Once filled out with more than 20 members, Fortress Social Club (known to some as the "Fortress anti-Social Club") has winnowed its lineup to six musicians, honing its sound to a cohesive blend of American and British rock n’ roll.
The L.A. band released Dreamin’ the Life, its first full-length album, on June 18. The R&B-tinged album of 1960s rock is full of harmonious, bluesy tunes that convey the group’s energetic live performances, especially on the title track, which fuses psychedelic-pop lyrics and bluesy guitar riffs with a sprinkle of B-3 organ chords.
The band's main players—singer Shawn Harris, organist Jo Harris (Shawn’s sister), rhythm and lead guitarists Mykul Lee and Johnzo West, bassist Justin “Bird” Andres, and drummer Rob Humphreys—come from all over the country but they found each other at the Fortress, a studio located in downtown L.A. They happily served as guinea pigs for the recently refurbished venue, which is hidden behind hundred year old, ivy-covered brickwork.
“The Fortress, bless her heart, has become the hub thru which we’ve all entrusted our creative energy,” Lee says. “We always come out just as excited as the first time we’ve ever heard music.”
In the band's early stages, rehearsals at The Fortress were daily parties where musicians came “to drink our drinks and noodle on those first few tunes,” says Harris.
While having 20-plus people in the Fortress Social Club gave them a substantial stage presence, it inhibited their live performances. Sloppy changeovers between songs and a disjointed sound fractured the band and channeled its sound in another direction.
Embracing the hard-edged pop of The Animals, the experimental inventiveness of John Lennon and the proto-punk livelihood of T-Rex, Fortress Social Club took advantage of the Fortress’s analog and vintage equipment to reshape their freewheeling sound.
“Half the band being from the wild-west countryside brought a more American sound to our rock n’ roll, which was admittedly influenced in the songwriting stage by the British invasion,” says Harris. "Our Midwestern and Southern influences lifted us out of this Abbey Road influenced world and dropped us back [in the U.S.].”
The distinct marriage of Brit pop and R&B is strong on Dreamin’ the Life. A swinging blues beat anchors “One Woman Man” while “I Had To Laugh” is a Beatles-esque piece containing dreamy pop lyrics that stay true to the band’s original direction.
Harris describes Dreamin’ the Life as an evolution from Fortress Social Club’s only previously released recording, the 4-track EP Grando. "Grando was live rock n’ roll course 101—call it a bit of homework,” he says. "We were much more bold on Dreamin’ the Life."
Fortress Social Club isn’t slowing down. The band is already mixing and producing a follow-up album they hope to release by summer’s end.
“My overarching concept in music is to just make a lot of it,” says Harris. “I like the idea of people coming across our band in a year and feeling like they have a body of work to catch up with. I’d like people’s first response when hearing us to be like ‘F***, how’d I miss this?’”
Fortress Social Club may not hold 20 person house-party rehearsals anymore, but they’ve learned that party-time is even better after they’ve laid down some fresh tracks.