Get ready for The Fritz's biggest production
yet. They've made grand entrances before, donning togas and blaring Gregorian chants, but a mini-carnival takes their flair for theatrics to a new level. Ladies and gentlemen, for The Three Rings of Funk, The Fritz presents aerialists and fire dancers.
In Jacksonville, where the band formed in 2007, one concert isn't enough to satisfy their many fans, so they've planned two nights of live music at 1904 Music Hall. Local troupes will add the swirling fire and acrobatics, and The Fritz will play a different set each night.
"Expect to dance. Expect the unexpected," said Jamar Woods, lead singer and keyboardist for The Fritz.
Despite their bent toward the dramatic, though, he insists the music always comes first. Not every concert has extracurricular elements.
"We don't want to get too much into that, because we want the music to speak for itself," Woods said.
Seeking a more touring-friendly location near the center of the East Coast, the band moved to Asheville two years ago, but not before stirring up a strong fan base locally. The five members — Woods, guitarist Jamie Hendrickson, bassist Jake O'Connor, drummer Michael Tillis and percussionist Mike Evans — met while attending the University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville, where they studied jazz and classical music.
"Prior to this band, I didn't sing like this," Woods said of his soulful R&B style. He didn't sing much at all, and when he did, it was primarily classical and gospel music. Citing John Legend, James Brown and Stevie Wonder as major influences, he said he had to "nix the classical," but still draws from gospel music.
As a whole, the band's style includes elements of soul, R&B, rock, pop and electronica.
"It comes together in the backbone of funk," he explained. "We approach every song with a first question, which is ‘Can you dance to it?' … Besides that, pretty much everything goes."
Prince is one of their favorites, and with The Fritz's love for danceability and boisterous stage performances, the influence is obvious. Less immediately apparent is their appreciation of Primus. "Our band is very bass-driven, and Les Claypool is a beast," Woods said.
Describing their roll-with-the-punches approach to live music, he made it seem as if they're periodically possessed by improvisational whims. He reveled in what he calls "on-stage surprises," and said excitedly, "It's just kind of like, hold on and go for a ride."
During a recent show, the band was playing "Kiss" by Prince when an idea struck Woods, and he switched to "Life During Wartime" by David Byrne and Talking Heads. They sometimes cover that song, though not in the middle of "Kiss" and not in that key. The band went along with his whim before returning to the Prince tune. Such diversions are not unusual.
"At most shows, something happens on stage that has never happened before. That's really exciting for a musician, and also from a crowd standpoint, because you're never going to get the same show twice," he said.
In the studio, the band tries not to record anything they can't reproduce on stage. Their latest album, "Bootstrap," was released in March.
The first sound on the album is Woods' Moog synthesizer, an instrument that he described as a "game-changer" for him and the band. Asheville is home to the Moog factory, and from the moment he put his hands on one, he knew it was a "perfect fit." Woods saved his money and was able to get a Little Phatty model about a year and a half ago.
"That one instrument, it changed the way I play as an individual … and changed the way we make music as a band. [It] added that color to our palette, and we just kind of ran with it."
The Fritz plans to release more music before the year ends. Songwriting is a collaborative effort for the band, and they're in a writing frenzy at the moment, Woods said. They have so many new songs, they're having trouble finding time to rehearse them. With so much new material, they decided an EP is in order for late fall, but they aren't sure if the songs will be recorded live or if they'll hit the studio.
"I don't know what happened," Woods said of their creative burst. "The season changed, or something's in the water. We are just cranking out music."