- Bryon Harris
The Fens - Exclusive Music Interview with Matt Nakoa & Roman Williams
As rich as the Boston rock scene was in the early 2000's, with numerous bands dotting the landscape between Boylston and Huntington Avenue, very few bands achieved the cult status of The Fens. Songwriters Matt Nakoa and Roman Williams met by chance at a dormitory vending machine in December of 2002. As their catalog grew, they enlisted the melodic groove of bassist Jamila Weaver and drumming juggernaut Jesse Magnuson.
Only demos and unofficial releases had been available during their active years. The band disintegrated in 2007. Now, after 13 years, the band has reunited to create a definitive collection of the classics -- revised and revived. Lost In The Changes is a new album of songs from Boston rock darlings that dreamt deeply, vanished, and rose again.
Why do you call yourself ‘The Fens’? How did your band name originate?
Roman: In the early 2000’s we had accidentally committed ourselves to playing a few
shows in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we had no clue what to call ourselves. I had a
bunch of ideas but they were all references to vampirism or Hedwig. “Shadow Puppets”
was on the table. No one went for that. Thank God. Matt stopped me. I was pretty much
an insane person then. “The Fens” was the most tolerable of the suggestions.
Matt: We were living in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood at the time, and the nearby
park is called “the fens” - which is basically a fancy word for swamp. Anyway, everybody
knew not to take shortcuts through the fens at night.
Roman: Right. Everyone knew it was the hangout for all the flashers and guys from
Machine Nightclub trying to shoot up. We were amused that it sounded like a spiffy
name for a pop band—but underneath, this frightful thing. The Back Bay Fens. Woods
where you don’t walk at night. They probably do evening yoga classes there now. They
ruin everything, don’t they?
Why did The Fens disband?
Matt: Because ...
Roman: Because we were assholes!
Matt: Yeah, that. We definitely grew to be very dysfunctional. We also didn’t have any money or a chaperone, if you will, to guide us away from our problems and toward making the damn music. It’s one thing dealing with your asshole guitar player if you’re both getting paid well and the songs are thriving, but we’d fallen on hard times and we didn’t know how to fight our way out of it.
Roman: When you start messing heavily with music, or any other of the fringe cosmic forces, you start thinking you’ve actually got something to do with its power. And when you think you’ve got that kinda power, you think it somehow excuses you from all the other broken and juvenile parts of yourself. Arrogant assholes. We would have learned
nothing had The Fens survived. So now we know, at least, a little bit better. The Fens now: it’s not mine, or Matt’s or Jesse’s or Jamila’s. Or anyone’s. It’s everyone’s and it has been released. Even if we stand as the most unknown tree in the most unknown
forest. That’s fine.
What brought the band back together after 13 years?
Matt: Persistent nagging! And truth be told, it was 10 years later that we went into the studio to make "Lost in the Changes. It just took another three years to put the damn thing out. I guess, like zombies, we had to wait for the apocalypse to reemerge. Roman: Believe it or not, there has been a fan base that would remind us semi-regularly that once upon a time there was a cool scene with cool bands in it. Very few of those
bands got the chance to make their defining record. Most of them were snuffed out
before they even realized that their defining record —that testament of their era—was
what they were alive then to make. We got a second chance. So we had to make sure it
Matt: And we loved those old songs. We had to make sure the record did justice to the
songs, to the scene, and to that time in our lives.
How did you come up with the name ‘Lost In The Changes?’ Is there a story
behind the title?
Roman: In the town I grew up in, in North Carolina, there was a story of a local band
back in the 70’s that was on the way to one of their first big shows, when they crashed
the van and the guitar player was killed. The legend was that his Les Paul was thrown
from the van and barely took a scratch. “Lost in the Changes”, to me, was about them.
About dreams kids have. Kids from nowhere. And the grand schemes that never come
together. And still having to go on living, working, paying. It’s about life past the point
where your greatest dream is now only a fond memory.
Matt: We wrote the the song “Lost in the Changes” at the very end of the band’s natural
existence. It was a parable of sorts, about that band that tried hard but got too tired, too
old, took too many kicks to the ribs, and woke up too disillusioned to keep going. When
we reconnected to make this album, it seemed the best title to explain how these songs
and this band have been missing for so long.
What was the greatest challenge of putting together this collection?
Matt: Roman still didn’t know the damn guitar parts.
Roman: I figured you were just gonna replace them anyway.
Matt: [Laughter] Our actual big challenge was that Jamila was living in LA, Roman was
in Nashville, Jesse in New Hampshire, and I’m a straight-up vagabond; yet we had to
convene somewhere for several weeks to make this thing happen.
Roman: Yeah, the fact that there is no existing record industry and most working
musicians hardly make a living wage in this country means that everyone was off
somewhere, fighting to survive in their own way. Gigging. Cooking. Driving fucking Uber.
To have them cross the country to basically, like, dig up a corpse, was a miracle in and
Matt: We should also give a shout out to our old friend Eric Pfeifer who took time from
mixing The Tonight Show and raising his baby girl to mix our record and referee when
Roman and I got into skirmishes. An absolute hero, that guy. We wouldn’t have done the
record without him at the helm.
What was your favorite song to record off this project and why?
Matt: I had a great time with most of them. “Don’t Take It Away” was an absolute party to
record, every step of the way. “Xmas In November” is a duet and Roman and I couldn’t
get through a take we were laughing so hard. And “The Longest Mile” was neat because
I played the piano strings with a chopstick wrapped in rubber bands. Roman, what about you?
Roman: Can’t you tell from talking to me that I don’t enjoy music, as a matter of
How would you describe “Lost In The Changes” for fans who have not heard it
Roman: Christ! That’s the top three of my most frequently dodged questions! I should let you pick the answer! Ok, one of the following is a canned answer that we tell everyone and one is totally serious:
Matt: This is probably the best classic rock and roll band you’ve never heard. Even your dad will like us and be jealous you heard of this first.
Roman: The stories of “Lost in the Changes” are yours. You might just not have lived through them all yet.
Where can fans listen to or purchase “Lost In The Changes?”