Dateline's most wanted, Dante3000, had a chit-chat with Jeremy and Ken from Smoke or Fire at their most recent trip through San Francisco. The trio talked about the band's new album, , along with their new drummer Dave and even managed to get in a jab at Guns N Roses.
For all that plus a pretty neat insight into the band's writing process and approach to albums, click Read More.
Weâre in the back of Bottom of the Hill with Smoke or fire, do you want to introduce yourselves? Jeremy: My nameâs Jeremy and I play guitar in Smoke or Fire.
Ken: My nameâs Ken, I play bass. The best place to start, can we get a brief history of the band if there is a brief history. Jeremy: We started in probably 98, 99 in Boston. We were all going to college in the area. I was out in western Massachusetts and Ken and Matt, our old drummer, were going to school in Boston. It basically started out playing on weekends and practicing once a week or whatever and playing shows around Boston. Normally North Shore, north of Boston area. Then we graduated and kind of fucked off for a year after college, didnât really know what to do. Then we decided that this is what we wanted to do and we moved to Richmond, Virginia to do that band fulltime, thatâs when we wrote our first record, that came out on Fat. Started touring and thatâs just kind what weâve been doing ever since. We just finished record and releasing our second album on Fat in February.
Do you mind if I askâ¦You all graduated? Jeremy: I graduated from college. Ken graduated from college.
Ken: Joe graduated.
Jeremy: Joe graduated from college. Our new drummer Dave, didnât go to college.
What were your degrees in? Jeremy: I was an English Major.
Ken: Me too.
Jeremy: Ken was an English Major too. Joe was a graphics design major.
So being an English Major is a good way to get into a band then. Jeremy: Sure, yeah, dead end.
There have to be worse majors. Jeremy: Yeah totally, math.
I had read in one of your previous interviews that you had talked to a major label even before Above the City had come out, is that true? Jeremy: I donât know does [label removed] count as a major label? They count? Yeah there was some weird.
Ken: That was like eight years ago.
Jeremy: It was some weird hocus pocus. They called us totally out of the blue and we were living in Boston just total shit. We were all still in school, just the summer before we graduated. We were all doing stupid jobs. Joe and I were working at a burrito place and Ken was working at CPK or some shit.
Ken: Waiting tables.
Jeremy: So we just got called out of the blue and they were like, "So do you guys want to come to California and play some shows and like meet us?" We were like, "Fuck[â¦]yeah whatever". We had never been to California so we figured we might as well go out, play some shows, see what they have to say, but we were broke, as shit. So we were like, "yeah we donât have any money. If you want us to come you have to pay for it, kinda". So we took our really piece of crap van and drove out thereâ¦
Ken: Itâs weird to say "just drove out there" because itâs 3,000 miles.
Jeremy: Yeah we didnât just drive out there. We just basically drove in shift and it was completely straight through, drive during the day and during the night. It was intense. So we drove out there and we played two shows. At the end of like the second show we went to their, uhâ¦"estate" I guess you could call it. Their, compound or whatever. So they're like, "Come by the house". So we show up and knock on the door and some 16 year old dudeâ¦Maybe not 16, whatever. Letâs say 18, just for the sake of argument. Some dude answers the door in a towel and we were like, "word, really? I donât know". So we walked in and hung out for a little bit. I didnât really talk to anybody. Me and the old guitar player played some pool and then we left, played another show. At the end of that we were like, "Okay, I think weâre gonna go home" and we got in the van and drove back. So that was the extent of our major label courting. Iâm just trying to figure out why there was a dude in a towel answering the door. Jeremy: Well one of the other bands who ended up on [the label] was also in town, playing shows there and they were actually staying there. So, weâre assuming he was just in the pool or something. But, the people we were supposed to talk to werenât around. It was really weird they had us come over and then they werenât there.
Ken: It was really strange.
Youâre new album This Sinking Ship you recorded over roughly a five week process. Jeremy: About five weeks I would say. Yeah, it was five or six week in Chicago, with Matt Allison.
