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Imagine being in a rock n’ roll band in which the members get along well. They are all in their early 30s and they’ve been at this a long time in various forms, in some bands and out some others.
Imagine these guys are pretty cool and that they care about the music. Really care. Care enough to work hard and long for years at something that may never make any money, that may never bring them the professional recognition they undoubtedly crave somewhere down deep.
Now imagine you’re listening to this band and they play good, adult rock n’ roll music with complex arrangements. No one tries to be a prima donna. Everyone plays as a unit and plays the music they’ve written because they love it. Really love it.
Now you’ve got in your mind the Fort Wayne-based band Fawn Liebowitz. With its core of seven musicians who join together periodically to play that really good music, the kind of music that makes you think, the kind you can get lost in, but not wander around in like Blues Traveler or Phish, bands that can leave the listener without a signpost. No, Fawn Liebowitz keeps songs relatively short in their live shows. No meandering into Jerry Garcia-land, from which the traveler may never return.
These guys have learned their craft and they know how to entertain an audience.
That’s the world that folks entered at the Fawn Liebowitz CD release party last Thursday at Columbia Street West, when the band celebrated the official birth of their second CD, Bug. The band’s first release, Loyalty, came out in 1999. Both CDs are available at Wooden Nickel Records, Border’s, B# Guitars and on amazon.com.
Now, before we meet a couple of the grizzled veterans from Fawn Liebowitz, let’s take one more trip of the imagination. Paul Stephens,
singer and acoustic guitar player, and Kent Klee, drummer and percussionist, share an apartment. In this case, that’s like saying two sailors share the USS Missouri.
Their apartment is the seventh-floor penthouse of Fairfield Manor, a hulking apartment building on the city’s fabled south side. The lobby is all marble and heavy dark oak. A narrow, cranky elevator takes you to the seventh floor and down the hall the door opens onto a 2,300-square foot abode and band headquarters for Fawn Liebowitz. The rooms never seem to end and each musician has his own private space and private bath. In one room, Klee’s hi-tech drum kit sits against one wall so he can be comfortable while he does arrangements for local marching bands. There are guitars and keyboards and books and CDs and tables covered with the detritus of last night’s party, where good music was most certainly played for the guests.
Stephens rummages around in a set of cabinets looking for spare copies of Fawn Liebowitz CDs. On the way out, he seems almost embarrassed by the gaudiest aspect of the place – floor-to-ceiling mirrors (with a mirrored ceiling above) in the spacious entryway.
“This was here when we moved in. We didn’t do it,” Stephens insists.
It’s the world of Fawn Liebowitz in a capsule: Comfortable, adult and a little nutty – but a breath of fresh air in the local music scene.
The two appendages of Fawn Liebowitz we are about to meet are Stephens and Klee, who are relaxed enough to talk with the press over a gaggle of Heinekens at a local restaurant.
Stephens is the only member of the group who did not graduate from North Side High School. He graduated from Central Noble High School in Albion, and that makes him some sort of fighting Cougar, as opposed to a Redskin. Unlike Klee, who came from a family steeped in the arts (his brother, Kevin, is the band director at Snider High School), Stephens found his way to music through a more circuitous route, the study of history at Indiana-Purdue, Fort Wayne, where he found the Ottoman Empire particularly interesting. He never made it to law school, but he is a self-employed abstract researcher, which has a vaguely Ottoman ring to it. Klee, on the other hand, is a musician born and bred who received his first drum kit at age eight and immediately tried to outdo the older Kevin. He also teaches percussion students.
In addition to these two very relaxed beer drinkers, Fawn Liebowitz includes Tim Beeler on bass, electric and acoustic guitar and banjo; Steven Wright on guitars, dobro and percussion; Jeff Adams on soprano, alto and tenor sax; Todd Jordan on piano, organ, synthesizer and accordion; and back-up singer Susan Plumb. Also appearing on Bug are singers Joy Haberkorn and Angie Karapantos.
Fawn Liebowitz the name began and ended life as the Fort Wayne college student who was killed in the tragic kiln accident in the movie Animal House. Fawn Liebowitz the band began life as 2 Ton Heavy Thing, a group that played regularly at Columbia Street West and at the Latch String Inn beginning in 1994.
By 1998, 2 Ton Heavy Thing had evolved into Fawn Liebowitz, minus the contributions of Paul Siefert and Bill York.
By 1999, they had recorded Loyalty.
The differences between Loyalty and Bug may be subtle at first, but they represent the growth of the musicians from 2 Ton to Fawn Liebowitz.
“2 Ton was more of a jam band,” Stephens said. “We played a lot of covers such as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Santana, Elvis Costello. There was some of that left over on Loyalty. We played a lot, but it was a looser sound than what we’ve tried to do on Bug.”
The new, more cohesive sound of Fawn and Bug have a great deal to do with the experience of the players and their time together. Before 2 Ton, for example, Stephens had not been in a band. Neither had Jordan. Klee was an experienced musician who, between 2 Ton and Fawn, spent a lot of time playing with David Todoran and in other projects. Adams and Wright did have previous band experience.
Stephens explained the 2 Ton genesis in a 1999 whatzup interview: “It started off with a few of us goofing after work above Todd’s office. My experience was nil. We didn’t think it would turn into anything.”
Well, it did. Fawn Liebowitz has done a fair amount of touring in the central Midwest and has played several times at a large outdoor concert in
Columbus, Ohio, to great crowd response.
Loyalty, according to Klee and Stephens, was something of a holdover from the 2 Ton sound. How do they describe the new Fawn Liebowitz, as heard on Bug?
“It’s a world sound, adult-oriented music,” Klee said. “There’s nothing wrong with bubble-gum music, but that’s not what we do.”
Bug was produced by Klee and Wright and recorded by Wright. It was mixed by Neal Parnin at Soundmill Studios. Klee, Stephens and Beeler did all the writing, with Klee supplying the lyrics.
His inspiration, he said, comes from personal experience and reflection. But what those were are often deliberately obscured in the words.
“I like to supply the imagery, but let the listeners explore the lyrics themselves,” he said.
All right. To close this visit with the lovely and tragic Fawn Liebowitz, let’s take a look at some of those lyrics.
In “Digging Up Elvis,” Klee announces, “I’m digging up Elvis/I’ve got a shovel in my hand/I’m singing disco/in a funky eight-piece band/I’m gonna wake up all the sleeping Kennedys/I’m gonna live my life like a washed out memory.”
But in “Home,” there is a distinct air of days gone by in Albion, where the days go by better than almost anywhere else: “Those were the golden days/memories shine through the haze/I’m not waiting for the perfect world/I’m not waiting for the perfect girl.”
There you have her. Fawn. The perfect girl? You decide.