Sometimes a big break can come from one single stroke of good luck. That’s what Calvin Langman, cellist for the Happy Fits, thought when he woke up one morning to find that a song from their debut EP Awfully Apeelin’ received over 30,000 streams on Spotify. Now at over a million plays, the song “While You Fade Away,” is what Langman says helped the band reach a new level of fame.
A few years back at a New Jersey high school, Calvin met guitarist Ross Monteith. In a short solo set, Langman played an early version of his original song “Dirty Imbecile,” which appears on Awfully Apeelin’, and Monteith immediately asked if they could try out playing together.
They started out by practicing covers, but realized they had more skill with original songwriting. Taking inspiration from some of their favorite bands like The Strokes, Alabama Shakes, Young the Giant, and Hozier, the two got to work on songs that would eventually appear on Awfully Apeelin’. Even though Calvin and Ross found a rhythm together, the separation of college loomed in the near future. As a graduation gift, Monteith’s parents paid for them to record the songs they had to make that first EP, which they soon after posted on Spotify.
They kept playing together during free time into college, but both seemed to think this might be as far as the band would ever really go in terms of mainstream popularity. While recording Awfully Apeelin’, the two hired Luke Davis to be a session drummer, adding another layer of percussion. “I didn’t even think anything of it. I was like, ‘70 bucks man, that sounds awesome!’ As a college kid, that’s like the gold mine,” says Davis. He came in, recorded the drum parts, and left with his money, thinking that’d likely be the end of his collaboration.
But after a chance placement of “While You Fade Away” on Spotify’s “Fresh Finds” playlist, all three of them started to wonder if this was the big sign that The Happy Fits could take their success to the next level. Calvin recounts that shift with all the excitement. “For the next week, our inbox was blowing up and we were like, ‘Oh wow. We have a chance to do our dream.’” A listen to any one of their expertly composed songs however, proves that a continued increase in their popularity was practically inevitable, and by no means due to sheer luck.
On tracks like “Grow Back,” which comes off of their new LP Concentrate, the layered instrumentation makes the band sound like much more than just three people playing. What contributes most to this depth though might be the shared group vocals—there truly is no one lead singer. “We started splitting up vocals when we first started playing together, and it really wasn’t intentional, but there were certain parts that sounded better in one another’s voices,” says Monteith. “When we went to the studio, we just kind of kept that up, and tried to figure out whose voice sounded best with what part.”
And, as if that weren’t enough on its own to set this band apart, they also feature an instrument that is rare in indie–rock: the electric cello. Calvin, who plays the unique string instrument, says he chose to keep it in the music because he never played the bass, and didn’t feel like learning a new instrument. “And the cool thing is that you can bow two strings at a time, which adds a nice power chord feel.”
For more hard–edged rock fans, the cute positivity of the band’s name might be a turn off at first. But there is a grim seriousness to a song like “Best Tears,” which while upbeat in rhythm, alludes to heavy themes like bullying and depression. The Happy Fits purposefully combined these elements to create a contrast between outward appearance and inward thought. “Talking about deep subject matter in a happy song—it kind of makes light of the issue and makes it a more approachable thing,” says Calvin.
Another example of this approach comes in “Achey Bones,” one of the most percussion–heavy tracks on the new album. Upbeat and danceable, the “oohs” and echoes behind the lead melody almost make listeners forget the negativity of the words, “How it’d be lovely to step on my dreams.” Suggestive of a failed relationship, the song ends on a hopeful note. The catharsis of the poetry is mirrored exactly by building waves of rhythms, especially from Davis, of the verses and the chorus.
Having just released Concentrate last month, most would think the band would take a short break before diving into new projects. “Calvin’s a madman, so we have a lot of songs in the works that were left off of the first. He showed us two today even, so we’re working on the next album,” shares Luke. However, the jury’s still out on whether or not they’ll continue with the fruit theme on the album covers. “I mean at this point we’ve already done it for two, so maybe vegetables for the third one, but it’s very hard to say."
Talking to the Happy Fits, even over the phone, revealed a cheerful nonchalance. But asking them what advice they’d give to musicians who are now in the place that they were only a few years ago resurfaced their steely determination. “If you’re not moving anywhere, it’s because you’re not doing anything. You just need to be waking up every day sending emails and asking people to listen to your music. It’s gotta be every day,” says Calvin.
The Happy Fits are currently on the road for a short summer tour around the East Coast, with a stop at Creep Records here in Philly, on August 4. But for local fans who can’t make that show, worry not, the Happy Fits are at work in putting together a larger tour to come.