I got around to interviewing Reese Roper of Five Iron Frenzy and he was beyond cool in answering these long, drawn out questions. I am super excited he answered my questions in such detailed form and I hope those of you that enjoy a good read will appreciate these questions and answers. Head over to the Five Iron Frenzy kickstarter right now and contribute, there are just a few days left.
An Interview With Reese Roper Of Five Iron Frenzy
By: Brandon Jones of IVM
BrandonIVM: Ok let’s start this off. Tell us your name, city in which you live and your current musical duties within the band Five Iron Frenzy.
– Reese Roper. Staunton Virginia. Singer of songs. Rememberer of some lyrics. Breaker of bones. Splitter of chins. Swallower of gum. Mostly lyricist.
BrandonIVM: When did you first join Five Iron Frenzy? How many years has FIF been chugging along now?
– I joined Five Iron Frenzy on the day it was formed, sometime in either March or April of 1995 in the basement of a house at 565 Pennsylvania St., Denver Colorado. Five Iron Frenzy is just over 25 years old, as we say that it was officially born on May 20th of 1995- when we opened for a band called Human Soup (later- Rackets and Drapes), and some very terrible Industrial band called “Exhumator”.
BrandonIVM: “Upbeats and Beatdowns” was everyone’s first official introduction to your band’s work. It released in 1997 if I’m correct? What are some of your favorites off this first record? What was it like working on this debut and your first official recorded music released on a national level? How did your style (as a band) change leading up to the release and once you all got in the studio?
• It actually released in November of 1996, but then was rereleased with new distribution in the Spring of 1997. My favorite songs off of that record are probably Anthem, Milestone, and Amalgamate. The first 2 for just being the closest we ever came to being in a pop-punk band, and Amalgamate for being great punk-ska. I am proud that the words I wrote then are still relevant today about racism, nationalism, separating Christianity from a political movement, and the idea that the Church needs to be more ecumenical in its approach to itself. My singing mostly sucked, and my sense of rhythm has only barely improved since then- but I love that we can look back at these songs as something that our band can be proud of.
• When we recorded this… We booked a few shows in Southern California, and then drove to the East Bay to play a show at the Screem- Frank Tate’s venue that also held the Five Minute Walk offices (and Frank’s Church!) at the time. We thought that we would be doing a type of “showcase” for Frank, that Masaki had set up, to try and get Frank to hear our band- after several “near-misses” on that summer’s festival circuit. As it turned out, we opened for Black-Eyed Sceva, Dimestore Prophets, and Seven Day Jesus- and literally, he just asked us to drive to a label retreat near Lake Tahoe after the show. We got there at around midnight (burning the transmission out of the minivan we had taken for that trip- knowing nothing of its capacity to pull a Haul trailer). Frank and Masaki graciously took us in as family for the retreat, and every moment afterwards. It was surreal to back down from a summer of labels fighting over who would get their claws into what they thought was the future of music (Christian Ska? Yes… you know how this ends), to being on a retreat with these bands we looked up to, Frank and his family, and their super-gifted pastor, Jim.
By the end of the retreat, we had all quit- or at least postponed our jobs and colleges, and been talked into recording at Saki’s the week after. The van got fixed with whatever we made playing shows to get there- and we made Upbeats and Beatdowns… IN EIGHT DAYS. We slept on the floor of a house that Frank was renting, (and helping a young lady from his church out by also letting her stay there rent free? She was single, and very pregnant. I have to admit that I still have a crush on her to this day. I don’t know how she stood all of us and our stinky, punk-rock, nastiness.)
Our style, at that point- had been honed down from a kind-of “throw crap at the wall and see what sticks” method of songwriting, to more deliberately attempting to sound like punk and ska bands that we admired- Slapstick, The Suicide Machines, Less Than Jake, MU330, Skankin’ Pickle, NOFX, and Rancid. Everything seemed to keep speeding up from the first run-throughs during practice, to the time we got it into the studio. Which is why those 1st two albums seem to have SO MANY words.
BrandonIVM: Did the band go out on tour during that first album cycle and if so, what was that experience like? Did you like or dislike any tour mates at the time? What were your favorite shows back in the day? What do you miss the most about that time period?
