“It was a passing joke but it hit me in a comical, eureka-type way,” Mitch Conwell told American Songwriter. The ‘joke’ he’s talking about is the name of his musical project: Fatherdude. “I got it from an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
While the name of Fatherdude may have originated from a place of lighthearted comedy, the work of Fatherdude is a different story. Since 2015, Conwell has been releasing inventive and impassioned R&B, utilizing his versatile voice and expressive writing talents. On Monday June 15, Conwell participated as a contestant on NBC’s Songland with guest judge Usher, where he performed a new song, “Billions.” The next day, on Tuesday June 16, Conwell released a new EP built around the song, also titled Billions.
“I wrote ‘Billions’ almost three years ago — I knew it was special so I was saving it for something and that something ended up being Songland,” Conwell said. While he didn’t get past round one on the show, the experience itself revived Conwell’s sense of artistry, pushing him to develop the Billions EP into a fantastically unique work.
“Being on Songland made me appreciate the elite talent that crafts a radio pop song, but in a weird way it also made me double down on my convictions as a writer,” he said. “But that’s the whole game — to balance our unique view and expression while connecting and relating to as much of humanity as we can. Meeting the other writers on the show was very different than, say, the green room at American Idol (I could only imagine). It was less about ego and competition and more about commiseration and appreciation of each other’s talents. At the end of the day, we are all there to make great music and that takes a deep connection with yourself to achieve. Many of us have it regardless of how many charting songs we’ve cataloged.”
Conwell has a point — charting or not, the spark of magic in a song can only come from a place of genuine expression and creativity. “If I’ve learned anything about the music business in 15 years, it’s that no one knows shit,” Conwell said. “We as the creatives dictate the creativity and the music either connects with fans or it doesn’t. No promotion will ever overcome disingenuous art. I love to make genre-bending music and I’m not afraid of it anymore. My next releases will bend again and then I may bend back. It doesn’t matter because my heart is the thread.”
But, before we get too carried away thinking about ‘next releases,’ let’s come back to this release: Billions. Sonically, the record showcases Conwell’s distinct ear, at times almost sounding like Michael McDonald taking a crack at new jack swing. Yet, even though the musicianship and the production on the EP are of pristine quality, Conwell’s writing abilities shine brightest and are what give the songs such a high re-listen value. Shaping the three songs into a single narrative, Conwell focuses on three major elements in modern living: love, location and labor.
“I chose to zero in on some of the base denominators in life,” he said. “‘Billions’ acknowledges and celebrates love and the unique and improbable chance of finding a partner out of so many other human beings. ‘Land of Denial’ is the literal and/or figurative place that we find ourselves, whether digitally or physically. It’s a place of smoke and mirrors that we surround ourselves in… sometimes of our own choosing. It’s really up to us how truthful we want to be with ourselves in such a place. And finally ‘Do or Die’ is straight New York City grind mode. The power of passion and triumph that gets us out of bed each morning to do whatever it is we are here to do.”
That ‘New York City grind mode’ plays a huge role behind the scenes for the Fatherdude project. “New York has so much to do with who I am, it’s hard to overstate it,” Conwell said. “We are essentially cogs in a machine here. A machine that has always been gritty and unapologetically itself. Whereas New York was once a bit more accessible and artist-friendly, it is now a haven for the rich and many of us barely survive only by servicing them — mostly by working multiple jobs. It’s bred a new version of that time-tested ‘New York City hustle.’ A lot of people in the arts have left and those of us who stayed have a certain reticence to cede our city. Whether it’s the echoes of street corner doo-wop or working out of my studio in ‘The Music Building’ — a relic of old-school New York punk and rock ’n’ roll in Times Square — I find myself connected to the history here and live to use it as my creative impetus so long as it lets me.”
And so far, it really seems like the city has no problem with Conwell using it as his creative impetus — in fact, it seems the arrangement is working out quite nicely considering how Billions came out. The EP has the spirit of New York intrinsically planted in its DNA. Yet, the songs also retain an element of universal relatability. Conwell’s ‘heart in the thread’ shows loud and clear in every measure, every note. The end result is something that the listener can tell is deeply personal, but is also applicable for whatever circumstance they find themselves in.
For his part, Conwell is excited to come to a close of this three-year journey, finally getting Billions out and into the ears of listeners. “I hope they derive power from it,” he said. “I hope they fight the good fight using it. I hope they make love to it. I hope it connects with the same honesty that it took to write it. I hope that they hear me in it. I hope they hear themselves in it.”
Listen to the title track off Fatherdude’s Billions EP below: