On their third studio album, Stunning & Atrocious, Fleece has settled into a dynamic four-piece that are working together to make music that is sharper, warmer, and more colourful than ever. During our interview we happily discovered that on top of being talented songwriters and spectacular live, they are also great conversationalists – welcoming, witty, and ready to dig deep! We caught up with Fleece over Zoom to talk about early musical beginnings, everything Stunning & Atrocious, and their iconic How To Write an Alt J Song video.
Melodic Magazine: For each member of the band, what’s the first thing that got you into music and what’s the first thing that made you excited about it?
Matt Rogers: I started really into musicals. My mom gave me a couple of CDs on my boom box and I’d listen to them every night before bed. I’d listen to like Rent and Aladin, so no wonder I’m gay. But also I would go to the piano in the morning and try to play the songs by ear on the piano. My mom would be like “you did that with your ears?! You’re a genius!” I started playing piano like that and then all my classical piano teachers hated me because I would just try to play everything by ear and not sight read. So that’s kind of how I started.
MM: How long did the music lessons last?
Matt: I did them from grade four to grade seven or eight in the classic royal conservatory. I really just hated it so I stopped and then my mom found this jazz piano teacher in high school and he taught me a lot of what I know today.
MM: When did you start writing songs?
Matt: I started writing songs when I was like eight or nine, but I was so embarrassed about it. I would literally write songs on a piece of paper and then hide them under the piano bench after I wrote them. I was so weirdly embarrassed. Actually the reason why was that I recorded this one song when I was nine on a video camera and my dad found it and was so embarrassing about it and would play it all the time. He’d be like, why won’t you play this for me? And I’d just be like, so embarrassed and run away.
Jameson Daniel: I started getting into music because my dad was really into music and he would always jam with me when I was like four years old or whatever. He would always give me a drum or some instrument and he’d play along and we’d jam together somehow. And then my mom was really good at listening to good music that I really liked. Like Erykah Badu and Us3 and stuff. My dad was so encouraging that I kind of didn’t really think to take it seriously or enjoy it that much until I rediscovered it for myself when I was 16 to 18. And then I started to find it in a new way.
MM: What made you take it more seriously?
Jameson: I think like I learned a couple chords, then I finally mastered the barre chords on the guitar. I went over to my dad’s house to visit because we didn’t live together and I’d only visit him like once every two years or something like that, or once a year. And so I went over to his house to visit and he had this Bach piece that had the tabs written out and I learned that piece. I had a really fun time learning the song. And that was when I started taking it more seriously. I started writing more songs. I wrote a bunch of songs about like, homeless people having a sad time. Things like that.
Megan Ennenberg: If you met my mom, like if you went for dinner at my mom’s house, she would push an instrument into your hands even if you didn’t play one. She has been like that for my whole life. In my living room there were instruments hanging on the walls, and music was just always around. She’s in a bluegrass band so all of the people who I spent Christmas with are her bandmates. So we’ve always had music happening around for as long as I can remember so much that in a way that I kind of took it for granted for a lot of my childhood, but I was always singing.
I didn’t start really writing songs until later on. Maybe in like late high school/university, I would just sing covers and do open mics and things like that. My parents were so excited that I just was like oh, yeah, this is doing well enough, people were supporting it, I’m so stoked on this so I should just keep doing that. And then I didn’t really take it into my own hands until later. I really realized that I could do something new. Do something that I hadn’t heard before. But joining Fleece honestly was the thing that made me really excited about it. I was in a bit of a music slump before I joined the band. Before I joined Fleece I was listening to one album, and I really mean that it was one album, by Tallest Man on Earth who I love, but I really was stuck in a world. Then joining Fleece I like, revamped the whole thing. I didn’t even know what a fucking patch cord was before I joined the band.
MM: What were you studying in school?
Megan: I went to school for English lit and History. That really helped my songwriting because I was reading a lot of poetry and literature and writing in my journal all the time to figure out my emotions, as one does when they’re 18 and having emotions. And that helped with lyrics and poetry.
Ethan Soil: I got a drum kit for my bar mitzvah and that was sick, and I just started playing. And I took one lesson, loved it, so I just kept going. But I don’t think it wasn’t until I started playing in a band, which was like, three months after I got the drum kit that I felt like, that’s it I am music now.
Matt: I am music now.
Ethan: Yeah I am music.
