There is something refreshingly different about the Nashville four known as The New Respects. While few musical narratives are the same, theirs is a story of resounding luck or providential favor – depending on how you choose to see such things. The young act has seemingly come from nowhere to become the darlings of the industry with their genre busting soul infused rock vibes. Fresh off coverage from outlets like NPR and Rolling Stone – who recently named them “10 New Artists You Need to Know” – we got the opportunity to sit down with the band before their show at the historic Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland in support of Robert Randolph & The Family Band. We were assured that their meteoric rise is no accident.
The early 20’s have been busy for the group. “We’ve been a band for five years now and it started in a way that’s pretty organic . . .we didn’t turn professional until about two years ago when we dropped out of college” explains guitarist Zandy. Turns out, college attendance was simply a way to placate their family. Their real goal was music. After a few months, they dropped out and committed to an intense six-month span used to craft their sound. “We knew we weren’t good enough. Being in Nashville we knew we had to put time in it. At the end of those six months, that’s when Capital signed us which is crazy” she adds. Shortly after this time, they were met with a whirlwind of shows opening for the likes of Switchfoot, Lecrae, and Crowder. This diverse line up shows just how wide their sound is.
Made up of three siblings, twins Alexis (bass) and Zandy Fitzgerald (guitar), along with their brother Darius (drums), and cousin Jasmine Mullen (vocals/guitar), the act drew heavily on a rich gospel and soul background. Jasmine’s mom found success in the contemporary Christian/gospel genre herself, and while their sound began with the expected influences like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, they also found inspiration from acts like Mumford & Sons and Coldplay. The result is a sound that goes beyond borders. “We are four black kids doing music that mostly you don’t see black kids doing and that is allowing people to understand different cultures and allowing people to expand their understanding of what black people can be but also what women can be. Our job is to build bridges between people,” explains Alexis. It is fitting then that they are able to move through the venues almost unnoticed for the most part. In certain regards, their confident humility marks them as aliens in this world and scene as they transcend sound, race, gender, and faith. Perhaps this explains their success. Music often finds a way to reward those with the right balance of talent and distinctiveness.
“If you look at Nashville and cut a mile circle, there are like a hundred musicians better than us . . . “ humbly explains drummer savant Darius. This self-deprecating spirit is in sharp contrast with their dynamic stage presence. Opening up with the scorchingly confident rock hymnal “Trouble” any thought of innocence is shattered. The band then rips through their set with a trademark confidence that surpasses their short years on this earth. Blending blues and rock with teeth, they have the uncanny ability to both shake and uplift the soul of listeners. Their short moment on stage confirmed in me that they are indeed as good as advertised. “No one knows who we are on this tour . . . which is not discouraging . . . it’s like going out to win people over to your fans, and being able to play shows every night is like we finally made it-ish. We made it to the beginning” the band laughingly explains. This is what Robert Randolph must have seen when he tapped them to open for him. “A lot of it has to do with Robert, because he is such a great musician, he pulls people who just love music. It gets us in front of people who are music lovers” Darius adds.
As music lovers who listen to a few hundred acts a month, it is easy to become numb to the personality behind the sound. The New Respects were able to give us that all so rare of feeling – a reminder of why we sacrifice hours and time to create an outlet for great art. There is something special in the way they provoke the clapping, screaming, and jiving of a sound unhindered. “A great song is able to connect with something you didn’t know was there,” Zandy points out as they prepare to take the stage. While it is easy to forget why we write some days, every now and then, when it’s needed most, the grace of music gives us a cosmic reminder.
The New Respects will be touring in support of Robert Randolph until the end of March. They are set for another tour right after with details coming soon. In the meantime, pick up their debut EP Here Comes Trouble that is quickly becoming more and more beloved by the moment.