Spotlight On: Fire and The Wheel
Interviewed By: Stephanie Williams
Within a blink of an eye, it seemed as if Fire and the Wheel appeared almost out of nowhere into the D.C. music scene. With a full-length album and release show booked at the Black Cat Mainstage on May 19th right out of the gate, one would think this band has been playing for many years. However, Fire and the Wheel is a relatively new band-although the members of the group are far from rookies to the city’s scene.
Composed of former and current members of local bands Lightfoot (Ron Storhaug on trumpet and keys), Mittenfields (Brian Moran represents as the drummer), The Strange Loop (Joey Harrison handling lead vocals and guitar) and Loose Lips ( Donny Potter on the keyboard), the group is hoping to capture their next success with the conception of Fire and the Wheel.
On the heels of their new release, the group chatted with DMD before their big show this Saturday.
For more information on Fire and the Wheel, check out their official website
Next Show: Saturday, May 19th at Black Cat Mainstage (along with Last Tide, More Humans and Teenage Aviation). Doors open at 9p, and tickets are $10. Notably, this is Fire and the Wheel’s along with Last Tide’s album release show.
D.C. Music Download: While the band is new, all of you are veterans in your own right to the D.C. music scene. What lead you all to the decision to come together and form Fire and the Wheel? When did the band officially come together?
Brian: I moved to the D.C. area a few years ago for an internship, where I met Joey. We played in a band called Maginot Line (though I thought Imaginot Line sounded cornier and cooler), and I took a liking to the great pop hooks and song compositions that were coming from that project. I came back to D.C. a few years later, and Joey and Donny were working on a new project, and Joey turned to me to fill in the drums.
We played around with the individual pieces of the album for a bit before finally mending them all together into a cohesive composition. Once we were done with that, we decided we needed more instruments. I had just joined forces with Mittenfields, where I played a single show with Ron, a fine man and a fine trumpeteer. He soon joined the Fire and the Wheel lineup and really took the songs to a new level.
Ron: The only brief note I want to add is that the single show Brian referenced occurred only two hours after Brian and I had met for the very first time. I guess you can say we hit it off immediately!
DMD: One of the more noticeable qualities of the album is the way that each song flows seamlessly to the next. What was the inspiration behind setting the album up that way?
Joey: I’ve discovered that I tend to get stuck on musical themes. Almost every song I write has some unintentional commonality with my other recent creations. I used to fight against this and discard songs for being too derivative. For this album, I took the opposite approach and combined the similar songs into big chunks. The first was “Hooke’s Law” through “Balloon Ride”. Those were the first songs we really got worked out and in practice we’d play them straight through.
Donny and I thought it might be cool to do a whole album that way and to play it straight through for shows. The next chunk was “Purple Moon” through “Carving Up the Beast”, and after that was “Garden Gnome” through “Horticulture”. From there we added a few more songs, stitched them together, and had Igor throw the switch.
DMD: What kind of music are you guys listening to and which artists do you credit for influencing your music?
Donny: I listen to a wide variety of music, for example I love both post-bop and post-hardcore, and I’m sure it all comes out somehow. I think that specifically my keyboard playing is influenced by Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. There’s also a bit of Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire in there.
Ron: My trumpet playing has been influenced by many jazz and classical artists since that’s what I grew up with. Some of my all-time jazz favorites include Clifford Brown, Roy Hargrove, and Eric Dolphy. However, the approach I’ve taken with Fire and the Wheel is to channel the style of groups like Neutral Milk Hotel and Beirut and put my own twist on it. I personally listen to everything from bebop to hardcore-I guess Donny and I couldn’t be more different in terms of our favorite genres to listen to.
Brian: Oh for sure I listen to everything, except country. I’ve been listening to a lot of Death Grips and Zach Hill related projects, but that doesn’t channel too well into Fire and the Wheel. For this project, I’ve taken a lot of queues from the more straightforward approach of Wolf Parade, while adding little bits of my own pizzazz to the mix.
