Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band straight from the members themselves
Five Iron Frenzy circa 2012
Five Iron Frenzy Facebook
Five Iron Frenzy is a Colorado band with a lengthy and storied history. Initially formed as a side project to Exhumator, an industrial-thrash band, Five Iron became a full-time endeavor when its founders -- frontman Reese Roper, bassist Keith Hoerig, guitarists Micah Ortega and Scott Kerr, and drummer Andrew Verdecchio -- realized they had a great deal more fun playing ska than the metal that had originally brought them together. The outfit formed just in time to be a part of the short-lived wave of ska that happened in the second half of the '90s and included bands like Less Than Jake, Skankin' Pickle, Goldfinger and No Doubt.
See also: - They're punk. They're ska. They're Christian. They're Denver's Five Iron Frenzy - Five Iron Frenzy reunion: FIF posts new song, announces plans for new album - Reflecting on the rise and fall of Five Iron Frenzy
Five Iron Frenzy -- rounded out by Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega Till, Dennis Culp, Brad Dunham and Sonnie Johnson -- was united by the members' shared Christian faith, which formed the foundation of the band. But while Five Iron Frenzy is most certainly a Christian band, even from the very beginning, it wasn't an outfit that was easily dismissed.
The band steadily made its mark playing both "secular" and "Christian" shows, and it had a pronounced knack for getting crowds excited with the players' own raw enthusiasm. Although Roper sang about Jesus in his songs, it was never from that judgmental perspective that tends to make headlines, but from a place of compassion mixed with a desire to share a sense of peace and joy with others.
At a time before Denver bands had garnered the type of national acclaim they enjoy today, Five Iron charted on Billboard with its 1997 album, Our Newest Album Ever!, and embarked on numerous tours, making fans all over the globe. After an admirable near-decade-long run, the band parted ways with a sold-out final show at the Fillmore Auditorium in November 2003, leaving behind a catalog brimming with a distinctive, uniquely wry and absurd humor that can be seen on each of its album and many of its song titles.
With the exception of a documentary that Roper put together in 2010, The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy, which did a great job of catching up with and capturing each of the personalities involved, the group was inactive for the remainder of the decade and the first part of the next, as its members moved on and pursued a broad range of other projects, including Roper, Brave Saint Saturn, Nathan & Stephen (aka Hearts of Palm), Yellow Second and the Hollyfelds, among others.
Two years ago, rumors began circulating that the group was getting back together, speculation that seemed plausible, as the prospect of reconvening someday had always been left open as option for the members. These reunion rumors gained momentum when the band's website administrator put up a countdown for a re-launch of the official site, leading fans to suspect something big was on the horizon.
Turns out, the countdown led to a serious discussion among the members about getting back together, and so in 2011, Five Iron Frenzy was resurrected with a brand new song and the launch of a record setting Kickstarter campaign that astoundingly raised just over a quarter of a million dollars to record a new album (the initial goal was $30,000). Since then, the outfit has played a number of reunion shows and has plans to release a new album next year.
Tonight the group returns home to ring in the New Year at Casselman's Bar & Venue. In advance of tonight's show, we spoke with Roper, Verdecchio, Kerr and Ortega Till to get an oral history of Five Iron, including their experiences in the band and their perspectives on each other.
Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega Till: I think what I liked about it was that it was very much against the status quo. A lot of songs talked about not wanting to find this job that I don't like that I'm going to give my life to and then I'm going to have an ulcer from all this anxiety and die.
What's the point? I never saw life like a ladder. Going up and up and up. I never had goals that are only about me. It felt like a community of people that said, "Question things!" There's a lot of good to be gained from just questioning, and not necessarily always having the answer, but saying, "Yeah, your teachers, your parents, your church, they might not have the answer either, and the government definitely doesn't have the answer.
