Stuart Maxfield, Fictionist frontman, paused between songs at the band’s album preview party at Velour on Sept. 15. He surveyed his audience, which included a mixture of family, friends and promoters of the band. The room was warm with body heat and support. A hat that read “Utah” sat on his head. He opened his mouth, and everyone fell silent.
“I just want to say this is all Provo,” Maxfield said. “It all happened here. That’s the way it should have been done three years ago. And now we get the chance to do it. We’re so thankful for all you guys coming out and supporting us. I thank my brother and my noble knights of rock.” He smiled. “Let’s do this.” And they began to play.
Fictionist recently parted with Atlantic Records, whom the band signed with three years ago. The band celebrated its freedom by crafting a self-titled album with producer Nate Pyfer.
Fictionist will release the album at the Provo Rooftop Concert Series show on Oct. 3. This is a nod from Fictionist to its local fans because the album won’t release nationally until Oct. 7. The Rooftop Concert Series committee purposefully chose Fictionist for the show, which will double as the Rooftop’s fifth-year anniversary celebration.
“I think it’s so fitting,” said Justin Hackworth, Rooftop Concert Series co-founder. “It’s perfect that Fictionist is playing the anniversary show; they’re a staple in Provo and such a solid band. We’re so excited.”
Fictionist members said they felt stifled working with Atlantic. This feeling manifested itself in the band’s sound as it worked with the label. But the self-titled release will be different. This album is an organic overflowing; it’s unadulterated expression.
“We really didn’t have any rules,” Maxfield said. “The only enemy in the room is being boring. If anything felt compelling or interesting we would record it.”
A liberated mindset led to innovative execution. Maxfield turned his whole house into a studio. His living room became a drum room, while another room served as an echo chamber. A mixing board from the 1960s lived downstairs. The band used quirky tools like cassette tapes, cheap keyboards and guitar pedals. “Honestly, whatever we had, we just threw it into a room and used it like different colors of paint on a canvas,” Maxfield said.
Where the members’ past albums are more riff-heavy, this new material features a groove-based focus. Synths also take on a larger role. Brumby frontman Oliver Tingey compared Fictionist’s electronically-driven songs to the work of M83 and Capital Cities.
Matt Orr of Strange Family made predictions about the album’s reception. “They’re not space rock anymore,” Orr said. “But it’s good change. It’s much more poppy than their old stuff. So I think it’s going to be more accepted; people are going to like it. But it’s still Fictionist.”
Fictionist approached the record as a learning process, letting the music broaden the members’ perspective. “We wanted to discover what it could be rather than insist on what it had to be,” Maxfield said.
Corey Fox, owner of Velour Live Music Gallery, is happy to see Fictionist experimenting again. Fox said it’s nothing new for Fictionist to reinvent its sound for a new album.
“The difference between this album and their unreleased Atlantic Records album is that this one feels like a natural evolution of the band rather than a major label trying to take a progressive-thinking band and squeeze them into a cookie-cutter mold,” Fox said.
A second frontman
Here’s a first for Fictionist: guitarist Robert Connolly wrote and sang lead for nearly half of the new album’s tracks. This gives the album a varied style and sound. Maxfield’s voice serves as a solid foundation while Connolly’s floats, taking the music to planes it hasn’t previously visited.
Conolly’s contributions add emotional depth to the band’s identity. Right before the band performed “Lock and Key” at its preview party, Maxfield recalled the first time Connolly showed him the song. “I cried a lot listening to it,” Maxfield admitted.
“You never told me that,” Connolly said, turning toward Maxfield onstage.
Conolly now stands up front, next to Maxfield while performing. The old setup used to place Maxfield at the center, with the band around him.
“When I’m mixing, I look at it like a Lennon-McCartney thing,” said Fictionist sound engineer Mark Carey. “In the overall set, one singer isn’t more important than the other. They’re equal.”
What to expect from Fictionist, going forward
In addition to its album release at Rooftop, Fictionist will play a more intimate, extended-set show at Velour on Oct. 17. For those who haven’t yet seen Fictionist perform, expect a smoother sound on the record and more edge live.
“They’re a live band,” said longtime Fictionist fan Steve Vistaunet. “Their interactions are so great to watch. They’re meant to be seen live.”
Fictionist will not stop innovating, but Maxfield noted constants the members will cling to as they evolve.
“We have a certain obsession with pushing boundaries,” Maxfield said. “We also like memorability. Our general idea on what good music is remains the same. We’re on a journey and more interested in looking forward than looking back.”