From the arid land of California, indie-pop foursome Fialta stopped in rainy Spokane, Washington last week for a gig at the Bartlett. It was the San Luis Obispo natives first time performing in the Inland Northwest, but their infectious music and contagious stage presence soon had the cozy crowd dancing.
Two married couples comprise Fialta, each member providing vocals: David Provenzano (guitar), Sarah Shotwell (keys), Beth Clements (Keys), and Mike Leibovich (Keys/Drums). The group is touring in support of their most recent efforts, Hell Niño, released last week, and Shadow of a Drought, released last year.
“The EP was written alongside Shadow of a Drought,” Shotwell wrote to Behind the Setlist via email, “but we were going for a lower-fi, low-key vibe on most of those tracks. [Hell Niño] is more laid back than Shadow of a Drought. This EP, all in all, is just summery and fun.”
Fialta’s mix of harmonies and catchy, smart lyrics bring to mind She & Him, Vampire Weekend and Knox Hamilton. Perhaps best described as indie dance-pop with hints of coastal air, Fialta’s synth-infused, clap-along music is flat out entertaining. Not to mention it’s an engaging and contagious stage presence, as each member danced, laughed and rotated stage positions between songs. Even as an audience member, it was easy to feel included in the performance.
In between songs, the band’s transparency and vulnerability also helped make a genuine connection to the crowd. Fialta shared what inspired their music and where they found themselves at now. One memorable story came from Shotwell, who shared that after the painful loss of her mother discussing art with friends helped get her through the impossible time, eventually inspiring the song “Art Talk.”
Likewise, the upbeat anthem “Do the Best We Can” came from an intense drought in California that lasted for 198 days and occurred during some stressful personal times for the band members. “I think with our style of songwriting, and also our proclivity for dance pop, we don’t usually venture into too serious of waters,” Shotwell said. ‘Art Talk,’ ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Burning on Empty’ are the most confessional we’ve gotten in our songwriting. Even when we write from a place of pain, we usually look for the hopeful angle.”
A unique take on indie pop, Fialta’s blend of male and female vocals is a balancing act. Like most elements of the group, the creative process is shared, but the approach varies depending on where a song idea originates.
“In the case of ‘Art Talk,’ Beth had a bunch of verse and pre-chorus melodies, while I had a chorus that needed a home and some old lyrics from my journal that I wanted to see land somewhere,” she explained. “David and Mike worked to help us arrange it using electronic elements/synths. The results were a total hybrid of all our methods. All in, from start to finish, the song took us over a year to put together.”
On the new Hell Niño, one standout track is actually a cover, an ethereal take on Weezer’s “Holiday,” which not only effectively captures California nostalgia but also displays Fialta’s collaborative, harmonizing approach to songwriting. “Weezer is this quintessentially ‘90s California band, singing about surfing and drinking and band life, and the Blue Album holds this incredible nostalgia power for all of us,” Shotwell said. “We had a lot of fun arranging ‘Holiday’ in a style that we thought was very ‘60s and beachy. Like Weezer meets the Beach Boys. We see ourselves in that lineage of bright, fun-loving California music. So it was a fun mashup.”
Fialta’s members have ever-shifting roles in their vocals and harmonies. It is a collaboration, with everyone involved sharing the spotlight and genuinely appearing to enjoy performing their songs together.
“The best part about tour is being on the road with loved ones. A lot of people find road life lonely, but since we all get to travel together with our best friends and partners, it really just feels like a fun, crazy, exhausting vacation,” Shotwell said.
Vacation or not, one thing is certain—Fialta’s ability to turn both pain and joy into songs that people can’t help but dance to will surely continue to win crowds over.