Fake Problems have never been big on standing still: The bristling, ramshackle folk-punk of their 2007 full-length debut, How Far Our Bodies Go, soon gave way to a more polished indie rock blend for 2009's It's Great to Be Alive, which managed to incorporate funky post-punk, marching ska-punk rave-ups and rousing organ-driven, garage-pop.
Nor did they stop there. On last September's Real Ghosts Caught on Tape, the Naples, Fla. quartet offers up tales of unfulfilled expectations that benefit from a dramatically richer, decidedly more poppy approach. Frontman Chris Farren mothballs the gruff shout that connected him with their early hero, Against Me! frontman (and fellow Floridian) Tom Gabel. Instead, he gravitates toward a tenor croon that fits well with their punchy indie pop demeanor. While hooks, supple arrangements and baroque embellishments all had cameo appearances in past recordings, they're now elevated to feature players in a much tighter, well-wrought production.
"All three of our full-length records are so different, and I'd like to start establishing more of a Fake Problems sound as opposed to just being this band that does the unexpected every single time," says Farren, noting that Real Ghosts was partly influenced by his recent fascination with Phil Spector. Of course, Farren also acknowledges that he's yet to write a single tune for his band's next album.
While the group is often joined on the road by keyboardists and horn players, Fake Problems started life as a solo project in Farren's bedroom. Inspired by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, Farren began writing and recording songs while still in high school, with the intent of one day having a band to play them. By graduation, he'd put together Fake Problems, whose demo he passed along to Gabel at an Against Me! show. That, in turn, led to the release of their debut on Sabot Productions, the label run by Against Me! manager Jordan Kleeman.
From there, Fake Problems found its way to a bigger indie label, SideOneDummy, which is also home to Flogging Molly and Gaslight Anthem. For Real Ghosts, they worked with Ted Hutt, a founding member of Flogging Molly who produced Lucero, Gaslight Anthems and Jesse Malin.
"He was the first producer we ever had that actually produced, and had an invested interest in the record," says Farren of Hutt, who serves as SideOneDummy's de facto house producer. "He really cared about the songs as much as we did."
Farren says Hutt even challenged him on some of his lyrics. "He wanted to make [the songs] as great as they possibly could be, so he really pushed us to bring that out in ourselves."
The result is a much tighter sound and focus. "We're a band that never suffers a lack of ideas. We have too many ideas, if anything," admits Farren. "With Real Ghosts we took a step back and said, 'Let's make the good ideas really count, and not force so many technical parts or strange things into each song."
The band followed up the album by going on the road as opening act for Gaslight Anthem — a group that spent its first tour opening for Fake Problems. After the New Jersey-ite Springsteen acolytes blew up, they were quick to return the favor.
"We're still operating in the same mindset," says Farren. "Tour all the time and do everything that we can to get the word out there. Just work as hard as possible for it."