Brian Fitzpatrick
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Brian Fitzpatrick

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"Album brings listeners into Fitzpatrick's world"

Cover bands may rule the New Jersey bar scene, but West Milford-based singer/songwriter Brian Fitzpatrick is trying to bring original music back to the Garden State.

"It's much easier to go out and duplicate rather than create your own music," he said. "But I'm not a photosopier. I'm into writing songs and creating my own thing."

Fitzpatrick, 32, has been a fixture at bars in New Jersey for years and it's easy to see why. His honest and emotive folk rock sound are a welcome respite from the loud and glossy cover bands that dominate northern New Jersey. With his fourth album in six years, "Further Down the Line," set to be released next week on his own Mandala Records, Fitzpatrick's prominence keeps growing.

To celebrate the album's completion Fitzpatrick and his band will have a record release party October 2 at The Underpass in Elmwood Park, which he warmly refers to the bar as his "home base."

"It's a great place for original music," he said.

With his new album, Fitzpatrick, who was raised in Wayne, hopes to get closer to what he calls, "the nerve."

"I just keep trying to refine myself and my music," he said. "This album is more concise and streamlined, and it paints a fuller picture."

Filled with personal narratives of love lost and woeful tales of wandering through the country, the album definitely brings the listener deep into Fitzpatrick's world.

"My goal with each record is just to refine my storytelling abilities," he said.

The album reaches that goal as Fitzpatrick sings to his microphone as if it were an old friend.

He is not afraid to take musical risks. "Further Down the Line," which was produced by Jerry Jones, features instruments like the accordion and the tin whistle. Influences came from country, folk and rock n' roll.

This eclectic sensibility is also featured in Fitzpatrick's live act. Sometimes he plays solo acoustic sets and other times he fronts a live band.

"They both have value to me, but my band is just a steam train," he said. "We get on stage and try to drive and elevate ourselves."

There is much more to Fitzpatrick than just music, though. He is also a successful graphic designer. Besides designing his own album cover, he has also created covers for the Rolling Stones and the Animals.

"In some ways I'm an overachiever," he said "I'm able to support myself without music."

He said his only financial goal with "Further Down the Line" is to sell enough copies to be able to justify another one.

"It would be nice to make a million dollars," he said. "But that's not my focus."

His last three albums have sold a respectable amount for an independent singer/songwriter and he also released an EP in the summer with a good response.

With "Further Down the Line" posed to be his biggest success yet, Fitzpatrick is at the forefront of a burgeoning original music scene in northern Jersey.

"I think New Jersey is underrated," said the Massachusetts native. "I get my inspiration from the small towns."

He mentions Mike June, the Scarecrow Collection, Cari Engdahl and Mike Pek as artists to look out for with the Underpass quickly becoming the hub.

As for those pesky cover bands always hogging the stage, Fitzpatrick has a message: "I think cover bands are great, but if you don't support original music, they won't have anything left to play."

- Alex Woodson

"Gentle acoustic the latest rage for punk soloist"

Lots of musicians admire Neil Young's ability to play both gentle acoustic music and raging hard rock. But few try to do it themselves.

Brian Fitzpatrick is an exception. This singer-songwriter-guitarist has been a member of Jersey hardcore punk bands like Nastasee and One4One, and he still plays guitar in the Morris County-based punk band A Moments Peace. Yet his three self-released solo albums -- including his soulful new "State of Grace" -- feature music that's more suitable for a coffeehouse than CBGB.

"It's kind of like the yin and the yang," says Fitzpatrick, 29, who grew up in Wayne and now lives in Clifton. "I find merit in both, and I find satisfaction in both."

Fitzpatrick's versatility sometimes surprises fans who know him from only one of his projects.

"I used to have hardcore kids show up at solo gigs and say, 'Man, I never knew you had that in you. How do you do that?,'" he says. "And vice-versa. My girlfriend, actually, knew me from playing (non-hardcore music), and when we started dating she came to a hardcore gig and said, 'Man, you broke my heart tonight. I had this other image of you and it's just been eradicated.'"