MM: And you’ve been hitting the drums ever since.
Ethan: It was pretty fast because I think it’s not necessarily drumming that’s my favorite. It’s the collaboration and hanging out that’s my favorite. Also drums kind of lends itself to that kind of playing. You’re not just gonna sit and play a drum. I mean, I did. I take that back. I do it all the time.
Matt: But when it comes to making music there’s not a lot of like, only drum bands.
Ethan: When I sit and play by myself it’s either playing along to music or I’m practicing.
MM: Matt, you’ve mentioned that you were more controlling on previous albums but for this album, there was a sort of letting go of control that happened. What was your process of letting go and what sparked that change?
Matt: What sparked it was I used to bring songs into the practice space and be like okay Fleece, lets learn these songs. And then everyone was just like, not that into it. We just started collaborating more. And I was like, this is more fun with the four of us, so we started collaborating more where I was kind of like leading with chords and stuff, but everyone makes their own parts around it.
Megan: We were building a process as a four piece.
Matt: It’s true. At first I was like, I just have so many ideas. And I like being the creative director, but I think the product we made with the four of us collaborating more equally was just more fun, because we’re all just as stoked about it which makes it more enjoyable to play. And I think it translates to more cohesive music because you’re naturally going to have a sound when all four people are putting in their particular influences into the mix.
Matt: I feel like more of a relaxed person when I give up control, I’m learning it just makes me feel like a better person when I’m not trying to make sure everything is a certain way, you know what I mean? Just let it go and see where it goes. Often this leads to a better place.
Ethan: And also the difficulty I think came from just being fresh, and not necessarily understanding how to write with one another yet, not knowing what works and not knowing where we fit sonically into Fleece’s sound. We wrote a ton of songs that didn’t make it onto the record but it really all came together when we recorded Love Song for the Haters. I think at that point, it was like, okay, this is the thing.
MM: Was there a moment in the studio writing Love Song for the Haters where you all felt it?
Jameson: There’s actually a video on YouTube. We happened to have a camera watching and there’s a video on YouTube of the making of the song. You can see the moment that we all hear it.
MM: Matt, I read an interview where you use the word Fleecify, like Fleece as a verb. How do you know when a song has been Fleecified?
Matt: I think it’s been Fleecified or Fleeced when one of us brings in a song with chords, and then we just put our Fleece spin on it by everyone putting their individuality on it. That’s when it’s been Fleecified. It’s a Matt Rogers song before, or it’s a Megan Ennenberg song before, and then we Fleecify it, or who knows? There’s an Ethan Soil and a Jamie D song coming up on this next record, I think.
MM: So everyone in Fleece has a little hand in it, and then it becomes Fleecified.
MM: I want to get into the lyrics. I heard that they’re very stream of consciousness as you’re jamming in the studio – I think you said it’s 60% to 70% of lyrics written that way. Can you tell what the songs are about as they’re coming out in the stream of consciousness jamming of it?
Matt: No, not really. Words just kind of flow out my face. And then usually we’ll listen to the voice memo back and it’s like, oh, what is this about based on those words, and then crafting it around it. And the reason I like that is because I find stream of consciousness verses fit so well with music. It’s fun to write lyrics and then add them to songs. But I find sometimes the words can sound a bit more forced, it’s harder for the words to sound like they fit in. So that’s why that happens and it’s fun. It’s definitely a funny talent I have to just be able to on the spot come up with words that kind of make sense together and tell a story randomly.
Megan: The way I see it and what I love so much about what you do is it allows the words to be like another instrument added. They really fit into the pocket in the same way that we’re trying to make all of our parts fit into the pockets. To force a lyric in you can really tell when there’s like too many syllables, or even if the syllables fit in, you can tell when they’ve been forced or written before.
MM: Would you say that the lyrics work for the song more sonically or for meaning?
Matt: It depends on the song. Like, Love song for the haters is totally meaning for me and Upside Down is definitely meaning. I think actually they all end up being meaningful, they just kind of start as stream of consciousness, and then they get edited to have meaning afterwards. Generally, most of my lyrics are like journal entries to myself about things that are going on so I can look back and remember oh shit, like, I forgot that that’s what I was going through. And I think a lot of times people can take those lyrics and they’re often vague enough in some ways that you can interpret it to what you’re going through yourself. A lot of people have told me that Love Song for the Haters is really helpful for them with their breakups because it’s about moving on from toxic love and I think we’ve all kind of been through that, saying goodbye to people and you kind of miss them still. And it’s a complicated feeling that I’ve never heard people talking about so it’s like, I want to remember that when I miss that person it’s okay that they’re gone too. So that’s why I wrote that one.
