By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Earlier this year, when the first song Fight Bite ever recorded—the lush, heartbreakingly beautiful ballad "Swissex Lover"—ended up on influential blogger Chris Cantalini's Dallas-based Gorilla vs. Bear blog, the Denton/Dallas-based duo didn't think much of it. Even a couple weeks later, when the ambient electronic duo, which is arguably the biggest blog band not named Ghosthustler to break out of North Texas, found itself being hyped on Stereogum, another major national music blog, band members Leanne Macomber and Jeff Louis still didn't know what to make of the adoration being thrown their way.
"When Stereogum first wrote about us, I didn't know what Stereogum was, so I'm just thinking, 'Oh, OK, cool. Another blog mentioned us,'" Macomber now says, about six months removed from the days when Fight Bite first started earning love in the blogosphere—a love that still continues quite frequently around the Internet today. "But we learned about it pretty quickly."
The MySpace page-view spikes immediately after the Stereogum mention as well as the follow-up attention the band received from other blogs were immediate indications that the band had moved beyond being enjoyed by just another kid in his parents' basement. Now, there was actually some weight behind the praise.
"It was when we kind of realized, 'OK, maybe we should really try to make a record,'" says Macomber, whose hushed Enya-on-Ambien vocals are the most immediately recognizable and instantly alluring aspects of the band's sound. "It gave us confidence in a way."
Enough confidence, at least, to sit down and try to make a record—something of a daunting task for the duo, as both Macomber and Louis stay busy with other musical projects (Macomber plays with punk acts Christian! Teenage Runaway and Rival Gang, plus metal act Dirty Diamond; Louis performs with indie pop acts Teenage Symphony and The Beales) and day jobs. But, together, the twosome had only three completed songs in their catalog—and only a handful of performances—by the time all the love started coming in.
So, not surprisingly, about six months later, in August, when the band finally released its debut record, Emerald Eyes, locally, the album was largely built around the sound of "Swissex Lover." Today, the track still stands out as the most affecting of the 10 songs on the autumnal album, which just two weeks ago, after the duo spent months learning the ropes of self-releasing a disc on a national scale, became a nationwide release. And the remaining nine lo-fidelity tracks on the album are quite similar to "Swissex Lover" as arrangements go: hushed, intricate vocals from Macomber; capable backing harmonies from Louis; electronic drum beats to keep the pace; and varying keyboard elements—sometimes as many as 20—pushing the melody along. Other standouts include the title track, which employs almost "Little Drummer Boy"-like "bum-bum" background vocals, and the toy-ish, bouncing "Widow's Peak."
But it's not the most diverse of records—Macomber and Louis even admit as much—and, as such, it suffers somewhat from the straight line it walks. As beautiful a record as it is, it could stand a change of pace here and there. But, as many others throughout the Web have previously stated, it's an impressive debut—and impressively personal too, with lyrics about desire and woeful disconnection.
"A lot of the songs I write are really dramatic and silly love songs," Macomber says. "Most everything is autobiographical. Some of the songs are more made up, but some of them, word for word, could've been taken right from my diary."
Makes sense, given the music from which Macomber and Louis draw influence: girl group acts of the '60s and ambient synth acts from the '80s—and not the more contemporary, flavor-of-the-moment acts like the similarly female-fronted ambient pop duo Beach House, to which Fight Bite is most often compared.
"We're still living in a cave somewhere," Macomber says. "We'd never listened to Beach House until the comparisons. The music I'm drawn to is usually a bit more clichéd—and I'm not embarrassed by it. I like classic love songs."
To that end, the band's simple sound makes perfect sense. But the trouble, Louis explains, is transitioning that sound—which, turns out, is painstakingly simple—to the stage. Emerald Eyes employs so many electronic elements and, currently, Fight Bite has no plans to expand beyond its two-person lineup, so the more than 30 parts that can be heard on each song on the album are difficult to present in a live setting—impossible, actually.
"The way I've always recorded, it will never come across well live," Louis says while describing the process of recording Fight Bite's sessions on an eight-track cassette recorder. "I just hope people understand that it won't sound like the record."
That much is true: Fight Bite's live show doesn't approach the intimacy of the record. And as such, at the band's earliest gigs in Dallas, despite boasting a résumé of well-received performances at DIY venues in Denton, nerves and an indecisiveness on how to present their sound hurt Fight Bite's reputation somewhat. At those shows, Louis and Macomber were noticeably uncomfortable—sometimes cringe-inducingly so—as they apologized for sound issues that few actually noticed and bashfully requested that spotlights be turned down so the crowds couldn't get a great look at them as they played.
It was endearing to an extent, but also perplexing. Given Macomber's punk performances, where she dresses flamboyantly and provocatively and writhes around on the floor, playing guitar, it didn't make much sense.
"When I'm in Fight Bite," Macomber says, "I'm not playing dress-up. I'm Leanne Macomber. This is me. That sounds so cliché, I know, but, like I said, I like clichés."
The trick now for Fight Bite is making sure that, unlike so many blog favorites before them (Ghosthustler included), it doesn't fall into the same clichéd storyline that has crippled so many other acts that have faced a similar ascension: big initial burst, strong early following, rushed first record, too long of a break before the follow-up (if a follow-up ever actually comes), and eventually and unfortunately, a complete falling off the map.
But after a good showing at last month's CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, where Fight Bite played along with many other blog favorites, for once, the band actually sounds fairly confident about itself and its future.
"The first night we played was the best show we'd ever played," Macomber says. "The next show, of course, the room was completely empty. But it just taught us that you need to play every show like it's your best.
"We didn't necessarily know that before."