The Newark band has gone from the high of touring England to the low of seeing their label dissolve. Now they’re looking to the future.
Headphones on, his brow furrowed, Andrew Fusca sits on the edge of his chair, hunched over his guitar, strumming into a microphone. To his right, Jeff Marvel watches while sitting on an amplifier, a guitar in his left hand and a beer in his right. For several minutes, they silently nod in unison to the click of the metronome in Fusca’s headphones and the sound of the guitar strings competing with a low hum from a window air conditioner in the next room.
Then Fusca stops strumming and quickly pulls off the headphones, ending the session. He turns around to his computer, taps on the keyboard, and a driving, ambient pop instrumental begins to play from the monitors on his desk. The sound slowly seeps into the dimly lit room in his apartment, a room littered with empty beer bottles and music equipment, its walls decorated with Christmas lights and a poster depicting a flying saucer with the words “I Want To Believe.”
Fusca and Marvel sit back and listen, critiquing almost every aspect of the song until finally clarifying that it has nothing to do with their forthcoming album, set to be released in the fall. In fact, it’s something that might not even be used at all.
“This is just what we do,” says Fusca with a laugh.
For almost 10 years, Fusca, Marvel and bassist Tyler Yoder have been writing, playing and recording music together in various groups, performing everywhere from beer-soaked basements in Newark and dive bars in Philadelphia to packed halls in England, venues in Brooklyn and the Firefly Music Festival in Dover.
In 2009, the three graduated from Middletown High School, moved into a farmhouse in Newark and soon started a band with a few other friends. In a matter of three years, they cultivated a fan base, hosting house shows featuring other local artists and DJs. But by 2012, there was a growing disconnect in each member’s vision for the band. While some members felt they should perform live more frequently, others wanted to concentrate on the recording and writing process. This dichotomy of focus brought an end to the group, evoking feelings of frustration, detachment, and a need to reevaluate.
For Yoder, who had just finished his sophomore year at the University of Delaware, this meant taking a break from music and taking to the road for the summer.
“I was ready to just get away from it. I wanted to distance myself from it, not only with different musicians, but literally geographically,” he says while sitting on the porch of his home in Newark, sipping slowly from a Mason jar of ice water.
While Yoder packed for his road trip, Fusca and Marvel began working on new songs to be used for another project. The two would spend hours in the farmhouse fleshing out songs, heading in a different direction from the mostly rock-based tracks they had written before. It was during this time that they wrote a track titled “Era.”
On one of his last nights in town, Yoder heard “Era” in Fusca’s bedroom and was floored.
“It certainly made me question my decisions a lot,” he says now.
But then he left, driving almost 1,950 miles to Paonia, Colo., in a beat-up Kia Spectra. For two months he participated in a program called the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, commonly referred to as WWOOF. In Paonia, a small town surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Yoder camped, farmed and got some clarity.
While he was gone, Fusca and Marvel continued to write, eventually finishing a record that they intended to release—until Fusca’s computer crashed and erased everything. While all seemed lost, one song miraculously survived: “Era,” which Fusca unintentionally backed up to the Cloud. Yet the two found themselves at a standstill. After spending months working on new recordings with only one song to show for it, they needed to begin again.
It was around this time that Yoder returned to Newark with a clearer understanding of himself and a desire to play music again. He soon began working with Fusca and Marvel for the duration of the summer, and the three started fiancé—a name they settled on because of its simple sound, yet committed nature.
For the rest of 2012, they spent hours writing and recording, eventually releasing two singles that received moderate attention from several independent music blogs. Then they recruited drummer Brian “Octie” Bruce, a close friend and staple of the Newark and Wilmington music scenes, and began playing shows.
With Fusca providing vocals and guitar, Marvel on guitar, Yoder on bass and Bruce on drums, the band took off locally. They played almost every area bar and basement, developing their sound and generating buzz.
In 2013, they released their first single as a four-piece band: “Era”—a more refined version of the song that started everything. From there, they gained more blog attention, eventually receiving a write-up in the popular British music magazine NME. Zane Smythe, of the California-based music label SQE Music, happened to pick up the issue, read the story, and promptly signed fiancé.
As “Era” continued to garner attention, Fusca, Marvel, Yoder and Bruce set up in the farmhouse and spent the rest of the year writing a new set of songs and recording them to quarter-inch tape on a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel tape machine. After hours spent self-producing the record with the help of their close friend, Ryan Williams, the band released EP 1—a collection of five songs featuring an analogue-based, filmy, fuzzed-out aesthetic on SQE Music in September 2014. In a matter of months, it was pressed on vinyl, sold in stores and online, featured on even more music blogs and played on local and national radio programs.