MM: Is it Matt who does the editing of the lyrics or is that a band thing too?
Matt: Pretty much just me?
Ethan: Occasionally a word flip will be suggested by Megan or Jameson, the two who love playing with words. But it’s rare. And then obviously the songs Megan sings Megan does the lyrics for.
MM: So Megan singing is because Megan wrote those parts?
MM: That’s amazing, I love when Megan sings!
Matt: Me too! It’s awesome, Megan’s voice is sick. Actually that was another part of letting go of control. I think sometimes there’s a fear of letting someone else lead sing and you’re like, what if they like it better than you? That’s a stupid fear. Now Megan lead singing has just become this beautiful thing and another reason for people to like Fleece. I fucking love Bodies Lie and also when we sing duets like Something Real, I think that’s something that’s gonna happen more in the future.
MM: Also in terms of lyrics, did you notice any themes for this album?
Matt: Breaking up with boys and heartbreak, I think that’s a huge one for this one. Giving up power and giving up control. It’s like heartbreak, the world around us, love, power, a lot of themes. I wouldn’t say it’s pretty condensed into one theme compared to Voyager at least.
Megan: They all kind of investigate different feelings. They’re all talking about different ways that you’re feeling about different types of relationships.
MM: I want to know about the art for this album, because I feel it’s so striking and cohesive and I feel like there’s a lot more of it than there were on the other albums. Going into this album did you have any conversations about the visual side of it?
Matt: Oh, yeah. Tons. We had a lot of meetings like, you know, okay, so we figured out the name of the album first. Jameson suggested it. It’s kind of like half of this album is super ethereal, half of it’s super rock and roll. And I also used to say the phrase that is literally stunning and that is literally atrocious all the time.
Megan: It was one of those band jokes that really stuck and everything was stunning and atrocious all the time.
Matt: If anything, the album should be called literally stunning and atrocious.
Jameson: That can be the B-Sides.
Matt: And so once we had that we’re like, okay, we want something that’s kind of stunning and atrocious. So, Jameson actually came to the table with this collage thing, which was like sea anemones mixed with fashion, kind of like sea anemones posted on someone’s face and fashion underneath, because we kind of wanted to juxtapose something that was both stunning and atrocious at the same time.
Jameson: I was hanging out with my mom and we were talking about it. And she has a bunch of magazines, we were cutting up National Geographic and Vogue and stuff. Originally I was thinking like couture and a garbage heap or something. And then it ended up being just sea creatures on couture outfits.
Matt: So it’s actually kind of a long process. We got our friend Dylan who used to do our art to make a mockup kind of similar to this collage where it was just like, kind of like a 1920s style drawing of someone in a dress with an alien kind of sea monster on their head, but it just kind of looked like it wasn’t epic enough. So we decided to hire a friend of ours who made this really fucking cool mascot head, the stunning and atrocious monster we call it. We hired a photographer friend, a friend to do the outfit, another friend to model, and it all kind of came together that one day and we fucking love it. It came together in this really cool way.
Megan: That photo was hugely collaborative.
MM: Would you say all the pieces of art come around you just needing things individually? Or did you have sort of a vision in mind for the visual aspects of the whole album?
Matt: I feel like we definitely just love striking colours. We love striking images. We like iconography, like a mascot. And that’s kind of what came together in this and what comes together in our live show too. We are just like let’s be, as Jameson calls it, a psychedelic ice cream truck of colours.
MM: I love that. That’s perfect.
Megan: You saw our stage production last night. Which is a total psychedelic ice cream truck situation too.
Matt: Megan killed it with that. Megan made all that stuff.
MM: Oh, you made the little guy on the drums and stuff?
Jameson: The guy on the drums was kind of an accident actually.
Megan: Yeah, the googly eyes was an Ethan amazon purchase which honestly fit so well. But all of the melty ice cream fabrics were me. I made it in the last couple of weeks. It’s literally inspired by the word psychedelic ice cream truck by Jameson.
Jameson: That’s what I say our genre is.
