Fringe Character: A Real Life Band

The internet is a glorious tool for the modern musician. Someone stranded in the boonies is now able to build a following thanks to things like Soundcloud. They can submit their music to taste makers thanks to e-mail. They can enter competitions, collaborate with others, sell their albums, all because of the internet. That being said, if you aren't careful, the internet can consume your artistry, shifting your focus away from that which really matters and towards the superficial. More and more these days you see artists who are more concerned with favorites and retweets than they are with the quality of their content. You know the type, those out there who are promising new content provided a certain post gets a certain amount of a retweets or what have you. To a certain extent, such tactics have become the marketing tools of the trade. But at the same time, shouldn't new music be released when new music has been inspired?  

What's worse is that people have begun to understand one's internet prowess as indicative of the quality of one's music. People think that a track with less than 1,000 plays is inherently bad. Or maybe the number for you is 10,000 plays or 100,000. Everyone's standards are different but the practice of writing music off based on largely meaningless numbers is constant. But the fact of the matter is that, while there may be a correlation between good music and a solid internet following, there is no causation between the two. Good music does not guarantee a large following nor does bad music guarantee a small following. Take, for example, Fringe Character. Fringe Character is an ever-evolving collection of genre-bending musicians located in Madison, Wisconsin. 

If there was a causation between quality of music and followers, Fringe Character would have more followers than Jesus. Instead, they currently have 446 likes on Facebook, 135 Twitter followers, 133 Soundcloud followers, 6 YouTube subscribers, and no other social media to speak of. Their latest album Mint has been supported by three individuals on Bandcamp. As far as the internet is concerned, my music is more popular than theirs and I haven't released a single song. 

Because of how the internet has trained me, I assumed their lack of a strong social media presence meant they were just getting their start as musicians. I saw they were from Madison and guessed that they were a couple of college kids who met at the University of Wisconsin freshman year and decided to make music together. That's what the internet does, it provides you with just enough information to construct an assumed reality such that you are no longer concerned with finding out the truth. As it would turn out, Fringe Character is composed of a host of musicians who have been making music almost as long as I've been alive.  

Merging the lyricism of hip hop and soul with electronic production and the focus on live instrumentation and improvisation of jazz, they have created a genre they call "nuelectrosoulhop." That being said, their sound is so fluid that even such a broad classification fails to do their music justice. It's that focus on live performance that makes them especially unique. Rather than program a beat in Ableton, email it across the country to have a verse added, and upload it to Soundcloud, their core four spend hours jamming on real life instruments. Once they have a kernel they want to pursue, they bring the full crew in to mold it into a song they can add to their live sets. If it went over well live, they make some additional tweaks to adapt it to a studio setting before eventually recording it. 

Fringe Character makes music to be performed first and uploaded last and the result is glorious. While other musicians have thousands of Soundcloud followers but can't fill a venue, Fringe Character fills venues with little to no internet following. They are the antithesis of the Soundcloud rapper, they are musicians. Read on, press play when prompted, and, if you enjoy their music, spread it as far as you can because they certainly won't be tweeting about Mint anytime soon.

Who all make up the members of Fringe Character?

Turnt Vonnegut: This is Turnt Vonnegut I am the producer, guitar player, lead wrangler.

Daewong: I’m Daewong. I’m one of the two emcees, I play a little guitar, and help with some beat making etc.

Dudu Stinks: This is Dudu Stinks, I’m the other emcee. I write rhymes and inspire the muse.

GregB: GregB, I sing and hype the crowd. Yeah.

Turnt Vonnegut: Alex Charland – tenor saxophone. He is a beast.

Dudu Stinks: Craig Walkner – drums. Also a beast.

Turnt Vonnegut: DOUBLE BEAST!  

Daewong: Then you got Mark The Professor on trombone. He’s literally a professor.

Dudu Stinks: Yanni plays the samples and Max is blasting the trumpet.

Turnt Vonnegut: We got Jeff Lange on bass and Erik Anderson “E-rock” on keys. Did we miss anyone?

Dudu Stinks: Michael on the other -bone.

Turnt Vonnegut: And Micheal, -bone two.

OK-Tho: Is that everyone?

Turnt Vonnegut: Yes, that is… everyone? Yeah.

How did you guys all link up to make music?

