My absolute favorite object is called a palimpsest. I had never heard that word until about two years ago when I was sitting in a modern poetry class, tuning in and out of an ongoing discussion. The word sounded strange so it caught my attention. A palimpsest, as it would soon be explained to me, is an object or a manuscript on which the old writing has gone or been erased in order to make room for new writing. However, little traces or ghosts of past markings remain so you can see pieces of the old text beneath the present one. Picture writing a note, and even after erasing a misspelled word, still being able to see the faded letters in the paper. When Fine Fine Titans vocalist Jennifer Bartlett begins telling me the story behind the song “A Fire Retraced (Fahrenheit Diaries II)” off their upcoming album, Renaissance, all I can think about is a palimpsest and what it means.
She sighs when I pry into the song and why it’s so dear to her. Her voice changes from the vibrant, energetic tone it carried when I first picked up the phone and becomes heavier, a little unsteady. “Back in 2008, I had an apartment fire,” she finally says, “and I lost everything except for a box of my journals. I’ve been journaling since I was maybe nine, and I had that box of journals except for one journal. And the one journal that I lost in the fire signified a really important part of my growing process. And so losing that journal, and losing the memories that were written in that journal…it felt like I lost a part of myself as well.”
The Michigan post-hardcore band had recorded a song entitled “Fahrenheit Diaries” for their previous EP, Omega, about the fire and Bartlett’s personal loss. “This revisited it in a way to get deeper into that subject,” she explains of Part II, “which I don’t expect anyone to understand or even pick up on that, but it was really therapeutic for me to write about that specific incident.” This new song is her palimpsest; proof that an old story can be re-examined, a new one written, but the etchings of the past will always color the paper—or in this case, an album. Even lost words from a lost journal can bring bits of history to the future.
The thing about fire, too, is it purifies at the same time that it destroys. Renaissance is about a similar kind of rebirth. Once on the verge of collapse due to a changing lineup and artistic focus, the band now feels as though they’ve risen from the ashes.
“Vulnerability is not weakness.”
“Really in the last few years of the band it’s been kind of a whirlwind,” she says. “A lot of change in members and direction and I think for this new album we felt like it was really a new birth for us. We actually almost fell apart a few years ago, and instead of letting it go we kind of picked ourselves up from the bootstraps and decided we were going to move forward no matter what. In order to do that we kind of had to reinvent ourselves and the music.”
I have to ask if the Renaissance is actually her favorite period in history. She laughs it off, a little caught off guard, and despite admitting to an admiration for the costuming of the 1500s, says, “I try to maybe focus on the future a bit more.” Not a bad idea for a band that is currently picking up steam. Fine Fine Titans recently had their music video for new single “Mistress” debut on Revolver, and their following single “I Just Saw A Ghost” feat. TJ Miller of Still Remains premiered just the other day over at AllMusic. However, the vocalist’s favorite tracks from Renaissance still have yet to be shared.
As you might expect, “A Fire Retraced (Fahrenheit Diaries II)” is one of them. “Molasses Tongue” is the other, and for good reason. The enticing guitar riff that introduces the track carries throughout the song, and the music itself takes defibrillators to the post-hardcore genre, but “Molasses Tongue” also seriously showcases Bartlett’s vocal chops. Her dark, husky melodies are alluring enough, but this chick has some aggressive screams. Ironically, she insists aggression isn’t where her emotion comes from.
“It’s like being scared and frightened and emotionally distraught [and it’s] like this is the only way I know how to get this out right now.”
Getting a little philosophical, she persists, “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s a stronghold and it’s the start of all emotions. And I think that we kind of confuse that for weakness and when we do, we let it eat at us. And it’s easy for other people to stomp on us and our dreams and the good will we have.”
“Especially when it comes to the music industry and being a woman in the music industry,” she adds, coming to the inevitable question of gender in the entertainment business. “I feel like [with] rock specifically, women feel like they have to be strong in order to be heard. And maybe that is true, in some instances, but I think as long as you’re honest that’ll take you further than being aggressive.”
What is clear from my conversation with her, no matter where it comes from, is Jennifer Bartlett’s strength—strength of conviction, of voice, of self. And it’s something she wants anyone who listens to Fine Fine Titans to take to heart.
“Hopefully [the record] inspires someone else to follow their dream, whether it’s in the creative field or in a political way or anything at all. I hope it inspires someone to have the courage and strength [to] realize that vulnerability is an asset.”