They say don’t just a book by its cover but there is something to be said about making a strong first impression. When I interviewed Jason Rule of CT rock stalwarts Queen Moo earlier this year I picked his brain for bands coming up that I should keep an ear out for he recommended a band whose name I knew I wasn’t gonna forget anytime soon, Fat Randy. I mean you just start to wonder right away, is it really just a fat guy named Randy? What if he got on his fitness grind and lost some pounds? I knew I’d need to investigate further.
Upon further inspection Fat Randy wasn’t a man named Randy making music, let alone a fat one, but a noisy rock band with many of the jazzy tendencies that made me fall in love with Queen Moo. While the group is mostly now located in Boston, Fat Randy first met while students together at UConn. Their 2017 debut Raggaenomics has the sophomoric humor you’d expect from a group of jaded 21 year olds, with some ambitious musicianship lying underneath. Album highlight “Asthma” makes space for both a heady spoken-word bit about being in the jaws of death before closing with a ripping mathy guitar solo.
The group kept shredding locally over the years, making time for the band as each member lived their lives in earnest. All the while the group continued writing songs which culminated in dropping not one but two records in 2022, (Randy) Alex G which was recorded second and released first, and Slow Incremental Change which as you can imagine was recorded first but released second. Randy (Alex G) feels more sonically linked to the noise of Raggaenomics, with the groups sense of humor keeping up with their age. “The Comments Section of “Sarah” By Alex G” is comprised of lines exclusively taken from the titular comments section, making for both a hilarious track and a shockingly poignant one. While Randy (Alex G) has some of the catchiest hooks of Fat Randy’s young career, Slow Incremental Change is without a doubt the group’s strongest output to date, greatly due to the increased presence that saxophonist Evan Horn has on the album. Whether ripping funky solos like he does on album highlight “Connecticut” or when being a team player and lending his talents to the greater mix like he does on the soft, tender Sarah Berns led “Moon River Pageant” his presence elevates the song and is a perfect compliment to Fat Randy’s jazzy strain of noisy rock and roll.
Coming off some strong momentum from two fantastic albums this year and with a network of like minded bands to play with across New England, Fat Randy seem confident that their best days are right in front of their eyes. I had the chance to connect with both vocalist Stephen Friedland and bass player Steven Kolakowski (pay close attention to the PH versus the V there) about transitioning from a Connecticut band to a Boston band, and the recording processes of all three of their records.
What is/are your name(s), how do you identify, and what do you do in the band Fat Randy?
Stephen: I’m Steve, I use he/him pronouns, and I play the guitar, play the vocals, do most of the songwriting and am the pickle artisan in the band Fat Randy.
Steven: I’m also Steve (#2) and I go by he/him. I play bass, I sometimes write songs, and I (primarily) run the FR Social Media Division.
What are your earliest musical memories? Who was playing music around the house and what were they playing?
Stephen: The first musical memory I can pinpoint is staring at a cassette my dad had by the band Cinderella called “Looking Back,” some kind of greatest hits album. There are these two women in Eyes Wide Shut-style masks who were, like, unofficial band mascots. I remember being confused.
As indicated by the Cinderella spiel, my dad listens to almost exclusively hair metal and Alice in Chains, who are only disqualified as a hair metal band because they changed their name from “Alice N’ Chains” and had different aesthetic posturing.
Steven: My aunt used to work for Kaman and so she had a bunch of cheap Ovation acoustic guitars and random auxiliary percussion instruments around her house. One of my earliest musical memories is of my cousin and I writing “songs” at 4 or 5 years old with them whenever we visited her house. We would just strum the open strings as loud as possible and hit bongos with miniature rainsticks. I can’t even imagine how unbearable this was for my family.
My family listened to a lot of 70’s/80’s funk and jazz fusion. Both my mother and my uncle, who actually played drums professionally for this jazz fusion group Street Temperature when he was younger, were into groups like Headhunters, Return to Forever, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Weather Report. My dad listened to more pop oriented stuff like the Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Emotions.
When did you start playing music?
Stephen: I started playing violin in 4th grade when my elementary school offered it as an option, and I did mostly Suzuki Method stuff until age 13 or so. I played Bach’s “Minuet 2” at the Winter Concert, but this girl I had a huge crush on played Avril Lavigne’s “He Wasn’t” to rapturous applause, way more than I got. Being a lonely child who craved validation from strangers, I picked up the guitar around age 12 or so. I also wanted to learn all the Blink 182 songs.
Steven: I started taking lessons for bass guitar when I was about 11. I was mostly just learning classic rock riffs by tab. Black Dog by Led Zeppelin was one of the first songs I learned in full on bass. When I got to high school, I joined my high school jazz band and started taking lessons for the upright bass. That’s when I first started playing music with other people.
When did you start writing music?
Stephen: I didn’t write my first “band song” until I was 18. All of the bands I played in throughout high school were cover bands, and I was much more concerned with building technique, developing my complicated relationship with jazz, and getting high at the skate park than I was with writing, so I didn’t really even consider it until the context necessitated I do something.
Steven: When I was 14 my friends and I started this prog-jazz-fusion band. It was all instrumental because we were all too timid to be the “frontman”. We covered a couple of songs, one of which was “One of These Days” by Pink Floyd, but we also wrote a whole concept album at one point (Yes, a concept album that was entirely instrumental). I think it was called “Ghosts of the Machine” or something like that. It was an hour of instrumental jazz fusion jams and, luckily for all of us, none of it was ever recorded. It was pretty terrible and it certainly didn’t teach me how to write a good song. I did, however, learn what it sounds like when you write a bad song, which is basically the same thing.
How did Fat Randy come together? Did you come into your unique sound based on the people you ended up playing with or was there a deliberate seeking out of these different elements?
Stephen: Connor and I met via my ex-girlfriend at UConn, where we went to school. When we first started, Connor and I deliberately set out to make noisier, guitar pedal-centric music than I was making or certainly understood at the time. We pretty much imparted that ethos to Steve once he got here and I think it was self-evident to Evan, who joined the band after hopping on a couple of tracks on our debut.
I think any band is going to be the sum of its players, so we all bring our idiosyncratic takes on our instruments to whatever we produce. However, we all have fairly similar backgrounds, and when I hear our music, the outcome feels pretty literal to me: we sound like nerdy ex-jazz kids who like to rock and either couldn’t or, more accurately, didn’t want to hack it in jazz, and love to dick around with pedals and weird fart sounds.
Steven: At the time that I joined Fat Randy, I wasn’t deliberately seeking out an opportunity to play in a noise rock band. I was actually interested in playing upright bass in a jazz combo more than anything else. And then there was this incident where I was publicly criticized at an open mic at my university’s bookstore by a Jazz Studies major for not knowing the changes to ‘How High The Moon’ by memory. After that, I was completely done with that whole scene and I was amenable to any musical venture as long as I didn’t have to deal with that level of pretentiousness again. Joining Fat Randy was perfect because Stephen and Connor had (and still have) serious chops that still challenged me musically and, as Stephen said, I learned quickly that I very much love making weird fart sounds with pedals.
You are a band with two Steves, Friedland and Kolakowski. How do you navigate that reality? Does one or both have a nickname?
Stephen: I’m usually Stephen, and Steve is usually Steve. I introduce myself as Steve because saying “Stephen” sounds too sincere and puts me in a position of extreme vulnerability, and I’ve been hurt before. One time, we did another online interview where both Steve and I answered questions as “Steve.”
Steven: If we both introduce ourselves as Steve, we go by Steve #1 and Steve #2. Who gets the position of #1 and #2 is decided on a gig by gig basis Fight Club-style in our practice space.
Let’s settle this once and for all as I’ve seen conflicting claims. Are you a Connecticut band or a Boston band? Also on a more philosophical note do you think bands should claim where they are from or where they reside?
Stephen: I live in Connecticut, Connor and Steve live in Boston, and Evan lives in Maine, so we’re a Boston band by plurality. We started in Connecticut, but I feel much more of a kinship with the louder and noisier Boston bands.
Most bands that say they’re from a city more than likely didn’t come from that city; they’re just saying it for expedience and marketing purposes. You’re not from Milton; you’re from Boston. You’re not from Evanston; you’re from Chicago. I think if you’re trying to associate yourself with a kind of scene as a way of better promoting your music and it’s close enough, I’m not going to knock someone for doing it. However – and this is especially true within the indie rock subculture, where it costs a shit ton of money to do anything and you will make no money doing everything – there’s also probably a little bit of poverty LARPing inherent to that calculation, obfuscating your privileged suburban upbringing as a way to make yourself seem more authentic.