• I remember that we kept up with our normal schedule after recording Upbeats, until November, when the album came out. I think that Keith and I had dropped out of college that semester, and Scott had just graduated from Art School. Dennis was one of the Managers at the Westin in downtown Denver, and the rest of us kind of just had minimum wage jobs. Leanor hung in there going to school until the next semester- but we just kept playing local shows, with a few out of town gigs in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder, and Greeley- opening for secular bands, and at playing churches with Christian bands.
• I remember that I asked for a job at the place that made our T-shirts while we were driving home from the studio, and I had made the decision to drop out of Pre-Med for Five Iron. I literally had printed our shirts the week before we left on that first tour with Five Minute Walk. The label had released a sampler with A Flowery Song (and a second one… I cannot remember what it was.) maybe a week or two before we hit the first show in Kansas City. There was a venue in the basement of a church that looked like a demilitarized zone, called The New Earth Coffeehouse. We started with the Old West or Arnold and Willis and Mister Drummond, and then went into A Flowery Song. Somehow- the crowd KNEW THE WORDS. We were losing our freaking minds! I will never forget turning to Scott and Keith when the crowd started singing along, and seeing them almost unable to play their instruments. At that moment, it was like everything we had wished for since we were teenagers was happening, and all of the fear of dropping out of school and disappointing our parents- was erased. That show- was one of the greatest of all time. Other shows I can remember from then- The Pterydactyl outside of Atlanta playing with Squad-5-0 for the first time, playing with MXPX, Less Than Jake, and MU330 at the Mercury Theater in Denver, Opening for Goldfinger a week before the bass player body slammed Conan O’Brian on live TV- twice, the Upper Room in Chicago, a Homeless Shelter/Chinese Restaurant/ Soup Kitchen in Tampa, and all of the shows at Stage South in Denver- where the floor almost caved in several thousand times.
• I miss being young. I wish I had half that energy, and my body wasn’t so trashed now from jumping off of things. I miss everyone in the band always being excited and happy, instead of tired, and wary. I miss the possibility of those days.
BrandonIVM: After the release of the debut, it seemed like not even a year before “Our Newest Album Ever” released and blew us all away. What were some of the differences production wise going into this 2nd album compared with the first? How did you all change as songwriters and musicians with “Our Newest Album Ever”?
– Everything on Upbeats had been thrown on there because we needed songs. We had just stepped out of being in an Industrial-Thrash band, and had been finding our sound. I had barely become okay with trying to sing- and not sound like some sort of grunting James Hetfield. The sound for Upbeats, didn’t really come about until at least half those songs were written. We had to cut at least 3 REALLY bad songs (Burn?) out of our set- and recorded all that was left as soon as we hit the studio. When we wrote Our Newest Album Ever, we had a direction that we did not before then. Scott had literally been playing guitar for a year when I met him in 1993, which is a testament to his sheer genius. He was always adapting and growing (much faster than the rest of us at the time), and so he just pushed forward with writing new stuff, almost as soon as Upbeats was recorded. Which pushed us all to try harder to be better. Which, I think we all did- from that, and from touring almost non-stop from November 1996 until the following November. (It never really stopped. We toured 9-11 months a year for most of those first 8 years after we were signed). Our Newest Album Ever was a product of all of that. I still cringe at my singing. We used the first version of Auto-tune to save time with my vocal takes, and there are some obvious places where you can hear it grab the note and pull it into pitch like it is beating a rented mule. It is bad. We spent almost a month on it as well- vs. the 8 day wonder that was Upbeats. I think Saki had grown as a producer as well, or at least gotten used to how we all worked.
BrandonIVM: All your albums have their magical moments. The hopeful closing song trend really began with this album I think and “Every New Day” hands down is the song every Church should still be singing. Beautiful in every way. How do you feel about this song and album over 20 years later?
– That song is something magical. There is not much that I can say, more than that I love the living embodiment of redemption and hope that it still carries.
BrandonIVM: Since Ska/Skacore/skapunk/etc nearly exploded between 1996-1998 it was only a matter of time till FIF found their footing and took the world by storm (at least that’s how my feeble mind remembers it). Who did you tour with on this album cycle and what were some of your favorite show memories? Any good or bad moments that you’d like to share? What band would you never want to tour with again?
