For the local band Fleet, 'music' is essential sustenance

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The trend seems to be that prime-time popular music awards programs no longer bother to air the rock artist presentations live. Oh, you might see an actual band perform at some point in a three-hour telecast, but most of the rock 'n' roll stuff happens before the show airs; rock is a genre increasingly relegated by music industry honchos and programmers to "nobody cares" categories like Best French Horn Solo or Spoken Word Geography Textbook Recording of the Year.

Sure, times change, but it does beg the question: Is guitar-based rock on the endangered species list?

It's a reasonable question — possibly beyond cosmic in scope — but one answer that might resonate in our area is well represented by Fleet, the southeastern Connecticut rock band that in December took first place in the latest Mohegan Sun's "Locals Live" competition. Fleet won $5,000 and other prizes in the event, which took place over four weeks inside the casino's Wolf Den performance venue. Sixteen different acts were involved and advanced via fan text-voting until the Dec. 11 finals, when judges chose Fleet.

What those judges saw, or what curious listeners hear on the band's 2019 "Between Peace & Pressure" album, is an abundance of  joy, ambition, talent, songcraft and tangible musical dreams — most ably and eloquently performed by an actual group of musicians composing and performing on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and sax. Their liquid versatility enables them to nuance the intricacies of the band's sound — which is an all-are-welcome amalgam of many different indie-rock styles.

Indeed, while "rock 'n' roll will never die" might be too simplistic a statement for the guys in Fleet, rest assure they're committed and gifted musicians.

Fleet performs Friday at the Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly, with the similarly talented Sweet Mercy opening.

Looking to the future

"I can't speak for everyone in terms of the band Fleet for the long haul," says vocalist/guitarist songwriter Danny Fleet. "I'm always going to be playing, and of course we all want this band to succeed."

"We all have other projects we enjoy, but Fleet is probably our most creative outlet," says keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Noah Feldman, who along with Fleet leads the band. "Music is the end-all/be-all, and we'd love it to be with this band, but we're going to play no matter what project."

Fleet and Feldman are on speaker phone earlier this week, drinking late-morning coffee, and separately and together talk with a calm eloquence that indicates they think a lot about music as a philosophy to be pursued with integrity. They sound like two guys who aren't particularly interested in what critics or trends in the industry might suggest.

The other members of Fleet are bassist Noah Greenleaf, guitarist Marcus Dipollina, saxophonist Jerome King, and drummer Josh Hausman. All are veterans of the fruitful New London music scene, and almost all are also active in other musical adventures.

"We all do have different projects, and we encourage it," says Fleet, who is also a gifted percussionist who plays drums for Raddle Them Bones and I Was Left On a Mountain. Feldman also plays guitar and leads another band, Noah and the Flood, and is active in a loose aggregate of players who often participate in the "Album Tribute Night" presentations at the Strange Brew Pub in Norwich. Fleet musicians are also closely aligned (and occasionally overlap) with Llama Tsunami, Green Tea and the Sugar Cones.

The sum of all influences

Perhaps most important in all this is how incredibly strong Fleet is live, performing material from the remarkably accomplished and tuneful "Between Peace & Pressure." To hear the album is to be reminded of other acts from the players' many influences — but never at the expense of the organic Fleet identity.

"Everyone You Know" could be a song Jeff Buckley pitched to Dave Matthews. "Figure 8" lulls pleasantly with a throbbing groove and floating melody until, in a fashion that would make Scott Weiland smile, the coda erupts in grunge-y passion. The slinky, back alley vibe of "I Think I Saw a Ghost" teases with a subtle falsetto chorus. "All the Monsters" could be an anthemic effort from Coheed & Cambria's "Black Rainbow" album. And it's also a suggestion of "Between Peace and Pressure's" sustained listenability that the last tune, "Painted Wings" — with its Von Hertzen Brothers shadings — is one of the album's strongest tracks.

Fleet and Feldman are primarily responsible for bringing in respective songs, but the arrangements and contributions from each member are significant. At the core of it all is a very mature sense of sophisticated composition with strong melodies and lyrical components, with just enough structural freedom for the players to explore and improvise, particularly playing the material live.

"You know, we feel each musician should have a moment to shine, not just because they're good players but because it's so fun to see how people react to that and how it propels the song," Feldman says.

"There's a sort of roundabout approach sometimes," Fleet adds. "Each guy gets to pass the torch, musically. There's definitely a jam element, but never at the expense of the song. We want to be in the moment but also concise.

"It's because of all this that Fleet actually got together. I'd been playing a lot of drums, and I found I missed songwriting and singing, and a few years ago I happened to run into Noah at an open-mic session. We thought it would be fun to try doing some stuff together, and it worked."

With a different group of players, an early trio version of Fleet recorded a debut album, "Lightning in a Bottle," in a week and began testing the music in area clubs. Players floated in and out as was convenient and without any pressure. Eventually, the present lineup solidified, but even now it's not unusual, depending on scheduling, for Fleet to perform in a duo, three-piece or quartet format.

"There are a lot of new opportunities for musicians today that maybe didn't exist even 10 years ago," Feldman says, "and it's important to leverage the infinite routes to success that have opened up in the post-major-label world."

Spending prize money

The group has immediate strategies and, if it all works out, more general ideas for long term plans. They hope to continue a trend of higher profile gigs that has landed them, in addition to the Wolf Den and the Knick, Toad's Place in New Haven, the Hygienic in New London, and the Strange Brew Pub.

Fleet divided up some of the "Locals Live" money and put aside more to help if they can arrange a tour up and down the Eastern Seaboard. There are funds allocated for future recording projects as well as marketing and merchandise. Danny Fleet is an amateur filmmaker, and he and a childhood pal/videographer will also oversee the making of a Fleet music video in the next few months.

Feldman and Fleet also can't say enough about fans and friends of the band who "enthusiastically pitch in" on everything from merch sales to overseeing band photography to a social media platform.

It all makes sense given that, except for Feldman, who graduates college this spring, the members of Fleet all have day jobs. Work and bills are a reality — and whether Fleet ultimately becomes a "career" unto itself depends on many things, not the least of which is the fickle music biz.

"We're working on playing larger stages and bigger rooms, and really promote these shows hard," Feldman says. "We'll keep writing, of course. Maybe get added to Spotify or a streaming service. Anything to increase our visibility and add to just the experience of playing together."

"Basically," Fleet adds, "this band has heart and potential, and we'd love to see where it takes us."

If you go

Who: Fleet with Sweet Mercy

When: 8 p.m. Friday, doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Knickerbocker Music Center, 35 Railroad Ave., Westerly

How much: $10

For more information: (401) 315-5070, thebandfleet.com

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