Having elbowed my way to the railing, I’m standing in the balcony of a cramped club in Wicker Park, overlooking a mob of 100 vaccinated fans of the Happy Fits. When the band acknowledges that Chicago is the epicenter of their Spotify fan base, the crowd erupts in … I guess you could call it a happy fit.
And that’s what fans are responding to in their music: it’s irrepressibly happy, even as it documents the anxieties and disappointments and unfulfilled wishes of finding our way in the world at this moment. When Calvin Langman, lead singer and classically trained musician, doesn’t have his fingers on the strings of his cello, they seem to be on the irregular pulse of our generation.
Just listen to the way their hit “Dirty Imbecile” unfolds: a cracking cello marches us right into a parade of lyrics that make you want to hop off your lawn chair and climb aboard a passing float. Days after this concert, I found the rhythm bouncing in my head as I sauntered through the dairy aisle: LA-da-DA-da-DA-da-ditty, LA-da-DA-da-DA-da-ditty…
Then, when I dug into the words, the song hit different:
Love my mum and love my daddy
Sure they messed me up but that is
Voices that they left inside of my head
Darling, dearest, don’t you see
I’m tough, I’m smart, I’m bourgeoisie?
And I’ll play out this lie until we’re all dead
But you won’t understand
All the things that I am
‘Cause I’m crazy in just too many ways
But I get that little feel
When my heart starts beating, lungs stop breathing
All my fibers say to run away
Count my little scars, I’ve got dozens down inside
I come complete and invincible behind my dirty imbecile
All these things I’ve tried, boy: be cute, be dumb, be wise, be young
So don’t tell me what to fear in the darkness of this atmosphere
Am I good? Is all I could enough for you?
I’m so scared of when and where I’ll find the truth
This is not a fun parade to be marching along to — it’s something of an existential crisis, actually. But it feels fun. And when you look around and see hundreds of people who feel the same way, stomping along with their hands raised in the air, it starts to feel hopeful, too.
As they sing here: “Don’t tell me what to fear.” And that seems to be their M.O. — they’re not afraid to name what we’re all up against, but they do it with a boppy hook, which defuses its power.
And I think that’s the trick: these guys are defiantly happy even as they are navigating pretty heavy uncertainties. Or at least their music is happy. And that gives us a place to meet together — a space to see each other and be honest about what we’re facing, without it being a group therapy session.
It’s like they’re saying, “Yeah, we’re all working sh*tty jobs and none of us can find love and our families have unrealistic expectations. But so what — why should that weigh us down when we’re all in the same boat?”
And they’re right. It’s good music to row along with.
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There are only three in the band: Ross Monteith is the shy guitarist and Luke Davis is extroverted on the drums, and they all sing with Calvin. The trio met at Rutgers but dropped out in 2017 when people started to dig their sound. For Calvin, at least, that wasn’t an easy decision — he’s told interviewers that growing up in a Filipino family meant he was expected to succeed in a more traditional way, so he had to put a lot on the line to go against his parent’s wishes.
The band’s music ranges from rock to ballad, and spans topics from work to romance. Langman explains he wrote “Get a Job” while working the nightshift at a diner; you can feel the driving angst behind the song: “It’s time to be a workin’ man / Get an office if I can / I’ll work a hundred shifts a week / Won’t rest these eyes, won’t get no sleep.” It’s a song to turn up when you’re feeling burned out.
By contrast, “The Garden” pulses with beauty — it’s a serenade to childhood, even as it acknowledges dysfunction: “There is a house with a garden / Floral walls line the trees / In this house where I started / So much pain grew through me.”
There’s a lot of honesty on display here — a willingness to see things in the whole, for better or worse. And in shining light into the dark corners of our lives, this music gives us permission to look beyond our fears and ground ourselves in something deeper. “The Garden” ends with this line: “So if I lay down and let the roots grow ’round / Would it make me whole again?”
This band has somehow figured out how to name the way we’re all off-kilter in a way that makes us feel balanced and whole. That dissonance creates a hopeful longing when it’s shared — we’re messed up, but we’re not alone. Just read the lyrics to “No Instructions” — not exactly pacifying:
Oh, I have no idea
Got no instructions
I’m freaking out
Oh, I have no real answer
Got only questions
I’m waiting for my mind to go to sleep
So I can get some peace
But then give it a listen, and you start tapping your feet. That’s some kind of magic.
The crowd in Wicker Park is freaking out, too. No one has any answers, least of all the three guys on stage. But we’re here together, dancing.