Fitted represents a perfect meeting of musical minds
There’s a temptation in listening to the debut offering from Fitted to refer to the art-punk provocateurs as a supergroup, even if it’s a label its members would never own up to or claim for themselves.
But for fans of a particularly cerebral strain of underground rock, the label is a hard one to ward off. With Mike Watt (bass), Wire’s Matthew Simms (guitar, synth, organ, backing vocals) and Graham Lewis (bass, synth, samplers, vocals) and Freeks drummer Bob Lee behind the kit, the talent in the band runs deep. What’s more, First Fits does a more than admirable job of delivering upon all the technical skill in the band’s arsenal.
The six-song debut is as heady and brainy a meeting of the musical minds as one might expect on paper, wrapping electronic sounds, rancorous guitars, metronomic Krautrock, spoken word, stream of conscious lyrics and other sorted forms of avant experimentalism into its own sprawling concoction. It’s the kind of record that obliterates genre, preferring to instead exist unmoored to anything other than the sounds germinating in the heads of its creators.
Sound familiar? It should for fans of Wire or any of Watt’s numerous projects, namely The Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Those groups shared a common joy in excitably tearing down, de-contextualizing and rebuilding what the oftentimes narrowly defined genre of punk rock could be. Even more open-ended subsets of the genre like post-punk feel a bit to neat and tidy to aptly define records like Pink Flag, Chairs Missing or Double Nickels on the Dime.
The pairing makes so much sense, in fact, that the most curious thing about Fitted is why it took so long for all the parties involved to finally throw down together. As Lewis recalls, he first met Watt in or around 1988, but it wasn’t until almost 30 years later when Wire was tapped to curate the 2017 Drill Festival in Los Angeles that he and Simms reached out to him to play.
VIDEO: Fitted at the 2017 Drill Festival
“[Graham] said it could be a proj [Watt dude speak for project] with us two plus his Wire guitar man Matt Simms and a drummer of my choice,” Watt said in an email to Rock & Roll Globe. “I immediately thought of Bob Lee cuz he can remember music forms real quick and well.”
Lewis and Simms’ commitments with Wire limited the new outfit to a quick three hour practice the night before the festival, during which time the band carved out a 30 minute set. That practice laid the foundation for the making of First Fits, which was pieced together in parts. After the festival, the rhythm section of Watt and Lee got together at Watt’s studio in his native San Pedro to build upon their parts of the songs Fitted first performed live, which they knocked out in one session.
The rhythm parts were sent to Lewis and Simms, who spent more than a year fleshing out the songs and mixing them for the record.
“Working with Mike was quick and decisive,” Lewis said in an email. “We didn’t have the luxury of too much time and we’re both less than sentimental when it comes to identifying the task and the work necessary to realize our agreed conceit. These conditions guaranteed a series of surprises and an accelerated creativity. First thought best thought, trust your guts.”
Watt has long professed his love of Wire, a band whose work proved highly influential to The Minutemen’s feverish microbusts of artsy funk punk (“Not just the short tune format from Pink Flag either, but lots about the words and trying to be artistic w/rock and roll,” the bassist notes). To that end, it makes sense that Fitted represents the shared musical space between the two bands. But Lewis points out that there were no preconceived notions about what the new project would be.
“Wire’s Wire, and Fitted was whatever we let it become,” he said. Asked if there were any specific points of musical inspiration behind the record, Lewis’s response couldn’t have been more matter of fact.
Watt, on the other hand, was more elaborative, citing the work of late Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and the Wire side project Dome as influences. The bassist also gave Simms kudos for his work on First Fits.
AUDIO: Fitted perform CAN’s “Hallogallo” at the 2017 Drill Festival
“His guitar playing is real inventive and beautiful, but he’s just as good at mixing,” Watt said. “The way he made our proj coherent and very organic – even the prac pad tune [“The First Fit”, which materialized out of the band’s first recording session] sounds like it was part of the [San Pedro studio] stuff, amazing! I really was blow away by the skills he showed here.”
In just six songs, First Fits proves that Fitted warrants more time than a simple side project, even if finding the time to devote to it is easier said than done. Lewis and Simms are getting set to turn their attention back to Wire, which is due to self-release its 17th studio record, Mind Hive, in January.
The interminably busy Watt, meanwhile, released the first of what he says will be four albums with Todd Congelliere as the Jumpstarted Plowhards in October, and plans to play bass on Flipper’s European tour next summer. But both Lewis and Watt say they plan to tour Fitted and reconvene to record new songs when schedules allow. Lee is undergoing shoulder surgery, but Lewis said he hopes Fitted will be able to play live again come next spring.
“Of course I’d like to do as many gigs as possible with these guys,” Watt said. “It was the prac for a gig that got this baby fucking going, right? Respect.”
AUDIO: Fitted First Fits (full album)