Harry McVeigh of White Lies
The Opera House, Toronto, Ontario
Photograph by Rayne Muir
WHEN you combine catchy dance beats, dreamy synthesizers, and heavenly harmonies, you get Fitness Club Fiasco, a synth-pop band based in Toronto, Ontario. Made up of five multi-instrumentalists – Mike Harloff (vocals/guitar/synths), Jess Underdown (vocals/extreme tambourine/shaker), Jess Janz (vocals/synths), Matt Henderson (guitar/bass/synths/background vocals), and Cam Guthrie (drums/percussion) – the band falls perfectly into place within the indie-electronic trend, but their energy, talent, and passion allow the musicians to stand out amongst the crowd. With three impressive singles and a brand new album in progress, Fitness Club Fiasco is ready to take over Ontario’s music scene.
It all began only a few years ago, when singer Mike Harloff was teaching in the UK. The day before he arrived in Bristol, England, he had not yet found a place to live. So, his good friend Matt Henderson helped him out by contacting two people he knew well: Jess Underdown and Sparky. Harloff spent a couple of weeks staying in Sparky’s music studio. Their mutual love for music lead the three of them to begin experimenting with songs – which created the very beginnings of the band.
“It was only natural for us to start tinkering away at some ideas I had in the studio together,” states Harloff. “Before I knew it, Jess was trying out vocal lines on some of the tracks. Jess and I decided to start gigging with backing tracks. However, the recordings that we were working on in the studio were too big for a backing track so we then had Sparky join us along with Thom Popejoy, the drummer from his then band, Medallist. After a few gigs we were known as Fitness Club Fiasco.”
“I remember Mike called me right before moving to Bristol, asking if I could see if he could stay with Jess and Sparky, but telling me to make it sound like it wasn’t his idea,” Henderson muses. “Jess called me later to ask if Mike was a serial killer. I told her I wasn’t sure, and I’m still not.”
“Everything they said is true,” jokes Underdown.
While Harloff was in the UK, the band was able to release two singles through the London record label Something in Construction. “Dialogue Dreamer” is an intense song with verses that make your heart race; “Forest City” is a relaxed tune perfect for a Friday night drive downtown with your best friends. The band was doing well in England, but Harloff’s visa unfortunately expired, and he had to come back to “the new world” – his home country of Canada.
After settling back in and getting organised, it was time to write some new music. Matt Henderson and Cam Guthrie joined the band, and Fitness Club Fiasco continued as a three piece. Not too long after, Jess Janz joined on keys. Finally, Underdown and Sparky moved back to Canada in 2012, which lead to their killer formula of musicians becoming complete. Underdown reunited with the band, and Sparky is now working as a producer on the debut album.
The currently unreleased songs are well on their way, but before they made it to the recording studio, the songs saw their early days in Harloff’s home. “I write out a simple beat with synths and a vocal melody and lyrics,” he describes. “I then take it to the band and we further the ideas and then we further produce and refine the sound in the studio with Sparky.”
Guthrie adds, “Something that’s struck me is that we’re all open to try different things out: different ideas, suggestions, and so on as we write. And yet, once these things are tried out, we’re all humble enough that, even if we were the one to suggest something, if it sucks we can say it out loud and move on. We seem to be focused on the end result of our music, which is creating music that really is the best it can be.”
The band records in a log cabin in the woods built by Harloff’s dad. “There’s something magical about being locked away in the studio. Sometimes in the process something will come out in the music or happen that didn’t seem to come from any of us. This is when the music takes on a personality of its own which, I think, makes for the best sound.”
The group appears to be just as great friends as they are band mates. The way they are able to answer questions with a variety of inside jokes and a large handful of stories shows that they truly enjoy each other’s company. Fitness Club Fiasco has had quite the adventures together, including opening for Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, playing at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and travelling on the London Underground to get to a gig – while bringing all of their musical gear on the subway with them. “I’m playing and creating music that I personally love … with people that I consider really close friends,” says Guthrie. “We’ve landed at a place over the past year where we’re really all committed to what we’re doing. We just mesh as individuals really well and that’s important to me!”
“I’m also married to the secret member of the band,” adds Underdown. “But that’s a secret.”
Due to the musicians being scattered throughout the province of Ontario, having jobs, and going to university, getting together for practice sessions can be difficult – but even with their busy schedules, the band is an important part of their lives. Guthrie says, “Schedules [are] tough, but we seem to make it work. I’m also an elected city councillor for the city of Guelph. So being in FCF keeps me grounded. And banging the drums helps me cope with politics.”
