There is a virtuous and sanguine nature to the music of Fort Stories. It’s not that it’s sugary and light or even unwilling to tackle some of life’s grime, but rather is lined with the sincerity of youth, a belief that the bad times will be fodder for creative pursuits and the good times will always have that magical veneer that hindsight has a way of lending. The seven-piece band has attracted a lot of attention, considering it has only an EP, Mean Winter, and two songs on the One Spark sampler to its credit. That being said, most of the band members have played together before and have deep music roots that range from childhood piano lessons to being in pop punk bands.
John Shannon (piano, organ) and Dean Winter (guitar, vocals) had played in the band Inside the Target Car. When that band broke up, they went on the hunt and found Jesse Brantman (vocals, guitar), who at the time was performing solo. After that, it was an exercise in recruitment among friends and family: Laura Shannon (vocals, keyboards), Jack Mock (guitar), Andy Starling (bass) and Mike Von Balson (drums), who replaced the first drummer. There’s no one dominant pen in the writing process — they opt for a collaborative process that typically starts with a verse or chorus from one member, sparking the next song.
The band has a cohesive sound, but it’s obvious, and perhaps it’s just sheer numbers that they have several influences that range beyond other bands and extend into several genres and even more conceptual catalysts. It must be said that Brandman, the main vocalist, shares a similar timbre with Brian Aubert of the Silversun Pickups. There, I’m glad that’s out of the way. The vocals are well-layered and the harmonies sung by Laura Shannon and Winter deliver some rather special emotional nuance. When discussing influences with the band, Brantman said that their first EP was “heavily influenced by indie-rock bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Fleet Foxes.” There are shades of emo, some folksy and Americana roots and even throwback tendencies to ’60s pop music. I also thought of Lord Huron while I listened to them. The band is now in the process of writing and recording a “full-length, narrative concept album,” that’s “more influenced by musical theater, classic rock, The Beatles, and classical program music.”
In large part, the songs explore relationships, a lot of love lost stories and dealing with its aftermath. Much like Penny & the Quarters, who wrote songs that sounded like the experience of having a crush on someone for the first time, Fort Stories comes in on the other side, with songs that sound like breaking up and picking up the pieces for the first and maybe second times. There are also occasional discourses on more spiritual themes. I asked about that aspect of their music — Brantman was quick to point out that there is no band-wide dominating doctrine and that among the seven of them, “there are Christians, ex-Christians, doubters and non-believers.” He also explained that they’ve experienced a wide spectrum of religious encounters including “kindness, sadness, hatred, love, hope, and hopelessness,” adding, “the act of writing, practicing, and performing songs that have some faith-based themes ends up being cathartic for all of us, sometimes for different reasons, and sometimes for the same reason.” A kind of genuineness underpins each song on the EP and One Spark sampler. When asked to encapsulate Fort Stories in one sentence, Brantman said that they are “seven friends who want to create music that is honest, meaningful and fun.”
We discussed being a band in Jacksonville. They have no plans to relocate somewhere that may be considered more of a “cultural mecca.” They like that Jacksonville is a “bit of a blank canvas that allows us to create something completely authentic.” Fort Stories has plenty of opportunities to play out in the area and don’t feel like they “have to pigeonhole” themselves or be something that they aren’t to “fit in with the established cultural norms.”
You can listen to Fort Stories this Thursday, July 9 at the Elbow Bender event being held all over the urban core, or at fortstories.bandcamp.com and hear their contribution to the One Spark sampler and EP, Mean Winter.