BrandonIVM: It has always seemed as though Reese had a lot to say, almost bubbling up within him and projected from his heart, through his voice and out into a studio mic (or on stage) for the world to consume. Feel free to toss this question to him. How does it feel to be the most underrated, most loved, most hated, most misunderstood, and most confused lead vocalist our music scene has ever had? You are a complicated person with a real story to share. Love it or hate it, the substance of your songs speak volumes. What response do you have for people that question your motives or are confused by a particular song? What first comes to mind when thinking back on your early work in “Upbeats and Beatdowns” and “Our Newest Album Ever”? How did your songwriting change and evolve over time from first album till Engine of a Million Plots? What words would you or wouldn’t you want to say from your platform? What would you like to say but have never been given a chance to do so?
• Jeeeeeze, Brandon. Have you read No Compromise- the biography about Keith Green that his wife wrote? He was the things that you just said that I was. I am merely trying to do the best I can, with what little I have. If that sounds like humility, it is not. I really am not that good at anything. Singing- no. Stage presence- have you seen Steve Taylor? Meaningful lyrics- Mark Salomon. Mike Knott. Dan Haseltine. Jyro Chan. Also Steve Taylor.
As to your questions about the evolution of my songwriting… yes. I think I have gotten better at my rhyming schemes and syncopation, building the meter of a phrase, and constructing a melody- but I am still, really not that good. I think I choose words because I like how they make me feel now, vs. choosing something because I thought it made me seem like I was a deeper person emotionally or a more intelligent person than I actually am. My current state of being in a band that is no longer beholden to the Church for its survival- allows me to speak the truth in ways that we never had before. It is so hard to say something of value in a 3 minute song, but I feel that I have gotten better at it. I think that I have grown in wisdom as to what is worth saying, and what will only come back as void- as the Old Man says. People should always question my motives. And if they are confused by what I have said- it is a testament to how much I still need to grow as a songwriter. There are no words that I can say from any platform- that can compete with the simple action of loving someone who thinks they are broken and unloveable. There is nothing greater than that- no verse or chorus, nothing uttered into a microphone, nothing typed, or scribbled in a notebook, or whispered. Words are just wind. Or, as the Old Man says- “a resounding gong, or clanging cymbal”. Love- is the true superpower of mankind.
BrandonIVM: After the 2nd album FIF changed course a bit and released an EP titled “Quantity is Job #1” in 1998. The songs were just as lighthearted as the rest but had a certain more serious, socially conscious subject matter. It was like that perfect combo of ska/punk/rock where silliness meets the troubles of society in a deathmatch where pants are literally on fire. What are some of your favorite songs off this EP and what was it like working on these songs vs. the songs of the past? How was production different on this compared with past efforts?
BrandonIVM: Someone has to address the Pants Opera. Whose idea was that? Was it a group effort? Anyone not feeling it?
• I’ll answer this one. I was writing stuff for BS2, but only had an iMac, and no laptop. Joey Belville (our good friend from the Echoing Green)- had this self-contained midi sequencer/ composer/tone-bank called a Roland PMA5- which he was actually using for his shows, as well as writing. I was medium-to-bad at sequencing, which I had somewhat learned while in our crappy Industrial band, and was trying to work out songs for BS2. I would do this every few months or so when we weren’t on tour on my home setup— but couldn’t get any writing done while on the road (because I suck at instruments). I thought that the PMA5 would help, and found a used one on eBay for $200. I remember still trying to figure it out while we were recording Quantity. We had to fly somewhere back East for a weekend of shows during the middle of recording, and on that flight- we seemed to be lamenting the fact that there weren’t enough songs on the EP, and that we wished it was a full length instead. So… I had the idea of using this thing. It allowed you to pick pre-composed song parts like verse, chorus, chorus 2, intro, outro, etc., and I made like 15 songs in different styles. The idea being that we would sing over them… but make up the songs as we went along. I remember we tried to pass around a notebook on the flight, in which we all wrote out parts of a song, or different verses and choruses to which everyone contributed- with the theme being the hilarious topic: “These Are Not My Pants”. Whatever was in that notebook, I am positive- was funnier, and better than the songs we actually recorded. And yes, somehow I lost it. So on what ended up being the last day in the studio, someone said, “Hey Reese, where is that awesome song we all wrote on the plane?” What we made… was the Plan B of that. It involved me asking people what style they wanted, them listening to it once, and then making up a song to it- AS THE TAPE ROLLED. Epic Five Iron.