Steve: What Stephen said. I say we’re Boston based now because, honestly, it’s much more convenient for everyone. We practice in Boston, two out of the four of us live there, and I feel our music fits best in this scene. People can immediately and more easily connect us to a specific scene and I don’t have to give a 5 minute lecture about the three states and two countries we’ve all lived in over that past 5 years. I suppose we’re technically “from” Storrs, CT because that’s where we first formed, but no one knows or cares where that is.
Your debut Reggaenomics came out back in 2017. What do you remember most about that era of the band? How does this album sound listening back on it now?
Stephen: Maybe it’s because the passage of time makes things seem shorter, but I don’t remember much difficulty with writing or completing the album aside from “Asthma,” which is the “I’m Going to Do It” of that record. “Asthma” was super hard to learn, especially the mathy-ass outro; I remember drilling that section in particular while nursing a blackout-induced hangover, and it was hell on earth. I also had never been to Woolly Mammoth Sound before, the studio where we recorded and mixed this album and “Slow, Incremental Change,” and that was such a personal and creative revelation for me. I haven’t listened to the album in a while, but I think it mostly holds up, although there are some production choices I would’ve done differently in retrospect (e.g., recording to a click).
Steve: Even without a blackout-induced hangover, learning that mathy ass outro was a pain. Listening back to Reggaenomics now makes me feel old. While I don’t think the album is immature, the content is still intrinsically linked to our lifestyles as 18 – 21 year old college students. These songs are about getting mad at a cop for giving us a speeding ticket, eating our girlfriends’ food, goofy jokes we made while on acid, my Ancient Philosophy homework, and the 2016 presidential election. Compare this to Slow, Incremental Change and it becomes very apparent, to me at least, that we have aged quite a bit in between recordings. And although we still like to weave layers of humor into our music, Slow, Incremental Change doesn’t have the same youthful goofiness that I think is present on Reggaenomics. The humor is much darker and snarkier on our new album, which reinforces to me that we’ve become a bit more withered than we were while recording Reggaenomics. And although it sounds like I’m bemoaning our lost youth, I have absolutely no interest in being that age again. Getting older has only had a positive effect on our musicianship and songwriting abilities, which I think is apparent in our newer material. Plus, I have my sh*t way more together than I did while we were recording that album, both musically and personally.
Do you have a favorite song from that record that sticks out for one reason or another?
Stephen: I think “Vent” is still a really cool song, especially the outro. We could never convincingly pull it off live because there are too many guitars and vocal layers, but I love the polyrhythmic quality of the two vocal parts intersecting with the music and the level of restraint we collectively exercise during the song. Any time this band can do restraint and relative minimalism is a W in my book.
Steve: I have to pick “If I Were Not Diogenes”. I know I’m going to sound narcissistic saying this, but that solo I play at the end shreds and I’ll defend that to the end of my days.
Each of your records sounds so distinct, with the one thing holding them together being your wry sense of humor. How did you approach Randy (Alex G) sonically? What were you trying to do differently than the previous record?
Stephen: We had a few goals with (Randy) Alex G: we wanted to make songs that were simultaneously cloying and satirical, but melodic and catchy enough capital-S songs that they were somehow good. Personally, I wanted to prove I could write such songs under the banner of that specific direction. The chronology is a little weird because Slow, Incremental Change was already written and mostly finished by the time we started working on this one, so this underscores the primary goal: create a semblance of interest for that record by way of this one, if that makes sense. We figured by playing music that is decidedly more contemporary and trendier (at least in indie rock circles) than the kind of music we would actually prefer to make, we could get more people engaged in time for the SIC release and tour, and maybe play a fun prank on some people who managed to like this stuff in the process. Ironically, now I enjoy making and playing music off a record I made purely ironically, and we even have a separate (Randy) Alex G live band to play these tunes (coming to Berlin Under A in NYC this Saturday, 11/12, even).
Can you answer once and for all whether “Is This a Phoebe Bridgers Song or a Fall or Winter Car Commercial?” is a Phoebe Bridgers song or a fall/winter car commercial? What inspired that track?
Stephen: See, that’s hard, because a 2010 Kia Soul is clearly a summer car meant for windows down and listening to “Paradise City” loudly at a stoplight, but the song sounds more like R.E.M. to me than Phoebe Bridgers, God rest her soul.
I rarely tweet, but I love Twitter, God rest its soul. On a rare occasion I did tweet, I wrote something to the effect of “Phoebe Bridgers’ music sounds like an AI making music for a fall or winter car commercial” (for the record, I do like her music, although the tweet probably came before I decided that).
