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Threading the needle

Conniption Fits deliver solid new album

Quarantine produced a variety of reactions from the music community. Some performers polished and completed projects long in progress. Others played nonstop on Facebook Live, while dreaming of an open bar. Some were too busy homeschooling their kids to write songs. And a few made creation a mission — like Stevens Blanchard, who decided to build a new record from scratch. The result, This Useless Thread, is one of the best things done by his band, The Conniption Fits. It’s full of the present moment, from the modern struggle to find harmony in “Harder Than It Is,” which leads things off, to “Forms in the Gaslight” and its complaints about lying leaders.

It offers layered harmonies and majestic guitar swathed in sonic sheen evoking ’90s power rockers like Foo Fighters, Green Day and Muse. Blanchard echoes The Edge on “Slipping Jimmy” and crushes the crunch funk of “Money Goes” without being derivative. Ditto the double entendre pop of “White Lies” and the pulsing title song; the sound is all their own.

This Useless Thread is their first album of all new material since 2012’s Friends With Benefits, though the “greatest hits” CD Misinformed Informant, released three years ago, contained a smattering of new songs. The band’s current lineup is Blanchard on guitar and vocals, bass player Jamie Hosley and drummer Jeff Samataro.

In a recent interview, Blanchard talked about the process of creation and how it kept him going in a difficult, challenging time.

“I made it a point that every morning I would get up and go into the studio and lay down some tracks,” he said. “It’s crazy; you do the work and you actually … are productive.”

Blanchard returned from a trip to Switzerland at the end of February “just in time for everything to shut down for three months,” he said.

He had a lot of ideas kicking around.

“All Conniption Fits albums start with me,” he said. “I come up with chords, melody, lyrics, then put it together in some sort of form.”

Once he finished a rough track, it was sent off to Samataro.

“Jeff put his drum input on it, his rhythm things, and that sometimes made us go back a little bit and retool,” Blanchard said. “Then we have the benefit of doing Jamie on bass last. … He can really lock in with whatever Jeff did. I always like to say he replaces my crappy tracks with real ones.”

There’s a cohesive, well, thread throughout the new album.

“That’s the really cool thing about doing things so fast; you’re very consistent in thoughts, and I was in a very specific head space,” Blanchard said. “I listened to a lot of stuff. … Sometimes I want to do a song that leans more electronic or one that’s sort of rootsy and organic, then run it through the Conniption Fits mill. It sort of comes out being us, you know?”

The band is usually one of the busiest in the state, a solid draw at places like Murphy’s Taproom in Manchester, Goffstown’s Village Trestle and Stumble Inn in Londonderry. Since June, though, it’s been an average of just one gig a week.

“That’s like a quarter of what we normally do through the summer, and we’re lucky to get one,” Blanchard said. “It’s usually decent money, but that’s all it is.”

On Sept. 27 — Blanchard’s birthday — they’ll close out Rochester’s Porch Festival with an “afterparty” show at The Garage, adjacent to the Governor’s Inn, a venue the Fits have played for years.

“They have been gracious enough to have us,” Blanchard said, adding that he energetically pitched his band for the event.

“I was just thinking of all the venues possible that could do public shows,” he said. “Because we’ve been doing all these private shows, and while they’re great we still want to perform for fans, where people can attend and also feel safe and comfortable. I think that’s one of the best outdoor venues to try something like this.”

The Conniption Fits
When: Sunday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m.
Where: The Garage at Governor’s Inn, 78 Wakefield St., Rochester
Tickets: $10 at the door

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