• Disappointing facts about the Pants Opera:
1. The Roland PMA still had 4 or 5 songs on it that I wrote, that were never recorded as a pants song. I truly wish these had made it onto one of the Cheeses albums, as they really were the precursors to it. But the Roland PMA5 had a short with the power adaptor, and I had taken it to a “Roland Authorized Repair Center” in West Denver. The guys who worked there forgot about it somehow (medicinal marijuana), and every 4 or 5 months I would try and call them to help them remember it. Suddenly, they disappeared. Don’t bother trying to call them. It, like most of what was cool about Denver, is gone. In its place is some bourgie Home Goods Store called “Moss Creek Mercantile”, or maybe some hair salon called “Posh”. Also, it’s been 20 years, and we should all move on from this.
2. As the only one of us that had access to the songs ahead of time- my song should have easily been the best. As evidenced by any of the other songs- it is actually the worst.
3. Scott, was peer-pressured into doing his song. He was REALLY not into it, and only did so after we all begged him for like 10 minutes. Thankfully, his song is both hilarious, and inclusive of some of the famous hand-fart sounds that Scott can list as one of his numerous talents. Thankfully for Engine of a Million Plots- it wasn’t the last thing he ever did in Five Iron.
4. Andy was not in the studio that day- and the recorded PMA5 song that he was supposed to do was somehow missing later, so Micah wrote the song that Andy sang on in like 2 minutes- and they recorded it in his basement.
BrandonIVM: Brad didn’t die did he? How did Brad heal?
– Well, Brad is not his actual name. I know, you think it is Nathanael Jerome Dunham- but again, you are wrong. He was born in the late 19th century in the city of Cold Lake, in what is now Alberta, Canada. As a boy, Brad (or if you go by his birth name- James Howlett), was very frail and prone to allergy attacks. In adolescence, he discovered a growing ability to heal from almost any wound, and began to overcome this. With his new power, came a blind- almost, animalistic rage, that caused claws made of bone to erupt from the backs of his hands. I know, it’s creepy. Anyhoo… he doesn’t really remember most of it, because he did a LOT of crack in the 80’s. That’s why he has all the gray hair now- crack. You kids should take home some sort of lesson from this. And, long story short- he can’t die.
BrandonIVM: Between the time of the EP and 2000 you released the infamous LIVE album, the first one. What was that like? Can you divulge any details about that live recording and what it was like recording the songs? Where was it recorded? What was the crowd like? Do you have any regrets about that release or were you all on the same page. I remember hearing A New Hope and It’s Not Unusual on that live album and loving those songs, A New Hope in particular because of Columbine tragedy. Which live album do you like the best?
BrandonIVM: 20 years ago Five Iron Frenzy released “All The Hype That Money Can Buy”. So many good songs on this album and some seriously heavy material, lyrically. What was it like working on this record? What was different about this album from a songwriting view than on prior releases? What songs stand out as favorites to you? What are some of your favorite lyrics from this album?
How did your views change between Upbeats and All the Hype..? What were you aiming for lyrically with some of the songs on this album? Songs ranged from the goofy, sad, hopeful, socially aware, more goofiness, sad again, more awareness, and ending on hope. What topics were going through your head when writing the lyrics to some of these weighty tracks? What subjects were you most wanting to touch on? Do you feel you conveyed everything you wanted to say in these songs or were some things left on the cutting room floor? If you could tell your fans anything about the early age of FIF, what would it be? What are some of your favorite songs on this record? “Four Fifty One” is quite poignant about the Christian Market and how things played out not just back in the day but still continue now. What words of advice can you offer in regards to this song and anything you’d like to share?
• Dude. First thing is- I hate this album. I hate my singing, the songs we made… I hate my stupid face (I thought it would be a good idea to rap on this. Not funny like Shadow of Def rapping (Which also sucks), but- trying to be cool rapping.) Second- I had just been dumped by my fiancé about 3 months before we made this, and I was a wreck. I literally lost 65 pounds and could think of nothing else, all the time. On top of this, Five Iron was a dumpster fire. We had lost Scott, who was like a brother to me (and the most gifted and prolific songwriter I have ever met), and each and every one of us thought we had to fill that void. It was a mess, entirely. What do you want to write? A melancholy samba? Do it. I’ll put some SUPER depressing words over it while I cry in some upstairs room at Saki’s studio. No problem. An 80’s Power-rock song? Great. Mullets are funny. Do that. Hey, write an amazing song about something as simple as Rhubarb Pie. I’ll destroy it by making it about some girl that I am thinking about taking a bath with a toaster for. What really happened for me on this album- is I just started to not give a crap what people felt that I was “supposed to write”. I was seriously so depressed that I was genuinely thinking about killing myself, and I wanted to just say what I felt was right. The Greatest Story Ever Told came out. More as a prayer than anything. Please, Jesus. Help. me.