Joey: My guitar playing is probably most influenced by Neil Young and my taste in instrumentation by Belle & Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel.
DMD: For someone who hasn’t listened to your album yet, how would you describe the overall sound of the album? Going along with that, how did the fact that all four band members came from a diverse round of groups help achieve the unique sound quality of the album?
Ron: Part of what makes Fire and the Wheel special to us is that we come from such diverse backgrounds and frequently challenge each other with our musical ideas. Also, we all have high standards for musicianship and leave little room for error-which is a big part of why we are able to weave numerous intricacies into our songs. I think a lot of our friends were surprised by the sound of the Fire and the Wheel LP after knowing what types of groups we’ve most recently played with (me in Lightfoot, Brian in Mittenfields, Joey in Strange Loop, Donny in Loose Lips).
Our sound is most easily categorized as “indie” but with varying outside influences ranging from progressive rock, to classic rock, to gospel, and almost everything in between.
DMD: What’s the meaning behind the song “Wheelbarrow de la Muerte”? Could you describe the inspiration behind the songwriting?
Joey: Most of this album, including this song, was written in the weeks following a childhood friend’s suicide. We had drifted apart in recent years and I had no idea what kind of pain he was in. This song is my attempt to express what he might have been feeling, watching his youth, his dreams, and eventually his grip on life slip through his fingers. The ending is what I would have said if I’d known.
DMD: “Wheelbarrow de la Muerte”, along with the rest of the album, seem to come from a very personal place in terms of songwriting. Any other songs that stand-out?
Brian: I’m rather partial to either “Balloon Ride” or “Purple Moon”. “Balloon Ride” is a really pretty poppy song that just makes me happy to listen to. It was the first song we put together, but it’s really evolved with the addition of the Thunder Tube and the like. “Purple Moon” has a really cool dark, dancy drive to it. I really like the way this song came out on the record; the guitars and vocals have a low-fi quality to them which when listened to in the right setting, will send shivers down spines.
DMD: How easy was it for all four of you to collaborate on songwriting for the first time? How long did the process take?
Ron: I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this question since a most of the structure was written before I was in the band. Either way, we clicked right away, and continue to do so as we wrote new material. It’s exciting to be a part of something that organically creates meaningful music with relative ease. We just feed off of each other’s talent and passion. But to the point of how long it took: I joined the already-formed band in November of 2010 and the record is coming out now. Needless to say, we’re REALLY happy (and also relieved) that it’s finally ready for mass consumption.
Donny: Joey came up with pretty much all of the songs in terms of chord changes, lyrics and main vocal melodies but the process of arranging and shaping the songs and the structure of the album as a whole was very collaborative. Instead of really focusing in on one song and hammering it out until it was perfect, we tended to bounce around a lot between songs during each practice. It was maybe a little less efficient in terms of time spent, but it allowed us to experiment with a lot of different ideas so I think it was ultimately beneficial.
DMD: Noting the album cover artwork-why did you decide on that particular design?
Donny: The album cover image is one of the original ink blots used in the Rorschach test, which is that psychological test where you’re asked to interpret what an abstract ink blot looks like to you. Even though it’s been largely discredited it’s still used a lot in criminal cases and court-ordered evaluations in the U.S. I think the image touches on some of the themes of the record like subjective reality, and mental illness.
We use one ink blot image for digital purposes and on our CDs, but our vinyl record jackets have one of five different hand stenciled Rorschach images on the cover. I guess it could be argued that the version someone chooses might say something about their mental health or lack thereof.
DMD: With your first release and big show coming up soon at the Black Cat, what’s next for the band?
Donny: We’ve been so busy finishing this record and getting ready for our release show at the Black Cat that we haven’t really had too much time to plan for the immediate future. But we’ll definitely be doing some more shows and we’d really love to tour if we can figure out how to do that.
I think we also have most, if not all of the songs lined up for our next recording which will most likely be an EP. After spending so much time making this record we’re really excited about working on new stuff.
Preview Fire and the Wheel’s self-titled album below: