Somewhere between fact and fiction sits a place called Fort Lean. It doesn’t show on a subway map, and your cabbie won’t know how to get there, but on those adventurous nights when you’ve traded in your plans for a roll of the dice, that’s when you can find it.
The five gentlemen who bring the Fort to life met a decade ago at the famously freewheeling site of institutional discovery called Wesleyan University. Jake, Sam and Zach formed a band on the first day of class and were joined a few years later by Keenan and Will. The “P.C.U.” school’s hyper-social climate and bevy of battling bands set the tone for the real world beyond its progressive quad. After graduating, the group’s members relocated to New York to start fresh, playing music in other outfits and holding down jobs. A few years later the quintet reconvened as Fort Lean.
Fort Lean projects itself into the vague physical space suggested by its name. Here they have forged an identity and established roles that sidestep the hierarchy of traditional bands. Jake, on bass, is the visionary technician; Zach, on guitar, is the big-picture conceptualizer; Sam is that rare drummer with compositional knack; Keenan, the singer, is the guiding soul of the group; Will, on keys, is the finisher, the closer, the icing. But while these roles do exist, it’s never quite clear who is doing what.
“It’s a warped normalcy,” says Keenan. “There are elements in our music that you might think you’ve heard before but they translate to something different when the parts come together.” Layers of sound interweave, blending the familiar and unfamiliar. In their words, it’s like a bootleg vacation, the idea of an escape that is compromised or somehow undercut; a kid on holiday with his parents, free but for the hotel walls.
Fort Lean released two early EPs, and have played shows with HAIM, Future Islands, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Now comes Quiet Day, the debut LP on Ooh La La Records. The album is a collision of moods and tones, approachable and ambitious but delivered with a sideways subtlety. The collective songwriting is cohesive yet contains the disparate perspectives of its five writers. This is versatile stuff, appropriate for a crowd at a party or for the introspective headphoner.
“What we’re trying to explore sonically is something true to life, where there are moments of pleasure and peace that coexist with moments of surprise and chaos, ” says Zach. “It’s aspirational,” says Keenan. “We’re trying to build a world.”