Fire Season (due tomorrow at Wax Trax) is best described as a power- pop band with a singer who sounds like he retired from a decade or two of serving as a drill sergeant -- or might have been raised by wolves. Sam Braakman's voice has character, a Scott Kelly-esque edge in otherwise upbeat, angular pop. Braakman formed the band with his ex-bandmate Rachel Edgerton when melodic garage-punk outfit The French Chemists dissolved a couple of years back.
Originally a duo, Braakman and Edgerton stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for a drummer without knowing that their find, Ben DeVoss, was already a known quantity in Denver underground music. His old band, Voices Underwater, produced some of the most well-crafted, experimental prog rock around. After performing its first show in May 2011, Fire Season will release its debut EP, The Distance We've Created, tomorrow. Backbeat sat down with the band to discuss its formation, its inaugural release, American Gladiators' Purple Roundy and the myth of "dad tolerance."
Westword: How did you meet?
Rachel Edgerton: Sam [Braakman] and I were both new to Denver, and I had started playing bass in The French Chemists with Misun Oh and Josh Barr. There were already two guitar players in the band, and Josh said, "Sam plays guitar!" And I thought, "Why are we bringing another guitar player?" So I got moved to bass, and I had never touched a bass in my life. But it worked really well. Neither Sam or I wanted to play that genre music, but we were both desperate to be in the band and be in the scene. It just so happened the band kind of migrated, and we lost some members due to various reasons. Sam and I stuck together, and Ben DeVoss came on board as the drummer when we changed our name to Fire Season.
Sam Braakman: I think it was through the personal ads on Craigslist. "He seeking he" or something.
Edgerton: I'm surprised we found him because he was a gem.
Ben DeVoss: I had a posting.
Westword: You had a posting? You probably coulda played with anyone.
DeVoss:I kind of wanted to start totally fresh. My wife was pregnant and we just had our baby, Amelia, and I was wanting something low-key. I still wasn't what I thought was a very good drummer. I'd play with a few other guy, but I'd become sort of competent. These guys stuck it out with me as I learned how to play those things.
Westword: From where did you move to Denver?
Edgerton: I'm from Albuqueque.
Braakman: I'm from Chicago. I chased a girl. Now I'm married to her. It worked out. Since I was thirteen I've been in bands, mostly post-rock type stuff.
DeVoss: Same here in that I've been in bands since I was about fourteen. Just mostly played in pop-punk bands and stuff I liked playing, but never something I really wanted. I was mostly a rhythm guitarist, nothing fancy.
Westword: Oh, no, rhythm is important. It's one of the foundations of music, and definitely of pop music. It's what makes music sound good a lot of the time.
Edgerton: Yeah, rhythm is good.
DeVoss: Exactly. I'd rather just have rhythm.
Westword: Did you talk about what kind of band you wanted to put together as a trio, or did you, Rachel and Sam, already have something in place?
Braakman: We just started playing and came up with a couple of songs and never really talked about what kind of style we wanted to play. We'd all come in with ideas, and we all liked it.
DeVoss: I don't think we had a set sound picked out, but I knew as a beginning drummer that I didn't want anything too complicated for me. I learned playing drums to Jawbreaker albums and stuff like that, like early '90s kind of pocket but kind of punk style of drumming. I was like, "I can do that." So when I was looking for bands to play with, I wanted it to be energetic but not so complicated I couldn't keep up.
Braakman: So what you're saying is we're simpletons.
DeVoss: No! Not at all. They tolerate some of my pocket drumming. Sometimes there's a good time and place for that, so it worked out.
Westword: So you wouldn't characterize this as a punk band?
DeVoss: Eh ... somewhat. I do. I would say I'm kind of general about that term, though. We're not like a hundred seventy-five beats per minute -- that style of punk. We're not super political, but there are some political undertones.
Edgerton: Anti-religion a little bit.
DeVoss: I also use the word "pop" in a general sense too. Some people say, "Pop, like Madonna?" I say, "No, pop like Fugazi!" Fugazi is a pop band in my mind, so I think a power-pop band. I don't want to say "pop" and "punk" in the same thing because it gets all messy. It's not Warped Tour music. I'd totally play it if they asked us.
