Fist Fite: Keeping the DIY Flame

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Fuck The Shins, Stephen Malkmus, and The Decemberists–for as much as large-room indie rock has been the face of the city over the past half-decade or so, Portland still has DIY in its soul. Bands still play to friends in sweaty basements, albums are still ripped onto spray-painted CD-Rs, parties don’t stop at last call. And the scraggly Fist Fite will be there ’til the last dude gets mauled by the cops at 3 a.m.

To call the members of Fist Fite veterans of the house-show circuit is an understatement. Their previous incarnations as Arcularius and Le Push were beloved in Portland and Olympia, WA, the former home of vocalist/keyboardist Johnnie Monroe and drummer Christian Carmine. After both of those bands ran their course, the duo reformed as Fist Fite, adding bassist Justin Wheeler.

While their sound won’t blow any audiophiles’ minds, it’s undoubtedly fun. Monroe’s voice resembles a drunk, human version of ADULT.’s Nicola Kuperus, and Carmine’s and Wheeler’s abrupt, unpredictable synth-punk underpinnings sound almost custom-tailored for shows in ragged punk houses and dim, smoky bars.

Last year the trio was tapped by Klaxons to open their European tour, but they still barely registered on the indie radar, and their lone album, Downtown Canada, remains a small self-release. Playing to thousands of people “felt really unnatural and awkward,” Monroe says from her front porch in Portland. “You play and you’re done and you don’t have any interaction with the people that are there.”

She recalls opening recently for a band (which will go unnamed here) at the rather shiny, “new Portland” club Doug Fir Lounge. “We got 86ed. Apparently, like, 50 of their beers were gone in, like, a half an hour [in the green room] and they got really pissed,” she says incredulously.

“It’s the least rock ‘n’ roll show I think I’ve ever played,” adds Wheeler.

“I don’t think we’ve ever said ‘no’ to a house show,” Monroe says. “People usually get way more drunker and have way more fun.”

During our discussion, I recall my first interview with this band fondly, a kind of symbol of the old, couldn’t-give-a-fuck Portland. It lasted about 10 hours, starting in a punk bar called The B-side and, later, heading to the band’s recording space in an off-the-map industrial neighborhood by the Willamette River called Linnton. Eventually we wound up beneath an interstate bridge at a riverside bonfire put on Monroe’s bike mob, the 2 Much Bike Posse. Somewhere around this point, I completely lost track of the band. As this city grows and changes almost too quickly to keep up with, it’s good to know there are still keepers of the faith.

Favorite Portland Artist:
Johnnie Monroe: Nice Nice, even though they don't play that much anymore.

Christian Carmine: Lips and Ribs. Every song that comes out I get really excited about.