At 10 a.m. on a recent Friday, the six members of R&B rock band Fiancée crowd around a table at Charlie B's. The night before, they'd made their rounds of downtown watering holes, hit up a party until early morning, and then went home to take a nap. Now, in the cool darkness of the bar, they drink Bloody Caesars to take the edge off—naturally in the same clothes as the previous day. Fortunately, they're a sharp, chipper group, even when running on little sleep and vodka fumes.
"I like to tell people we're the thinking man's drinking band," laughs guitarist Bryan Bobowiec.
More than half of Fiancée is from Wolf Point, Mont., a Northeastern town historically built on fur trading that now boasts a population of 3,000. Before they moved to Missoula, the musicians—Skyler Bridges, Beau Clifford, Tanner Benson, and Joshua Bergen—had a band called Jamboree that played at three different Wolf Point venues to small but, nonetheless, exuberant audiences.
"The town was really supportive, because it's all you can do," says Bridges, Fiancee's lead singer. "It's either play music or play sports."
After moving to Missoula three years ago, the Wolf Pointers joined forces with Bobowiec and bassist Carson Neagle, and started Fiancée. Like so many local rock musicians, the Fiancée guys work evening-shift service jobs at food joints such as the Iron Horse, the Montana Club, Pita Pit, and the grocery store Albertsons. In an old house on Brooks where four of the bandmates live, Fiancée practices from midnight until the wee hours of the morning. An adjacent parking lot and lack of residential neighbors makes it the perfect place for all-night jamming.
"There's a business to the left and the other neighbors are swampers at night," says Bobowiec. "Since we all work the evening shift the only time we can get together and practice is midnight on weeknights.
The Brooks house has a long history with rock and roll. It's been passed down by new-wave rock band Volumen, who used to park their touring van—a refurbished ambulance—in the parking lot. The inside has seen, over the course of a few decades, a multitude of classic rock posters, stacks of records, band stickers, and boxes of take-out—one of the perks of working in the food service industry to support the rock habit.
I feel like we're carrying the torch," Bobowiec says. "We've been holding it down for the last three years and we don't plan on leaving any time soon."
All six members contribute heavily to songwriting, though Clifford (keyboardist) and Bridges most often take the lead on creating the skeleton for each song. With tunes like "The Big Easy," "Let's Make It," and "3/4 Blues," it's no surprise that old blues, soul, and Southern country rank at the top of the band's list of influences. You can hear a little bit of Bill Withers weaving through pop anthems, dirty rock breakdowns, and angsty classic rock vocal stylings.
Fiancée's been prolific with its songwriting but not always so serious about marketing its music. They often open for bigger name bands traveling through town. They recorded a debut album last year and then almost immediately took a winter hiatus. It was a rocky time. Neagle had left the band early on to play in Deny the Dinosaur and Fiancée was having a difficult time pinning down another committed bassist that understood what the band's vision was. And even with five players, no one else wanted to fill in.
"It was a little miserable," says Bobowiec. "I don't see myself as a bass player, Beau doesn't see himself as a bass player, Josh doesn't see himself as a bass player, so it was really frustrating. We went through a ton of bass players."
Fiancée stopped taking gigs, put the album aside, and took some time to write new songs and work on individual projects.
"I think at some level all of us had to take a step back," says guitarist Bergen. "We had this album just sitting there but we needed some space."
"Went to the top of the mountain, got focused," adds Bridges in his best wise man voice.
In the spring, Neagle rejoined the band and they've been playing shows every few weeks. But they're still waiting for the album artwork to come through.
"I think it's almost been a scapegoat: waiting on the art," Bridges admits. "We all seemed motivated and on the same page, but it wasn't the right kind of motivation, I suppose. Maybe we just weren't ready then. But now we are. We're going to press it and go back into the studio and press another, and keep being ambitious."
One nice notch on the band's belt is its music video for the song ".45." It's a nicely produced montage by filmmaker Guerrilla Waltz, who got his skills from Montana State's film program. It's not exactly clear what the storyline is, but it has something to do with a 45 record in a stolen suitcase. Magic tricks, fistfights, robberies and torture ensue. At one point, Clifford is thrown into a shallow grave. It's like any solid noir thriller—mostly filmed in the Brooks house—but interspersed with a rockin' live show of Fiancée at the Palace.
Lately, the band has been trying to find its way into the spotlight. To that end, the band's upcoming show this week has them as the main attraction rather than the supporting act.
"We've always been a band that's on-call," says Bobowiec. "Someone else is setting up a show for a touring band and they ask us to play this show. And we wanted to go from that to setting up our own show with us as the headliner. That's what we're starting to do, and this upcoming show is 100 percent our show."
Fiancée admits it hasn't yet broken into Missoula's mainstream music scene. Mostly, when the musicians play a show it's to an audience of maybe 30 or so close friends and co-workers. They'll play their songs, hit some bars, and then maybe head to an after-hours party to celebrate with everyone in tow. Then they might fall asleep for the day, and wake up to do it all over again. It's the life of a small city rock band; and everyone is invited, says Bridges.
"A fan of fiancée usually becomes a friend of fiancée—just as long as you can hang on."
Fiancée plays the Palace Friday, July 8, at 9 PM. $5.