By Matt Wickstrom
While at Suwannee Springfest, I got the opportunity to sit down with Kellen Asebroek (rhythm guitar, piano, vox) and Jay Cobb Anderson (lead guitar, harmonica, vox) of Portland folk-rockers Fruition to discuss their humble beginnings, Red Rocks, new album, and much more.
Matt Wickstrom: How’d you each get started playing music?
Kellen Asebroek: “My parents put me into piano lessons when I was in kindergarten or first grade. I always hated reading music, so I’d memorize what the teacher played and just repeat it back. That worked for about three years.”
“I switched to guitar around fifth grade because I didn’t think piano was cool, and I was interested in being cool. I’ve come to learn the err of my ways.”
Jay Cobb Anderson: ”I listened to my dad’s record collection growing up. I was enamoured with the Beatles and Rolling Stones. When I was eight my best friend moved away. I listened to the Beatles ‘In My Life’ on repeat on a cassette, crying non-stop thinking my world was coming to an end at age eight. It was my first time being moved by music.”
“I also remember watching the Beatles’ film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. The beginning of the movie where there’s a bunch of girls chasing him, I didn’t know why at the time, made me want to get a guitar. I asked for one for my tenth birthday and got one.”
“It was ukelele-sized and impossible to tune. I went to lessons for a year and learned how to read music. My dad would always ask my teacher, ‘How’s the boy doing?’”
“In the end my teacher Tim Hines would say something like, ‘Dan, you’ve got to get him a real guitar. I have no idea how he’s doing. He seems like he’s learning but he’s always out of tune…’”
“I eventually got another guitar. I was bored with reading music, just as Kellen was. I began seeing this guy who taught me how to recognize notes with my ears. From that point on I started playing a lot. I got into my first band when I was 15 and started writing songs, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
MW: You guys formed the band during a busking session, right?
JCA: “I don’t think we thought anything of it at the time, except that it was super fun and natural.”
KA: “Singing together was so fun. It incited laughter every time.”
JCA: “It was so easy. Everything naturally fell into place. Not just with vocals, but with instrumentation too.”
MW: One thing that got my attention was how similar Fruition’s path was starting out to Old Crow Medicine Show, who too got started out busking.
JCA: “Old Crow was a huge inspiration to us. I wasn’t even into bluegrass or anything like that with fiddles in it until I moved to Portland and began hearing similar music. Old Crow helped us realize that we could accomplish our dreams.”
KA: “Our first album we put out was like one big living room jam, similar to what those guys do. There’s an Old Crow record we heard, I believe ‘O.C.M.S.’, where you can tell they’re all just standing very close around a mic playing.”
JCA: “The mic’s not even placed well.”
KA: “It sounds terrible, but catches the vibe perfectly.”
MW: Speaking of albums, you guys have a new one, ‘Labor of Love’, coming out in April.
KA: “I can honestly say it’s been three of four years in the making, because some of the songs on it we’ve been playing for that long, and it was time to give those tunes studio justice.”
JCA: “There are other songs on the album that are completely brand new and experimental. We’d take existing pieces we had and changed them around from what their original idea was.”
“It was a fun but frustrating process. We didn’t give ourselves any deadlines. We recorded all with our own money. It was great to have the time, but we were always running out of money. We’d make more and then go back to record another session until money ran dry, then go play some shows, and so on.”
KA: “Recording and mixing went on for two years alone.”
MW: Where’d you record ‘Labor of Love’ at?
KA: “Cloud City Sound in Portland with our buddy Justin Phelps. That was the other thing that made it so easy having off-and-on recording sessions; the studio was only three miles from our house.”
“The last album we did (before ‘Labor of Love’) we drove down to a studio, set aside a week, and that was it. We had to pound out the album in that time, and mixing could take however long. You’ve got this goal, and if you don’t get it done oh well, that’s your album.”
MW: This summer you guys have your second Red Rocks show coming up with JJ Grey and Mofro and Infamous Stringdusters. What do you have to say about the iconic venue?
KA: “What can you say, it’s Red Rocks!”
JCA: “We’re stoked, honored, and humbled to get the chance to go back. Last summer we made our debut there with Greensky Bluegrass and Yonder Mountain String Band. Being at Red Rocks is like being on Mars.”
MW: How has Portland and the northwest U.S. influenced Fruition?
KA: “Every area has their own distinct cultures. The west coast has taught us to be ok with living with six people in a house and going on tour in northern California in a tiny SUV, throwing all caution to the wind.”
JCA: “The west feels so much free-er. There’s more open country. You also get that rainy, cloudy darkness that’s surrounding everything.
“Grunge music got its start around here too, so there’s an underlying dirty, gritty rock tones, which I feel has influenced me a lot.”
MW: You two, along with Mimi Naja, do the band’s songwriting. How do your styles of writing vary, if at all?
JCA: We’re all into different music, and our writing reflects that. However, when we bring our work to the group we try to make it a part of Fruition, which usually ties in with vocals. Our processes for writing are all similar, and some of us write more than others…”
KA: “What he’s saying is he’s written thousands of songs. Seriously, he’s a song factory.”
JCA: “I have written a lot, but not thousands. I might be around 400 now.”
MW: How many of those end up making it onto Fruition records or setlists for live shows?
KA: “There’s a good amount of songs we play that aren’t on records or anything, but are rather just a piece to the puzzle. It’s great to have so many songs. Some of them work for Fruition, and others are better suited for solo work or other projects.”
MW: Thank you both so much for your time. Congratulations on the new album.
Fruition has a jam-packed schedule of shows and festival destinations this summer, including Delfest, Duck Creek Log Jam, Summercamp, and Northwest String Summit.
You can get your copy of Fruition’s upcoming album ‘Labor of Love’ on April 22. In the meantime, give a listen to the first single off the album, sharing the same name, below.