How was that compared to your other albums that were done over a couple of days, [or] a couple of weeks? Ken: It was an entirely different experience. Before where we recorded, we were in Boston, we would get up in the morning, go to the studio and record and then go to the bar and then go home. This tim we were living in the studio, so itâs like all you know. Weâd wake up, and the studio we were in didnât have any windows or anything. So itâs like you wake up and you donât know what time it is, you donâ know anything. You just know youâre here to record this record. So it becomes like all that youâre focused on at all. You have to get out and go for a walk a little bit. It was, for us, unlike any other recording experience that we had. But it was good.
Was [the experience] more positive than youâve had in previous experiences? Jeremy: Oh, the experience was amazing. Chicagoâs an amazing city. Everyone was so hospitable, including our engineer Matt. He was just so fantastic to us. He took us out and showed us a good time, like any free chance we had to get out of the studio. It was awesome, it was super positive but at the same time it was kind of insane because, basically, you were in lockdown. You woke up, you played, you ran through the songs, you did a take and kept it or chucked it. We just did that for like 10 and 12 hours every day. Then youâd go out, drink some beers, come home, hang out and watch some TV. Before you know it, itâs really early in the morning. Go to sleep and then you wake up and do it all over again. So, it definitely took its toll. It was certainly positive, like over all positive but it was stressful too.
So you donât all live in the same area anymore, youâre scattered across the country, is that right? Ken: I live in Salem, Massachusetts and Joe lives in Boston, Jeremy lives in Oakland and Dave lives in Portland, Oregon. So we are spread out yeah. So how has that been for the song writing process, was it harder? I mean, I imagine it must be hard not to just call each other up and be like, "hey letâs practice". Jeremy: Itâs hard to sayâ¦It was definitely harder but it wasnât so much harder it was just the complete opposite of what we ever thought about doing. We all either lived in the same house or within blocks of each other. I mean we wrote Above the City in my bedroom in Richmond. And we all lived in the same house. So, to go from that to me living on the west cost, Dave living on the west coast and two guys on the east cost and Joe and I sending four-track tapes back and forth and burning CDâs from Garage Band and shit and sending them back and forth. It was completely different. I donât know if we would do it again that way.
Ken: Itâs kind of like we did what we had to do, while we had to do it. We didnât really have a choice at that point. What, weâre going to do the next record? Weâll see what happens.
Jeremy: I donât know if weâd do it that way again but in a weird way it was kind of like a proud moment. To be able to be so far apart but we all put in so much of our own effort into making this record, in our spare time. Itâs like, thereâs no practice schedule, no oneâs pushing you. Youâre just writing and playing songs in your bedroom. So yeah, it was hard and it was different but at the same time we have this weird sense of pride that we accomplished it. Kenâs right, I donât think weâll do it again that way.
In between your last album in this one and you picked up Dave. Did you have tryouts or was he just someone from previous bands and you knew you wanted to work with him. Jeremy: No, no. No tryouts. With Nick, some things came up in his personal life that are totally, completely understandable reasons to not want to be in a band anymore. Certain things have to be prioritized. You canât always take care of yourself, sometimes you have to take responsibility for other people you care about. People in your family, you canât leave them hanging. So, he had some things that he had to do and he left on totally good terms. When he left we had known Dave, he was in From Ashes Rise, and we were huge fans. We had met him when we were on tour once, he came out to a show in Portland. We all hung out and he was super hospitable, he was part of one of the shows we played. We just hung out and kept in contact and every time we went to Portland we got to hang out with Dave and he came down and hung out with me in San Francisco a couple of times and we knew he was a rad drummer and a good person. When the opportunity came up to make some phone calls, we really only made one. We called Dave and asked if he wanted to do it. He called us back a couple of days later and said he was in and flew out to Boston to start writing a record about four weeks later.