The two forms of music Fitzpatrick plays aren't polar opposites. "State of Grace" has some hard-rocking moments, and one song, "Northwoods," even approaches the speed and abandon of punk.

At a recent show at The Underpass in Elmwood Park, he and his backing band (keyboardist Ed Fritz, bassist Rich DeCicco and drummer Art Solari) mixed mellow songs with more rock-oriented material, and capped the show with a loose, high-spirited cover of Neil Young's "Powderfinger."

Some of the "State of Grace" songs rely on punk-like lyrical themes, even though sonically they have more in common with the carefully textured roots-rock of bands like Counting Crows and the Wallflowers. "Don't let them tear you down," Fitzpatrick urges in the chorus of "The Tearing Down." "Tonight I'm sinking, drinking again, feeling so stupid with these thoughts inside my head," he wails in "Thinking."

"It's just about being yourself," Fitzpatrick says. "If you're doing anything other than that, it's dishonest."

Growing up, Fitzpatrick listened to classic-rock artists like Bob Dylan and The Who. When he became acquainted with the hardcore scene as a teenager, it immediately struck a chord with him.

"They were guys just like you," he says. "They didn't look like Jon Bon Jovi and all these good-looking hair-metal gods. They were more the guys screwing up next door."

The shared sense of purpose in the scene also appealed to him. "I wanted music that I could feel and touch, and that I could feel a part of -- especially at that age, you're so eager to be a part of something, and it made me feel like I was part of something."

As a member of One4One and Nastasee, Fitzpatrick appeared on some indie records and toured in the United States and Europe. When Nastasee broke up in 1997 and he was left bandless, he decided to record some of the non-punk songs he had been writing -- "just to have them around, I guess," he says with a laugh.

After he had recorded a bunch of them, he found he liked them enough to put them out as his debut solo CD, "Other Side."

"It was like, 'I'll put out this record, and do it on my own, and try to stick to the old DIY (do-it-yourself) ethic of the punk-rock scene,'" he says.

"Other Side" came out on Fitzpatrick's Clifton-based Mandala Records label, as did his 2000 album, "When I Bleed," and "State of Grace."

"The first record made enough to justify doing a second record with a bigger budget," he says. "And the second record made enough to justify doing a third record with a bigger budget. If I can keep that in motion, then I'll keep going."

Fitzpatrick recorded "State of Grace" at the Jersey City studio Big Blue Meenie. Fritz and Solari play on the album, too, with producer Jerry Jones (best known as a member of the veteran Jersey pop-punk band, the Fiendz) chipping in on bass, guitar and backing vocals. The musicians didn't overdub many parts, so that the album would re-create, as much as possible, the feel of Fitzpatrick's shows.

"It was what we are, as opposed to, 'We've got to cut and paste this part, and make sure it's exactly perfect,'" says Fritz.

The rough-hewn sound may not be perfect, but it is evocative. Jones, who often produces albums for local artists at Big Blue Meenie, says, "People come in all the time now and say, 'Oh, I love the sound of that Brian Fitzpatrick record. I want to get my band to come in and sound like that.'"

The Underpass has become something of a home base for Fitzpatrick, who has played there often over the past four years. Joe Beets, who manages the 100-capacity club, says Fitzpatrick's shows have inspired him to present original bands on a regular basis.

"Because of what he spread from his heart to us, he gave us the power to do it," says Beets. "The first time we met him, there was some kind of - Jay Lustig/Star-Ledger

"Brian Fitzpatrick prefers intimacy of the stage to noisy bars"

A ticket price of $15 hardly seems like a great burden in an age where it sometimes costs in triple figures to see a band from a decent seat. But nevertheless it was a figure that made musician Brian Fitzpatrick a tad uncomfortable.

"I just kept thinking it was tough to see someone coming us with $15 to see me when they could catch me in a bar for $5," Fitzpatrick reasoned.

