No One Needs to Know Our Name seems like an unlikely statement for an independent band in 2015, but its sentiment is neither ironic nor defeatist. It’s more of a personal manifesto for Chicago-based Fort Frances. In an age of hyper-connectivity and public oversharing, frontman and chief lyricist, David McMillin, says, “This is a reminder that we are all allowed to shut out the noise.”
There was no shortage of that noise over the stretch of time that passed since the band first started crafting these songs in early 2014. Marked by an engagement, a marriage and a divorce, the members of Fort Frances were each hearing the disruptive alarm clocks of adulthood.
“We all started to recognize that we aren’t 22 anymore with the whole world ahead of us,” Jeff Piper, bassist, says. “The past year has included a lot of ‘I guess we’re adults now’ reminders.”
So the band did what anyone bordering on the cusp of growing up longs to do: they escaped. In the fall of 2014, they traded the sounds of the city for a retreat at the Great North Sound Society with producer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive, Langhorne Slim). Tucked away in Parsonsfield, Maine (population 1,584), the band buried their concerns for two quiet weeks in Kassirer’s 18th-century New England farmhouse.
“The days at Great North have a way of making the hands on the clock fade away,” Aaron Kiser, drummer, says. “There’s no cable, no wi-fi. The only real reminder that there’s something else happening in the world is the occasional hum of a passing car on the two-lane road outside the house.”
In between those hums, Kassirer pushed the band well beyond their Americana roots into louder territory and unlocked the potential that has been steadily building inside the band over the past two years. From the dueling rhythm parts fighting through “Days Get Heavy” to the horn section leading the swing of “Anonymous” to the Spoon-esque stomping of “Year of Gold”, this is Fort Frances crossing into unfamiliar territory. As the arrangements help the band pursue a bold new direction, McMillin’s lyrics find their footing in the uncertain enclave between the naiveté of young adulthood and domestic complacency.
“The past will always be a dear friend even when you do your best to shed your skin,” McMillin sings on “Best of Luck.” “Your mind takes pictures of everywhere you’ve been, so everything that’s lost can be found again.”
The lyric is a fitting summary of the band’s attempt to run away. Despite their efforts to shed the realities of an exit from their twenty-somethings, it’s clear that the disappearing act has helped them reclaim their grasp of what’s cycled through the minds of every generation: restlessness, romanticism and a longing to discover something more than road standing directly in front of them.
“You definitely want to keep your eyes on this band,” Bruce Warren at WXPN wrote in 2013 when the band released Harbour,, a self-recorded EP that landed the band on stage with a who’s who list of emerging indie rock names including The Lone Bellow, Bahamas, PHOX and We Are Augustines.
Now, as the band prepares to release No One Needs to Know Our Name, that prediction appears to be true. While no one may need to know Fort Frances, it’s safe to say they’ll want to.