Dudu Stinks: Before I answer that question we should shout out to Meghan Rose who appears on our album in many ways. She is definitely a Fringe affiliate.

Daewong: Also left us for the big city.

Dudu Stinks: But she definitely blessed our album and our shows many times so shout out to Meghan Rose.

Turrnt Vonnegut: Shout out to former Fringe members. Nobody’s quit, they’ve all had to leave for various reasons. Shout out Brittany.

Dudu Stinks: Brittany, what up Brittany?

Turrnt VonnegutShoutout Mr. Cara, aka Red Leonard. He moved out of the area but was key to the FC genesis. Shout out Iris.

Dudu Stinks: Iris, what’s going on Iris? Alright, that’s it.

Turrnt Vonnegut: So, I have been a musician all my life. I started making music under the Fringe Character name a number of years ago. Did a little mixtape, worked with a couple artists, did the EP Some Thing Some Thought. Worked with more artists that I knew, met Dudu Stinks, Daewong and – I’ve known Daewong since I was a kid and I’ve known Dudu Stinks through the scene for a number of years. 

Basically we made music, I produced it, we released records and then one day, while me and Stinks were on our way into surgery, we decided to form a band because at that point we weren’t doing anything live. We were just recording and putting out EPs and little things. From that day I just started getting people together. Couple Craig’s List people, couple friends of friends, couple people through the scene. Just some random…

Dudu Stinks: …hook ups, Madison has got a lot of musicians in town.

Daewong: You’ve been playing in a band since you were eleven years old.

Dudu Stinks: There’s a lot of connections.

Turrnt Vonnegut: Some folks I just heard their music and reached out to them like GregB. I heard him with 2morrow’s Victory several years ago on Gilles Peterson. I was like damn, I bought the album – because I still buy music – and I bumped it a lot. I remember Greg, sending you a message something like “This shit is fire.” I kept up with him a little bit and then turns out he moved back to the States close enough where we could meet and continue to write music and work together. Totally random stuff like that. That’s kind of the abridged or unabridged version. Both.

If you could play someone three tracks to convey your sound, which three would you play?

Daewong: Oh man…

Dudu Stinks: Three tracks?

Daewong: I’m always playing people “Choices” to show people our stuff, but I don’t know if that’s really the conveyor belt for our sound.

Turrnt VonnegutI would definitely pick ones that were heavily hip hop focused and then ones that were not.

Dudu Stinks: Yeah, “Jack Sayer’s Ghost” would be on my list. “The Renaissance” would be on my list. And I think “Choices” too cause all those tracks go so far out.

Turrnt Vonnegut: I’m sure everyone has a different answer. The three tracks I would pick aren’t even released yet.

You classify your music as a mixture of hip hop, soul, and electronic or  “nuelectrosoulhop,” how does that mixture manifest itself in your music?

Daewong: Our sound is not really pinned down to one area. We have instrumental tracks, we have some dub-y kind of tracks, we have some more dance-y kind of tracks you know? We have some hip hop stuff and some straight singing stuff. It was hard to put a genre on it so we just melded a few into one magical word.

Dudu Stinks: Even as we have called it that genre, as we continue to write music, there is a case that could be made to add different descriptors to the genre. If truly the genre is trying to describe what we do, we could probably change it often. I think that’s the vibe behind the project for a start is that it changes very often and moves in different directions based on the inspiration.

OK-Tho: So it’s a dynamic, ever-changing classification?

Dudu Stinks: Yeah. What keeps it together first off is Turnt, he brings the whole thing to the table first and then we all sit down and start chopping it up. And then also, we got lucky that everyone involved is really invested in doing the best and trying to challenge the music, both on the record side and the live side.

On the live side of things everybody’s brought in, everybody is having a good time. When we kick shows we give it our all whether its five or 500 people. But, when we do the record things, mostly it’s just the four of us. In that writing and recording part. Then, the idea is to push it and make it different than what we do live so you have two separate experiences.

What other groups, if any, would you say fit into this genre you’ve created?

Turrnt Vonnegut: Yeah definitely. When I listen to Kaytranada, which has pretty much been on repeat for me the last 24 hours… If he took ten sick musicians and tried to do exactly what he does on the album live, that’s essentially what we try and do. We produce these songs that are vibing and grooving and layered and complex and then we try and turn it into a live thing. I don’t know what his live shows are like but the record is banging. I don’t know, who else?