That October, they embarked on their first tour, performing at venues throughout England to some of the biggest crowds they had ever played to. At one performance in London, Fusca described a scene in which the four of them were positioned behind a curtain and told to begin playing. As they kicked into their first song, the curtain slowly rose, and they saw a hall packed to capacity, the crowd cheering and singing along word-for-word. Fusca describes the moment as both exciting and overwhelming.
“I’ve never felt anything like that playing a show before. It was absolutely bizarre,” he says.
High off a successful record release and tour, fiancé hardly remained complacent. In order to fully translate the sounds they created in the studio to live performances and expand their writing capabilities, they added another member to their roster, multi-instrumentalist and major player in the Delaware music scene Sam Nobles.
With a solidified lineup, they spent the winter and spring in the farmhouse, recording a new set of songs to be featured on their forthcoming self-titled full-length album. But in the midst of their growing popularity, there were significant changes in each member’s personal life. Fusca credits these changes as the force that shifted their songs into a new direction, both musically and thematically.
While the band’s first release allowed vocals, lyrics and instrumentation to exist as one in order to demonstrate the fluidity of emotion and convey an ambiguous feeling, these new songs are more direct. For Fusca, there was no other option, listing his mental health and his recent move-in with his girlfriend as two prominent influences.
“When living with someone, you watch when you get in manic modes, you pay attention to it,” he says. “You hurt, and that other person hurts—it makes you analyze yourself so much. I wanted to go that route because that’s something that’s always been super hard for me. At this point, it’s still weird and difficult, but I wouldn’t feel happy—I wouldn’t feel like I had done the right thing with what I’m working on if I weren’t being honest.”
This growing desire to stray from the obscure and embrace the anxiety that one often chooses to avoid is something that unexpectedly applied to other members of the band as well.
“I think the whole realization of feeling like you want to settle on something changes with the age you’re at and what you’re doing with your life,” Yoder says, mentioning that he also recently moved in with his girlfriend.
“Being in your early 20s, there is this sense of, ‘What am I supposed to be doing? I need something—I need some sort of answer.’”
As the writing and recording process continued, the band kept the number of shows they played to a minimum, save for a few performances in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and local sets at the Arden Gild Hall, Homegrown Café in Newark and the occasional basement show. That gave them an opportunity to tighten their sound for the recording sessions and see how people responded to the new material.
Around this time, the band received a letter explaining their label, SQE Music, was no longer financially sustainable, which led to its subsequent dissolution. In yet another setback, an entire inventory of vinyl—close to 1,000 pressings of EP 1—was destroyed.
While most artists may consider their label folding a reason to quit, fiancé pushed on. They soon found a storage unit, rented it, and transformed it into a soundproof practice space. There they continued to build and fashion their repertoire. To Marvel, the collapse of their label only strengthened the new material.
“The album as a whole is more cohesive—it’s more thought out,” he says. “It’s a bit more felt.”
Perhaps one of the most identifiable characteristics of fiancé as a band is its close relationship with the Delaware community. At every performance, regardless of the crowd size, there is always a core of friends, family and admirers.
This support was evident as they took the stage in June at Firefly, where they played before a crowd of 90,000. As Bruce sat down behind the drum kit, someone yelled, “Octie, lend me a smoke,” while his mom cheered and screamed his name. Yoder tuned his bass, flashing a smile to a group of childhood friends in the crowd. Marvel gripped the fret board of his guitar and locked eyes with his girlfriend standing in the front row. Nobles fiddled with the knobs on his keyboard, acknowledging the crowd with a slight nod, mouthing the words, “Thank you.” Fusca walked to the microphone, adjusting his hat and holding his guitar.
“We’re fiancé, and we’re from around here,” he said, as the band ripped into the first song on the set list—“Era.”
In something as fragile as the music industry, a band inevitably becomes affected by every rise and fall. In a year, they have gone from writing in a bedroom to spinning their album on a turntable, touring England and seeing their label dissolve. Yet for fiancé, the main objective is still to create something authentic and meaningful in the midst of all the uncertainty. It is this mantra that has compelled them to independently release their first full-length album this fall—a collection of sobering, direct and anxious compositions, focusing on the crippling weight of emotional challenges and the importance of being authentic in every aspect of life.
“It’s hard to know that you’re doing the right thing,” says Yoder. He sets down the Mason jar down, leans forward and grins. “It’s been a test, but I’m grateful for it—I’m grateful for all the opportunities that we’ve had so far. And if those do end up being the biggest opportunities that we’ve had, then so be it.”