia, Boeckner has a soft spot for off-the-beaten-path tour stops like Aspen.
“With the exemption of Alex, we’re all from places that would be considered ‘secondary markets,’” he says. “It was rare when bands stopped anywhere near my hometown so ... why not? We love playing shows.”
It doesn’t hurt that two of his most memorable performances were in Colorado — a Wolf Parade show where, he says, “we once drove 36 hours straight just to play there. Fueled by Sparks and Art Bell on NPR. By the time we got there we were in a psychedelic netherworld of our own making and the show ... the show was crazy.”
In 2009, with Handsome Furs, he played Larimer Lounge in Denver in one of the band’s more epic rock moments: “I smashed up my guitar and crowed surfed. Hung from the light rig. I always think of that show as a highlight of that band’s career. It was one of those inexplicable magic nights where you’re just glad to be alive.”
For the record, he adds, he likes the Traveling Wilburys, along with supergroup-ish indie acts like Von Sudenfed.