By Rob van Alstyne
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By Emily Weiss
Anyone who has ever been in a local band and has attempted a "tour" can relate. It usually goes something like this: You, your bandmates, and careening piles of gear spend all night driving (getting about eight miles a gallon in a fume-belching chariot of death) and sputter into some lethargic Midwestern town hell-bent on showing the oh-so-fortunate locals just how hard a band from Minneapolis can rock. After dining on curly fries and sliders—if you're lucky enough to have made a few bucks (literally) at last night's show—you load your gear into whatever bar your MySpace friends claim is "the place" to play in town. But even before sound check ends (if you're lucky enough to get one), you get the sinking feeling that there will be no rock revelation tonight. No, your band members outnumber the audience by two to one, as the crowd more likely than not consists of one sullen bartender and a middle-aged drunk who hasn't the will to raise his gaze from his drink.
Welcome to the life of a burgeoning rock star.
For Mighty Fairly, it happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Minneapolis indie-pop quartet was headed to Texas to play South by Southwest and had landed a gig at a local club, which, as it would soon become all too clear, had not promoted the show whatsoever. That night, Mighty Fairly played for exactly two people, a couple in their late 50s who wandered into the bar by chance and pulled two chairs right up to the stage. Much to the band's surprise, their new fans stuck it out, and by the end of the show, they felt so fondly (or badly) for the band that they insisted on giving them gas money to help them get to the next town.
Big Words and Power Chords
The band reminisced about that night over beers at the Nomad World Pub on a recent Saturday afternoon, and while you might expect reliving such a memory to produce a few groans, embarrassed eye rolls, and promises of "never again," it didn't. The members of Mighty Fairly honestly cherish that show; the affection showed to them by their two new baby-boomer fans moved them deeply.
"We're not these uber-pensive rockers," says vocalist and guitarist Mischa Suemnig. "We are always having fun, and that comes across. That's my favorite thing about going to see bands—when you can see they're laughing and having a great time. You can't watch a show like that and not have a great time, too."
And despite the humbling experience in Tulsa, that light-hearted approach seems to be working for Mightly Fairly. Not only has their music, an addicting indie pop that is both bouncy and intelligent, been featured on MTV's Real World: Sydney and Real World: Hollywood, but they also recently won a song contest by Rift magazine for "My America."
Mighty Fairly are hoping to continue that success with their sophomore release, Big Words and Power Chords. In typical self-depreciating humor, the tagline on the Mighty Fairly website reads, "We are very capable," and that is certainly the case with this album. There is nothing groundbreaking, no pushing of the sonic envelope. Rather, it is saturated with sing-along choruses and hooks that do just what a good hook is supposed to do, without being too bubblegum. Think the New Pornographers, the Shins, or even XTC. More guitar-driven than their first release (there are plenty of power chords to be had), the album is unabashedly upbeat.
"The first record was all either breakup songs or songs about loss. I've gotten lots of comments from people where they say, 'I'm dancing and feel really good about this, but you're talking about death.' This new album is about love and finding joy in relationships," explains Suemnig, adding that he has gotten married since the release of the first album.
The second track, "Closer to End," is an ode to Suemnig's wife, who he says is "perfect in my eyes" (awwwwww). It sweetly captures the hopeless infatuation of new love: "Send me all the thoughts you're thinking/I guess only one thing makes me whole now/Thoughts of you and all the things we'll do together."
The plodding and anthem-like "Alaska" represents a departure from the slightly spastic pace of most of the other 10 songs on the album. It is bookended by some gorgeous a cappella vocal harmonies, which—with all four band members singing harmony at some point—is what gives this record a texture that is wonderfully thick and velvety at times.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the album decompresses dramatically on the final track, "Left You a Ruin," a sobering reflection on a deconstructed love. Backed only by a minimally picked acoustic guitar and Kellie Nitz's tasty Lou Reed-like bass lines, Suemnig is at his most intimate and genuine here: "I've seen you but once since/You didn't notice me/You were wearing that long white skirt/When I left you a ruin."
So with Tulsa a fading memory for the group and their music playing on MTV, one might wonder what the definition of success now is for Mighty Fairly.