Smoke Or Fire
Contributed by Dante3000, Posted by Fat Wreck Chords Interviews

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.

Also, check out Sound Scene Revolution where you can hear the full audio from the interview.

We’re in the back of Bottom of the Hill with Smoke or fire, do you want to introduce yourselves? Jeremy: My name’s Jeremy and I play guitar in Smoke or Fire.
Ken: My name’s 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, didn’t 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, that’s when we wrote our first record, that came out on Fat. Started touring and that’s just kind what we’ve been doing ever since. We just finished record and releasing our second album on Fat in February.

Do you mind if I ask…You all graduated? Jeremy: I graduated from college. Ken graduated from college.
Ken: Joe graduated.
Jeremy: Joe graduated from college. Our new drummer Dave, didn’t 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 don’t 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[…]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 don’t 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 there…
Ken: It’s weird to say "just drove out there" because it’s 3,000 miles.
Jeremy: Yeah we didn’t 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, uh…"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 dude…Maybe not 16, whatever. Let’s say 18, just for the sake of argument. Some dude answers the door in a towel and we were like, "word, really? I don’t know". So we walked in and hung out for a little bit. I didn’t 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 we’re gonna go home" and we got in the van and drove back. So that was the extent of our major label courting. Smoke Or Fire - 1 I’m 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, we’re assuming he was just in the pool or something. But, the people we were supposed to talk to weren’t around. It was really weird they had us come over and then they weren’t there.
Ken: It was really strange.

You’re 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 it’s like all you know. We’d wake up, and the studio we were in didn’t have any windows or anything. So it’s like you wake up and you don’t know what time it is, you don’ know anything. You just know you’re here to record this record. So it becomes like all that you’re 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 you’ve had in previous experiences? Jeremy: Oh, the experience was amazing. Chicago’s 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 you’d go out, drink some beers, come home, hang out and watch some TV. Before you know it, it’s 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 don’t all live in the same area anymore, you’re 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. Smoke Or Fire - 9 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 let’s practice". Jeremy: It’s hard to say…It was definitely harder but it wasn’t 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 CD’s from Garage Band and shit and sending them back and forth. It was completely different. I don’t know if we would do it again that way.
Ken: It’s kind of like we did what we had to do, while we had to do it. We didn’t really have a choice at that point. What, we’re going to do the next record? We’ll see what happens.
Jeremy: I don’t know if we’d 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. It’s like, there’s no practice schedule, no one’s pushing you. You’re 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. Ken’s right, I don’t think we’ll 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 can’t always take care of yourself, sometimes you have to take responsibility for other people you care about. People in your family, you can’t 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: It’s a weird thing to think about because a record is what it is. You go in and it’s a document of a time and a place. It’s 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 it’s kind of like…It’s 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 it’s a document of a time and a place for these people. For me it’s kind of like we did what we did. Next time we’ll do some other shit probably but…

It’s 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%. It’s a moment in time. You know those things…We’re not talking about a painting or a work of architecture where once it’s built it’s built and that’s it. These things go through drafts.
Ken: Songs are like living things. Like, if we want to change one, we’ll change one.
Jeremy: Everything is…So much of your surroundings comes into it, your influence comes into it and, depending on the mood you’re in that day, you might change something about a certain song. You might scrap it all together. So it’s like, I wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s where we were as people. It’s 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. It’s completely unlike anything else we’ve ever written or even attempted to write and it’s and it’s loud. I don’t know. There’s something really visceral about it. It’s not so much like, verse chorus verse bridge, guitar lead, melody, vocal break. It’s 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 that’s a minute and a half before Joe even starts singing. It’s fun to play and it was fun to write. It’s 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 that’s my favorite as well. I like playing "Little Bohemia" too. It’s 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 ‘N Roses in that song. Do either of you have predictions for Chinese Democracy. Ken: Have you heard the single? (laughs)
Jeremy: I’m not going to go on the record and say anything about Guns N’ Roses but if it comes out…
Ken: I’d listen to it.
Jeremy: I might listen to it. We’ll see what happens.

I’m not going to go on the record and say anything about Guns N’ 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[…] Ken: The first show was in Connecticut, I think, and Andrew goes, "come here, I want to go outside", and we’re like, "What the fuck are you doing?" He goes, "Alright, stand there I want to take a picture," and we’re 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 weren’t 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 you’ll make it?" We talked for a few minutes and we were like, "Fuck it. Yeah, let’s 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, it’s up and down but at no point were we ready to squash it for no reason. It’s such an amazing opportunity and they’re really good friends of ours and we just wanted to see it through. To finish that was such an amazing accomplishment for us.