‘Reggaenomics,” a new album by Connecticut jazz-punk band Fat Randy, establishes a central character — a sort of liberal, self-righteous, Trump-opposed idealist — and then unceremoniously knocks the stuffing out of him.
“I’m looking forward to being on the right side of history,” singer-guitarist Stephen Friedland sings, full-smarm, on “I’m Looking Forward,” amid distorted guitars and crash cymbals.
“How’s it going? How ya doing? What mental gymnastics do you do to justify the sh*t you’re covered in?” (Language-wise, that’s probably the cleanest passage I can cite.) Shots fired. The music is sticky — try not humming the chorus, once you’ve heard it — but also repellent: Who’s right? Who’s Wrong?
“It’s about a narrator’s ideological discrepancies,” says Friedland, “navigating how to figure oneself out, when you see that you’re clearly left-leaning but kind of full of sh*t, when push comes to shove.”
Three members of Fat Randy (Friedland, bassist Steve Kolakowski and drummer Connor Lucey) met at UConn. (Friedland and Lucey graduated in 2016; Kolakowski is currently a senior.) Saxophonist Evan Horn added parts to “Reggaenomics” and never left.
At UConn, Friedland was a staff columnist for the Daily Campus, where wrote opinion pieces about national politics, privacy issues, college costs and other subjects. Some opinions came more easily than others.
“It was nice to get paid a small amount of money to figure out how I felt about things,” he says. “I did have to qualify why I felt a certain way, and that was validating. I wanted to be able to do that through [music], too.”
With a different bassist, Friedland and Lucey played house shows for campus hipsters — not really Friedland’s crowd, but people he’d probably get along with now.
“There were four non-school related places to play at UConn: two houses, a garage in Renwood Apartments [in Mansfield],” Friedland says. “That’s the nature of it. It’s kind of ephemeral.”
The band’s sound, he says, was “worse, not very developed. ... There were inklings of it.”
After graduation, Lucey moved to Malden, Mass. The rest of the band still lives in Connecticut.
“We make it work,” Friedland says. “Part of the reason I was so gung-ho about touring was because I just wanted to be able to practice and play together in a consistent, consolidated period of time. That speaks to how little we actually get together.”
“Reggaenomics” was recorded at Wooly Mammoth Sound in Waltham, with engineer David Mineham. It was released at the end of December 2017. Fat Randy spent the first half of January touring the East Coast from Massachusetts to Tennessee and back.
“They gave us free loaded baked potatoes,” Friedland says. “One person was a former neo-Nazi that lived off of 40s [40-ounce malt liquor beverages]. There were a lot of places [on tour] that make me feel better about the way that I live, which is terrible.”
As a songwriter, Friedland relies on external prodding. “I tend to sit on ideas for a while,” he says. “I’ve got other people who say, ‘We need some songs,’so I'll write some songs. The fact that there’s this extrinsic motivator gets me to do something.”
Like opinion pieces, he views songs as vehicles for communicating his ideas to others. “I view writing songs as this extrinsic thing. I don’t really write for myself.”
“I take philosophy cause I don’t have career ambitions,” Friedland howls on the frantic “Super Best Greatest Day Ever,” where comically fast riffs alternate with cleanly layered guitars. (The following song, “If I Were Not Diogenes (I, too, Would Wish to be Diogenes),” references an actual Greek philosopher.)
The album has a lot of audible stitching; songs segue from one to the next, with surreal, spoken-word skits where you’d flip a vinyl LP. Voices enter and exit on “Trickle Dub Policy” (“Welcome! Any idea what the album is going to sound like?”), like greeters at a fun house.
Friedland wanted “Reggaenomics” to have 12 tracks, because there are 12 tracks on Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 album “Appetite for Destruction.” (At 10, he’d decided that 12 was the perfect number of tracks.)
“One thing I don’t like about rock [music] now is that it’s kind of humorless,” says Friedland. “That lack of subversion, or at least an attempt at subversion, is why the genre is really losing relevance. It’s very self-serious, but I ideally wanted to say ‘f*ck that.’”