Often, the melodies I write that I like the most initially come from me ironically singing what I perceive at the time as the stupidest melody possible. Then, eventually, I come around and realize what I have is organic and actually sounds pretty good. We were at the studio working on “Slow, Incremental Change” and I started singing the hook based on the tweet in front of Connor and Dave [Minehan], our producer. Then I stuck some chords under it based on the stupid melody I had.
What about “The Comments Section of “Sarah” by Alex G by Fat Randy” made you want to write about the titular comment section? How did that song come together?
Steve: I wrote this song while I was living in England and at the time we were in mega COVID lockdown, so I was definitely losing my mind a little bit. I was listening to a lot of lo-li bedroom pop to get in the mindset to write material for (Randy) Alex G, so I was of course listening to a lot of Alex G. While I was watching the music video for “Sarah”, I was simultaneously scrolling through the comments section, which was filled with 17 year olds writing about how they will forever be heartbroken after being dumped by their partner of a long and dedicated 6 months. I thought it was funny how the vague sentimentality of them all read like lyrics to most bedroom pop songs when you strung them all together. So I did exactly that and sung them over some cloudy maj7 chords. All the lyrics in that song were taken from various comments made on that music video.
I think Slow, Incremental Change is your best record to date, I love how much you leaned into the horn section. Why did you feel like this was the record to let those horns shine?
Stephen: Thank you! I agree with you there. As I alluded to above, in terms of the de facto recording timeline, this would be our first record with Evan fully in the fold. We leaned into the horns because he is a full-fledged member of the band and he makes us better. He got into guitar pedals by association and has used it to turn his saxophone into a guitar, multiple horns (via the Electro-Harmonix Pitchfork) and so much more.
Steve: Honestly, the only reason we didn’t lean into the horns more on Reggaenomics is due to the fact that we brought Evan on midway through recording. If we had a permanent horn player prior to recording that album, we probably would have done way more with it. I’m glad that Evan stayed on as a permanent fixture because the saxophone adds a really unique layer to our music that makes our Fat Randy sound more Fat and more Randy.
“Walgreens” is a hilarious and intense track, it feels like a Safdie brothers movie in miniature. How did that track come together? What was its inspiration?
Stephen: That description has singlehandedly renewed my interest and appreciation for that song, so thank you. Originally, I wanted our follow-up to Reggaenomics to be “more dancey and accessible,” so, naturally, the first song I wrote for the record was “Walgreens.” Then, the aesthetic direction subliminally morphed into “noisier, jazzier LCD Soundsystem on crack,” which is, by definition, totally dancey and accessible, and I adhered to this for exactly one song (this song).
Musically, I wrote a substantial chunk of this song while jamming with my bud and one of my biggest musical influences, Jason [Rule, of Queen Moo]. Edits came while figuring out how to superimpose the lyrics and during demoing/recording. One of the most integral parts of that song, in my opinion, is the sub bass. Steve recorded a second bass track that creates both a low end and distorted kind of dynamic backbone to parts of the track in a way that – and I say this without a grain of irony – I’ve never heard in rock music before.
Originally, I wanted the conceptual through line of the album to be based on my experience working as a pharmacy technician for several years. Eventually, the themes became slightly broader and I wanted it to be kind of a commentary on American mortality, especially vis a vis the opioid epidemic, and I can’t think of a better Ground Zero for that than a retail pharmacy. That skit in the beginning, while it’s obviously played for morbid comic effect, used to essentially happen all the fucking time where I worked. I’m not on the yoga mom-to-anti-vaxxer pipeline by any means, but I do think there are so many people taking medications they probably shouldn’t at dosages that far exceed their therapeutic value, buoyed by a pharmaceutical industry whose function is to provide equity to shareholders and keep the recipients of their products hooked for as long as humanly possible. And they will bribe doctors to abide that mission, too.
Can you talk about “Connecticut” both the song and the state? Hell of a sax solo in that bad boy.
Stephen: Agreed, Evan does rip that shit. I wrote that song within a week of meeting my now-wife, and I didn’t think about it at all; I was just inspired and the natural result was the song. It’s the only happy song on the record, but in context, it serves as a representation of what the composite character stands to lose and peeks at some of their flaws.
I’ve lived in Connecticut my whole life, and I was so ready to finally move to Boston, as I’d been mythologizing for at least a few years at that point, right before I met Victoria. A lot of my friends are here and I love my job, but I’d like to leave, at least for symbolic purposes, just to say I got out for a little while or more.