Westword: Obviously this isn't your inaugural show/CD release show.
DeVoss: No, we've played a handful of shows. Not a ton, though. Our first show altogether was last May at the Hi-Dive.
Braakman: Opening for Joan of Arc.
Edgerton: Nobody was there, though.
Westword: They have a reputation for being a bit, shall we say, stand-offish. Jerks, really. How were they to you.
Braakman: They were jerks as usual. They're from Chicago as well.
Edgerton: The bass player was nice.
DeVoss: I thought they were sort of neutral. But I don't really make much of an effort myself to talk to touring bands. I'd rather talk to local bands. I don't know what that is. Maybe I'm like, "You're not gonna snub me; I'll snub you." I think that happened with playing with John Vanderslice back in the day. He was such a dick.
Westword: John Vanderslice was a dick? Really? He's such a nice guy. That's so weird.
DeVoss: Okay, maybe not directly. We were playing the Lion's Lair.
Westword: That was also with The Wind-Up Merchants when you were in Voices Underwater, right? May 24, 2002.
DeVoss: Yeah, I think it was! They were outside shooting off these fantastic fireworks, and everyone was going outside during our set. So maybe he wasn't directly a dick to us. Probably just bad timing. I think Ben DeSoto was there and said something to him. Like, "That's not cool, man." It was at the Lair, he probably had to get out of there because it was claustrophobic. Anyway, that was our first show, Joan of Arc, last May. It was fun. But then we didn't play for a while after that for five or six months. We played a show in Albuquerque. It was actually good.
Westword: Was it the Atomic Cantina? Just kidding.
Edgerton: Well, no but did you know the owner of Atomic Cantina had to close it down and now he works at The Squire Lounge. We played at Burt's Tiki Lounge.
Westword: The Distance We've Created, was the reason for that title?
Braakman: It was a phrase I'd been throwing around for some years, and then I thought it fit well with us because we're all from different states and we're all transplants to Colorado.
Westword:Is this image on the cover of teeth?
Edgerton: It's a narwhal skull. I found the image online, and my mom is a graphic designer and she kind of put it all together for us. We made a stamp out of us so it's all hand-stamped.
DeVoss: Yeah, we were doing it DIY, so we needed an image that wasn't too busy but that we liked. It's simple, and it came out nice. It was also a pretty reasonable price to make it happen.
Westword: You recorded with Bryan Feuchtinger at Uneven Studio. Why did you go with him for your first album?
DeVoss: I like Accordion Crimes, and I've kind of known him, not overly well, when we'd talk and we'd see each other when we played with the Hot IQs. I just thought it would be a relaxed atmosphere and that he would get the sound we were going for without having to explain or talk about it too much. We kind of just wanted to go in and bang it out pretty quick. Just a nice guy.
Braakman: It was so comfortable. Piano on the porch.
DeVoss: And that's all there is. He has this tiny room in the back where he sleeps, and it's all studio. He's a pretty rad guy.
Braakman: He's a mad scientist behind the board.
Westword: It's a little different for you, Ben, because there's no heavy electronic component involved.
Ben: Yeah, we're just a three-piece rock band, so it's not too complicated. I thought we could do it in two days. It went a little over that, but we didn't spend too much time nitpicking about things. Of course we tried to do it live but that didn't work out so well and then they kept a bit of the guitar and bass and what drums we could. We didn't layer guitars, really, a couple of parts. It's pretty much what we sound like. I don't think we cheated or made things sound so big. Like something we could never replicate. It sounds pretty close, for better or worse.
Click through for the rest of the interview. Westword: Did you and Sam come up with the name of the band together?
Edgerton: I was actually in a band in Albuquerque called Fire Season. We obviously broke up because I moved. I asked all the guys if they minded if I took it. There was one guy that still gets fussy about it, but he's [silly].
DeVoss: I think we were pressed for that Joan of Arc show, right? There was kind of a name floating around but I didn't think it was good.
