Discovering his muse on his new EP Canopy
By Jeff McCord
When it comes down to it, many musicians have similar origin stories: Older siblings and/or parents deeply into popular music, playing songs and dragging them to all sorts of inappropriate shows at a very young age.
Yet for Daniel Fears, things went another way. Growing up in a religious Houston household, secular music was strictly forbidden. Fears caught the music bug from a different source.
He explains. “We were going to Lakewood Church in Houston. My mom was the music director there. I’d go to rehearsals with her, so I’m hearing these excellent church musicians probably three times a week as well as on Sunday morning.”
“And then I started in [school] band playing trombone when I was 11. And eventually, we moved to a much smaller church. And I started playing drums for services and stuff and played every week until I was about 18.”
Walled off from the enveloping curtain of pop ephemera, Classical music became Fears’ passion.
“I had this really wonderful teacher. He was a freelance musician who was playing with the Houston Symphony and he’d play as a contractor for churches. I had in my head that a musician would be a sort of starving artist, I guess. But he was like driving an Acura, he’s playing classical music. He was successful. He got me into classical music. He helped me get into the University of Texas, just introduced me to this whole world of music that I really wasn’t exposed to.”
Fears would graduate from UT, and go on to get a Master’s degree from Yale, all with the intention of making a living in the classical music world.
But along the way, outside life seeped in. Fears was initially scornful of the R&B his grandmother put on her radio, or of the hip hop he sometimes heard his cousins play, “But now, when I hear music that is reminiscent of that, I just absolutely love it. It feels nostalgic. All these seeds were sort of getting planted and at a young age, whether I wanted them to or not.”
Fears’ own initial discoveries were haphazard. “I had a really sheltered childhood. There was a John Mayer song called ‘Dreaming with a Broken Heart’. I remember listening to that at the lowest volume possible upstairs in my room, just waiting, you know. If I heard anything, anyone coming up the stairs, I’d turn it off. It’s a pretty sad song, and it just hit. It felt so good to feel whatever it was that I was feeling, because up until that point, it was all these uplifting and encouraging Christian songs. But to feel something that’s like, oh, this is what heartbreak must feel like.”
Fears was also moved by Frank Ocean’s music. ”His storytelling, his voice. I felt I could really relate to him. Most of the R&B I had heard up until that point was only about love, I want you you want me, you cheated on me, that kind of stuff. I felt like Frank was one of the first artists I heard that was talking about life. There was so much contained inside of his version of R&B. And that really got some wheels turning about what if I ever wrote music as a singer, what that might sound like.”
Still, that was far from Fears’ mind. Before attending Yale, he was finally persuaded to write some horn parts for a friend’s song. Having spent his musical life interpreting the works of others, it was a foreign concept to him. And ultimately, a liberating one. “The music that I grew up with, it was always according to what someone else wanted. And in this case, I can decide what I think fits. And then I’m going to record them myself. And oh man, that really flipped a switch in my brain.”
Yet it ultimately took a lip injury while at Yale to sideline Fears from his initial goal. Forced to stop playing for a time, Fears needed to heal and relearn his instrument and knew there was a pool of friends back in Austin he could count on for support. Instead, he found himself gigging with them, collaborating with the likes of Mother Falcon, Ley Line, Wild Child. Onstage at Utopia fest with the latter, the light bulb finally lit. “I’m playing with the horn section, we’re having a great time. People are singing every single word of these songs and I’m like, wow, if I were in the middle, if I was just a little bit over to the left stage center, it wouldn’t feel that crazy. I think I could do that, too.”
So slowly, methodically, he started to create. “I decided I would write something every single day, whether it be a verse or a chorus or an instrumental part. I’ll play piano or something or a loop.”
Working with producer Moses Elias, Fears culled hours of studio time down to a powerful six-song EP, Canopy. Recorded and released during the pandemic, the music is intimate, intense, sublime. An impressive video companion is also available on YouTube.
Fears is rightfully proud of the work, and now that he is able, he will celebrate Canopy’s release. Stay tuned for a show announcement at the end of the month. And he’s already working on new material, all of which falls under the same emotional grip. It’s as if he’s making up for lost time.
“The things that I really enjoy doing, interacting with other folks, producing and writing for other artists – I really love performing on stage, and so we’re creating opportunities for me to do that and looking for opportunities for me to go on tour and then to continue writing my own stuff. The more that I get into this, the more excited I am about what’s possible. The more I keep following a path of the things that I’m passionate about, the more these wonderful opportunities are going to continue to open up.”
