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The only way to win

The Lonelys’ new album chronicles the drawbacks of love

The Lonelys

Greg Bollinger

The Lonelys’ lead singer Donovan Fite has always struggled with a sense he just wasn’t good enough—and this feeling fueled his songwriting. He wrestled his inadequacy into harmonies and catchy rock songs.

“Singing wasn’t really my way to prove to other people I was good at something,” Fite said. “It was honestly proving to myself that I wasn’t trash. Songwriting felt like the only way I could win.”

The band’s latest EP, Wall of Love feels like a bit of an emotional breakthrough. It’s a ten-song exploration of ‘60s British rock, chamber pop, and the earnest problems of growing up and learning to love.

In 2016 the Lonelys became a four-piece. Fite and his songwriting partner and guitarist Jason Swanson were originally a folk duo. They were joined by bass player Keri Hackbarth and drummer Paul Paino. The group was finally able to drive the band’s sound towards the rock music Fite and Swanson grew up loving as kids.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a band that struck me like Queen and The Beatles,” Fite said. “I remember listening to KOOL 106.1 here in Tulsa and just thinking this is miles above what I’d heard before. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was ten times better than the songs that were on pop radio in the early 2000s.”

The Lonelys produced and recorded Wall of Love themselves, and their process drew inspiration from their heroes.

“We built a studio into a garage, and we took all the songs that we’d been working on since college,” Fite said. “Then we made some rules for ourselves. There would be no sounds on this album that originated later than 1970.”

This meant all of the amps, pianos, mics and instruments on this record are from the era of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966). Choosing an era focused the band’s sound. On Wall of Love, Fite’s earnest, belting tenor voice soars over The Lonelys’ tight and tuneful rhythm section. He plays like a melancholy Brian Wilson on this EP. Two and three-part harmonies appear often. Vintage organs and compressors fill any negative space not taken by Swanson’s sparkling Les Paul. The effect is a record which is at times epic and immediate.

Wall of Love is a coming of age record. Most of these songs focus on self acceptance and being honest about how much you actually need and fear love. Fite’s past as a homeschool kid from the tiny town of Cordell, Okla. imbued him with a sense of smallness that he’s finally beginning to relinquish. He feels grounded and more in touch with and in control of his own emotions.

“If you live by your feelings you’ll move from person to person waiting for someone to fix you when nothing will,” Fite said. “You fix you and then you can give to someone else.”

Or, you can make record.

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