And other songs came from that freedom, like not at all caring that I was rapping. More importantly, it was time to write a song for LGBTQ people, and not care what the Christian Booksellers Association felt about it. I chose myself as the person to point the finger at, and Fahrenheit was born. At the time- this was far past the envelope for a band in our position (Randy F$#king Stonehill sang on this album. You know, the guy who wrote “Rachel Delevoryas” and sang a duet with Amy Grant?). I tried. Where I was in my faith at that point, was coming to term with accepting and loving my friends and family members who had come out as Gay, Lesbian, and Trans. I wanted to speak from love, and say I was sorry for my own sin of homophobia. Please don’t forgive me for this, because it was the most we could say at the time, or because I was still growing in my faith. I knew that it was wrong when I wrote that words “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, and I did it to slowly edge into the volatility of the Christian market. It was cowardly, and I know this. But, I was working through it, and that song was born. I could have left that line out, but some failure of my moral compass sought to pacify both the Evangelical Church, and what I knew to be right. Love is love, people.
My favorite songs from this record are: The Greatest Story Ever Told, Fahrenheit, You Probably Shouldn’t Move Here, and World Without End.
To address your question about Four Fifty One- It was poignant at the time. I’m sorry for the people that used to work at the Family Christian Bookstore, in the failing Staunton Virginia Mall- but my soul feels that its going out of business is a tangible thing of justice. Bibles should be free. Do we really need any more concordances, or commentaries on the Bible? All of that music should have been in the regular record stores if any of those artists gave a damn about any of the souls they were playing for. This sounds entirely too arrogant, as I’m sure I padded the pockets of those corporations (and heartily enjoyed my hefty Five Iron Salary of $1,560.66 a month while they became more and more wealthy)- but I am so glad to see it perish.
BrandonIVM: After this release like not even a year passed before another album dropped in all of our laps. “Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo” released in 2001 to thunderous applause and critical acclaim! Wait, that was just in my mind I think. I always had hoped that album catapulted FIF to mainstream breakthrough success and they could have I guess but my heart tells me it went in a different direction. That was a GREAT record. What was it like working on this one? What was the consensus for dropping the “ska” and picking up the “rock”? Were there any member changes between last few albums and this new one? How did the band react to the studio sessions of these songs? Did everyone love the songs on Electric Boogaloo? What changed production wise between All The Hype.. and this new one?
• In short: Frank Tate told us he was quitting Five Minute Walk. He told us he wanted us to do the one thing we had all always wanted to do- which was to break an album into the “General Market”. So we literally spent 2 months giving that our best shot. All of us- including Saki, worked 12-16 hour days for as long as we could afford- to make that happen. And here is the crazy thing: it worked. We sat in a meeting for an A&R guy that represented Squire, Geffen, Dreamworks, Capital, and Colombia. He wanted Five Iron. Except…there were 2 caveats: 1. Re-record the album we just spent everything we had on- but better, and 2. Tour for 9-11 months of the year for at least the next 2 years. So, we passed. We had just given all we had for 6 years, and definitely for this album. In the end, this is what broke us. Some of us wanted to keep pushing, and some of us had nothing left to give. We couldn’t go on without spouses resenting the tour schedule, and the few of us that wanted to keep pushing- resenting the other guys in the band.
• I would also like to go on record as saying that this record, although far from perfect, is the best we could do. We lost Scott, made a weird album where I wanted to die, and then made what I STILL think is our best album. I love Engine, but I think we can do better. This album was everybody bleeding out. It was a 2 month knife-fight. It is the best I have ever been as a musician.
BrandonIVM: Lyrically these songs had that same bang that Reese and Company had become world renown for but amped up the emotions. If I connected with any Five Iron Frenzy album the most it would be this one. It’s really weird because I am a ska(punk) fan and love the upbeats but something about the way these songs were written that really resonated with my soul.
– Thank you, Brandon. If you wanted to be a Linden or Eira, I would name my kids after you.
BrandonIVM: I loved the tongue in cheek of humor on songs like “Pre-Ex-Girlfriend” and “You Can’t Handle This”. FIF has always been a band known for fun and humor. Are you on board with that? What are some of your favorite memories from this album cycle? What bands were you out on tour during this time and what are some favorite show memories?
• Uhhh… have you heard Cheeses of Nazareth?
• Also, let me say this: the deepest I know how to reach as a lyricist, is to make a song that is superficially funny, and somehow hooks into some deep and melancholy in the bridge. “Pre- Ex Girlfriend” is some seriously dumb attempt at getting on a secular record label by being a more intelligent Blink 182. It is the worst song on that Record. “You Can’t Handle This” is about every kid that got picked on for being smart in school- finally winning. That one is powerful. I still love it.
• Favorite memories of this tour cycle- We literally drove by New York City burning on 9/11 to get to one of its suburbs for the first show. The next show was Asbury Park with some youth pastor showing us a single-spaced, typed, two-page document of all the people from his church that they hadn’t found yet. The third show was two towns over from the Pentagon. We hugged and cried with so many people at those shows. No one in our country knew what happened, or what to do anymore. We played shows because we thought it was what God told us to do, and it was all we had left to give. And it was seriously miraculous.
BrandonIVM: Tell us all how you progressed as singers, songwriters, and musicians between that first record and this one? What changed the most, good or bad, with you all as band members and friends?
– Brandon. I suck more as a person than I ever have in my life. I think I have gotten better as a singer, and maybe as a lyricist… maybe. I am definitely worse as a guitar player and a pianist, and probably as a songwriter. I can barely feel my fingers anymore on my left hand from constantly dislocating my shoulder- so there’s that. What I want, more than anything (if I cannot get better at this)- is to just do one, last, great thing. Whether it be this album, or some show, or something I impart onto my kids. I feel useless right now, and I don’t know how to be anything- unless I am just pushing to be better. Please forgive me if I am not.
BrandonIVM: Was “Eulogy” written a little as foreshadowing back in the day? Was the original plan to end after this album and let “Eulogy” be your parting goodbye? Or was there always a plan to make one final album (before the break up).
• It was foreshadowing, wasn’t it? When I wrote it, it was just something to say-I was tired of people thinking I was something I was not. Something I never have been. We have great musicians and songwriters in Five Iron, but I am seriously not that. Andy can sing better, play guitar, bass, write songs better- and his drumming is better than anything I have ever seen or heard. Dennis is by far- the best singer in our band. He runs a company that makes music for commercials. He TELLS genius songwriters to try harder, and that they can do better- until they make something good enough for him to put in a commercial. Scott makes chords that ordinary people cannot make with their fingers. He writes entire albums in his head while he is driving to his day job- that I will never be good enough to sing on. Micah and Sonnie are the best guitar players I have ever seen. Leanor is an incredible lyricist, far better than me at writing melodies, and unmatched at loving our fans (she hand-wrote a response to EVERY letter people wrote us). Brad is hands-down, the coolest person in ANY band I have ever met. This is not humility. I do not belong with these people, and yet they have counted me as a brother. Eulogy is me just saying that. I am not good. I don’t want people to tell me I am good. I think I can do better, and I want to try to be. I want to be good, more than anything.
BrandonIVM: Let’s talk truth now on “Blue Mix”. What band or bands was this about and can you safely reveal identities now? What led to the creation of that song? Was there a particularly troubling tour encounter that led to some bad blood?
– No. I started typing this, with some disclaimer about how it “was really the management” of these bands, and not actually them. But it was them. They hired their management, and were okay with these things- then stapled Jesus to what they did so they could feel it was okay. I’m not going to tell you who they were though, Brandon. There is no good that will come from naming any names. What I can say is this- I am sorry to those bands for my anger and resentment. I am sorry for my venom, and for secretly harboring hate in my heart against my brothers and sisters- in and out of Christ. Bitterness is a poison, and I am sorry for holding on to it. For those who profess Christ: if you are making music- just be Jesus Christ. Be cool. Love everyone. If you have to sabotage anyone’s sound to make yourself appear to be better, you’re doing it wrong. Like the Old Man said- this is a resounding gong and clanging cymbal. Your songs are just wind. Love is real.
