A couple weeks ago, I sat down in my recording studio (bedroom floor, laptop open, RCA voice recorder) and called Alex Fitts. Alex’s current solo project is called The KickDrums who I featured on episode 296 of The Justin Wayne Show and featured on Music For Lunch when he released his newest EP, Breath Again. Alex and I talked about everything from his newest endeavor, a record label under 24West with his friend and partner in crime, Rich Nardo, to an entertaining memory nugget in which he had an encounter with P. Diddy. Listen and read below for all the details (warning, some explicit language):
When I first got a hold of Alex, I was a little nervous but he made me feel better about MY “recording studio”:
MFL: What in your eyes would be considered successful for a musician? A lot of musicians I consider successful, I would never hear unless I went digging.
Alex Fitts (AF): Yeah, I don’t know. That’s like a million dollar question. I think success is relative to everybody and people put a lot of pressure on themselves to go as far as you can go but there really isn’t a distinct finish line in terms of success. For producers I always say, you should, in terms of industry success, you should have a gold record. Some album you are on. Say you produce for Jay Z and his album goes platinum. I just feel producers should have a gold album before you consider yourself part of the conversation. You can go out there and have like pretty good success on just independent releases and have people know who you are but you have to remember there’s a history to all of this. Even though the internet is new it doesn’t delete the history of all the records people put out since the industry started in the 40s and 50s or whatever it was. And, as an artist it becomes a lot harder to pin down.
You can be like “Well, if I get booked for a festival and I play in front of a ten thousand people, that’s my goal and that’s what I would consider a pinnacle of success for me” and that really is an amazing goal to reach. Or you could be like, “I just want to go on a tour and do a sold out tour around the country just playing clubs, things that only pack 200 people” and that could be considered an amazing success. There’s all these different things. I think for myself, I always just think of it as way less than that which is not having a day job, being part of projects that you’re really proud of that your part of from the inception of it. From the beginning stages of it and all the way through when they start becoming visible. Just becoming part of the process is a career and a life. I will always consider myself successful because that’s what I do for a living.
I did some research and found a record of his from 2009 so I asked him about the start of his musical career:
I bragged a little bit about how open, wonderful, beautiful (etc) Montana is and he indulged in a personal fantasy he had about someday selling some of his equipment for cash, taking that cash and buying a bus ticket down to the Florida Keys and living out his days on the beach. He admitted he’d probably never actually do this…but, we can dream.
Alex is from Ohio and he tries to make it home at least four or some times a year to visit his parents and sisters who live there. I was curious about his family and what they thought about his choice to pursue music.
AF: They’re super proud of me. They’ve always been supportive since day one. They’re always building me up to all of their friends. They’re always really supportive when I’m putting something out. Always really inquisitive. We all started doing music pretty young. Like I said, my dad built guitars so there were always instruments laying around. I have two sisters so I was the third. I’m the youngest. We all took our turn learning to play instruments, the guitar or piano or something. Kind of fiddling around with it but I was really the only one that turned it into a career. My one sister went to college for performing arts. She definitely took it pretty seriously with singing and acting and stuff like that and she formed her own theater club in Columbus and now she teaches kids in high school who are looking to go into performing and pretty much anything they want to do in terms of entertainment even if they’re just going to start an indie rock band. If they take her class she kind of prepares them for what’s ahead. A lot of times kids think that it’s just a dream you know. You write the perfect song and you just blow up or something. Obviously it’s not like that. There’s a lot of work that goes into it and you have to be prepared mentally to work through people saying “no.” Exactly, people say “no” to me every day! I probably get 5 or 6 “no’s” for every “yes.”
I’m always so impressed with solo artists. I don’t understand how someone’s mind can work in such a complicated way, creating layers of instruments, hearing each part in their mind and making it a reality. On Alex’s newest EP, Breathe Again, he played every instrument except for the drums on the song “Lights”, on which his friend Chris Wall played the drums. He had the pleasure of inviting another friend of his, Aaron, to write lyrics for the EP. Alex respects Aaron deeply as a writer and friend and collaborating with him for this project was just what the EP needed according to Alex. Check out my favorite track below:
It was clear from the get-go to me that Alex adores his friends and many of them are talented writers, musicians and rappers. We chatted for a bit about an old friend of his from high school named Ray Cash. Alex produced half of his debut record Cash On Delivery. In addition to working for his friend, Alex has produced tracks for artists like Kid Cudi and 50 Cent. I had to know how and why.
AF: It was a lot of just developmental work. We would kind of sit there and work with DJs who needed remixes or a track for somebody and we would do that and then there would be an opportunity to go meet with an A & R from that or a manager or just the artist themselves who had heard that track and was interested in hearing some other tracks. So I just kind of used that to just network and get in the studio with people and meet people. Kid Cudi for instance was just from Cleveland so we already had a connection with him while he was really unknown essentially. Then when he started getting bigger we ended up working on some stuff. Well, 50 Cent was a shot in the dark. That was a situation where we cent a CD to somebody and they gave it to his engineer and he was just going through tracks and he just picked it out the blue. There was no, “Oh this is The KickDrums and this is so and so…nice to meet you.” He just picked it off of a CD and had no idea who it was. That’s the type of situation where you can’t account for that. That’s just sweat equity paying off.
And naturally, I assumed he had to have experienced some moments of feeling star struck but Alex prides himself on keeping his cool around celebrities and his ability to treat them like real people, because that’s how he wants to be treated. He says, “It’s just like a universe that gets put around somebody. It’s not real. It’s all a fantasy.” However, he did have a moment back in the day with Diddy. Listen to his story below:
I had heard that 24West (a music PR group in Brooklyn who is always keeping me current with the newest tunes and artists) had a brand new record label. It was this record label that Alex released his newest KickDrums EP on and that SWIMM (a group I’ve mentioned many times on MFL) will be releasing their upcoming EP on. I asked Alex how he and Rich Nardo of 24West decided to go down this avenue.
AF: We had worked together for a few years on different things. Mostly we were just friends. He had worked at a PR company that had worked on my album in 2011 and that’s how we met. There were six people that were a part of that company and we remained friends even after it disbanded. That was a company called Zero to 60. It was a management/marketing firm and everyone just went their own direction but everyone there got to know each other really well during those years. We’re all still friends and everyone is still working in music. We’re all just doing different own things. So this was the first time that him and I had a chance to sit down and put something together. I had done a remix EP, just a short thing and he did the PR for me on that and that’s when we really started talking about maybe we should put together our own thing. Why give the music to somebody else? We should just keep it and use it to better our own lives as opposed to other people.
Alex and Rich are an excellent team for this project. Both have a passion for music and supporting musicians. I asked Alex if there were any record labels out there that their new label might look up to for inspiration. He mentioned Hopeless Records, Mom + Pop and others. The full clip is below:
Alex is not only an inspiration in his abilities as a musician and a producer but also as a dream follower. He dropped all of his other hobbies upon finishing high school and took the risk of pursuing music, and music alone. His talent and perseverance got him to where he is today, to his surprise. Part of it is hearing from fans or anyone who appreciates and enjoys what he does. So, do yourself a favor and check out The KickDrums and if you love it, tell him.