Edgerton: It's the only one we could all agree on. You can't really make fun of it. It's not the best; it's not the worst.
DeVoss: You just kind of need a fairly safe name. You hope it's good. But bands today have names like Concrete Truck or something, and they're just a great band. Or The Polo Club and it's like, "Oh, they're huge!" Anything goes nowadays.
Braakman: We started as Magnetic Sleep, but after we lost a couple of members we thought we needed a new name because it wasn't representative of the new band.
Westword: It's not a name like Your Dad's Butthole, which is a real band from Denver. Or Vaginal Blood Fart, which is a band I think novelist Nancy Collins used.
Braakman: That was on our list, actually. It's catchy.
DeVoss: Nice. Aggressive. But memorable. That'll catch your eye.
Braakman: I'm going to have dreams about that tonight.
Westword: "Pterodactyl." Let's start there with asking if the titles have anything to do with the songs.
Braakman: A couple of them do. "Pterodactyl" is an instrumental song that's not even about the dinosaur, technically. It's about a sexual act. We don't need to get into that. Let's just say we like dinosaurs.
Edgerton: Look it up on Urban Dictionary.
DeVoss: When I learned that, they gave me the real meaning. This was when we first started playing. So you know that when you can joke around about stuff and get each other's humor I felt like it was comfortable. I knew I would fit in and be crude.
Westword: How about "Homeschoolin?'"
Braakman: A lot times we just write a new song, and before there are lyrics, whatever word comes up that day is what name it gets. I don't know where that came from, to be honest with you.
"Purple Roundy," on the other hand, is named after a contestant on American Gladiators back in 1989 or 1990. Just a phenomenal character, this guy is. That's his real name. His occupation is demolition derby driver, according to his biography. Me and my bandmates in the group 1908 Googled his phone number and decided to call him one night. I talked to him for an extended period of time on the phone. I don't know why we were so fascinated with his triumphant American Gladiators appearance, but it stuck in my mind. Recently, we called him again, because I still have his phone number in my phone, but unfortunately, this time, his girlfriend would not let me talk to him.
DeVoss: She probably doesn't want him to get all keyed up on his Purple Roundy days.
Braakman: I just thought he needed a song named after him because he's a magnificent human being with a magnificent mullet and a magnificent moustache.
Westword: How about "Mirrored Minds"?
Braakman: Oh, that's a song about discontent.
DeVoss: Just being grouchy.
Braakman: Just whatever that day brings. The state of affairs in your life. That just means I think we're all on the same page of discontent.
Westword: What about "Mouthpiece"?
Braakman: It's just an angry song about systems in general and...
Braakman: Yeah, I guess so. I guess it's kind of a common them.
Westword: You're so punk rock.
DeVoss: We see exactly what's wrong with things. We just can't provide any solutions or resolve. Maybe the resolve comes in the song.
Braakman: Maybe our next EP will be all about the solutions to being discontent.
Westword: Did you mean for the first letter of the track listing to follow the order "M,P,H,P,M" -- like a palindrome?
Braakman: Oh we totally meant to do that.
Edgerton: Yeah, we spent hours.
DeVoss: When you say the song titles like "Mouthpiece" out loud, I think, "Oh is that what that song is called?"
Braakman: It was originally called "Dad Voice" because Ben was talking about having to use his dad voice one day.
DeVoss: I think it stems from "dad tolerance" too. "Dad tolerance" is (like) once you become a dad, for some reason you can drink more and never get intoxicated. You kind of always keep it cool. Keep your wits about you.
Westword: Is this a real phenomenon or just wishful thinking?
Braakman: He thinks it's real, but you should see him after one of our shows.
DeVoss: They've seen otherwise, probably. It's wishful thinking.
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Westword: My own father thought the same thing and say, "I'm not drunk" and I'd kind of get John Bender on him and say, "No, dad, you are."
DeVoss: You usually aren't this happy, dad. It's not the throwing, hitting kind of dad. It's like the cheerful kind of dad.