For the past couple weeks you’ve heard plenty about our June 2021 Artist of the Month, Indoor Creature, a jazz-pop beast that’s evolved from a humble duo into a quaint quintet since their 2015 inception. And though Caleb Fleischer (keys/synth/sax/vocals) continues his tenure as Indoor Creature’s chief visionary, the effortless movement of interior specimen across the band’s third LP, Living In Darkness, has to be credited to the clockwork provided by all members.
After releasing Living In Darkness at the tail end of last month (and hosting My KUTX last week), Indoor Creature is set to celebrate their album release this Friday at The Ballroom. But if you’re still a little shaky on going out to live venues at this point in the pandemic timeline, you can still enjoy Indoor Creature in their natural habitat from the comfort of yours with a two-song session that includes both “Get Away” and “American Dream”!
NPR Live Sessions/KUTX – Musicians: Caleb Fleischer: Saxophone, Keys and Vocals; Travis Kitchen: Drums; Terrence Kiser: Guitar and background Vocals Cameras and Edit: Michael Minasis; Audio recording: Caleb Fleischer; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Producer: Deidre Gott
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Austin’s Indoor Creature started out as a recording partnership between Caleb Fleischer, who handles vocals, keyboards, and saxophone, and drummer Travis Kitchen. For the band’s third album, the pair opted to go for a big, in-the-moment sound that better reflected the band’s live shows. Living In Darkness shows off Indoor Creature’s dynamic, jazz-influenced pop, and the band celebrates its release at the Ballroom (formerly Spiderhouse Ballroom) on Friday, June 18. At the show, Indoor Creature will be augmented by a full horn section and choir.
This week on My KUTX, Caleb and Travis take the controls as our guest DJs, spinning an hour of songs that fed into the creation of this up-and-coming Austin band. Hear Indoor Creature’s My KUTX on Saturday, June 12 at 6 p.m. or listen anytime in the player above.
–Art Levy // producer, My KUTX
[intro music: Indoor Creature – “American Dream”
1. Toro y Moi – “Go With You”
2. Stereolab – “Cybele’s Reverie”
3. The Olivia Tremor Control – “Hideaway”
4. Steely Dan – “Deacon Blues”
5. Dirty Projectors & Björk – “When The World Comes To An End”
6. Air – “African Velvet”
7. El Michels Affair – “Unathi” (feat. Piya Malik)
8. The Band – “Look Out Cleveland”
9. The Beach Boys – “Darlin'”
10. Curtis Mayfield – “The Makings Of You”
11. Harry Nilsson – “Sleep Late, My Lady Friend”
12. Broadcast – “Before We Begin”
Photo by @mercibeauyou
By Jeff McCord
In a world full of surprises, here’s a band to match. Austin’s Indoor Creature, a six-piece group of twenty-somethings, makes modern pop music. Think Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beach House, and the like, and you wouldn’t be too far off. You know, bands that like exploring production and have an arsenal of more than three chords at their disposal. And though Living In Darkness is the third Indoor Creature release, in many ways, it feels like their first.
Singer and principal songwriter Caleb Fleischer explains. “Our previous work was really just me and Travis [Kitchen, drummer, guitarist and band co-founder] doing full-on production, letting the creativity find the path. We were pretty much genre-less for a while. It was electronic drums, samples and real instruments, and we kept getting the same critique: ‘Wow, we really like the way you guys sound live but none of your recordings sound like that.’” So they set out to make a record that sounded like the live band. “Without losing too much of our creativity, because ultimately, in the recording setting, you want to go for gold even if you won’t be able to replicate it. We wanted to have all the tracks with real drums, we’re going to learn how to record drums and we’re going to record all the instruments. This one was kind of a throwback, I guess you could say, to more of a traditional way of making an album.”
Yet despite their well-honed sound, Indoor Creature’s beginnings were far from conventional. Aside from high school jazz bands [where he played saxophone], Fleischer had no performing experience. He taught himself to sing, play keyboards, and leaned on Kitchen and other members, who had played in bands previously, to help bring their music to the stage. Fleischer grew up in the midwest, where his music-obsessed parents provided a steady diet of everything from Earth, Wind and Fire to Talking Heads. He absorbed it all – Motown, Johnny Cash, hip hop. “I really kind of hit my stride with MF Doom and Wu-Tang Clan.”