MM: Do you have a lot of other stuff like that where you were DIY hands on for the visual process?
Matt: Pretty much everything. The Do You Mind video was very like – so my friend Adam directed it and he kind of came with this idea of this swinging light in this room. And then eventually it turned into, okay, we want to be in four different light rooms with our own kind of beautiful scenario in terms of backdrop. And then we were like, oh, we’re gonna have instruments, but I was like that’s boring, let’s try and make our own instruments out of cardboard. So we spent a shit ton of time making all these cool cardboard props and all the backgrounds. The bed was made by us, all the candles on the wall, the aquarium, Ethan’s fake drum kit. Yeah, that was a lot of DIY. We’re kind of the DIY Queens.
Jameson: It’s always cooler when we have an idea and then we try to do it ourselves and then get help when we need it.
Megan: Also just saving money.
Matt: We love saving money.
Megan: Doing it ourselves is really helpful for that.
MM: My last question is about your viral How To Write An Alt J Song video – how do you feel about that video being a part of your band’s story?
Matt: I used to have a huge complex about it for sure. I love it now. I think it’s fucking hilarious and bizarre how many how many times it resurfaces on social media. It’s just so funny. When it first came out, it was really crazy because all of a sudden I was kind of weirdly famous, and so was Ethan. We would get stopped in the street all the time. I was only like 19 or 20 at the time, it was just like something I wasn’t ready for and I feel like I cracked under the pressure of it a bit.
And people were like you need to make all these other videos. I was like no, I don’t want to be known for this. And honestly I think like Fleece is that video now in so many ways. We’re so silly and we’re kind of like making fun of the world all the time and that was just one of the examples of how we do that. Now I think we’re like leaning into that Alt J video side of us more, that silly stupid side. It was also complicated because there were some other people in the band and it created a bit of a dynamic between us there.
Ethan: Everyone was wanting us to now be YouTube personalities when we were like, we’re a band, we’re musicians. And then the other side was in the music scene like, they’re not a real band they’re just a bunch of people that got some dumb lucky break for doing something stupid. So those two things conflicting made us feel like we always had to be more serious to compensate.
Matt: This was 2015/2016, so a while ago.
Ethan: We had to just continue to be exactly who we were, which is really the Alt J video, but it’s also songs like Love Song for the haters.
Matt: And also doing stupid parodies of our own songs. And who knows, maybe parodies of other bands down the road.
Megan: Honestly, doing parodies of our own songs is so Fleecifying them. A song is Fleecified when we do a parody of our own song.
Melodic Magazine: You guys can do your own parody album of Stunning & Atrocious.
Megan: I was just saying that today, I want to do a whole show where it’s just a parody version of every song.
Ethan: I prefer Ligma for the Haters to Love Long for the Haters for sure.
Jameson: Yeah, there are several parodies already out there, little snippets of us just like changing the lyrics and stuff.
MM: I would definitely go see that. So you’d have at least one person in the crowd.
Matt: Whenever people talk about the Alt J video, they come to us and they’re like, I love the Alt J video, I also love Fleece. I’m like, wow, I’m literally, forever grateful to the algorithms because there’s no chance we’d be where we are today without that video. It literally kick started Fleece’s career in so many ways.
Ethan: Something I love about it is when it first came out it was really seen as this stoner kid video–
Matt: Oh, yeah. And I was so embarrassed about being called a stoner.
Ethan: I had never smoked weed at that point. I was straight edge at the time.
Matt: And that was a huge thing. There were so many articles that came out that were like, they’re so stoned. We actually weren’t stoned. And I was really pissed about that for some reason. If I could go back, I’d be like, whatever, fuck you, I don’t really care what you think. But I was too busy caring about what people thought at the time, you know? I was 20 years old and so insecure.
Ethan: Now the video has a whole new angle of just being like a queer icon meme. The comments are way more gay than they are stoner bro now, which is way better.
Matt: Also funny was like, I remember showing it to my mom. I remember sitting on the couch and feeling insane because it had been like six hours and all of a sudden, there were like 300,000 views and Ethan was like, you have to go on YouTube, you don’t understand. And then I remember showing it to my mom and she was just like, oh, and then she’s like, I didn’t realize those were the lyrics. She thought I was just like singing Alt J’s music. God bless my mom.
MM: Your mom sounds amazing.
Matt: She’s a sweetie.