My parents were part of the Chicano movement in the '70s. They had been in the military but when they [got out, they] became very much involved. We moved out to the country, and all the adults that I knew were talking philosophy and listening to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. They had been very much against the Vietnam War and things they had been brought up with. Yet they had this strong work ethic and this positive idea about community and a positive idea that you can make change happen.
That's the other thing I liked because I'm a massive optimist. That's why me and Justin from my high school band started writing this 'zine called Under Vesuvius. The concept was that we're kind of blind, and we're getting tossed around, but let's look at some things that need to change in society and within ourselves -- I think that's important. I never thought there was "The Man" or the bad guy -- I always recognized that "The Man" is within me.
I saw Jesus as a hero, politically. Almost like a punk rock hero. Jesus was all about fight the system. He didn't come to break laws; he came to fulfill the law, but he was not about the law; he was about relationships. He definitely cared about people, no matter where you're from or what you'd done in your past. Everybody was on the same plane.
I think I identified with a lot of the early church people, in that they sold their items and gave to the poor. They had one big collective where they all drew from. I think those anarchist ideas really excited me. You mix high school with punk rock with Christianity; they do go hand in hand because you want to change things anyway. So it seemed like a good fit at the time, and today, I hold a lot of the same ideas. So yeah, I was eating, drinking and breathing punk rock, Jesus and music all the way in my youth.
Andrew Verdecchio: I discovered punk in seventh grade in Philadelphia. I had this friend Steve, who was this really strange, dirty ball of energy. I gravitated towards him because he was weird. That was the first time I heard Black Flag, TSOL, the Dead Kennedys -- I just loved it. I was a really energetic kid. I was always getting into trouble, so I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder at a young age. So I thought, "This is the music for me." I moved on to post-punk like Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure.
I'm sure there was an element of disaffected youth and anti-establishment to it. But at my age, anti-establishment meant teachers, parents, youth group leaders. I just wanted to buck the system, but I didn't really know what that meant. That's just who I was from an early age -- you know, questions, being sort of abrasive and being okay with being abrasive and people not liking me because of that.
I should add that my oldest brother, in addition to listening to Led Zeppelin and stuff like that, was into early '70s punk, like Iggy and Patti Smith and the Ramones. I heard it growing up, and I liked it, but I didn't associate it with punk; I associated it with my brother's music. It was only later that I realized it was punk.
When I moved to Denver, I kind of fell in with a group of skater kids and got really into the skateboarding scene and got really into skate punk like D.I., and S.O.D., and M.O.D., D.O.A. -- all the bands with initials for names. You get my point. A lot of that kind of stuff that crossed over into heavy metal I was getting into. It matched my personality.
I had a lot of energy, and skateboarding was up my alley because it wasn't a sport. It was a lifestyle commitment. You're committing to getting arrested and getting into fights with the gangbangers that hated skaters. That was a big problem in Denver then. The skateboard was a weapon, too. I would be skating down the street but you always had one eye over your shoulder waiting for someone to start some trouble because you looked weird or just because you skated.
Reese Roper: Punk is kind of angst-ridden, which I think every teenager is anyway. But I think ska is upbeat and positive, and I think as young Christians, that was important to us. We were upbeat and positive.
RR: Keith and I always wanted to start a band, and somehow we ended up talking Micah and his brother into being into a band with us. It started out as a thrash metal band, and then his brother quit. We didn't have a drummer, so we threw some money together and got a drum machine. Industrial music was big then, so we were like, "We'll be industrial."
Scott, who was in Five Iron as a guitar player and is back as a bass player, was in that band. I started going to UNC, and his wife, who was his fiancé then, went to UNC, so we met up there, and he joined our band. We did that for a couple of years. It was really bad music, first of all. We were kids so we were very excited to play the show we got every two months. We maybe practiced once a week.
AV: I played the final Exhumator and Five Iron's first show -- our first show before we had a horn section. We were just a pop-punk band. Obviously, I had gotten way away from Christianity and the church. I sorta got back into it a little bit. There was a show at either the Aztlan or the Gothic. It was this band the Prayer Chain. I hadn't been to a show in a while and thought it would be fun. So I went.
