I don't feel quite up to the task of writing about Tim Fite, because Tim Fite is a really smart guy with a god-given way with words, and I am...well, not. I'm tempted to just transcribe a conversation I had with him today and let him tell his story, and the story of this record, thusly. Still, this is my job, and I love this new record Fair Ain't Fair, so I guess I am compelled to man-up and give it a try...
I was also tempted to start by saying that Tim Fite has no history, mostly because of the dearth of biographical information my Google search turned up on him, and also because then I could make this clever reference to Athena springing fully formed from Zeus' head, and the idea of Tim Fite arriving complete from anywhere tickled my fancy because he is nothing if not a work in progress, a constant evolution, a growing up on record. He followed his 2005 folky/indie/alt-country Anti- Records debut Gone Ain't Gone with a hip hop record, for god's sake! And then a Halloween record that was around for a single day. And in between those, some drawings and illustrated stories and lots of multi-media one-man shows. But after talking to him, I realized that Tim Fite has a history, as long as this continent and as deep as the fundamental conflicts that fuel the wars Fite concerns himself with these days. And in spite of references to his own bloodlessness (it's a reoccurring theme), Tim Fite has the blood of us all running in his veins, and he carries the burden with an earnestness that is disarming and intimidating at the same time.
"I had to work up to Fair Ain't Fair," he said. "I did [2007's web-only, free LP] Over the Counter Culture to get over the anger I feel at what is happening in the world, what we are doing to each other by accepting greed and war into our hearts and minds. I had to get over the anger so I could get to the human-ness that I wanted to put into Fair Ain't Fair. On it, I am still thinking of the repercussions of our actions on this planet, but also about the power in a simple apology."
Apology and apocalypse are the constant threads running through Fair Ain't Fair. "The first and the last," as Fite calls them. On a grand scale, they turn up in "Trouble," where Tim Fite growls:
how's about a little avalanche for your avarice?
a landslide for your lavishness?
some happenstance for your happiness?
A first hand taste of averages
you better hope to God your shit float
Topics cursed and spit out on Over the Counter Culture, sure, but sung here with more empathy, more understanding. And, as we all know, catastrophe and forgiveness also work their destruction and magic on a personal level. In "Yesterday's Garden," Fite explores the idea of losing one's way, and having the heart to know it:
How could a girl with a thumb so green
be in love with a man who's become so mean?
oh I could do so much better than yesterday
We lose sight, we fuck up, but we carry within us the power to set things right. "Evil is the doubting heart," he says.
The sounds on Fair Ain't Fair are equally as big and ambitious as the topics it contains. A year in the making, the record does sound like a gleeful experience. To get the expansive sound Fite was looking for, he and drummer Justin Riddle went back to his old high school, where they played and recorded the orchestra's drums after hours in a deal his mom, an employee at the school, brokered with the security guards. "It was fantastic," Fite enthuses. "They had tympanis and those big bass drums the marching band uses. The drums became the foundation for many of the songs, more like a rap record than a rock record."
On top of that, Fite sprinkles his signature samples, but with a more restrained, mature hand. Famous for mining record store bargain bins for long-forgotten CDs, Fite takes tracks from their musical obscurity, dusts them off and reburies them in his own tunes. Like a dog jealously guarding its bone or a thief hiding his loot, Fite covets these discarded pieces of work and makes them his own. On Fair Ain't Fair, these bits of musical flotsam serve as punctuation of sorts: just as we are lulled by the melody and pretty songs, they slap us awake and keep us on our toes.
Finally come the voices. Layer upon layer, Fite plays with note and melody in a way that he never has before. Some of the voices come from his brother, Doctor Leisure, and some are friends in other bands, but mostly it is just Fite on top of Fite on top of Fite. Harmony rules, and the results are a collection of beautiful songs. "Big Mistake" is the perhaps the most straightforwardly catchy song Fite has ever penned, in spite of a touch of his pervasive self-effacement:
Everyone gets to make one big mistake
and if you're waiting on me, well I guess you're gonna have to wait
cuz I'm saving mine up for a very very special day
when I can fuck it all up in the most spectacular way
The ire and humor of such songs are interspersed with short, two minute pieces that sound almost like modern hymns/spirituals/nursery rhymes. Gorgeous and sweet, they come off like interludes between acts of soul-barring, a welcome breath before plunging back into the fray.
The fact that Fite could let most of the songs on Fair Ain't Fair be exquisite without chopping them to bits or stopping them short before the beauty spools out shows a certain maturity. Both the crafting and the subject matter on Fair Ain't Fair are, admittedly, a result of more years. "I think getting older played a part. I am less interested in one-sided inflammatory rhetoric, and more interested in the quiet attack of awareness." And while the listener may be tempted to view the album title itself simply a clever play on the title of his earlier Gone Ain't Gone, Fite explains its significance: "I think a lot about destruction as it relates to fairness, and how everything we love could wind up disappearing because of the wrong that we have done or will do. In the big picture, it seems only fair that you reap what you sow, but as you focus destruction for destruction for destruction, fairness becomes obsolete. The flipside to this thinking about fairness in terms of beauty, and how things that we think, or are made to think, of as beautiful are actually not beautiful at all."
Fair ain't so fair fuckers
So starts this new record, and it seems telling that the first song on the record is closed with this first, apt sample:
"'you can't hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree,'"
Apt because it is seemingly impossible to "get" Tim Fite's music without first getting to know the roots of Tim Fite. From his birth without blood, to the woods he grew up in, to his parents who praised social consciousness and gun control in a town full of NRA devotees, to the violently creative life he now leads in Brooklyn. Like his treasured samples, Fite takes our follies and burdens and makes them his own. "Fair Ain't Fair sounds like a happy record," he admits, then adds, "but the emotions behind it are some of the saddest I've ever felt."