BrandonIVM: Songs like “Banner Year” and “The Day We Killed” tell some emotional reminders about the treatment of Native Americans throughout history through the lens of Reese Roper. What would you have to say about those songs and how has their impact been reverberated throughout the scene the past 20+ years. I have to know, did any tribes or reservations invite you guys out for shows because of those songs?
• Dude. I spent at least 40 years of my life trying to convince people that the plight of Native Americans was not just horrific- but ongoing. When I was in 2nd grade, the 5th graders put on an American History play. The Native Americans they portrayed were resplendent, in full head-to-toe warbonnets, bone-pipe breastplates, and authentic weaponry. Something changed inside of me when I saw it. I was overcome with wonderment for indigenous peoples, and everything about them. When we went on vacations as a kid- it was to Anasazi ruins, pueblos, dances, monuments, and the like. I think my parents thought it was great and educational, and both tried to foster it. So… when I wrote songs, this is what came out. I guess there’s nothing more punk rock than being the only one you know trying to stand up for the underdog. For a long, long, time- I have felt alone about this. Somehow, in the last few years- people started getting it. And I love that. I love that the world is waking up to seeking justice for these people. It’s about time.
• And… no. No tribe has recognized these songs or invited us out for shows. Probably because we are also still- just Five Iron Frenzy. I’ll throw it out in this interview that I would love it if it ever happened.
BrandonIVM: What style of music do you most enjoy seeing Five Iron Frenzy pursue? What is your least favorite style of music Five Iron Frenzy has dabbled in?
Favorite- I actually like the legitimate ska sound we pulled off with “Someone Else’s Problem”, and some of our new stuff. Also- the punker stuff. Also- the Polka in “You Probably Shouldn’t Move Here”. It is unbridled Five Iron, insanity.
Least Favorite- Me rapping, or us trying to dabble in Nu Metal in the 90’s/Early 00’s. It is really, really, bad.
BrandonIVM: I’ve always wondered about movie soundtracks and how come Five Iron has never been featured. Either in goofy comedies, teen films, or even sci fi stuff. I could totally see different songs of yours in all kinds of different movies over the years. American Pie, Dude Where’s My Car, Mean Girls, Transformers, Star Trek, Ninja Turtles, etc. Heck even The Matrix could have used your songs. Why didn’t you have a song in Bill & Ted 3? Adam Sandler should have given you guys a call the past 25 years! Is there a reason your song or songs was never chosen? Did 5 Minute Walk not want to cut a good deal?
– Brandon. The reason is that we aren’t very good.
BrandonIVM: Speaking of 5 Minute Walk, what happened to Frank Tate? Are you all on speaking terms? Do you own the rights to your songs 100% now? If not, why?
– Frank is doing great, and semi-retired in New Zealand. I talk to, or text him a few times a year. He did sell us the rights to everything a few years back. I think we own everything but “The End is Here”. Also, Capital Christian owns the rights to the 1st two BS2 and the Roper albums. Please write them, and tell them to release them to us!
BrandonIVM: Did Five Iron Frenzy either in past or present, have a beef with any band in our music scene? Was there ever a band that had a problem with your music and didn’t like your songs? Were there any groups that really made your stomach churn either from a musical standpoint or just them as people?
– Brandon. So many bands have a problem with our music because it is bad. And no. I’m not going to say negative things about other bands. Just my own. Weeee suuuuuuuuck.
BrandonIVM: I want to know the truth about all the songs that were not used in the past on any particular album because offensive subject matter for grannies. Were you guys ever censored? If so, what song, album, artwork, etc was censored and for what reason? Did you ever have curse words cut out? What songs did the Christian Music Machine disapprove of the most throughout your band’s history? What songs were embraced the most?
• Mostly, we censored ourselves. There were a few times where Frank used the phrase- “I don’t think that’s going to go over very well in the Midwest”, and that was enough of a hint for us to rethink what we were saying. I believe that almost every time, the point could still be made- without offending people. BS2 did have 2 songs censored on The Light of Things Hoped For, but we were able to release the uncensored versions later as a free download. I would like to point out that there are three instances of vulgarity on the upcoming album. All three of them have been attempted to be censored by someone within the band- but I think they will actually stay this time. I would also like to point out that all three of the words are mentioned in the King James version of the Bible, and I have heard them uttered many a time in church- just probably not in the same context. It will be fine. Everything is fine.
