Members of The Fritz could have been content where they were. The band was a big deal in Jacksonville, Florida, where some of the guys had met at the University of North Florida. Local fans poured into shows. They had a great area following. Life was pretty good.
“We were comfortable,” says Jamar Woods, the group’s lead vocalist and keyboardist. “But we needed to change; to grow. We had gotten a bit spoiled in Jacksonville. We needed a different environment that would push us.”
On July 1, 2011, the members rolled into North Carolina—specifically Waynesville. “We all lived in a house together,” Jamar says. “We could get a lot more house there for the money.”
The time together in one house allowed the members to grow closer, musically and as friends. Jamie Hendrickson (guitar, vocals) and Jake O’Conner (bass, vocals) had started the band several years previously in Fort Myers. Then while at UNF, Jamar says he and Mike Tillis (drums) got phone calls from Jamie and Jake about playing together.
“I didn’t know those guys at all,” Jamar says. “I knew of them. I had seen them around.” Jamar was into jazz and classical music at UNF and the other guys were in the music program, too. “We all just clicked,” Jamar says. Eventually, Mike Evans (percussion, vocals) joined the group and The Fritz was in full force.
The band’s sound can be best described as funk, but the members come at it with lots of different influences. “We include some complex jazz elements,” Jamar says, “but the main question we ask is, ‘Can you dance to this?’”
The members have recently been doing more writing as a group. The composition process is important. “It’s about tempo and feeling,” Jamar says. “We stage test the songs to see what the crowd reaction is. And as musicians, we dance, too. We want a song that has a good groove so we can move around. So we revise songs all the time to get them to where we want them.”
That songwriting process has led to the band’s recent album, Bootstrap, recorded at Crooked Tree Studio northeast of Tampa. “Our executive producer was Jake Hunter,” Jamar explains, “and that’s his studio.” Recording the new album was a lot of work and like a vacation at the same time. “We had so much space,” Jamar says. “The environment was stress-free and relaxed. But we put in 14-hour recording days. We did it in shifts. We had allotted 10 days between two gigs as the time we could spend down there, so we had to be efficient. It was a great experience, and we’re happy with the end result.”
That result is a nine-track album of about an hour in length, many songs being long grooves. More than half the tracks, in fact, come in at seven minutes or more. The CD offers a lot of energy, which Jamar says he feels captures the live energy of the band. “We had a small listening party recently,” he says, “and it’s the first time I heard the album from start to finish. There’s so much diversity. The song selection is cohesive. We’re really happy with this album.”
Local fans will get a chance to see the band perform live Friday, April 12, at Asheville Music Hall (31 Patton Ave.). Jamar says the set list will include all the songs on the album plus new stuff, old stuff, and a few covers as well. “We’ll make sure it flows well and that people can have a good time.” The band will be back in action in Asheville May 25 at the Mountain Sports Festival at Carrier Park.
The band is feeling comfortable with its home base in Asheville. And yes, the members have all moved into the city from Waynesville. “We kind of split up and live all over the city now,” Jamar says, “River Arts District, South Asheville, West Asheville, downtown.” The guys are happy to be part of what they call an “exceptional” music scene. “This place has some tightly knit musicians all with a solid reputation,” Jamar says. The members are grateful to be around such tremendous influences, including funk legends, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band. “We’ve learned so much from those guys,” Jamar says. “And we’ve been blessed to share the stage with them.”
Their Asheville location makes them more centrally located to the Southeast than they were in Florida, and to the whole East Coast, too. Jamar says they hope that allows them to expand their base. Perhaps the new album will gain them a few more fans, too. Jamar recounts a story about an email sent to them by a fan. “This guy bought his father our first album,” he says, “and they really bonded over that. So then he came to see us recently and picked up the new album and he said he was so thankful to us for putting out music that he and his dad could always enjoy together.” Jamar pauses to compose himself. “That’s what it’s all about. That impact. It’s a special opportunity to have an impact in someone’s life.”
Likewise, he says the fans have had a major impact on the lives of the band members. “They helped us buy our van through a Kickstarter campaign. They come to the shows. They buy the albums. We’re just so thankful for our fans. And so as soon as we step on stage, the business side of what we do is dismissed. It’s all for the crowd at that point. We become the music.”
For more information about The Fritz and to stream the new album, visit thefritzmusic.com.