If the Kalamazoo band True F.O. had a catchphrase, it would be “pass the instrument.” After almost every song, members of the band switch between guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
“It’s more of like not being comfortable just playing one instrument. Also wanting to dabble in different things as far as like writing songs. Cause there’s songs we’ve written where I normally play guitar, but the song is written on bass and I play bass in it,” says Mike Anyonga.
Jarell Fields says sometimes it’s about who can play it best in that song:
“If I have a particular style with guitar or a particular style with bass or drums, then I want to be the one playing that instrument. Trevor has a particular style. If he likes to play solos a certain way, only he can play that way. So that’s how we assign the instruments. It all comes from who wants to play what for that song.”
On Thursday, February 23rd True F.O. will play Shakespeare's Pub in Kalamazoo along with three other acts. The show starts at 9 p.m.
In their set, you can hear elements like rock, R&B, electronic and psychedelic music. There’s even a little bossa nova, a Brazilian style of music popular in the 1950s and 60s.
Mike Anyonga says the band’s sound varies - it all depends on who wrote the song:
“When we ask people, ‘What do you think we sound like?’ They’re just like, ‘There’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of here.’ And we’re just like yeah, that’s kind of how we wanted to do it. So that’s for the listener’s kind of pleasure to figure out.”
In one way or another Western Michigan University brought the members of True F.O. together. Fields and Coleman grew up in Auburn Hills and moved to here to study at Western. Keyboardist Tony Mitchell is also a student there. Anyonga goes to Kalamazoo Valley Community College, but Western brought his family to the United States from Uganda about 12 years ago:
“Yeah my mom was actually going to Western getting her PhD at the time, so we came along with her. And when she got her PhD she figured, you know, the Kalamazoo Promise came into effect at the time. She’s like well, you guys have been in school. Why not just stay and go to college and finish it?”
Members of True F.O. were all friends, but Fields says they probably wouldn’t have become a band if it weren’t for Do It Together Kalamazoo - an organization that sets up concerts in the private homes of musicians and music fans, often in Kalamazoo’s Vine neighborhood.
Fields and his bandmate Trevor Coleman started using their house for concerts. Soon Anyonga says the four of them started jamming together.
Fields says they never intended to become an official band, but Anyonga made a quick decision that forced the group to put those jam sessions on paper.
“I think it was two or three weeks after playing together. I talked to one of my friends who had the pretty big [DIT] spot at their house. I was like, ‘Hey, can we play a show at your house.’ ‘Yeah man, sure. It’s going to be in a week,'" says Anyonga.
"Came the next day, told them and we’re like yeah we got a show. We got to write some songs now.”
If you have a band, it helps to have a name. Surprisingly the acronym in True F.O. isn’t an acronym at all - and no, it's not an alien refernce like U.F.O. Coleman says the name just sounded right.
Coleman says opening their house up to concerts has allowed the band to make connections with musicians from around the country. Anyonga says Fields and Coleman have even hosted an instrumental rock band from France called Grand Detour:
“I got to know them a little bit better. They’re from Toulon which I guess is just like a coastal city in France or something like that. And they were really really nice people and I never heard music like this before, especially from the French. I didn’t know this was the type of music going on in some place like Toulon. So getting to know them better was really fun and kind of shocking that this is the kind of…our house is bringing this type of people from different parts of the world to come and play at our house one night and then hang out and the next day they’re gone.”
To call the members of True F.O. “busy” would be an understatement. All of them either have day jobs or attend college - and they all play in more than one band.
Fields and Coleman have a grunge rock band called Twenty Seventy. Anyonga is in a soul and R&B collective called Purple Lemurs. Keyboardist Tony Mitchell is an electronic producer and composer, part of an ambient music group called Chöd, and DJs on WIDR - Western’s student radio station.
Coleman says coordinating schedules can be hard with all of these side projects, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They all sound great and they also allow us to write more music than we already do in True F.O. And also build ourselves as musicians in a different sense playing those genres. And that helps us grow and helps us bring a lot of other stuff back to this band,” he says.
“If I write a song and I know that it’s not parallel to True F.O.’s style, then I can write a song and express what I’m feeling in a different band," Fields adds.
“It’s nice to just be in that environment of playing music all the time. So every weekend is like we’re looking forward to a show or practicing for a show," says Anyonga.
The group is going to release their first EP on February 25th. Coleman says he hopes this first recording can move the band forward.
“We’re just excited to release it because there’s been a lot of songs that we’ve written a while ago and that we’ve been playing for so long. And it’s nice to have them recorded so other people can listen to them on their own time," he says.
"And then after we release that we can continue writing more music and start hitting the road more too.”
True F.O. will play at Shakespeare’s Pub on February 23rd at 9 p.m.