One of the kids up front was wearing a the Crucified T-shirt. I told him, "Oh, man, I love that band." He said, "Right on. You should meet my friends. They're in a band called Exhumator." It turned out this kid was Mark Denny, who ended up being the bass player for the Smiley Kids with George from Four. "You're a drummer? Right now they're just using a drum machine and samples." So I talked to those guys about playing drums, and they invited me over to rehearse and see what happens. That's kind of how Five Iron was born. Exhumator fizzled out quickly, and Five Iron took over.
I was intimidated by the guys in Exhumator, I think. I wanted to impress them, and I really wanted to get into the band. I had gotten involved in a lot of ugly stuff just being around the Denver punk scene. You don't realize how scary some shit is until you're involved. Fortunately, that's what drew me into the religious thing. I really wanted to be a part of their band because, to me, at that point in my life, it was a saving grace. It was going to get me out of where I was at and helped turn me around a little bit.
Not that I always think religion is a fix-all -- especially not now that I'm an atheist. But I certainly have no axe to grind, and it was there for me when I needed it. It was the community and structure I needed. But I think it could have been any religion had I been raised with another. That last Exhumator show and first Five Iron show was at Outer Limits Coffee House. It probably only lasted a couple of months and was put on by a youth group. I don't remember exactly where it was located. There were maybe four people there.
Scott Kerr: I was dating the woman who eventually became my wife. She was going to school at UNC and Reese was going to UNC. We met at a Campus Crusade meeting and kind of hit it off. I don't remember if it was that first time we met. I had a guitar, and I played, and Reese was kind of singing along. I thought he had a good voice, and he told me he was in a band.
That was Exhumator he was talking about. I went to check them out at the Ramskeller in Fort Collins, and they were horrible. But I'd played so little, and at some point Reese asked me if I wanted to be in the band. That was an exciting prospect, especially for someone who had never done that before, and I kind of jumped at the opportunity. My first show with the band, I think, was at the Bug Theater.
LT: When I was in high school I met the Soulbender crew -- Bobby Jamison, Brent Burkhart, Corey and a bunch of other people -- and we started going to shows together because shows were hard to go to because they were so far. Exhumator opened for Mortal at the Oriental -- which was one of the first shows I went to with a decent mosh pit. I was blown away.
Then I saw Exhumator at the Fire Escape in Greeley. I think Soulbender played that show, too. I got to know those guys and then they played this show at Vinyard Church in Greeley, opening up for a band I don't remember, but it was a touring Christian band, and so it was a legit Christian show. That's when, basically, I was asked if I wanted to be in Five Iron Frenzy, the side project of Exhumator.
I was the girl with the mohawk that hung out backstage. Not like a groupie because we'd actually be praying before the show. I was the spiritual girl that most people know because in those small towns; there were only a handful of us. People already kind of knew me at that point, and they knew I was Micah's cousin. People assumed that punk rock and Christianity was a fad for me because I was so extreme in both of them. They thought I would grow out of it.
But when I went to college and learned about theology, it was really hard for me because punk rock and Christianity had not seen eye to eye yet at all. There were rumors and assumptions about me and my belief system. I think people didn't take my Christianity very seriously because of how I looked. They thought I was seriously into punk but not serious about the Lord.
Micah brought Reese up to church camp. Micah was in Exumator, so he brought Keith, this guy Larry and Reese up to church camp. Everyone's eyeballs about popped out of their heads. These guys had long hair, wearing their metal shirts, legit metal heads, and good looking. We were high school girls, so we were freaking out in our tight, acid-washed jeans and T-shirts.
When I first met Reese and Keith I thought they were hilarious and very strange. Then I started to notice something really different. One, they wouldn't cuss. "Jerk" would be the worst word. They didn't smoke -- all of us were sneaking around in church camp, smoking. They weren't interested in girls, as far as trying to make advances at all, which confused all of us girls, too. They didn't make fun of people.
