Faux Fiction is bringing fresh perspective to the scene

Gabby Kartz wasn’t anywhere near the sound of her alt-power pop band Faux Fiction two years ago. True, she was dabbling in music, along with her husband Jason Kartz, but her inclinations were acoustic, not rock ‘n’ roll.

Then, they went to a Queens of the Stone Age concert. Gabby says it was like a switch flipped in her mind.

“After that point, I was like, ‘I kind of should be playing electric guitar and writing rock music instead,” she says.

The couple hit the ground running, building off musical ideas with their guitars in the living room. Shortly after, drummer Paul Tyree came aboard after listening to some of Gabby and Jason’s demos, and he recruited the group’s bassist, Peter Hair. That quartet is now Faux Fiction — named, the couple says, because it just sounded cool.

Two years after its formation, the band has recorded its first full-length album at Howl Street Studios, Staring at the Sun, and will be celebrating that accomplishment with an album release party at Riverwest Public House June 17. Before the show, WiG had the opportunity to chat with Gabby and Jason Kartz about their band name, ’90s inspiration, their upcoming show, and their fresh perspective within the Milwaukee music scene.

Who came up with the name of the band and what’s the meaning behind it?

Gabby Kartz: I really liked the “FF” iteration (and) I really like the word “faux,” so we were trying to figure out a combination of words that both started with F. It seems to work for other well-known bands (laughs). It was kind of just the process of trial and error. We went over a couple different options. I think Paul (Tyree) had suggested Space Tiger as one of the options one time. This was just a collaborative thing like, “Oh yeah. This sounds pretty cool.” It’s funny because it’s kind of a double negative. It makes it kind of fun. I didn’t want anything overly complicated to say or spell or find or anything too serious.

Jason Kartz: It’s a simple and stupid name.

GK: (laughs) Yeah pretty much.

You released your self-produced, self-titled EP in June of last year. What was the experience making that record like and how has the response influenced Staring at the Sun?

GK: The big driver I think for doing it ourselves first was fun. Because it takes a long time to save up to be able to go to a real studio. It just takes a whole chunk of time and money.

JK: We were super impatient and just wanted to get some music out. We ended up doing a seven song EP and we probably could’ve done shorter, but we just wanted to put music out. At that point, we wanted music up to get gigs, start getting our name out, and start playing.

We benefit from having a studio-recorded sound and I think Shane at Howl Street really helped us that. I think he was one of the best people for us locally to work with to help get across what we sound live and I’m really happy with it.

There’s been a resurgence of ’90s-inspired music lately, and you’ve said that you are trying to bring a fresh perspective to that sound, focusing on the alternative power pop influences from that decade. Could you explain that in more detail?  

GK: We have so many influences that we just take bits and pieces from different genres that we like and blend them all together. There’s a lot of indie rock in the city and I feel like there’s a lot of hip-hop that’s really great right now. While they’re both things that I love, I feel like what we’re doing sounds a little bit different. I don’t know if it’s because there’s the mix of the female vocals and all the really thick, fuzzy guitars, so I don’t know if that’s what does it.

If you listen to our album, there’s such a spread of the way the songs sound. It’s not like you listen to it and every song sounds similar. I don’t like keeping our sound in a box. I like the idea that we can explore different genres and sounds and incorporate them into our music. … We decided from the very beginning that whatever we write is what we write. We’re not going to try to steer it in a specific direction.

JK: I think the descriptors we gave were after we decided what the hell we sound like. For me, my main era is the early ‘90s. It’s when Nirvana broke through and when bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam broke through. That was a defining era for me when I was real young. That stuck with me and that’s been engrained in how I play and the kind of music I come up with. It’s kind of funny. There seems to be like a lot touring acts that seem to be throwbacks to grunge or early ‘90s indie rock. I don’t know if this is just the music I’m listening to personally, but I know a lot of female-fronted (band) that kind of have that early ‘90s sound these days.

GK: It’s really cool. I like it.

JK: It’s nothing that we personally did. We just happen to be doing the same thing. We’re just doing the music that we grew up listening to and continue to do that regardless whatever the trends are going to be locally or nationally.

 

You’ve been gaining momentum over the last couple of years by playing several area festivals. How have the experiences playing at those festivals shaped you as artists?

GK: I think it’s just been cool getting asked to play things because we didn’t really play any festivals (in 2014). It was kind of hard because we didn’t start playing shows until late January of 2015. Nobody really knew who we were and we didn’t have any music available online so it was hard to book gigs and to get on bigger festivals like that when you don’t have any of that stuff available to people.

This year we’ve actually been asked to play some things, which was really unexpected because I still feel like people don’t really know who we are or know what we sound like. All of the festivals that we are currently on, the only one we looked into ourselves was the Milwaukee Punk Fest and that’s in August.

It makes you feel really good when people like your music enough to say, “Hey, I’m booking this event and we want you to be a part of it.” In Milwaukee, sometimes it’s hard to get people to come out to a show, especially when you’re playing pretty frequently in the area. We’ve been trying to pull back from playing Milwaukee so much because even when you got your friends coming out to shows, nobody wants to come see you every single weekend (laughs). When you do a big festival, it just has a natural draw of people.

JK: When you’re playing a show like that, in front of a larger audience … there’s a natural reaction you see when people come and tell you that they really like your music. You can tell it’s coming from a genuine place. If they didn’t like your music, they wouldn’t come up and say anything to you. You wouldn’t see the crowd react. It’s actually kind of flabbergasting when you play some of these shows and people are dancing and moving. It helps us put on a better show (laughs).

Let’s talk about the full-length album. What’s the inspiration behind Staring at the Sun?

GK: Seven of the songs are from the EP that we recorded and we added five additional songs that were previously unrecorded. We were originally thinking of titling the album Good Things. That was the last track that’s on the album. But I think the overall tone of the album is not really reminiscent of good things (laughs).

Sometimes when something’s bothering you, if you can just get it out on a piece of paper and turn it into a song, it just turns that not-so-happy or negative experience into something that you can be excited about because you just wrote this awesome song out of it. But yeah, I think it was just playing around with heavier sounds. Previous to Faux Fiction, I never played an electric guitar. I never owned an amp. I never owned any guitar pedals. … So it was fun exploring all those tones from trying to emulate certain sounds and discovering other ones.

How excited are you to finally be launching this album that you’ve been working on for such a long time?

GK: I’m really excited about it. It’s been a long time coming. … I’m excited we’re playing with two acts we haven’t before ever: The Midwest Beats, who are fantastic, and Myles Coyne, who’s also absolutely fantastic. They really have great sounds to match with ours so we think it’s going to be a really awesome show.