As for the band’s name, the origins are somewhat unclear. Harloff states he came up with it while strolling around Bristol. But Henderson believes the name was influenced before then, when Harloff mentioned he wanted to create a “dance album with aerobics routines and then touring YMCA gyms and leading dancerobics classes.” Underdown mentions Harloff’s invention of “prancersize”, and Janz says the idea came along after “Matt once admitted to trying to pick up chicks at an elderly water-aerobics class.” But wherever the name came from, one thing is for sure: the title Fitness Club Fiasco is as unique as their tunes… as well as each member’s sense of humour and onstage jokes.
“Mike’s stage banter is something I always look forward to,” mentions Janz. “He will literally talk about anything on stage, from really philosophical thoughts (which is kind of inappropriate for a dance-pop show) or his preference for brand of toothpaste.”
Fitness Club Fiasco has a bright future ahead. Plans for a music video are being made, and the debut album is expected to be complete spring 2014. Until then, you can hear their latest single, “Goldmine”, posted below for your listening pleasure, or available for purchase on iTunes.
“We’re also considering taking Cam out for a day of shopping,” Harloff says. “[We’re] really hoping to get him into some skinny jeans in the near future.”
"I can’t agree more with the skinny jeans idea," insists Guthrie. "It’s my dream to fit into them."
Now that is something you don’t want to miss.
"To The Mountains and The Trees" by Liz Bertorelli / lizbeephotographee.
Print available on Society6
THE 23rd of September will mark the tenth birthday of One Tree Hill. The hit TV show centred around a group of five teenage friends, and was filled with non-stop drama including car crashes, love triangles, weddings, murders, and several stalkers. But those events would not have been nearly as dramatic without the music that accompanied them. Music played a huge role on the show; Haley James Scott is a singer, Peyton Sawyer owns a record label, and several up-and-coming musicians join the cast as fictional characters. OTH is a perfect example of how powerful music can be by proving music can grow scenes to their fullest potential. So, One Tree Hill fans, this post is for you. Here’s a list of the show’s top 15 musical moments. – RAYNE MUIR
15. Song: “Elsewhere” by Haley James (Bethany Joy Lenz)
Episode: “Suddenly Everything Has Changed” (Season 1, Episode 14)
This episode marks the first of many times Haley James (played by Lenz) performs on the show. After finishing work at Karen’s Café, she sits down at the piano and plays the Sarah McLachlan tune for her boyfriend, Nathan. This scene is particularly great as it is a huge turning point for Haley; the timid tutor girl finally gains confidence in her musical abilities and is able to come out of her shell.
14. Song: “The Girl (Acoustic)” by City and Colour
Episode: “Valentine’s Day Is Over” (Season 8, Episode 15)
For Valentine’s Day, Clay arranges a private concert for Quinn at local club Tric. The musician? Canada’s Dallas Green, also known as City and Colour. By season 8, the show started to get a little dull, but Green’s guest appearance brings this episode back up to par.
13. Song: “Here Comes A Regular” by Paul Westerberg
Episode: “The Wind That Blew My Heart Away” (Season 3, Episode 13)
When Peyton’s birth mom admits to having breast cancer, Peyton decides to help by using what she knows best – music. She and Ellie work on a benefit album together, but Ellie passes away shortly before she gets to see the final copies. This scene is extremely emotional and beautifully filmed. As stated earlier in the episode, “Here Comes A Regular” is Ellie’s favourite song, which makes this a perfect choice.
12. Song: “Heartbeats” by José González
Episode: “Some You Give Away” (Season 4, Episode 9)
"It’s you," Lucas says to Peyton. "When all my dreams come true, the one I want next to me. It’s you." After Lucas makes the final shot, the Tree Hill Ravens win the championship and everyone is cheering in slow-motion. Now that Brucas is officially over, Luke and Peyton are finally able to be together guilt-free. The couple kisses as confetti falls from the ceiling, and this beautiful acoustic tune plays in the background.
11. Song: “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS
Episode: “Hundred”(Season 5, Episode 12)
Getting left at the altar sucks. That’s exactly what happens to Lucas when fiancée Lindsey realises that his true love is Peyton. But maybe it’s not so bad when an ultra-cool rock song is playing in the background. While this scene is perfect, apparently “Never Tear Us Apart” was a second choice for music supervisor Lindsay Wolfington. The song that she originally wanted to use was too hard to license. In this case, the backup plan worked out perfectly… unlike Luke’s wedding day.