• What songs did the Christian Music Machine disapprove of? The answer is either none, or all of them. We never really broke it in the Christian Music Industry. I mean, we did okay- but we were never huge. We were side-stage. On the other hand, people didn’t usually give us flak for our songs either. I think that if you were on the fringe enough to like our band- you never really minded what we sang about either.
• Songs that were embraced: of course A Flowery Song, Every New Day, and Dandelions.
BrandonIVM: After 25 years, what lyrics have resonated the most with your fans from feedback you have gotten over time? What songs do you people cling to the tightest?
– By far: Every New Day. It still breaks me how much that song still touches people 22 years later. I have a shoebox full of letters that people have written me about how that song has affected them. For being someone that works so hard to find the right and most meaningful words to place in songs- I have none to describe the reverent awe that this makes me feel. The glory for this is not, and never will be mine. But I am highly content to look at those letters, and to be a small part of that.
BrandonIVM: Why was there a 10-year break between the last album and Engine of a Million Plots? Was that time that you needed to recharge and come back as vengeful, crime fighting, superheroes?
– Man. We did not do this on purpose. Our intent was to stay broken up, but I think that in time- we softened. I think we really missed each other, more than anything, and it happened by accident.
BrandonIVM: Looking back on 25 years as a band and all the music you’ve created collectively as a group, what has been the most awe-inspiring moment you’ve had as musicians? What has made you cry or get angry at the most in these 25 years together?
– Most awe inspiring moment: The end of recording Proof That the Youth Are Revolting. Singing worship in the Encore 2 tent at Cornerstone. I just remember bawling my face off into the stage. What makes me the most angry?- we are a true democracy. We are eight different people that literally have to vote on everything we do. When we were in a van, or a bus all day- this was easier. Now we have to text, email, and video chat for everything- and it is depressing. As soon as we start shifting one way or another- someone throws in some new idea, or adds to one of the current ideas, and it completely derails everything. It makes us weird and eclectic, but it also makes us take 8 years to put out a new album.
BrandonIVM: I am assuming that some of you have a love/hate relationship with each other. Like all good relationships there is compromise, there is compassion, there is commitment, and there is sacrifice, what is the glue that keeps you all together and on a somewhat consistent path?
– The glue is love. I think we have all been frustrated with each other, but have definitely never hated one another. We are truly like brothers and sister. In fact- I was just lightly scolded by my wife for being unable to make new friends since we moved to Virginia nine years ago. (This is not at all true. I have 4!) Why would you want to make new friends- when you have Five Iron? Is this what Stockholm Syndrome is like? Probably.
BrandonIVM: Looking forward and feel free not to answer if you don’t want to, but what do you all look forward to as a band in the coming years ahead? Will there be another Five Iron Frenzy album or two? If you are cooking up something new, can you share some details like styles you might dabble in and maybe a studio and/or producer you are hoping to work with? How many songs do you want to see on this new album? Any idea when you’d like to release this album? Maybe in time for Christmas of 2020? How about you call it “Five Iron Frenzy 3: Pandemiska”? You’re welcome.
• Thank you Brandon. Five Iron Frenzy 3: Pandemiska, will be released in time for Christmas.
• Seriously though. Wait until you hear this thing…
BrandonIVM: Will you ever work with an indie label again? Are you currently signed to any particular record label that will see this release through to the end? Share details please.
– Brandon, there are no more Indie Labels. There are 3 major labels, and then 100,000 bands DIY-ing it on Tunecore- like we are. (If there are Indie labels- they are also doing the same thing, but taking a cut from their bands for something they should be doing themselves). We would though, go to a major label for a few reasons: 1. We get to open for Queen. 2. $100. and 3. We get to meet Pink. That’s it.
BrandonIVM: It has been a total pleasure listening to your music from the beginning till now and I can’t help but sing a long with your songs still to this day. We all have diverse tastes, viewpoints, and understandings about the world and our Faith. The cool thing that binds us all together in perfect harmony is music. It brings out the good in most and the bad in a few. I’ve always counted your band as a personal favorite of mine and like I said above, I can’t think of any other band in our music scene that is like FIF. You were and continue to be one of a kind. I hope your music will continue to speak to generations long after it is all said and done. Let there never be a goodbye, only a friendly greeting and a warm welcome.
– Agreed, and thank you. Love you, brother.
Five Iron Frenzy 2020