Five Iron Frenzy - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview Reese of Five Iron Frenzy. We discussed what’s been going on since the band released their last album, their songwriting process, why their latest album is their best, why the vinyl resurgence is the greatest thing to happen to music in a long time, and more. Check it out below.

First, thanks for the interview.
You’re so welcome. Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Your new album ‘Until This Shakes Apart’ just came out. This is your seventh album and it’s been a while since releasing the last one. What’s been going on since then and what made you all decide to come back together to release another album? 

This is a good question. We never intended for it to take so long at all. On the last album, no one had any idea how we were going to do songwriting again- so Scott just started writing. Everything he wrote was incredible, and the album seemed to come together fairly quickly. It ended up mostly just being Scott and I working out the details on vocal melodies and lyrics, and everyone else chiming in if they felt something needed a tweak here or there.

It was moderately frustrating, so we decided to take a slight break afterwards. I had been working on a New Wave side project with Matt Langston from Eleventy Seven called - Pool Party Death Machine, and asked Scott to give me some space to write that stuff before we launched back into the next Five Iron album. Scott, offered to help - and we ended up having a minor falling out over the musical differences we ran into while trying to make that band work. 

In the end, Scott and Matt formed The Fast Feeling from it, and I took my songs to do my own project - Heartwrench. It did set us back a few years in getting the Five Iron stuff done. I feel like this setback also caused there to be a void in the songwriting for Five Iron, where we were all kind of scrambling to put something together, with everyone weighing in, and no real direction. 

About 2 years ago, the band decided to allow Scott, Dennis, and I to function as a “songwriting committee” (this is the problem with functioning as a true, 8 person democracy) and we started putting together songs. Both Scott and I were slow coming back into it, and we really were afraid we would only get enough done for an EP. But it seems like sometime about a year ago, Scott hit his stride and started just cranking out great songs. By June we had 19 songs completely written. We recorded 15 of them, and ended up cutting the album down to 13.
What has changed with your writing process from your first album to this one?

Haha! I think I just answered that. I will add to this that somewhere during the writing of FIF2 Electric Boogaloo, some people in the band got really interested in having a group talk about lyrics. It was helpful and challenging for me, and most of all, I just felt like I wanted to make sure that everyone felt that their voice was being heard in our songs. We kept that for the next album, but since we all live apart now and don’t tour - this is nigh impossible. I tried to run lyrics by everyone as far in advance as possible for Engine of a Million Plots, but I was in a different space in life then. 

Now, with two kids and a serious grown-up job, it was all I could do to just write at all. It seemed like some people in the band could not at all respect this, or back out of trying to tell me what to write songs about (even though it was offered to them to please help out and write some lyrics yourself!), so there was some minor arguments. In the end, I just decided to write what I felt needed to be said, and to stop trying to please everyone.

What was your favorite song to write on this album?

I think my favorite to write was “Homelessly Devoted to You”. I really just wanted to write a love song to our kids, about how much we just want to ditch the world and go have fun with them. I love that I got to name drop KRS-ONE as well. How punk rock is that?

What was the most challenging song you wrote for this album?
I think the most challenging song had to be “While Supplies Last”. The people in the band that wanted to steer the lyrics a different way, REALLY pushed back against that one. I understand that it is heavy, and very angry - but those things truly need to be said. That song is an open letter to the Church and Christianity, and those words are a pretty powerful way to call them to the carpet. What made it hard to write was just the band trying to go back to songwriting by the entire group, and it bogged everything down a lot.

Wildcat” is one of my favorite songs from the new album. Can you tell me about writing that song specifically?

Thank you so much! Truly, when I wrote those lyrics, I really just wanted to write a song about redemption, or the need for it. I thought of the person that I would feel the most disdain for in the world, and then made a song about that guy. How we all fail, and have to face our pasts at some point. We all need salvation, and to just be accepted and loved. If not now, there will be some point when this song is about all of us.

You’ve said this new album is your best album you’ve ever made and I’ve seen others say the same. Why do you think it’s the best you’ve made?

Scott and I go back and forth about why we write the way we do. He is the most gifted songwriter I have ever known. I have seen him work out entire songs in his head - clicking his teeth together to create a basic drum part - and then just tracking what he thought of. When I write, or hear something - it is all in my guts. I have to feel what the song is about to write words. The sounds have to trigger something visceral to me. This album is an entire collection of songs that pulled my heart out at one point. Either when I heard them the first time that Scott sent the music, or through some revision - nothing really happened on my part until I felt something indisputably deep. 

I know that I talked about why it took so long before - and I left this out. I would get stuck on songs for months because I couldn’t draw an emotional connection with the song. One of the great things that Scott started pulling out on this album, was to take lyrics that we liked but couldn’t get to work with one song (or poems I wrote, or Heartwrench/PPDM lyrics I threw out) - and make them fit something else. It was really cool when this happened, because we just started clicking. 

I feel like this is our best album because every song means something deep to us. There are no songs added as fillers to make a 13 song album. We’ve never been more brutally honest or raw in what we have to say. And I think musically, we’ve never performed better. Also, I was able to thread concepts lyrically - through the entire album. The idea of losing your soul, and your voice, and all of this really beautiful Peter Pan imagery to hint at the loss of youth - is everywhere. I love that we could make it all work.
A lot of your classic discography has been getting pressed on vinyl over the last few years. What are your thoughts on those albums getting pressed and selling out? What do you think about the longevity your music has had with listeners?

Oh man. This is the greatest thing to happen to music in 30 years. It is fun again - to listen to music. To buy music! How great is it to hold something in your hands and look at the artwork and jacket as you put a record on? And then have to get up, and flip it over? I had completely forgotten how much better it was to do that. To have to stop our busy lives and just sit and listen to a great record. It rules.

You featured alternate artwork with some of the test presses. Who came up with the concept for those? Do you have a favorite?

That was Jason Ziemet from Unoriginal Vinyl. And truly - he knocked it out of the park. By far the best artwork we’ve had on any album. And yes, my favorite is the first one - the burning Liquor Store.

You’ve been a band since the mid 90s. What keeps you excited about being in the band? Do you still feel the same level of excitement when you release an album now as you did back then?

This is a tough one to answer, because with COVID, the release seemed so lackluster. There will be no album release shows or parties. And to be honest, I had to work the next day, so I went to bed at 10 on the East Coast, a couple hours before it came out. Such a bummer.

What keeps me in this band is that I get to hang out with my 7 best friends in the world, and play shows. I usually am a ball of nerves on stage, so I don’t really like playing, but there are some shows where it just seems like we are actual rock stars, and it is so fun. And I love that I still get to see all of our fans who I have become friends with over the years. It’s magical.
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

I would like to say thanks to everyone who has been with us for any of the last 25 years, and to anyone who is new to Five Iron and is giving us a chance.

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