Rodney Morgan is building his empire.
Under the name of his alter ego, Fritz Helder, Morgan has been working five years on creating a strong foundation for an empire that is growing and growing.
With skills in singing, writing, producing, dance and choreography, this former Yukoner is fronting the Toronto-based pop-dance troupe, Fritz Helder and the Phantoms. It was recently voted Flare Magazine’s most stylish band of 2008.
“We take it from a 360-degree angle,” says Morgan. “We’re about putting on a music, dancing, interactive event that’s catered to wherever we are.” On March 14 and 15, that will be at Coasters Bar & Grill here in Whitehorse.
Morgan grew up in Whitehorse. Playing piano, singing and dancing for most of his life, he pursued dance at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and later Ryerson University in Toronto.
Living in Toronto for the last seven years has given Morgan an opportunity to make lasting network connections and relationships that have helped get him where he is now.
After apprenticing under well-known producer Gavin Bradley, who has worked with the likes of Usher, Pink and Kylie Minogue, Morgan started producing his own music and has released it under the band’s own independent record label, House of Helder.
“In the beginning, it was a pet project,” he says over the phone just days before he boards a plane to Chile to perform with Nelly Furtado on her South American tour.
“We all wanted to include our mutual love of music, dance and performance and we wanted to produce music that wasn’t out there.
“When we get together as a band, we laugh and recall six years ago that something that started as a hobby is now a career for us.
“People want to interview us, invite us to parties, etc., but it is certainly becoming more work … like quadruple the amount.
“But you can’t stay operating at the same level.”
With no rule book on how to do things, he has been learning as he goes and perfecting his craft.
“I had to sink or swim,” says Morgan. “It didn’t miraculously come out of nowhere, people knew what we were doing and it was years of networking, keeping contacts, making sure people knew we were serious and we would keep going no matter what.”
Morgan’s alter ego, Fritz Helder, was born nearly five years ago. Creating Fritz allowed Morgan to reconnect with his creativity after feeling stifled from the creative restraints of being in school.
“I created Fritz out of default, it’s an outlet to do what I want without anyone judging,” he says.
Having an alter ego can be a difficult thing and a balancing act as well: “There’s lots of attention being thrown at you. It’s absolutely exhausting and emotionally and physically challenging,” says Morgan.
But with the support of his bandmates, who all have their own alter egos — Pastel Supernova, Diego Superstar, Silk Helder and Fierce Helder — they keep moving forward creating artistic shows and expressing themselves through their music and live shows.
Having alter egos has given them the freedom to be as creative and crazy as they would like to be: “Your alter ego is more confident, more intelligent, better looking,” laughs Morgan.
“Looking at it as a business, people don’t always understand, instead of seeing through or past the hype, they believe it,” he says.
Touring with Nelly Furtado has been a great learning experience for Morgan and is proving to be a great bonus for the band, too.
“Every opportunity she gets, she makes sure she plugs us,” says Morgan.
One of Morgan’s dreams is to meet and perform with Madonna and, right now, this seems possible. Furtado recently performed alongside Madonna where she gave the singer a copy of Morgan’s new disc. “She knows of me and my music, it’s not such a pipe dream now,” he says.
Fritz Helder and the Phantoms have just launched its first full-length electro pop CD, Greatest Hits, and is kicking off its Ready to Wear 2008 tour here in Whitehorse.
It will play a couple of more Canadian venues before heading to Europe in April. With a few local promoters behind it and a positive attitude in store, Whitehorse is in for a special treat.
Alicia Debreceni is one of the promoters behind bringing up the performance troupe and she’s doing it because she loves what it is doing: “I think the liner notes in the CD put it best: ‘Respect and Love. Phantoms and Helders, come away with us! Let your freak flag fly. There is no judgement beyond this point.’
“The vibe is really positive and is about being yourself and having fun doing it. I don’t want people to miss out on this,” says Debreceni.
“We are an all-colours, kind of act,” says Morgan. “They are like a party in a box,” laughs Debreceni. With original songs, professional dances and over-the-top makeup and costumes, Fritz Helder and the Phantoms is unique.
Fritz Helder and the Phantoms will be performing in Whitehorse at Coasters Bar and Grill on Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15.
Friday’s show will be a meet and greet of the band intertwined with DJ music from two members of the Toronto band and two local DJs, DJKJ and The Beat Bombshell.
Saturday’s show will be the band’s full performance show with opening set by DJ Nemo, featuring lgrace.
“We’re loose, free and crazy on stage,” says Morgan.
PHOTO: CHE KOTHARI