Soldiers of Fortune: The Best Anti-Band in History
Matt Sweeney tells us why, and stream the group's new record 'Early Risers' ahead of its release.
Photo by Sarah Richardson
Soldiers of Fortune should not exist and they should not be good, in that order. They shouldn’t exist because they will never not shut up about how they started as an “anti-band” that would never write music, practice, or record. After the death of the beloved Marc Moore, even that limited ambition was set aside. The fact that they’re now two albums deep in their anti-career is a testament to both friendship and the hardheaded nature of their label Mexican Summer. To the second point, they are a “super group” made up of willful Brooklyn malcontents who aren’t getting younger fast and are fully committed to, as Matt Sweeney puts it, “completely full on, zero dynamic, peaking at the top but not noise.” “Zero dynamics” is not a genre that generally inspires confidence. But Soldiers of Fortune do exist, thrive (in their way) even, and are fucking good.
In anticipation of the forthcoming album, Early Risers (which Noisey is streaming below), Sweeney sat with me to talk about the band. In true Soldiers of Fortune fashion, he didn’t know he was doing promotion for the album till after the appetizers arrived.
The band was formed in 2004 by Brad Truax—a member of Florida’s Home and a little band you may have heard of called Interpol (according to Sweeney, “Brad runs the band. He starts the email chains,”)—with Marc Moore of The Ospreys. “The really important thing about Soldiers of Fortune, and I want to make this clear, is that there was this guy Mark Moore,” said Sweeney. “It’s very frustrating, this guy barely recorded anything but he had this huge impact on so many people.”
They wanted a free rock band that dealt in momentum but not too many chord changes, just rock weirdoes setting controls to the center of the sun but without any of the stoner Floyd-ian bullshit that usually makes jam bands so useless to anyone not actually on stage with them. After Moore’s sudden passing of a head injury suffered during a fall, Mike Bones joined the group.
When I told Sweeney that I wasn’t sure if I knew Bones, he told me, “Mike enjoys being a shadowy figure,” but Bones is also credited with keeping the band going when, without Moore, it didn’t seem worthwhile. The band is currently filled out by Endless Boogie’s Jesper Eklow and Oneida members Kid Millions, Papa Crazee, and Barry London (also of the underrated Knoxville Girls). Sweeney (of Chavez and Early Man and every other band ever) was the last to arrive. Basically, when they knocked down original Williamsburg freakazoid monolith Monster Island, these were the guys still standing. “Ripping and playing with no dynamic but doing it a way that’s fun to listen to I guess,” said Sweeney.
Unlike their first 12-inch, Ball Strenth, Brad and Jesper mainly oversaw production of Early Risers. The band, which, as stated, doesn’t write, or practice, would get together in the studio; jam for about eight hours and what was recorded got edited into manageable rock bits. “Plug in and play,” said Sweeney. “We sound good the second we start playing in my opinion. Everybody shares the same ten favorite records... We jam and jam and jam and jam and then cut it down. If there’s any themes that need to be brought to the fore, we do a guitar overdub over that.”
For the new record, it was decided to bring in a series of additional singers (generally Kid and Papa sing live) for either verisimilitude or perhaps just a whim of Truax’s. The band asked a collection of “super tight buddies” consisting of Clark "Yeremias" Bronson, Stephen Malkmus, Cass McCombs, Dan Melchior (“Broke Revue is the most mysteriously overlooked band. Such a lovely guy and the quality of his music is so good and I thought somehow that that would be enough.”), Ethan Miller and Matt McCauley. When Truax told Matt there was going to be six vocalists the imagery of immensely tangled wires immediately came to mind and Matt was thinking, “Ok! Good luck!” but the results are impressive. Each singer took the opportunity to be loose without being self-indulgent.
“There’s zero intention. Just to make it interesting…if you’re not there for the gestation and the whole thing, it can really free you up. You can come up with a different melody than you normally would, you never agreed to when the vocals would come in and you can just decide for yourself. These guys are really good singers who have made a million records between them.”
SOF’s music is part of a long tradition of guitar weirdoes loving the medium of Rock And Roll but being to ornery to do it straight. The influences of both West Africa guitars, southern roots-psych bands like Sir Douglas Quintet (especially on “Fatigues”), and Mid West America grunt are clear, “Everybody is playing and they’re playing a lot of notes but it’s not a wall. Well, it’s not a flat wall; it’s a brick wall. “De de de de de” rather than “whhhhhaaaaaaaa….’” The end result is surprisingly layered and at times legit thrilling.
I asked Matt why rock bohemian dudes love UFO so much.
“Because they’re great!” (Followed by literally ten minutes devoted to UFO’s back catalog.)
I asked Matt if Soldiers of Fortune could recreate the songs live.
“We could if we practiced.”
Soldiers of Fortune have only toured once, with Black Dice. "I don’t know who the fuck would ask us to tour anyway. But that was super chill—the one tour we did, like, a week in England. I generally, as a policy, don’t reflect too much about things, but I really do look back at that tour and think, 'that was so much fun.'" And there’s little tension in the band, considering the years of experience and, uh, strong personalities involved, "We’re grown ass men…. Having zero agenda other than to play that night helps."
In terms of future touring, Sweeney is...very Soldier of Fortune-esque; “I don’t know…Brad said something about wanting to do something.”
Soldiers of Fortune's record release party/show is November 6 at Max Fish in NYC. It will be very weird and good.
Zachary Lipez is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.