Indoor Creature sound like none of these, though. There’s a mid-tempo, relaxed vibe throughout. “I think I’ve always kind of found music as a peacemaker. It’s always been a thing that’s helped me with emotional problems or mental distress or just general anxiety. I’ve always thought music was kind of a great pacifier for those feelings.” That’s doesn’t mean the subject matter is lightweight. Far from it. “American Dream” is about shattered illusions, “So Down” is about depression. There’s a song called “Selfish Liars”. Yet none of feels like heavy lifting. I asked Fleischer about the juxtaposition and got a surprising answer.
“I would say I’d say we’re pretty inspired by lots of artists, but one that immediately comes to mind is Donald Fagen and how he constantly juxtaposes this like smooth music with these existential and dark lyrics.”
It’s not every day a band this young cops to a Steely Dan influence. Steely Dan’s dated, jazzy sophistication seemed out of place even in their seventies heyday. It’s the rare person beyond a certain age who even bothered to comprehend their subversive nature.
“That’s kind of was an overall theme of the album,” Fleischer continues. “Living in Darkness, the title sounds like it’s going to be really heavy, and then it’s the opposite. And that’s kind of one of the themes we’re going is this: It’s natural to feel sad. It’s natural to feel depressed. It’s natural to feel like you’re in a blackness, an absence of knowledge, you know, this darkness of knowing what’s going to happen. But if you know that, you can turn it on its head and look at it in a more positive situation, in a more positive light.”
The album’s title track is its ambitious standout. “I’m a huge fan of the Wall of Sound, you know, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, “says Fleischer. “I love that style of production and I love harmonies. I’ve always wanted to produce a song that had layers and layers of accessible harmonies that are bringing the melody to fruition. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do this live the same way we do on the recording. We’re going to do an album release show at Spider House Ballroom on June 18th. We have a couple of friends that are going to sing in a choir and we’re going to have a horn section. So we’re going to try to do that song just this one time.”
The band is ready to unleash their promising new album and is looking forward to the June 18th Spider House record release show. Beyond that, plans are less locked in. “We’re going to try to do a tour,” says Fleischer. “It’s a little harder booking tours right now because everyone is all of a sudden booking tours and venues closed. But our label is trying to get us connected with a booking agent. We’re going to make vinyl. We have vinyl pressed for the record and some T-shirts and all that stuff. And we’ve got more music videos as well to release. So there’s more content for the album. But yeah, a tour would be a dream. I mean, I just bought a tour van right before COVID.”
NPR Live Sessions/KUTX
Songs: “Get Away” “American Dream” Album: Living in Darkness
Musicians: Caleb Fleischer: Saxophone, Keys and Vocals; Travis Kitchen: Drums; Terrence Kiser: Guitar and Background Vocals
Cameras and Edit: Michael Minasis; Audio recording: Caleb Fleischer; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Producer: Deidre Gott
Sasha & The Valentines are the KUTX Artist of the Month for May 2021. Photo by JB Bergin
On their debut album So You Think You Found Love?, Austin’s Sasha & The Valentines craft a darkly romantic atmosphere that’s easy to get lost in. The group pulls from classic indie pop influences, but they’re filtered through Sarah Addi’s sharp songwriting and expressive, powerful voice. This is one of those albums that’s both fully-realized and bodes well for exciting things ahead.
This week on My KUTX, Sarah is the guest DJ. She spins an hour of the band’s favorite influences: Beach House’s swirling sound, the Modern Lovers’ driving beat, and discovering Wye Oak on a whim. Hear Sasha & The Valentines’ My KUTX on Saturday, May 29 at 6 p.m. or listen anytime in the player above.
–Art Levy // producer, My KUTX
[intro music: Sasha & The Valentines – “I See The Light”]
1. White Denim – “A Place To Start”
2. Beach House – “The Hours”
3. King Krule – “Out Getting Ribs”
4. Pure Bathing Culture – “The Tower”
5. The Modern Lovers – “Government Center”
6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Little Blu House”
7. Sam Burton – “I Can Go With You”
8. Her’s – “Dorothy”
9. Wye Oak – “Spiral”
10. Cut Worms – “Truly Julie’s Blues”
11. Tennis – “Runner”
12. Y La Bamba – “Ojos Del Sol”