Logistically, however, I think Connecticut is wildly convenient for somebody trying to play “other markets,” as we say in booking/promoter parlance. It’s two hours to Boston, two hours to New York, four hours to Philly. If you contrast that with someone who lives in, like, South Florida, they’re not so lucky. Good pizza and hiking and other shit too.
Steve: I think the main riff from that song is the first thing off of the new record that Stephen and I jammed on. This was many, many years ago at this point. We were still under the impression that our next album would be “dancey” and “accessible” then, so I ended up writing a bassline underneath it that would match those characteristics.
I bash on Connecticut all the time, but it’s really not the worst place in the world. I only do it because I grew up there and criticizing your suburban hometown is the hip thing to do once you’ve moved to a big city in another state. I’m also bitter that our avant-prog noise rock didn’t really fit in with the primarily indie rock/bedroom pop producing music community in Connecticut. Who could have ever seen that coming?
Is there any other song on this album that you are hyped on right now for one reason or another?
Stephen: I’m proudest of “Moon River Pageant” and “I’m Going to Do It.” The former was my first time arranging for strings, took the band to a territory we’ve never been before and I can’t wait to do it again, but even better. The latter took so long to finish – the title derives its double entendre status from the agony of finishing an already-agonizing song – and I think it’s a towering compositional achievement for me and the band. Some of the riffs and the screams are my favorite things I’ve ever done in a recorded format, to say nothing of everyone else’s sick contributions. I can’t wait to never write a song like it again.
Steve: I am still hyped on “Alice Window”. First, this song makes me want to do violence (this is a quote from someone else about this song, but I very much agree). Second, I’m really proud of that bassline I wrote for the first half of the song. I deliberately wanted to write a repetitive, rhythmic bassline that grooves while still being complicated and interesting to play. That line is deceptively simple. The pattern of switching between eighth note triplets to quarter note triplets right after another makes the bass go back and forth between rushing and dragging the tempo, which I think sounds cool as hell. I’m really satisfied with what I came up with for that song.
What is the best show you played recently? Any favorite road venue you’d like to shout out?
Stephen: We had a great time on tour at the Classroom in Hyattsville, MD and the Haven in Philadelphia. I’d like to shout out the Crossroads at Trenzilore in Murfreesboro, TN for feeding us arguably the best loaded baked potatoes we’ve ever eaten.
Steve: This was back in March, so this is only sort of recent, but we played a show at this venue called the Byrdhouse in Albany, NY. It was not only our first house show post-COVID, but it was one of the best house shows we have ever played. Coming out of COVID, I was unsure (as everyone was) whether house venues would still be as active as they were and this show demonstrated that they were very much alive and well.
What is the best show you went to recently?
Stephen: My wife and I went to Primavera Sound for part of our honeymoon this year and saw some of the best sets I’ve ever seen, both from a performance and production standpoint: Tyler, the Creator, Gorillaz, Nick Cave, Pavement, Shellac and so many more incredible sets.
I haven’t been doing it as much recently, but I moonlight as a sound guy, and sometimes shit is so bad that it takes me out of the show; I want to go over there and attempt to fix things myself. That said, I saw St. Vincent last year, and whoever engineered on that tour deserves to sit on a pile of gold for the rest of their life; that was the best sounding concert I’ve ever been to, bar none. The mids and highs were so tastefully smooth you felt like you didn’t need earplugs.
Steve: I just recently went to see Pile and Kal Marks at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville, MA. These are two of my favorite bands of all time, so it was cool to go see them on the same bill. Another show that sticks out in my memory was the Primitive Man show I went to this past May. They are the loudest band I have ever seen and the pit was more primal than any I have been in before. I went full ape in that pit.
What is something outside of music that brings you joy that might surprise people?
Stephen: I love football and yoga (often with Adriene). I’m insufferable when it comes to both of them. One time, Connor had to leave his apartment that he lives in because he couldn’t listen to my, like, asthmatic orgasms by way of yoga.
Steve: Although I don’t do it as often as I would like right now, woodworking is something I very much enjoy. Specifically, I love carving spoons. It requires only 3 tools (a hatchet, a straight knife, and a curved knife), so you can do it anywhere and you don’t have to deal with the noise of power tools. It’s basically like meditating, but then you end up with a spoon at the end of it.