The best New Jersey band you haven’t heard yet doesn’t have a bassist, rarely plays in its home state, and comes from a town most New Jerseyans have never heard of.
Meet The Happy Fits: Guitarist Ross Monteith, drummer Luke Davis and classically trained cellist and lead singer Calvin Langman. Friends since high school, the now-20something musicians knew they would never be able to sustain a band in their tiny hometown of Pittstown (Hunterdon County), so they hit the road hard, fast and early, piling into a car and touring the country, corner to corner, before anyone had heard a note of their recorded music.
That hard work paid off. On Aug. 26, the trio will release its third full-length album, Under the Shade of Green, on AWAL Records. In October, the band heads to Europe for dates in Glasgow, Manchester, London and Berlin; then in November, the Happy Fits launch the 27-date Under the Shade of Green Tour, which includes headlining gigs at major venues such as Manhattan’s Webster Hall (Dec. 17), Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts (Dec. 18), Chicago’s Metro, San Diego’s House of Blues and Boston’s Paradise.
Back home for a few months after a national tour opening for The Maine, Langman and his girlfriend have settled in Easton, Pa., while Monteith and Davis still live near Pittstown.
“The other guys are about 30 minutes from me, so my house is our studio rehearsal space,” Langman said. “This year has been a whirlwind. We started it out with an 80-day tour, right after the 60-day tour last year, and we’ve been doing festivals all summer. So it’s really good to be home. I think that, since 2016, I’ve moved seven times. So I’m hoping this place is going to be the one that lasts.”
The recent tour with The Maine introduced The Happy Fits to a new world, moving beyond the small clubs and theaters they had been playing on their own. “It was awesome, we had never played to a thousand or 1,500 people a night before,” Langman said.
“We were used to playing way smaller shows. And the Maine are a little bit of a different genre than us, so we really had to bring out our rockier side. It was fun to play around with the setlist and, luckily, we do have a heavier side to our catalog and we were able to showcase that. When we go out again on our headlining tour, we’ll show off our poppier side.”
For the first few years, The Happy Fits played to a lot of empty rooms, teen centers, art galleries … literally anywhere they could get a show, as they zigzagged across the country, building a following one fan at a time.
“It wasn’t until after the pandemic, when we went out for the first time in two years, that we’d play to 200 or 300 kids who knew our music, and that was pretty mind-blowing,” Langman said. “It’s all a learning process. It’s been six years and, every year, I look back and ask myself, ‘What the hell was I doing?’ ”
As a consequence of all that touring, The Happy Fits share a trait with successful New Jersey bands like The Bouncing Souls and The Front Bottoms: A fan base that knows the lyrics to their songs and loves to sing along.
“It’s surreal, it’s something that I never thought would happen with our music, ’cause we have lots of lyrics in our songs and they’re hard to remember,” Langman said. “When we played L.A. last time, we had 400 kids come out, and we played our entire discography, like 28 or 29 songs, and it was so much fun, because everyone seemed to know every song and at the end of the set, they were still jumping their heads off. It was actually something like two hours and 15 minutes. A marathon. Wow.”
The Happy Fits maintained their base through the pandemic by doing livestreams from a rehearsal space that let fans interact, requesting songs and chatting with band members. Now that they’re off the road for a bit, they’re back at it, livestreaming every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on their YouTube channel.
Under the Shade of Green came together during the pandemic, which gave the band time to develop the songs. “The bulk of the songs were written in the winter of ’20-’21, when I was living in the loft where we used to livestream from,” Langman said. “Then around April ’21, we moved to Brooklyn to demo them at our manager/producer’s studio, Diamond City. He’s done all our records. So unlike the last record — where we had, I think, six weeks to record — with this one we had six months because of the pandemic. We demoed a lot at the studio and that’s where I think the songs really came together.”
The new album won’t surprise any pre-existing Happy Fits aficionados but might very well blow away first-time listeners. Monteith’s ear-catching guitar hooks, Langman’s sonorous cello and buoyant vocals, and Davis’ powerful drumming meld beautifully on a dozen tracks that leap out at the listener and command attention, from the reggae-inflected bounce of “In the Lobby” to the timeless pop swoon of “Sweet Things” (which truly sounds like a forgotten hit from another era). The melodies swell, the lyrics reverberate with an adolescent innocence reminiscent of The Front Bottoms, and the band harmonizes beautifully, turning each chorus into a treat.
In 2018, Bobby Olivier of The Star-Ledger named the Happy Fits’ debut full-length album Concentrate one of the best New Jersey releases of the year, praising its “chugging folk-rock” and “strong songwriting” and noting that the trio had racked up more than a million Spotify hits. 2020’s What Could Be Better refined the band’s strengths, serving up ebullient pop-rock that seemed fresh and contemporary yet still grounded in timeless pop tropes.
“I grew up listening to early 2000s indie bands like Arctic Monkeys or The Killers, stuff with really good hooks and melodies,” Langman said. “That’s always been the focus in our songwriting. I honestly do believe that if a song has a catchy melody, then you’re going to be more inclined to listen and get the song stuck in your head. I still listen to a lot of Beatles; they just have the most sunshine-y music in the world. Nothing beats the feeling of coming to the chorus of a song and feeling a big smile come across your face.”
While the early Happy Fits were DIY entrepreneurs, booking their own tours and releasing their own debut album, the group signed with the management firm AWAL after self-releasing What Could Be Better and that, Langman said, made a world of difference. “They had just started a record division,” Langman said. “They helped us promote What Could Be Better more and then there was an option for the third album, which they followed through with.
“We had never worked with a record label before, so we had no idea what to expect. So far, it’s been awesome. It feels like there’s a whole other family that works with us. We have a meeting with them once a month and their social media team has been really helpful. And it’s been eye-opening seeing how the industry really works. Before we were just DIY, making it up as we went along. It’s fun to see some structure and organization now.”
So far, six of the album’s dozen tracks have been released as singles (“Around and Around” being the most recent) and Langman said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “There are so many distorted cello riffs that kind of sound like ’80s guitar, we’re really trying to spotlight the cello as a lead instrument more than on the first two records,” he said. ” ‘Little One’ has a really crazy cello solo and ‘Do Your Worst,’ which we released, has what I think of as a backwards cello. It’s just been really fun to experiment and show all sides of the cello.”
It’s not lost on The Happy Fits that their insatiable touring schedule means that a lot of their New Jersey fans haven’t had many opportunities to see them. But the band sold out two nights at Asbury Lanes this past December, and Langman noted those felt special.
“The fact that we were able to bring out a thousand people in our home state over those two days was just crazy,” Langman said. “The first time we played Asbury, it was to maybe 40 or 50 people at some Battle of the Bands, and that got us started, then we started doing basement shows in New Brunswick, and that’s really our foundation. So we love playing Jersey. We have talks right now of doing maybe a small music festival next year but that’s still under discussion.”
Naturally, Langman can’t wait to hit the road again in November.
“We’re super-excited to play the new album live, and we finally have the budget to amp up our production,” he said. “So we think the live shows, especially in the larger venues we’re doing in the fall, will really be, like, putting on a SHOW. We’re really excited about getting into the production side of things.”
Under the Shade of Green will be released on Aug. 26 on vinyl and all streaming platforms. To pre-order the album, and for more information including tour dates, visit thehappyfits.com.
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