Montreal duo FHANG on their debut album and being “enjoyable but odd”

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The first comment FHANG ever received on YouTube was “odd. enjoyable, but odd.” And the Montreal duo agree that that’s a fair interpretation of their genre-defying music.

“I was like, oh yeah, cause we specifically put that song out first. Cause we thought if we put this one out it will leave people questioning like, oh, that was pretty weird for a song. I’m going to have to follow up and see what the next song is to figure out if I’m into this band or not.”

FHANG is Mishka Stein (Patrick Watson, TEKE::TEKE) and Sam Woywitka. Their debut self-titled album arrived this week and channels the energy of pandemic-induced uncertainty into thunderous grooves and cinematic soundscapes with the gravity to absorb your entire attention.

Stein’s creative output has long been at the forefront of Montreal’s sonic landscape. In addition to his Polaris Prize-winning work with Patrick Watson – with landmark performances including a European tour opening for soul legend James Brown – his singular playing can be heard on releases by The Barr Brothers and Plants and Animals. Stein appeared alongside artists including Beck and Leslie Feist on the final studio album by Leonard Cohen, and has shared the stage with titans like Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Woywitka’s aesthetic is unmistakable in its commitment to out-of-the-box textures. His relentless pursuit of unmapped sonic and rhythmic territory was honed alongside Grammy-winning producers Chin Injeti (Drake, Pink, Eminem) and DJ Khalil (Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak). Woywitka recently garnered a Juno win for his work on Half Moon Run’s A Blemish in the Great Light.

This is the duo’s first time working on music together. But a worldwide pandemic gave them the time to explore new ideas.

“I came home from tour and just needed something else to do whilst going through all this craziness,” says Mishka during our Zoom chat. “Personally, I was just at home learning Ableton and laying down some ideas. (Sam and I) were communicating a lot at that point and we just started sending ideas back and forth. We were at home kind of just tripping out on this music and I wasn’t even imagining a live kind of context for it until just recently.”

The instrumentation on the album takes unexpected detours and the intense rhythmic patterns clash with stripped-down moments. Not to mention a well-calibrated groove that runs through the songs, somewhere in between experimental pop, shoegaze, Krautrock, and disco-punk. Woywitka and Stein took advantage of the pandemic to work on all aspects of this album: the music, the photos, the videos, the distribution – pushing the boundaries of DIY to the max.

“During the pandemic, I think people just adapted like crazy, you know, like a lot of venues turned into live stream rooms where you would put do your shows. So I did a few of those things and yet personally, I spend most of my life composing, performing but never ever really recording myself and I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I was like, this is my chance to, to get that part of being musician down as well,” says Stein. “In the Patrick Watson band, Patrick is the engineer/producer, you know, and that’s going on 20 years of that experience. So I just kinda got the basics of that and started recording myself.”

When he was just 17 years old, Woywitka was involved in a car accident that left him in a coma for two months. It was an event that he tells us left him fundamentally changed as a person. He’s even planning on making a film about his story.

“I woke up completely different from that whole experience. And it took me a few years to realize actually how different I was from before. And then we started writing music for this story. And then I was like, I’m going to buy a camera because I have to shoot this film. And then eventually after talking about it for years, I finally bought this camera about a week or two before we shot the first music video, which was Vaudevillain, and that was basically the music videos so far, just like me learning video editing and just us coming up with our own notebook and ideas that we can put together and all the videos so far we’ve shot in one day and we’ve done it all just ourselves.”

Watch the video for Many Moons below and see if you recognize a few faces.

The album involves FHANG eschewing genres to deliver a set of songs that are unexpected and surprising as much as they are creative. You’ll be snapped out of a synth reverie by thunderous drum fills on opener “Stanza Fresca.” Find yourself simultaneously lulled and antagonized by the Iggy Pop-like bluster of “King of Blame.” Get swept away by the warm groove of “Many Moons” – a collaboration with LA hip hop duo Tiron & Ayomari, whose sophomore album Woywitka mixed. The band says they’re happy to no be tied down to one sound.

“I feel like people are just so exposed to so many types of music now that you have a bit more freedom to be a bit less genre-specific,” Sam says. “There’s tons of artists that I love that are definitely not tying themselves down to a genre. There’s so many parts of even myself, you know, that I’m just like getting to know all the time, then I’m like, yeah, it’s becoming more normal, which is really nice. You know, people expecting the unexpected is finally not a turnoff. I just think there’s lots of artists now that are just exploring wherever it is that they want to go. It’s a way more honest kind of portrayal of somebody’s world. You know, I don’t think anybody really lives in just one colour, you know.”

Check out the full interview with Sam & Mishka below:

FHANG’s self-titled debut record is out now on Woywitka‘s newly created Hidden Ship label. Stream now via your preferred platform:

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