Rahil Ashruff

Makin Waves with The Happy Fits: 2022 Makin Waves Band of the Year

They toured Europe in support of their third (and best) LP, Under the Shade of Green, released in August on AWAL Records; continued to drop a barrage of fantastic, funny videos in support of it, and got some national press as a result. Hence, the Hunterdon County-based trio The Happy Fits are the 2022 Makin Waves Band of the Year.

For 24 years as part of the annual Makin Waves Awards, the rest of which are announced closer to Christmas, the top prize has gone to the independent New Jersey band who made the most waves. The Happy Fits are among such great company as Whirling Dervishes, Big Nurse, Nudeswirl, Well of Souls, Lowlight, Nalani & Sarina, The Outcrops, Dentist, and Nefesh Mountain. 

Having toured endlessly for the past six years, they will continue to do so throughout the East Coast this month, including stops in Washington, DC, Boston, December 17 at NYC’s Webster Hall and December 18 at Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts. On behalf of guitarist Ross Monteith and drummer Luke Davis, vocalist-cellist Calvin Langman chatted with me about the many more waves The Happy Fits will be makin. 

Your latest album, Under the Shade of Green, was released at the end of this summer by AWAL Recordings America about a year after the label was sold by Kobalt Music Group to Sony Music Entertainment. Does that make The Happy Fits a major label act or still independent?

We are still independent and own our masters!

What is Sony’s role in The Happy Fits operation?

They own our independent label, AWAL, but Sony directly has not been involved in the release of Under the Shade of Green

Has AWAL helped your team grow The Happy Fits into an international act? If not, what and who has?

AWAL’s network has been really great to us. They provide us great marketing strategies, social media best practices to follow, and, of course, funding to execute our more ambitious, projects like our two recent music videos for “Little One” and “In The Lobby.” One of the key things to have aided our growth was AWAL’s connection to In2une, a music management and promotion company that helped get our music on SiriusXM’s AltNation. The best thing about AWAL is that they allow us to release our music exactly as we want it to be and do not influence our creative decisions. 

What was your favorite part of touring England earlier this year?

Manchester was an amazing night for us. They don’t really have AC there, and the sound pollution laws are pretty strict, so the windows are closed during all performances in most small venues, like Night & Day where we played. We packed the hell out of that place and after 300 kids get dancing for an hour, it got steamy in there. The windows fogged up around three songs in and were condensing like it was raining indoors by the end of the set. 

Have you toured anywhere else in Europe? If so, what did you enjoy most about that? If not, do you plan to and when?

We played three shows in the UK in Glasgow, Manchester, and London, and then one show in Berlin. Berlin was an amazing show and probably our favorite on that first European run. The people were amazing to us – even the promoter and sound guy, who we met the day of the show – came out for drinks with us until like 3:00 a.m. after the show. Something like that hasn’t even happened to us in the States!

What have you liked most about writing, recording, and performing Under the Shade of Green?

I like the fact that this album has a ton more lead cello parts. It’s so much fun to be able to rip a sick cello solo or riff and have people jam out to it live. We got extremely creative trying to find the right overdriven cello tone, and I think we ended up recording some pretty unique cello parts. 

What’s your favorite video from the album and why?

I’m biased because I produced it, but probably “In The Lobby.” The music video idea for “In the Lobby’” has been a long time coming, and I knew from before the album concept had fully formed, I wanted to make a video showing how simply a-moralistic government lobbying is. 

You make really great, fun videos. Do you always work with the same production team? If so, who are they, and what do you like most about working with them? If not, how have the various video producers you’ve worked with help to expand the band’s following? 

We change it up a lot. For this album, I produced the videos “Changes,” “Little One,” and “In the Lobby” with the help of my good friend Chris Pasi and Pivot Films. Our music video for “Dance Alone” was our first music video filmed in L.A. with Far Fetched Productions and Rahil Ashruff, who also produced “Get A Job” and “What Could Be Better” for our second album. For “Around and Around” and “Do Your Worst,” we worked with Joe Lee and Christian Strevy who also produced our “She Wants Me” music video for LP2. 

We know that each producer we work with has a different vibe, so we usually go with whoever we think will nail our vision the best. The music videos have been great in building what the fans call ‘Happy Fits Lore,’ so it’s a lot of fun when the fans engage with us as if we’re the aloof, clueless characters from the videos. 

How does Under the Shade of Green compare to 2020’s What Could Be Better, 2018’s Concentrate, and the 2016 debut EP, Awfully Apeelin?

Our first EP and first two LPs were very much our coming-of-age diaries. Under the Shade of Green was written over the pandemic in the middle of a tumultuous and traumatic time for the entire world. The songs on Under the Shade of Green are less about trying to tell stories from our lives and more about processing the negativity in the world around us. It’s an album targeted towards Gen Z, who, like us, feel an incredible amount of stress, responsibility, and hope towards attacking the climate crisis head on and building a more equitable, empathetic future.  

While The Happy Fits remain silly and fun, especially live and in your videos, with each of your albums, you’ve matured musically and lyrically, but Under the Shade of Green is the biggest jump yet. Would you agree with that, and if so, besides being a bit older and wiser, what contributes most to your maturation?

I definitely agree with that. This album isn’t necessarily to insert normative statements about what we think the world should be but rather trying to process emotional and visceral damage of being born into a broken world. There is a massive cognitive dissonance in our generation where we see extreme weather and inequality intensifying every year, yet at the same time, need to hustle within the system to get dinner on the table. 

Are you still based in Hunterdon County? If so, what’s the best part of coming home after touring extensively and why? If not, where are you based and why did you move there?

Ross and Luke are still based in Hunterdon County, but I just moved right across the border to Easton, Pennsylvania. Rent was more affordable there and we got a sick space to store all the band equipment, fan art, and studio gear. I think we all look forward to just sleeping in our own beds when we get back from tour and seeing our families. 

The Happy Fits have released a record every other year for the past six years and then toured heavily in support of each. You didn’t seem to take much of a break at all between the last two albums and their tours. What impact has that had on close relationships, have those relationships remained supportive of your musical endeavors, and does that support help the band keep on keepin’ on?

Luke has been dating his current girlfriend for seven years and I have been with my girlfriend for six. We did long distance for five years before moving in together this year. They are for sure our rock; they offer us nothing but infinite support, understanding, and patience of our abnormal schedules and work life. 

The annual Makin Waves Band of the Year Award goes to the independent New Jersey band that toured most extensively in support of a superior new album that generated the most impactful singles and professionally made videos and garnered at least a bit of national press. How does it feel to have won the 2022 Makin Waves Band of the Year Award? 

It is such an honor! I can’t wait to hang this article up in our fan art/accolades room at my house!

What haven’t you accomplished yet that you would like to and why?

One day, we want to run our own music festival in New Jersey. We grew up in the farms of New Jersey so we see a huge potential for an awesome music festival going down near or in our hometown, with the beautiful New Jersey sprawl as the backdrop.

What’s coming up for you at year’s end and into the new one that you would like fans to know?

We’re playing Webster Hall in NYC on December 17 and it’s going to be our largest show ever. We’re so excited to be in a room full of so many close friends and family that have supported us from the start. Most of them haven’t even seen our sick new light show, so we hope to wow them.

Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment? 

Thank you so much for having us and for your amazing, never-ending coverage of the New Jersey music scene. 

Bob Makin has produced the Makin Waves music since 1988. Follow Makin Waves on Facebook and contact Bob at makinwaves64@yahoo.com.