But then Montclair's Luna Stage, where Fitzpatrick is headlining a two night stint, is hardly a bar. The intimate theater is obviously better suited for music than your average smoke filled watering hole, where clinking glasses and boisterous drunken patrons, who may not care what the guy with the guitar is singing about, can make for a less than sterling performance experience.

Understandable than that Fitzpatrick would want to take his voice and acoustic guitar into the theater. As for the ticket price, which he inexplicably finds exorbitant, the answer was to make it a charity function, in this case to benefit Tomorrow's Children, which funds research for children with cancer and blood diseases

"I try to do a couple (of benefits) through the year," he said. "I don't know why really. Maybe it's Catholic guilt. Or the socially conscious thing. There's so much bad stuff going on in the world that to be able to do something positive once in a while, you want to do it."

Fitzpatrick, who by day works as a graphic designer, has released three CDs, including last year's excellent "State of Grace," and is working on a fourth. Splitting his performances between solo acoustic shows and louder band concerts, he is also an avid attendee/player at local open mike nights, including those at Luna Stage. From the pool of friends he's made at such gatherings he plucked two to also play the concert: Carrie Engdahl, who olpens Friday's show, and Mike Pek, who takes the support slot on Saturday.

"We had done the open mike there at Luna and I loved playing there," Engdahl said. "Playing in a bar is wonderful but at Luna it's a completely different vibe where people are sitting quietly and really listening."

Engdahl, 25, who describes her music as "emotionally charged acoustic rock," recorded some of her music in December and is hoping to release her first CD by the summer. Pek, 37, another regular at the open mikes, recently released his first disc, "Person of My Words."

"We were impressed with the space," Pek said of Luna.

"You usually go out to a coffee shop or a bar, which is nice, but this kind of theater is perfect for the kind of music we do."

Both Engdahl and Pek said they agreed that the show should be a benefit.

"I don't think any of us are into it for the money," Pek said. "We just want a chance to play. And with everything that's been going on with the war and 9/11, maybe some of the health-care charities haven't been getting the kind of attention they deserve. It's hard to argue spending money on kids. Which is another good thing about this charity, that it's apolitical."

A common refrain from the musicians who attend open mike nights is the value of being part of a community of like minded people. Within this group of writers, players say they find bandmates, industry contacts, friends and confidence.

"People like Brian encouraged me a lot," Engdahl said. "To have that kind of relationship with other musicians has really helped me get comfortable with being on stage and trying out new material."

Listening and watching Fitzpatrick strum and sing, it's easy to believe he could make a go at playing music for a living. And indeed he has, spending his post-high school years in full time hardcore bands, with which he toured Europe, where he even had a video air on MTV over there.

But the realities of the day-to-day pressure of the music business, along with the interpersonal strife too often present in a group situation, led to his leaving the business altogether, a sour aftertaste for the "industry" in his mouth.

He was not, however, weary of his talent for songwriting and so began applying his abilities in that vein to solo performance. Drawing inspiration from the players who motivated him to play in the first place–Bob Dylan, Neil Young among them–Fitzpatrick took the punk rock ethic of "do-it-yourself" and ran with it, booking his own shows and recording his own music.

"Being Irish, there is a long lineage of storytelling I associate with my grandfather and on down the line," he said. "So the most interesting thing for me has always been songwriting and storytelling more than playing guitar or being a big rock star."
- Don DiLorio/Herald News


Other Side (1998)
When I Bleed (2000)
State Of Grace (2002)
Further Down The Line (2004)



Having spent the mid-nineties touring America and Europe with several seminal Hardcore bands, Brian came full circle in 1998 and released his first solo album "Other Side". Two more albums followed: When I Bleed (2000) and State Of Grace (2002). Brian's latest effort "Further Down The Line" is scheduled for release in October 2004. Brian's songs paint pictures that draw on the artist’s inherent intelligence, vocal ability and gift for storytelling that clearly bespeaks his Irish heritage. His backing band consists of friends Ed Fritz, Jay Forsythe, and Rich DeCicco. Either as a solo perfomer or with the band Brian and Company continually deliver the goods. Rolling Stone Magazine has pegged him as "a writer to keep an eye on".