I noticed that these guys were different from other guys. These people know how to party and have a blast and do it completely sober. I wasn't used to that. I was used to the typical teenage fun. But these people had a lot more fun doing no drugs or alcohol and not at the expense of anybody.
One the first memories I had about when it came up is when I lit up a cigarette in the back of the van on the way to a show. Everyone turned around and looked at me and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Smoking a cigarette, I opened the window." They said, "No, we don't smoke." I asked, "We as a band, or we as in Christians?" They didn't answer, but I just got the idea that we don't smoke, so I just quit.
What I started to do is not talk about the differences; I just started watching them. There's concept in Christianity called discipleship. You learn how to be a follower of Christ by watching other followers of Christ. I watched them read thick, meaty theological books, read their bibles, host bible studies in their homes, let homeless people stay in their homes, tithe, go to church, repent, work on issues.
Yeah, everyone had issues, and none of us were perfect, but [we were] not being okay with it and [we were] fighting hard to be whole. I had never seen people live that out in the way that I saw in this community at that time and still love punk rock, still love being goof offs, still loving to dye your hair and still love going to shows and moshing, but as an expression of gratitude and of joy instead of angst. I think that's what ska did for the scene -- [it said] it's okay to be happy; it's okay to celebrate; it's okay to have fun; it's okay to be a dork; it's okay to be a nerd; it's okay to be smart; it's okay to be a band geek.
All of a sudden, the doors are open for people who the metal scene had nothing to offer -- the angry, black wearing crowd. Then you have kids that aren't pissed off about anything, and where are they going to identify? I think the ska scene, especially back in the day, like at the Mercury Cafe, where everyone is skanking and dancing and having fun and being underage, and so not drinking -- it was awesome, it was pure fun.
SK: I think all of our musical tastes had started to branch out. I know mine certainly had. I became not as interested in metal and industrial music. Maybe it was kind of strange to go to almost the exact opposite to intensely happy music. The first ska record I had listened to was Skankin' Pickle, and once that started, there seemed to be a steady influx of ska records and compilations that introduced us to other bands. I just thought it was fun music, and I enjoyed playing it. It was fun to have that contrasted with what Exhumator was doing. It didn't take long for me to think that Five Iron was more fun, and I lost all interest in Exhumator.
Five Iron Frenzy: The Early Days
RR: We started listening to a lot of punk and ska, a lot of Skankin' Pickle and a lot of NOFX, which was branching into ska. We wanted to do that, so we decided to make a side project, and Scott said, "There's this guy at my church that plays trumpet; we should get him in it." Micah's cousin is Leanor, and he said he knew a saxophone player. We played a couple of shows and this adult pastor from this church we were going to showed up with this guy that played trombone, and that was Dennis.
The first show we played as Five Iron Frenzy, we opened for Exhumator. It was so much better, and we had so much a better time playing the Five Iron stuff because it was what we were excited about. People liked it so much more, that we just quit Exhumator at that point, and said, "Let's just do this." That first show -- I think it was April 17, 1995 -- was at this coffee house that a church had off Kipling. Leanor's first show, I think, she played the fourth show, and Dennis played the next show after that.
Our third show, we were opening for MxPx. That never happened with Exhumator. It was us and some other local metal band that was kind of thirty or forty year olds still holding on to REO Speedwagon or whatever. All of a sudden with Five Iron, we were doing that. And we had some friends that Micah went to high school with that started working for some local promoter, Dan Steinberg.
They came to a couple of practices, and they got us our first bar show opening for the Rudiments at The Raven. It was like three in the afternoon. It was the worst sounding show I think any of us played. Somehow this promoter thought we were good enough to put us on a bill with Mu330, Less Than Jake and Cherry Poppin' Daddies and stuff.