10. Song: “Street Map” by Athlete
Episode: “Like You Like An Arsonist” (Season 3, Episode 1)
The season three-premier has what is probably the show’s most famous quote. During the closing scene, Peyton paints the world population on her wall as she states, "There are 6 billion people in the world, 6 billion souls… and sometimes, all you need is one." The timing of the song is placed nicely, with the piano and drums jumping in when it’s revealed that Nathan may possibly give his marriage a second chance.
9. Song: “Gold Guns Girls (Acoustic)” by Metric
Episode: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (Season 8, Episode 11)
Getting chased by a stalker is no fun. Neither is nearly drowning while you’re trapped in a car. Both events were occurring while this song was playing. The acoustic version of the Metric song is melancholy, which somehow works extremely well when paired with the scary scenarios.
8. Song: "Disintergration" by Jimmy Eat World
Episode: “How a Resurrection Really Feels” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Dan Scott for mayor? Who would have guessed? The Jimmy Eat World song accompanied this big reveal. While Dan Scott was smiling and balloons were falling, the scene is contrasted drastically by featuring flashbacks of the fire that nearly killed him. Those flashbacks reveal that Lucas knows the identity of the would-have-been killer: Dan’s wife, Deb Scott. The dramatic drumbeat fills the moment with intensity and the lyrics pull this scene together like no other song could.
7. Event: USO concert
Episode: “Even Fairytale Characters Would Be Jealous” (Season 6, Episode 10)
The USO concert was pretty awesome, which is not surprising considering it is put together by our dear P. Sawyer. Angels & Airwaves is the highlight of the show, when the band plays the catchy hits “Secret Crowds” and “Lifeline”.
6. Song: “No Good” by Kate Vogle
Episode: “In da Club” (Season 5, Episode 7)
Does anyone actually like K-Fed? Mia Catalano doesn’t. She finally breaks away from his character’s grasp when she gains the confidence to get up on stage and show off her talent – something he refused to let her do while she was the keyboardist in his band. Signer Kate Voegele plays the reoccurring character, and the show boosted her career. Go Mia!
5. Song: “Prelude 12/21” by AFI
Episode: “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Peyton has always been a warrior. She lost her mom in a car accident, finds out she was adopted, loses her other mom to breast cancer, gets shot at school, and is attacked by a stalker that was supposed to be her brother. So at some point, she has to let it all out. This scene was a montage of her previous experiences as she learns to fight with the help of her real brother… who sadly ends up leaving her too.
4. Song: “Lightning Crashes” by Live
Episode: (Season 4, Episode 21)
This song is about the circle of life – a mother dying, and a child being born – which makes it a perfect match for this scene. Haley gives birth to her son on graduation day, while Lucas finds out his mom, Karen, is getting an emergency surgery during the birth of his new baby sister, during which Karen nearly dies.
3. Song: "Babe I’m Gonna Leave You" by Led Zeppelin
Episode: “The Show Must Go On” (Season 3, Episode 22)
The season three finale began with a beautiful wedding. It ended with a limo getting driven off a bridge, and Nathan, the groom, diving into the water to save the two people inside. Previously, Led Zeppelin had only licensed it’s music to one other show (The Sopranos), so this was a big deal for One Tree Hill. At the time, it was unknown if the show would be picked up for a fourth season, which made the closing scene vital for the show’s survival. The song was definitely a major factor in what made the cliffhanger great.
2. Song: “I Don’t Want To Be” by Gavin DeGraw
Episode: “One Tree Hill” (Season 9, Episode 13)
"I Don’t Want To Be" was One Tree Hill’s anthem. The use of the song as the show’s theme song turned Gavin DeGraw into a household name. He performs at Karen’s Café in season one, but the song has the most power during the show’s series finale. DeGraw plays one final time at Tric, and the entire cast of the show sings along.
1. Event: Friends With Benefit concert
Episode: “Just Watch The Fireworks” (Season 3, Episode 15)
After Ellie dies of breast cancer, Peyton throws together a kickass benefit concert to raise money and awareness for the illness. The Friends With Benefit concert featured a perfect line up: Haley James Scott, Jack’s Mannequin, and Fall Out Boy. I heard that band sucks. But the bass player’s pretty cool.