Band of the Week: Fire on FireWriter: Alex V. Cook
Feature, Published online on 19 Mar 2008
Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Fun Fact: This homespun acoustic group emerged from the prog-leaning art-punk collective Cerberus Shoal.
Why It’s Worth Watching: Fire on Fire is a medicine-show concoction of ragtime, acid folk and campfire swing without one touch of posturing.
For Fans Of: Be Good Tanyas, Bardo Pond, The Band
When it seems like every unwashed minstrel with a John Fahey CD, nylon guitar and a four-track recorder is hailed as a free-folk visionary, a band as good as Fire on Fire is downright refreshing. The group rose out of the underground experimental cabal Cerberus Shoal, when folk revisionist troubadour Micha Blue Smaldone moved into the group’s shared house in South Portland, Maine. This sense of communal closeness permeates the rustic alchemy on the band's debut EP (titled, fittingly enough, 5 Song EP).
“We have been living in the same house since the summer of '95,” says guitarist and doumbek player Chriss Sutherland. “It was traditionally the ‘Cerberus Shoal house,’ and then it became ‘our house’ with a healthy and full family tree. We recorded the EP in that house, so it's all in there. We took our time and recorded the music as we wanted to hear it.”
Fire on Fire's interplay on record is as natural as a coffee-table conversation, without any particular focus on one one person or style. “I don't think we place any overall importance on anything necessarily outside of the obvious,” Sutherland says. “We want the music to be good and we want to be friends.” That music bears the patina of time-worn folk melodies, while being inundated by a locust swarm of oud, harmonium, banjo and clapboard chapel choir vocals. Producer (and former Swans frontman) Michael Gira is an unabashed fan. “Whatever their style of music is doesn't matter to me,” he gushes. “I just know it's joyous music. It's not light by any means, but it's elating to hear and they are especially fantastic live.”
To many an ear, the fact that Fire on Fire emerged from the oft-cacophonous excursion of Cerberus Shoal could prove a bit puzzling. Sutherland, rather, sees the branching off as a pretty organic evolution. “I think if you look into that catalog you would find many examples of what was to come,” he says. “We took our time to develop as naturally as possible. The mix of time, circumstance, minds and hearts pulled the trigger.”
Infectious as the ragtime romp of “Amnesia” and the autumnal folk of “Hangman” are, its in the slow-building epic “Liberty Unknown” that Fire on Fire demonstrates the power of such a close unit. “We fought with our lungs/ we fought with our hands/ for liberty unknown to our waking minds,” the band chants with a fervor rivaling that of Gira’s free-form collective Angels of Light. Fittingly, as Fire on Fire preps its first full-length, that comparison may become closer to reality, as there is a chance the Angels may feature some Fire in the future.
“That has been discussed and is a definite possibility,” Gira says. Past Young God artists that have toured as Angels of Light include Akron/Family and Devendra Banhart. Seems like the future is looking bright for Fire on Fire.