I think for all of us it was a confirmation that we were doing the right thing. He didn't pay us very well, and there were all these bands who warned us against him. But for us, he would say, "Hey, I'm going to pay you two hundred bucks." Then he would pay us two hundred bucks. We knew he was making great money off of us, but we never felt that we should have opened for those bigger bands, but we got to. We never felt like he ripped us off.
SK: The first Five Iron show was at a coffee shop, and I want to say it was Exhumator's last show and Five Iron's first show. I think it was in Lakewood. I thought it was great. People had a great time, and I saw a lot of smiles in the audience. I think that cemented my ideas about Five Iron being the way to go rather than Exhumator.
Some of the guys were going to Corona Presbyterian and met Dennis there. Mike Sayers was one of the pastors there, and had become friends with Reese and Keith at least, and I think he had taken Dennis to one of our shows. I met him later at one of our practices, I think. Brad went to a church that my then fiancé went to. He mentioned he played trumpet, and I talked to him once we decided to add horn players. Micah and Leanor are cousins, and he knew she played saxophone, and so we added her, and Dennis came last.
SK: There weren't many ska bands in Denver, as I recall. 2B Announced Presents brought through all the big ska shows, like Less Than Jake. We played with them a lot, pretty much every time they came through. Ska was gaining a lot of steam in the underground at that time, and so there were always a lot of kids at the shows. We had those shows, and we also had shows in the "Christian market" -- if that's what you want to call it -- so when bigger Christian acts would come through, mostly booked by Fred Meyer, we would get to open for them. As far as why? I don't think we were very good at that time.
AV: We met Leanor at a Sometime Sunday show. They were kind of an alternative rock band that played in Fort Collins, somewhere at some church or something. She lived there, and she mentioned that she played saxophone. Brad was the first person to join on horns and then Leanor and then Dennis.
Jeff the Girl?
LT: I was in a play and the character I played was a boy. His name was Jeff, so my youth pastor said, "She hates that; everyone call her that." It stuck, and I was fine with it at the time. It doesn't bother me, really. I'm kind of desensitized to it. I was twelve when I got that nickname. When the guys, Reese, Keith and Scott and Andy, when they met me, they met me as Jeff. When I was a punk rock girl, that girl was Jeff.
The Mission Statement
RR: This guy that brought Dennis to the shows is named Mike Sayers. He was the single adults pastor at Corona Presbyterian Church, which I think half of us went to. We started going there because we got kicked out of another church because we wouldn't cut our hair. When we were in Exhumator, we all had long hair. It was heavy metal. I had a nose ring, and I think I had earrings. This church wanted us to take this stuff out. We were just like, "I don't think this is what church is about." We sat down with the pastor and said, "This is wrong, but the people that are paying the bills want this." And we just left.
We went to Corona because it was the closest church to our house. I don't believe in accidents and definitely don't think it was an accident. Mike Sayers kind of took us under his wing and was a bit of a manager to us. It was his idea to come up with a mission statement, so we knew what we were about. So we sat down and came up with a mission statement and planned out what we wanted and how we were going to do it. Many bands could benefit from having a mission statement.
AV: I think that was one thing that helped us be a little more organized than other outfits at that time. I think other bands were like, "We just want to play shows and get free beer" and whatever. Our thing was that we have a mission. At that point, I think it was to share Christianity with people and share that message and push that along.
Also we wanted to make sure we were playing an equal amount of shows in churches that we were in clubs. At first, all we played were clubs. Towards the end, almost all we did were Christian venues. The mission statement sort of amalgamated everything together, so to speak. Wanting to play in a rock band was the catalyst, but the thing that glued it all together was the mission that we had, for lack of a better term.
LT: Within the first year, we came up with a mission statement. I don't remember exactly when. Our mission statement included the idea that we would play 50 percent "secular" -- which is a word I had never heard until I joined Five Iron -- shows and 50 percent Christian shows. I think we honored that to the very end.