Daewong: I like to compare us to The Roots just cause they have a full band and a couple emcees up there typically. We cover a Roots track too.

Dudu Stinks: We borrow from so many, we borrow from Outkast, we borrow from Roots, even listen to a bunch of Action Bronson and borrow a little of that.

Daewong: Yeah we do a Bronson track too occasionally.

Turrnt Vonnegut: And now with Greg rocking with us… I’m so excited that Greg lives close to us now. I’m telling you, Ian, the next album is going to be the shit. It’s going to be so good.

Dudu Stinks: That Greg element is undeniable. Like I said we gave a shout out to Meghan Rose who sang with us for a while and that added a very cool vibe because for the most part she was the only bit of female energy we had on stage so that was nice to balance out. But when we added Greg into the trap room, everything just started to take a different form. Kind of like being in a familiar place you haven’t been to yet.

Daewong: Like when you move into a new house and you have cool shit but it’s all in boxes, we finally unboxed all the things.

In other genres of music, there are distinct sub-groups. In hip hop, no one really explicitly self-identifies their sub-genre. Why do you think that is?

GregB: Can I say something? I think with hip hop its a deep thing and saying “oh yeah we do hip hop” it sort of generalizes it. On a whole, when you think of hip hop, you don’t really have a lot of emcees or vocalists who are involved in the musical aspect of it like producing or actually playing instruments. And I think it kind of gets more specific with Fringe Character because each lyrical aspect of it is actually a musical aspect. Its not just “oh we got a beat from this producer” and “okay lets write this.” Everybody is in one room, we got the horns in one room, bass, guitar you know what I mean? Its like twelve dudes in one room and we compose that thing right there.

It’s a lot more complex than two dudes just rapping over a drum beat and a bass line. When I listen to a lot of the hip hop I really liked growing up, its really simple music. You might have two sounds and drums. It’s really the bass line that sticks out. With this music you get more of that jazz influence you get more of that electronic influence where you do have to attach another genre to it because just to call it hip hop is cheating the music.

Walk me through the process of making a song from start to finish.

Daewong: It starts out with Turnt here with the late nights in the studio. He plays a lot of instruments - guitar, bass, keys, drums - so he’ll sit here and play and try and create some really cool stuff and then invite maybe me or Stinks or Greg or Yanni our samples guy to come into the studio to listen to what he’s created.

Turrnt Vonnegut: I can boil it down. Usually I start with an idea, get something happening – and its really all about timing. When it comes to writing its all about timing. If I can get the right people into the studio while the song is at a stage that is real malleable, that’s when fire happens. These songs are like building campfires. You can throw gas on it and light a fire but its going to stink like kerosene.

Dudu Stinks: Timing for sure, getting people together.

Turrnt Vonnegut: It starts with the nugget, get people together, we start massaging it. There are a few people in the group who are primary writers in terms of music, lyrics, ideas. Then, most of the stuff we record here in the trap room. There are some outside guests that we work with who come and do little things. Shout out Chance, one of the ex-Fringe Character members. I’m a producer, Ill work with anyone who writes. Come into the studio, we vibe, we do something, we write something, we record something and then we play it live that’s how we roll.

Daewong: But the live song turns completely different in comparison to what we record. We’ll record it, send it out to the crew and then we will try and evolve it into a live band song which then can lead to changing the original song on the album.

Dudu Stinks: I always want to rewrite.

Daewong: Which is typical, we make it, we listen to it, we put it out, the band does it, we like it, we play it live, then we record it and it turns into a whole different type of thing. What do you think Greg?

GregB: Yeah, I think it’s actually deep. Even coming in for the Mint album, I actually got sent a lot of tracks at real early stages. It will be just a loop or maybe a couple layers and someone singing really simple. I would add my lyrics and then by the time they send it back - even if the lyrics I sent were just me messing around - the emcees would just feed off of that and then it would become an entire idea. That’s the benefit of the situation we got. You can have a sketch in your mind and it will spark something from an emcee or spark something from the horn section and it makes it a whole idea.

Turrnt Vonnegut: The amount of creativity around here, with these people and the people that we hang with, its like a waterfall. All you have to do is stick out a cup and it’s flowing over. We can’t capture it fast enough.