If there was one thing you could change or one criticism you could make of the album, what would it be? Ken: Itâs a weird thing to think about because a record is what it is. You go in and itâs a document of a time and a place. Itâs like, this is what we did in this time in place. [Jeremy] just told you about what we went through. Dave flying out. He got into our van, flew out four weeks later we wrote the record and recorded it. So itâs kind of likeâ¦Itâs kinda, to me, what gives certain records the charm that they have. The songs might be good, or you might like certain ones more than others but all in all itâs a document of a time and a place for these people. For me itâs kind of like we did what we did. Next time weâll do some other shit probably butâ¦
Itâs nice to know that you can spread out and do what you feel like doing as a musician and have people like it and have people respond to it and not get pigeonholed into writing these tiny little punk opuses.
Jeremy: Yeah, I agree with Ken 100%. Itâs a moment in time. You know those thingsâ¦Weâre not talking about a painting or a work of architecture where once itâs built itâs built and thatâs it. These things go through drafts.
Ken: Songs are like living things. Like, if we want to change one, weâll change one.
Jeremy: Everything isâ¦So much of your surroundings comes into it, your influence comes into it and, depending on the mood youâre in that day, you might change something about a certain song. You might scrap it all together. So itâs like, I wouldnât change anything about it. Itâs where we were as people. Itâs where we were song writing wise, talent wise and I agree with Ken. Next time it might be different.
Is there a song off the album that you enjoy playing live the most? Jeremy: I really like playing "Shine" a lot. Itâs completely unlike anything else weâve ever written or even attempted to write and itâs and itâs loud. I donât know. Thereâs something really visceral about it. Itâs not so much like, verse chorus verse bridge, guitar lead, melody, vocal break. Itâs kind of this weird epic kind of thing for us and it kind of like spreads and does all these weird things that we never attempted before. I think the longest song on our first record was maybe three minutes and this song has an intro thatâs a minute and a half before Joe even starts singing. Itâs fun to play and it was fun to write. Itâs nice to know that you can spread out and do what you feel like doing as a musician and have people like it and have people respond to it and not get pigeonholed into writing these tiny little punk opuses.
Ken: Off the new record, I would say thatâs my favorite as well. I like playing "Little Bohemia" too. Itâs an older song that we recorded for this record and playing it live seems like some full circle action going on. I like playing that song a lot but I like playing "Shine" too. Playing them right together is rad too.
I was going to ask "Little Bohemia" mentions Guns âN Roses in that song. Do either of you have predictions for Chinese Democracy. Ken: Have you heard the single? (laughs)
Jeremy: Iâm not going to go on the record and say anything about Guns Nâ Roses but if it comes outâ¦
Ken: Iâd listen to it.
Jeremy: I might listen to it. Weâll see what happens.
Iâm not going to go on the record and say anything about Guns Nâ Roses.
So last year you did the Fat Tour with Against Me!, which was 50 states in three months. When we spoke with Andrew at Warped Tour he said you were probably the most enduring band on that tour[â¦] Ken: The first show was in Connecticut, I think, and Andrew goes, "come here, I want to go outside", and weâre like, "What the fuck are you doing?" He goes, "Alright, stand there I want to take a picture," and weâre like, "Why?" "Because I want a picture of the first day of this and I want a picture of all the bands at the end, because I want you to see what this tour is going to do to you." For us I felt like it made us stronger. There was never even an inkling of a point where we would say we werenât going to do this.
Jeremy: Yeah, we were coming off a lot of touring anyway. We had probably done, over a scattered period of about seven months, we had probably done five months of touring already and one of those months was with Against Me! already. We did a tour with them in April. On that tour Tom came up to us and was like, "We want to do this 50 state tour and we want you guys to do it. Do you think you can hang? Do you think youâll make it?" We talked for a few minutes and we were like, "Fuck it. Yeah, letâs do it". Joe and I have talked about it a bunch and when we got to the end of it in Toronto and it was just us and Against Me! left, we were like, if we had to keep going we could totally do it. At no point in that tour was anybody in Smoke or Fire ready to quit. I mean, tours are hard, itâs up and down but at no point were we ready to squash it for no reason. Itâs such an amazing opportunity and theyâre really good friends of ours and we just wanted to see it through. To finish that was such an amazing accomplishment for us.