Refreshed with a new line-up, Fever 333 are bringing their “fullest selves”
As the radical rockers return with a brand new line-up, guitarist Brandon Davis and bassist April Kae share their thoughts on Metallica, calling out industry racism and bringing fresh energy to one of rock’s most subversive bands
Fever 333 performing live. Image: Felix Dickinson of Studio AAA
A call for change has always been the core message at the heart of Fever 333’s impassioned and unvarnished political statements, and in 2023 the band were living it. Gone were original guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta, replaced by a trio of new faces – Brandon Davis (guitar), April Kae (bass) and Thomas Pridgen (drums) who would join sole surviving original Jason Aalon Butler as the new Fever 333.
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The shake-up of the band came quickly, Kae says, and has been an amazing year for the group. Butler, who reached out to the bassist in December 2022, recruited the trio in time for upcoming tour dates in Europe and across North America. “It’s been such a great experience getting to know everybody and learning so much from such amazing pros,” Kae reflects over Zoom.
Stepping into their new roles, newbie members Kae and Davis added more energy to Fever 333’s already souped-up rap-metal sound.
Davis, who is also guitarist for post-hardcore band Lions Lions, was eager to bring his “energetic” style to Fever 333. Meanwhile, Kae’s on-stage “groove” has been synthesised from her time in the spotlight, notably as a viral Cardi B bass cover star and as the bassist for the social justice collective IMANIGOLD.
Together, the pair have brought their flair and focus into Fever 333’s next stretch; a determined reinvention with killer tunes – and a message of inclusivity. The band’s fiery new single $wing – the outfit’s first release in three years – is a raging electronica-studded anthem calling out unequal balances of power within the entertainment industry. Harnessing frantic guitar riffs, nu-metal stylings and frontman Jason Aalon Butler’s cautionary lyrics (“Bitch, I ain’t playin’”), Fever 333’s riotous return is more than your typical band regrouping, instead, it’s a four-piece coming together with something to say.
“We’re all Black and we’re all really expressive. Brandon has this skater vibe and hardcore movements, while I’ve found this expression of queer sexuality in my performances that I didn’t know was in me,” Kae explains. “We’re bringing our fullest selves into this and that connects with the messages that are expressed in the music around fighting for social justice and a more equitable society – and that’s what we’re all about as people, too.”
First formed in 2017, Fever 333 has notoriously been known as the band to push back. Fronted by Butler, ex-Chariot guitarist Harrison and former Night Verses drummer Improta, the three-piece’s fusion tracks commonly tapped into topics of injustice, with their core philosophy centred around the band’s three principles: community, charity and change.
“I worked on Wall Street straight out of college and experienced way less sexism and racism than I do in the music industry” – Fever 333’s April Kae
The latter has been at the forefront of things internally of late, but that three-point ethos continues to permeate everything about the band’s music, and its member’s personal lives – it’s no surprise when Kae showed up for this interview proudly repping a black and white ‘End Racism’ tee.
Now, stepping out under the new banner of Fever 333, Davis and Kae’s steely playing techniques – a combination of fast-fingered “hard riffs” and “high energy” lends to the band’s buzzing sound as they eagerly bring individual influences into the fold. Kae draws inspiration from 70s Motown to 80s funk while Davis leans into his rock-leaning roots, both bringing a new sonic dimension to the collective’s hopped-up mesh of music. Together, they’ve toured Europe, played the same stage as Metallica at Download and are now they’re gearing up for a new beginning.
Fresh start fever
Davis has been playing guitar for as long as he can remember. Growing up, he was fascinated with the slick on-stage presence of Michael Jackson and, later, gravitated to the off-kilter playing of Yellowcard’s Longineu W. Parsons III – “I would go to Warped Tour waiting to see him play. He inspired me.” Whether it was his admiration for Jackson’s charismatic moves – “He was so talented that people couldn’t even watch him without fainting, women would pass out! – or taking in the “little elements” of rock’s burgeoning stars, Davis was captivated by it all.
“When I started getting into guitar, I had two different avenues when it came to instrumentation and my influences,” he shares. “There was Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield that I first heard, which was really cool. Then, when I was 19, I saw The Chariot and they were throwing guitars, spinning in circles, running, and jumping – I had never seen anything like it.” Now, several years later, Davis’ wide-eyed teen The Chariot experience has come full circle. “Fever 333’s old guitarist (Harrison) was from that band. It’s kind of ironic that I looked up to that band and Jason viewed me on the level of Harrison which is incredibly flattering.”