What is the significance of the Mint’s title and cover art?

Turrnt Vonnegut: Mint is an acronym. It’s many acronyms. “Moon In Near Transit”

Dudu Stinks: Or “May I Now Think.”

Turrnt Vonnegut: “Maybe I Need This.” It’s kind of whatever you want it to be. The cover art makes reference obviously to the “Catch a Tiger” song.

Dudu Stinks: The music is kind of like a tiger as well. When you get in front of it, it’s exciting and you might be creeping through not knowing that its there and it could suddenly jump on you and attack you. Which is similar to how we vibe live and even how we come up with tracks. There’s been many occasions where we spend three hours together and it goes from soup to nuts and you’ve been pounced on by that tiger. Boom there you are. And, I don’t know, I like green. It’s the heart chakra and it represents duality and the ability to connect with other human beings.

If Mint could talk, what would it say?

Turrnt Vonnegut: It would say “Come on baby, take the time to know me.”

Dudu Stinks: I think it would ask a question. Maybe, “Would you like to see?”

Turrnt Vonnegut: “Which pill, red pill…blue pill?”

Dudu Stinks: “Do you want to see?” or “Can I show you something?”

Turrnt Vonnegut: It’s an introduction.

Dudu Stinks: I don’t know if it would declare a statement rather than extend an invitation.

Why did you decide not to specify who contributed what where on the track listing?

Turrnt Vonnegut: Its on the physical album, all the writers get credit. Anyone who wrote got credit on the album. The whole feature shit is confusing to me. We just put out songs, there’s singers there’s emcees you know. I think the features stuff is just an industry thing.

Daewong: We did it on the two tracks that had basically only that person on vocals. Every other track has at least two or more.

Turrnt Vonnegut: Plus, Red Leonard does his own thing, he releases his own music. I suppose that makes sense. But you guys do too, you know what I mean? It’s weird.

Dudu Stinks: We do too but we are affiliated with this project.

GregB: I think the tight thing about Fringe Character is that it’s more of an idea than a band. When you think of Fringe Character you don’t have a picture of twelve guys, it’s the idea, it’s the acronym. The sound is everything. Not having “okay we got this person on saxophone on this track, we got Stinks on this one emceeing.” It’s really a group. I’ve been a part of certain groups where it’s every man for themselves. 

The thing that really has me hooked on Fringe Character is that everybody is just down. Not to be cliché but, everybody is down for the cause of making this music. I’m bringing everything I can bring, the other emcees are bringing everything they can bring. Even down to the horn players, the drummer, the sample player. If there is somebody up there playing the shaker he’s not playing shaker for himself he’s just bringing the vibe. I think that’s a really powerful thing. That’s really the essence, when you say a band, its not like one dude playing a guitar it’s a bunch of guys for one cause.

Dudu Stinks: That’s so real. I’ve been rhyming for twenty years which tells you my age a little bit but I’ve been in bands for 18 years. I’ve been in four different outfits and this one, like the previous three, had the unique ability for folks to be able to work together and people, like Greg says, putting it out there and contributing. It sounds like a small thing and it sounds like it should be no duh but there have been some real promising bands who played a couple of shows, did a couple of good things, but then the attitudes, the egos, and the inability to get together just flatten the whole thing. 

GregB: That’s so big man. When you even look at all this craziness that’s happening, they are trying to pin a race or they trying to pin separation between everybody. Even me, I play in church, seeing so many musicians, even in the church room everybody is like “Oh I’m with this church” or “I’m with this church” or “I’m with this band” or “I’m with this group.” Man, its just so tight to get people to just be on one accord in a time like today when you got Facebook, everybody has their own site, everybody is a superstar: “I got a thousand likes” “I got a thousand followers.” I really appreciate you guys. We can come together and it don’t matter how many likes I got, it don’t matter how many followers I got, we here for the Fringe that’s tight to me.

As you know, one need not “be dismayed by goodbyes as a farewell is needed in order to meet again.” When will listeners meet Fringe Character again?

Daewong: I would love to get something out soon, next year at the latest. We’ve contemplated doing a little something, a little side project, me and Stinks, you know four or five hip hop tracks. We have lots of things in the bag of tricks. Another full album, hopefully next year.