One thing to know about The Fires Of is that the people in this band are some of the friendliest you’ll meet in the scene. They’re eager, but completely genuine, and that’s refreshing these days. (And now they can never try and cross me since I wrote that sentence!) It seeps into their music effortlessly, that they’re just five people having fun and getting their creativity out into the world. By so many of their melodies you’ll be promptly carried out the door by shooting stars, escorted along by the delicate pop-rock they’ve woven.
This week, the Toronto five-piece releases The Noise Around the Mean EP, their second piece of work since last year’s self-titled full-length. It’s wholesome, warm and a nice step-up in their music. Their rock has a blissful touch thanks to the violin, and the dueling vocals of Graeme Donnelly and Lisa Di Diodato complement one another well. From the sweet and catchy Lisa-led “I Can’t Sleep” to the poppy “One Decent Thing” that has Chris Hayward singing “every time I forget music means anything, remind me of how it saved your life in high school,” to “Somebody Tell Me I’m Dreaming,” that has the band exploring their sound, there’s enough on the five song-long EP to keep a listener satisfied and entertained.
In this interview with guitarist Steve Canning, he explains all the growth the band has gone through to get to where they are now musically (and personally, I bet they’d take a challenge of an ultimate frisbee game) and the recording process. He highlights what it’s like in the indie scene here and how to make the most of it, and we find out that they have a pretty impressive general collection of whats on their Dork Shelves.
The Fires Of will celebrate The Noise Around the Mean‘s release on Saturday at Lee’s Palace with The Ruby Spirit and Wendy Versus.
Dork Shelf: How and when did the band start and how did you come to be who you are now?
Steve Canning: Graeme’s very official answer: “We had our first jams and practices in February 2008, and it was really just a group of ultimate Frisbee players getting together with the hope of one day putting on a giant show for our friends. Chris and I had a bunch of songs we wanted to perform and Lisa was immediately brought in to add her wonderful voice and sense of harmony. Peyton and I had played together a lot around campfires, and the violin added a slightly “different” element to the band. The band needed a lead guitarist and Steve had been itching to get back to playing music. He was used to playing much heavier music, but once he turned down the distortion, he brought a brilliant sense of lyrical melody to his lead lines. Larry was a much-needed keyboardist and brought a fourth voice to the harmonies. Finally, Greg cemented it all together with his experience and genuine musicianship. Since then, Larry has parted ways with the band to make his millions (fingers crossed) and Chris is tackling a solo project (to be released this year?). Now, the smaller five-some has a tighter sound, but still manages to hit the noisy chaos of the larger band when appropriate.”
DS: What was the recording like for this EP?
SC: Unlike the first album, which was recorded in small sessions over about 14 months in the producer’s basement, the majority of the EP was recorded over a hectic five days in a wonderful converted barn recording studio in Acton, Ontario. Over the first two days, we bashed out the bed tracks for 11 songs, and for the last three days, it was a rush to get the final versions of the five as heard on this EP. This forced us to economize our sound a bit, and to spend a lot of time constructing the few parts we’d be able to record. There was a wonderful camaraderie because we were all stuck in a barn together for five days and I think that sense of community comes through on the EP.
DS: What did you take away from it?
SC: I think we learned that we’re a real band. We spent more time considering the sounds and tones of our instruments and voices and the emotions we wanted to convey to try to achieve what we heard for the songs in our minds. I’m not sure we had that kind of vision when we did our debut self-titled full-length.
DS: What is the EP about?
SC: Unintentionally, the songs on the EP all kind of stem from a very introspective place whether it’s about losing someone, regretting something, pondering your impact on the world or coming to grips with what reality has presented to you. These are the events and emotions that end up shaping you as a person and showing you who you really are and what the world really means to you. From that we get The Noise Around The Mean. Life has a certain normalcy to it but it’s those oscillations and fluctuations that really make you LIVE. It’s also our contention that from those places come a lot of great pieces of art. On a more serious note, we almost called the EP “The Sleep EP” but threw out that idea because Greg pointed out it might be received as “The Sleepy Pee.”
DS: How is it different from your album?
SC: The self-titled album was a learning experience for a lot of the band, who hadn’t recorded before. As we were recording those songs, we would discover we needed to write a guitar “part” here or a keyboard “part” there, and it was all a bit on-the-fly. Since then, we’ve all put more thought into our different instrument components and how they fit together on the recorded track, versus what we can play live. We have also played together live much more than we had prior to recording the first album, and with this EP we were trying to achieve a better representation of our live sound. I feel like that’s something a lot of bands end up chasing in their careers, and I can see why.
DS: What’s next for The Fires Of?
SC: Those six bed tracks from the prior session are burning a hole in our hard drives, along with four or five new songs we’re itching to get down, so we’re hoping to continue recording after this. It’s an amazing craft to learn and something we have a lot of fun doing. Also, if we can get our act together, we’d love to do a tour to support the two recordings we’ve let loose into the world.
DS: What’s your favourite venue to play at?
SC: While we love the intimacy of The Silver Dollar, nothing can really compare to playing Lee’s Palace. We are excited to be playing there for our fourth time (!) this Saturday.
DS: What’s it like being a musician in Toronto?
SC: Being a musician in an indie scene feels like going to a party you where you don’t know anyone. You’re an insecure teenager. You can’t help but think everyone else is cooler than you and that they all know what an imposter you are. It’s funny because in the scene no one really knows what your day job is, how you got there, etc. We’re all treating our music as art and as a career when we’re spending time on it. It’s like a superhero convention where no one wants to reveal their alter egos. Aside from all of that posturing, the best thing about being a musician in Toronto is the other musicians. Connecting with other people who aren’t getting responses to their emails, who just can’t land a gig at the Horseshoe or who are also in-fighting about set lengths and how much the cover should be really helps to keep you keeping on.
DS: What other local music do you like?
SC: Our two favourite local acts are The Ruby Spirit and Graydon James & The Young Novelists. Two bands we love as bands and people. You can’t get much better than these two bands in my humble opinion. Great song writing. Great people. I should also put The Fast Romantics on this list. They give me a new appreciation for Elvis Costello and Blur.
DS: What’s on your Dork Shelf (music, books, movies, games)?
SC: We’re a pretty dorky band. Our Dork Shelves are ever expanding and impossible to catalogue. Right now Graeme is reading The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge and Blindsight by Peter Watt. He is also a movie junkie and is enjoying shiny new Blu-rays of the Short Films of Buster Keaton and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy. Steve is a fantasy nerd and has multiple versions of The Lord of the Rings (both the books and the movies) and is making his way through George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Steven Erikson’s Malazan: Book of the Fallen. Lisa was gracious enough to be honest about the fact that Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is on permanent display on her Dork Shelf. Greg has been consumed by the live version of Radiohead’s The King of Limbs for weeks now and it’s all we can talk about at band practice. Peyton is also about to release a children’s book with his brother Hilary called The Pirate Girl’s Treasure – it’s an origami adventure!
DS: What else should we know about The Fires Of?
SC: We’re just a bunch of normal people trying to play some music for you. That’s the thing you realize when you go out there and try and do this. Everyone’s human. Everyone’s just trying to do what they love doing.
You can hear more from The Fires Of on their official SoundCloud page here.