Bullying, hardware Trojans and the melodic drama of Tim Fite
The sound collagist-turned-pop composer, whose "Ain't Ain't Ain't" was released Tuesday on Silver Lake's Anti-, spends his days helping international scientists communicate. An English language tutor at Brooklyn's Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Fite of late has been learning about the scientific evils of the world, namely the technological timebombs that are hardware Trojans.
"It’s terrifying," Fite said while on lunch break. "People are hacking technology at the chip level. They’re implanting Trojans in chips before they’re implanted in different pieces of technology. Then they’re activated and can take over the world. [One of my students] figuring out how to keep people from hardware-hacking a nuclear missile, sending it careening into nice people who don’t deserve to die.
"It’s a little more important than rock 'n’ roll, and I’m glad I can help with the grammar."
It helps keep Fite's career, one that's been largely conducted in obscurity, in perspective. "The financial situation right now looks bleak," Fite said when asked whether he had plans to tour to L.A. With "Ain't Ain't Ain't" his last album due to Anti-, Fite's recording future is now entering a phase of the unknown.
Personality-wise, Fite can come across as a bit of an oddball. He might, for instance, instruct his audience to create clay monsters at his concerts, and with songs assembled out of homemade loops and accompanied with cartoonish clips, a Fite concert can sometimes feel like a low-rent "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Melodic exploration, however, is placed ahead of weirdness, and "Ain't Ain't Ain't" is equally childlike and meticulous.
Folksy and toyish, the songs of "Ain't Ain't Ain't" are largely about reflection. The centerpiece ballad of "We Are All Teenagers" captures Fite's mind-set on the album, and as dour strumming gives way to moments of orchestral grandeur, Fite balances life lessons with everlasting naïveté. Likewise, the slow-building rock 'n' roll stomp of "Girard," which reads like a letter to Fite's teenage self ("It might get worse than this," Fite sings over hair-raising background choirs), and the topical musical fiesta that is the sing-songy "Bully," in which life's tormentors are never really behind us.
"I’m aware of it in the news, and wasn’t thinking of it from that perspective," Fite said of "Bully," which is backed to the brim with outer-space rhythms. "I was just thinking about what happened in high school -- I punched Billy in the eye because he was picking on me. One of my favorite things to do in a song is to take the position of the aggressor, the oppressor, and try to understand it. So when I say I’m a bully, I wasn’t really a bully. But we all have the capacity to be a bully. It’s a matter of choosing not to, and learning to understand that there will always be a bigger bully."
Fite's career has been marked by periods of avoidance. "I don't like selling things," Fite admits.
The artist, who's currently working on a fellowship with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, has in fact given away more music for free than he's released via Anti-. Some of his most acclaimed works, such as 2007's "Over the Counter Culture" and 2010's "Under the Table Tennis," were eclectic, sample-heavy mash-ups of folk, hip-hop and rock 'n' roll that were simply unleashed to the Web.
The albums also happened to focus largely on politics, a fact that made Fite even more uncomfortable in selling them. "If people are going to listen to me rant and rave, they shouldn’t have to pay for it," he said. "The advice is free."
Self-examination, however, is a chore that comes with a cost.
"Making this album was a mess," Fite said. "It’s much easier for me to talk about politics and things that I see that are wrong in the world. It’s much easier to be a commentator than it is an investigator."
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Cybele Malinowski / Anti-