What really should have amounted to nothing ended up changing everything for American Fiction.
The fledgling Memphis, Tenn.-based band needed a producer, so singer-guitarist Chris Johnson did what most anyone else in his situation would not do: reach out to a living legend. Johnson sent an e-mail to Eddie Kramer, whose studio credits include albums by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin, among others.
“[My subject line said] ‘I think you should open this e-mail’ or something like that,” Johnson recalls with a laugh.
Not only did Kramer open and read the e-mail (which included a demo of a song called “Dumb Luck”), he responded in a timely manner — about a week later, says Johnson, “before I had a chance to even contact anyone else.” Kramer expressed interest in working with the group and ultimately produced, engineered and mixed American Fiction’s full-length debut album.
Prior to his initial sessions with the band, Kramer made a point to speak extensively with each member by phone.
“And every time he called one of us, he had something different to talk about,” says guitarist Landon Moore. “He wanted to feel us all out about how we felt about [the material] and what our specific role was.”
“He almost produced us before we [entered the studio],” Johnson says, “and it was like we knew him before we met up with him.”
“Chris is right,” Moore adds. “When we met Eddie, we walked into the restaurant where he was, and he said, ‘Come here, you wanker,’ and he gave me a hug.”
For keyboardist Pat Fusco, Kramer’s involvement marked a huge turning point in more ways than one.
“When we were doing these demos at first,” he says, “we weren’t necessarily a band. We all worked together in different projects, just things musicians do to make ends meet. Once Eddie got involved, we were like, ‘Let’s do this.’ ”
American Fiction recorded with Kramer in early September at 16 Ton Studios in Nashville, then they met up the following month for vocals and mixing at LAFX in Los Angeles.
“He was great about trimming fat [in the songs], but also, he would extend sections that I wouldn’t think a producer would,” Moore says. “Nothing is too weird for him, but he wants it to be in good taste.”
Having learned from Kramer to, as Moore puts it, “make sure that everything has a point and strengthens the lyrics,” American Fiction spent a lot of time writing and rehearsing from November 2013 into early spring 2014. As a result, the musicians came up with what they felt was more top-shelf material, which Kramer liked “as much if not more than what we already had,” according to Johnson. And so, the initial plan to release an EP was scrapped in favor of a full-length album, and the additional tunes were tracked with Kramer in April at Ardent Studios in Memphis.
The final result is the independently released Dumb Luck, a confident and comfortable blend of tightly played and smartly arranged rock, soul and country highlighted by “Burning Candles” and “Crystal Key.” Luck may have played a part in attracting Kramer’s attention in the first place, but now that the album is out, American Fiction realizes that having a big-name connection can only take the band so far — a lot of effort from within is needed in order to build an audience and sustain a career.
“We’re still an unknown band, so we have to hustle the album,” says Moore. “We’re [planning to tour] grass-roots style.”
“There is no substitute for grinding it out and putting in the hard work,” says Fusco.
— By Chris M. Junior
From left to right: Chris Johnson, Landon Moore, Blake Rhea and Pat Fusco. Photo by Bob Bayne