A readiness, and willingness, for change has to be shared between a band and its members. Fever 333’s classic iconography – a black panther – and Butlers’ sharpened vocals have become a legacy within the band’s restless rock tapestry.
So, when Kae joined the gang, her arrival marked an inaugural addition: Fever 333’s first-time designated bass player. “I’m super new to the alt scene as a musician versus being a fan,” she says. However, Kae’s newness to the industry won’t stop her from advocating for what she deems is right. “There are bands out there that are incredible. You mentioned Nova Twins earlier and they are successful. But, it’s not just about being fronted by women and people of colour. It’s also having those folks on your teams,” she says.
“I’ve seen guitar techs who are not white. I’ve seen bass players who are women and women of colour and I’m so inspired every time I see them. I get tears in my eyes because those moments really mean a lot.”
On $wing, Kae’s ticking bass hums through a monster mash of guitars and revving electronic backbeat. Lyric by lyric, the song pummels home the message of owning your rights and agency. The single’s album art, too, promotes the image of resistance. ‘We are more than our talent’ in scrawled white marker next to an image of a young Black girl wearing a baseball uniform. And its defiant sentiment is something Kae took to heart.
“There’s some serious old-school institutionalised oppression in music, more than in any other field. I think it has something to do with the limited resources, lack of accountability and the fact that art isn’t taken as seriously. I worked on Wall Street straight out of college and experienced way less sexism and racism than I do in the music industry,” Kae shares.
Taking up the bass for Fever 333 offered a change of pace, but the musician is demanding more accountability in the alternative scene. “Rolling with this band, I definitely get a lot less, but if I separate from the group, I stand out so much. We have to say things explicitly. I love playing on these big stages. I never had the opportunity to do that before, but there has to also be a level at which we address sexism, racism, and all of the ‘isms’ in the music industry because it is so entrenched and a problem. These issues are important to me and I do everything I can. I’m so grateful to have Fever 333 as a partner to help make whatever change we’re able to.”
Don’t Sweat It
Breaking out killer guitar breakdowns on-stage is part of Davis’ style but his work comes from behind the scenes too. Throughout the call, he rehashes his love for being on-stage – the interaction with the crowd to gelling with his bandmates. There’s a furious joy behind his experienced work, a committed bit to his instrument but also possible new guitar fans. “I’ve been getting messages since like, the MySpace days from, from kids that have even seen me playing saying they didn’t know people that look like us could do this. It still happens to this day,” he recalls.
Show by show, Fever 333 reaffirms something special – it forces space for jagged-edged rock and spit-fire lyrics on social liberation and good times. Inadvertently, the American four-piece have become part of this mainstay of Black, Brown and minority acts spotlighting there’s a modern audience for their hybrid sound. Jimi Hendrix, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chuck Berry are staple names in the timeline of rock music.
Yet, often, very few look back at the inception and crossroads of the genre. For the avid rock ‘n’ rollers of today, Fever 333 are a touchstone in the contemporary American alt-rock area, proving the influence of Black artists in the scene is still prevalent. “I want people to be able to see what we’re doing and what we look like and have it inspire them. I also want white people to see us and then be like ‘let me check out some more Black artists’,” he says.
Bands Bob Vylan, Magnolia Park, Meet Me @ The Altar, Pinkshift, Proper. and more have become the faces of this new iteration of rock. Fever 333 have found themselves in the throngs of new rockers searing their imprint into the genre.
“I think that it’s amazing that there’s a view of all these artists, including ourselves, viewed as the forefront of this new wave minority-driven moment; I’m honoured to be a part of it,” Davis says. As Fever 333’s star continues to rise, the guitarist wants to use the band’s outspoken platform to tackle the cultural attitudes often angled towards the band.
“As a touring musician, I’ve experienced some kind of strange things. White people making jokes that I don’t find to be funny and assumptions that are degrading,” he explains. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loaded into a venue and someone thought I was the merch guy or a roadie because I’m Black. You are starting to see more minorities in bands that are getting out there.”
So, whether it’s kicking off boot-stomping tracks on-stage or challenging the status quo of guitar music, Fever 333 are showing us what it means to be a Black American rock band right now.
$wing is available to stream now