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How Fantasy Suite turns reality TV into real emotion

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Fantasy Suite's song "Even More" begins with a soft bass line and loose guitar strumming that evokes the desperation and wistfulness of a Fleetwood Mac song. "What am I doing?" Zoë Phelan sings. "I've come so far from that first night. Can't help the feelin.' You made it fun—and so did he. When I'm with you, I think of him. When I'm with him, I was thinkin' of you."

The sentiment isn't all that different from any other love song, even if it's about being into two men at once. But the inspiration behind the song—and all the Missoula band's songs—is more surprising.

"They are all very directly based on stuff that happens in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette," says guitarist Lukas Phelan.

That's right: the ABC reality TV shows where, each season, a bachelor and bachelorette spend several weeks going on dates and getting to know a batch of contestants, handing out roses at the end of each episode to pare down the herd of potential mates. It's awkward, theatrical and cheesy, and it all plays out on camera for millions of viewers to see.

Given that information, Zoë's song about "that first night" and being in love with two men comes into focus. What makes Fantasy Suite so smart is that the members don't ever overtly reference the show. Lyrics are plucked here and there from the show's script, but the songs occupy an imagined emotional world. Taking absurd details and unnatural situations from the fairly shallow show, Fantasy Suite boils everything down to basic love and heartbreak.

"It's not like we write our lyric content 100 percent from dialogue or confessions from the show," says drummer Rachel Patrie. "We maybe get inspired from one line and then write a whole song about that one line. So we're not necessarily drawing from personal experience, but we're giving a two-dimensional experience more dimensions and making it personal. I think we can all imagine ourselves in the scenarios."

In a song called "Bad Danger Guy," the band sings about Chad Johnson, a Season 12 villain on The Bachelorette, both from Johnson's perspective, and from the perspective of viewers who dislike him—without ever mentioning him. The song's Chad Johnson character could be any complicated, misunderstood person who hurts other people.

Fantasy Suite features, from left, Rachel Patrie, Lukas Phelan, Zoë Phelan and Foster Caffrey. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • Fantasy Suite features, from left, Rachel Patrie, Lukas Phelan, Zoë Phelan and Foster Caffrey.

"In reality television, people are really emotionally vulnerable and have the components that you need to make a really good pop song," Zoë says. "In some ways, it's easier to get inspiration from that than from your own personal life."

Fantasy Suite started six months ago. Lukas and Patrie are members of J. Sherri, a lo-fi, experimental party band known for its live shows. Zoë, who also plays guitar, and bassist Foster Caffrey have never played in a band before, and Patrie is new to drums. The band has played several live shows, in which the members have been coy about their reality TV inspiration, if they say anything about it at all.

Nevertheless, if you've watched enough The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you probably get the "Fantasy Suite" reference. Toward the end of each season, the bachelor/ bachelorette gets a chance to invite contestants to spend the night with them in the show's fantasy suite, the idea being that there's sex to be had therein. But if you take the time to read behind-the-scenes articles about the show, you know that the fantasy suite is also the one place contestants can go to interact off-camera and have real, unscripted conversations. And those authentic interactions, more than sexy time, are at the root of the Fantasy Suite reference.

The band's debut album will be out within a month, and its title, First Impression, is also inspired by its TV namesake. The first episode of each season usually begins with the bachelor or bachelorette handing out roses to the contestants who make the best first impression.

For a band so tied to a contemporary concept, the music is surprisingly retro. There are elements of 1970s pop, rock and country, including some similarities to Big Star and the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac. The band's intensity of emotion, coupled with the fact that Lukas and Zoë are married, makes Fantasy Suite even more like that famously dramatic band.

"We picked lyrics and music that has that flavor," Lukas says, "so that the average concert-goer would be like, 'Oh, this is about their relationship!' But really we picked something to write about that we could separate ourselves from."

"I mean, we're not Fleetwood Mac," Zoë adds. "We're not going to lay it all out there."

Fantasy Suite plays the VFW along with White Mystery, Shahs and Accouster Sauce Thu., April 6, at 9 PM. $5.

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