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Silly Sincerity: Fang Island, June 28 in Rock Island PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 25 June 2010 10:47

Fang Island

The band Fang Island -- playing the former ComedySportz location in Rock Island on Monday -- is named after a place from a story in The Onion, but it would be a mistake to infer that the band is in any way a joke. There's certainly a silliness there -- guitarist Jason Bartell admitted that many songs start with "cheesy" riffs -- but it's also nakedly sincere.

Think the unapologetically adolescent approach of Weezer, or the id arena rock of Andrew W.K. as starting points. But Fang Island benefits from having few lyrics -- and because they're generally shouted by a group, they barely register. Fusing big, bright, loud guitars, strong melodies, and some prog-rock unpredictability and complexity, the band makes a joyful noise unfettered by angst. As Pitchfork noted: "What helps Fang Island steamroll past cynicism is how 'fun' isn't just an ornament for them; it's embedded in the band's musical DNA."

"I think the best way to make music is that middle line [between] ... not taking it seriously enough and taking it way too seriously ... ," Bartell said in a phone interview this week. "It comes down to honesty in some ways." The band needs to pursue its aims "in a very pure way," he added.

Fang Island was formed in 2005 from a pair of independent-study rock-band projects at the Rhode Island School of Design. Bartell was part of the non-Fang Island band -- a moody, dark project with his brother that resulted in a concept album based on the Mad Max movies. Bartell said he got an A, and the Fang Island guys got a B-plus. "I think they were really impressed" with his grade, he joked, and they asked him to join.

"It was just instant recognition of the idea, and what the idea could then do," Bartell said of that early version of the band. "It was one of those moments where I had a million ideas instantly. It felt really new. There was a lot of stuff in it that I felt I wasn't hearing in a lot of music at the time."

While there have been personnel changes -- a new drummer and a third guitarist joined the band for its self-titled album (released in February) -- "the core things have never really changed," Bartell said.

Fang Island was a buzz band at this year's South by Southwest festival, and it's been tapped to open for the Flaming Lips on seven dates in July. "It's a complete unknown factor to me at this point," Bartell said of those impending shows. "We just played a show last night that was probably 100-person capacity ... and then in 10 days, we're going to be playing an 8,000-person capacity. There's no way to fully prepare for that kind of thing."

Bartell said he is petrified by the prospect, but it should be noted that he was similarly spooked by a 2007 performance in front of a kindergarten class; he said he's a bit scared of kids. "I ended up treating it in my head as a normal show, which I know now is just insane," he said. "In the [YouTube] video, it looks like everyone there is having this crazy good time, but the only thing I could see right directly in front of me was this line of kids that were standing completely motionless, looking straight at me, with not sad faces, but I'd say uninterested faces."

They were certainly in the minority. Fang Island makes music with a glee that grade-schoolers can appreciate, and Bartell's assessment seems spot-on: "We're the last-day-of-school band."

Fang Island will perform a show on Monday, June 28, at the venue previously housing ComedySportz (1818 Third Avenue in Rock Island). Paleface will also play, and the all-ages show begins at 7 p.m. Cover is $7.

To listen to Fang Island's session, click here.

For more information on Fang Island, visit or

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