In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.
Lucy Oaks, at the time a second-year in public health on the pre-med track, was studying one night at Thompson Library when she and a friend decided on a whim to go to Ladies 80’s Night at Skully’s Music-Diner on High Street. It was there that she met Kelan Gilbert and KC Wilder, who had recently decided to form a new band after a previous project dissolved.
After discovering that she played keyboard and sang, they invited her to audition for their band.
Given the context of the meeting, Gilbert doubted that it would work out.
“It was one of the most pleasant surprises of my life to be proven wrong on that,” he said. “Because not only did she show up to actually audition to be in this band, she kind of knocked our socks off.”
The trio known as Fine Animal started playing together in 2012, but didn’t become active on the Internet or release music until May 2014.
“I had come up with the name ‘Fine Animal’ based on a little dog that my girlfriend and I got. I would always say, ‘Oh he’s just a fine, fine animal,’ and so I’d written it on the list of like, 50 options,” said Wilder, the band’s drummer. “The lack of ‘s’ implies a collective unit. Our sound blends together and feels like one set of sound rather than a bunch of individuals on stage.”
Wilder and Gilbert found themselves as a duo temporarily when Oaks left to work at a summer camp for the past two summers. They spent the time experimenting with their sound, developing it from conventional indie rock into electronic-based “dream-pop” that uses heavy reverb to give it an ethereal sound.
“When I came back from the first summer, they had written all of this music that was electronic and different from what we had played when I left in the spring, and I was like ‘This is awesome,’” Oaks said.
Before they all came together, Wilder and Gilbert crisscrossed the country.
Wilder grew up in Southern California before coming to Ohio State for his degree in finance.
“When I moved here, actually all I did was put everything I could in my car and just drove out here. I had never even been to Columbus. So I’m either really stupid or really adventurous — probably both,” Wilder said.
Gilbert, originally from Akron, moved to California for four years for college before moving to Columbus with his then-girlfriend.
“It’s certainly pleasantly surprising. I’m not gonna lie, I moved down here with this idea that it was going to be awful. I was just under the impression that it was this glorified college town and there wasn’t going to be anything for me here, especially in terms of music,” Gilbert said. “There’s a thriving music scene here and this really awesome community of artists and musicians who are all engaged and active and interested in each other’s work. It’s a lot more of a cultural mecca, especially in the Midwest, than people give it credit for.”
Growing up in Worthington, Ohio, Oaks started taking piano lessons when she was 6, adding to her vocal lessons that she started at age three.
“I really loved ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ and I really wanted to sing like them,” said Oaks, who begged her parents to let her take music lessons.
Gilbert’s life is centered in the music industry as he teaches guitar and writes music for a publishing company in addition to playing with Fine Animal. But both Oaks and Wilder live a life outside of the band that contrasts the music world.
“When I started school, I actually thought I was going to study voice and then I got really worried about job security, but now I realize that I don’t really want to be a doctor, at least not right now,” said Oaks, who is now a fourth-year, but no longer pre-med. “I kind of feel like I’m living a double life sometimes so I am excited to graduate and be able to fully commit myself to the band.”
“I also live a double life. I’ll be in a meeting negotiating with a supplier over tens of millions of dollars and then I leave that and I’m playing with these guys in a bar downtown,” Wilder said about balancing his finance job and the band.
Fine Animal has gotten feedback from both friends and strangers.
Joey Gurwin, an audio engineer who helped with early mixes at Oranjudio Recording Studio in Grandview, said the band’s sound has been described as “like drinking a refreshing glass of clouds.” The band liked the phrase so much that it put it on its T-shirt, and features it on its social media platforms.
“That was the most f—ing poetic thing I’d ever heard, obviously,” Gilbert said. “It’s crazy because we’ll get these props from people across the world. Some dude in Scotland is writing a really heartfelt, warm, thoughtful review of our music … having that ability to brighten someone’s day even just for a millisecond is definitely a powerful thing.”
A simple message from a young fan continues to make the band think about their purpose.
“We got this message that said ‘hey, I listen to your music on the bus to school in the morning.’ I just think how music has impacted my life and all of our lives and just knowing that, even if it’s 100 people out there and who connected with it and had it color part of their life even for a few months, is really powerful,” Wilder said.
“I think about that kid every time we play a show,” Oaks said.
Fine Animal’s next show will be Thursday at 8 p.m. at Park Street Saloon at 525 N. Park St. Tickets cost $5.
The band will head out on a small tour of the East Coast before releasing its full album on June 16, with a release party at Brothers Drake on June 20.