Also, as a band, we said we wanted to have musical integrity, which meant certain people needed to have lessons, including myself. We also said we were there to serve the promoters, which meant not lying and helping afterward. Basically, we wanted to be a blessing; we wanted to be a ministry. Basically what a Christian band was is that we had a set of ideals, and we had a job to do. Part of it was to evangelize, I guess, but part of it was to set the stage for God to do what he was going to do on stage and off stage.
We did get what we called "Bro'd," or "Brothered" -- that's when you play a Christian venue, like a church, and they say they're going to pay you, and then at the end of the night they go, "Thank you, brother, for blessing us." Then they don't pay you? That happens everywhere. It would happen sometimes, but not too much.
The Rise of Five Iron Frenzy
LT: I think the first and second albums feel very similar to me because we had been writing those songs around the same time. So we'd already been playing those songs, and messing with those songs, and getting a vibe to those songs.
SK: It felt out of the blue. I don't think any of us had any grand ambitions early on. I think everybody in the band had daydreams of what it would be like if the band took off. I certainly didn't have any grand delusions about it. The momentum kept building, and before you knew it, we were quitting our day jobs and touring constantly.
We never had a big radio hit or anything. The first album seemed to take off right away. But I didn't notice any additional surge from the second album, but that might be not remembering. The second album is my favorite, in terms of songs. But the first one, I think everything was just so unexpected.
I remember the first show of our first tour, and we opened with "A Flowery Song," and the vocals come in, and everyone in the audience sang along, and I couldn't even hear Reese because of the crowd singing. I was dumbfounded because I knew up to that point that we were doing well in Denver and the kids there knew our songs, and here we are several hundred miles away in Kansas City, which we never played, and they were just as enthusiastic and knew all the words.
AV: It did happen pretty quickly, but I think it needed to because the ska wave was over pretty quickly. If it hadn't happened at that time, we would never have enjoyed the success that we did.
LT: I suppose I've always felt we were a band that paid our dues because we did tour in little vehicles with no air conditioning and slept on floors and played ratty clubs. In all, it seemed really quick. We started in '95 with all the band members present. By '97 we were quitting our jobs to tour full time. To me, now, being married to a musician and seeing other musicians, that's really fast. And really rare to get that kind of crowd going.
The Christian market is a niche market, so you're guaranteed a lot of kids because there's not a lot of other things to do. We were going to Alaska, to Hawaii and all over the world, playing for this niche market that adored us. It was beautiful, it was surreal and it was special.
But then every once in a while we'd get to pop back into the other scene and play something like Warped Tour or Ska Against Racism. That was also really special to us. But I don't know if we would have had the success we did had it not been for the Christian market really embracing us because it's tough to make it out there. That afforded us the ability to quit our jobs.
RR: When our third album came out, we had just got off the Ska Against Racism tour. I think we could have, and should have, gone on to a general market label, but we did not. To this day, I will swear up and down, Five Minute Walk put their money where their mouth was. For being underground and for what they were, they really did want to help people.
It's one thing to say, now that I'm 39, maybe we could still be doing this, or we could have had one hit song that made the radio. But I would much rather tell my kids that we helped pay for two orphanages, or that every tour we did, we collected something -- socks or coats -- for homeless people.
In '96, September, I think, a lot of us were in college, so we played a show with Five Minute Walk in San Francisco to make money for the retreat for their bands. We ended up calling the school and asking to drop classes. A few of us kept their jobs going. Dennis was a manager at the Westin. Leanor kept going to school that semester.
We got our T-shirts from this couple, and I called them from the road and said, "Hey, I just dropped out of school to be in this band and you've been making our T-shirts. Would you mind giving me a job when I get home?" And they gave me the job. That was late August '96, and most of us quit our jobs. That lasted until we broke up.
"Every New Day"
SK: Like any song, you hear it and play it all the time, and it gets old. It is special, but not necessarily for me the same reasons as it is for the other members of the band. I certainly remember how I felt at the time I wrote the music, and Reese and I were working out what the song was going to be about. I think it was a good statement of how I felt at the time. I didn't write the lyrics, but the way that the music and the way the lyrics go together was a good expression of how I felt at the time. It's a snapshot of my life, and it's special for that reason.
AV: You'll notice that I'm the only one that doesn't comment on that song. I like that song, but I hate playing it, because, from a drummer's perspective, it's fucking boring to play. The beat hardly changes throughout the whole song. It flip-flops and goes to a half-time beat at one point and then does a doublet time.
But, for the most part, it's just boring to play. And we've played it every single show since the song came out on our second album. That's a long time, and a lot of times to be playing the same song. I like it, but it's not my favorite song to listen to, and it's not my favorite song to play. I love "You Can't Handle This," "American Kryptonite" and "Phantom Mullet" -- they're fun to play, from a drummer's perspective.
LT:When we first wrote it and it was just music, it had a lot of building, and it sounded a lot like the Police. In fact, we had to change the end because it was kind of sounding like "Don't Stand So Close To Me" at the end. It sounded beautiful, but it wasn't very spiritual. From what I remember, Reese was having a really hard time coming up with lyrics. We used to have crazy deadlines all the time. He went upstairs, locked himself in the room and sang it, belted it out, and came out with that. It was just a shocker to everybody. It wasn't the most amazing song until the vocals were on it. It took it to the next level.
I think that Reese has a knack for seeing the change you want to see happen inside of you. And being very honest. There's a massive dichotomy in being a Christian because you exist in the already and the not yet. We are forgiven, but we still sin. We are saved, but we still live in this world.
To recognize and put words to that tension, that we all experience, but for which it's hard to put words to the weight of that tension, and the feeling that we're above and beyond this world, but we still have to exist in this world, and how we long to be sanctified and justified is a surreal amount of pressure. I think those lyrics with the music just spoke to that perfectly.
RR: It is a metaphor of itself. The song is about new beginnings, about starting over. I feel that so many times of playing that song and just hearing it, that it's like a reset button. If I had a bad day, all of a sudden, that song makes it okay. It is about God renewing and somehow making a new life in you. We recorded that song three times -- on two live albums, and of course, on the original studio recording. Scott wrote it and said, "Hey, would it be cool if we make this the last song on the album? I think it should just be a praise song." I wrote the words and literally threw away a hundred versions of it.
For your first album, you have all the songs already. For us, we had to make a new album every year. That was kind of how Five Minute Walk operated money-wise. It was too much, so I had gone through those hundred versions just throwing stuff away. I think we had two weeks booked in the studio, and we got down to the last day, and [the band's producer] Masaki was just like, "We're ready for the song." I told him it wasn't done. He said, "Okay, you've got five minutes. Go upstairs with your notebook and write it because we have got to finish this. We've got until tomorrow morning, and I'm not staying up all night. Go finish the song." He might have given me fifteen minutes.
I remember I was terrified of writing a horrible song. I got on my knees and prayed for five minutes of the ten or fifteen minutes I was up there, and sat up and wrote what I thought was crap. Then I went downstairs and I remember recording it because we had to, and when I got to the bridge I started crying. There are a few instances in my life that I can go back to that I know that Jesus Christ is real, and I know that he loves me, and that he has just spoken to me and that is one of them. Something other than me came out. I figured that I prayed, and God really spoke.
I feel like every time we played that song, that it really speaks to people, and it really means something. If you were going to sum up the teachings of Christ, it is that he's a giant reset button. We constantly need to stop and say, "I need something to make this okay. I need to know that I'm okay." I feel like that song does that.
South Africa Trip
RR: In South Africa, they had never heard our music. I think we played five shows: two in Johannesburg and two in Pretoria. One we played in this town called Phuthaditjhaba, which is near Lesotho. There were, like, eight white people, and no other white people for five hundred miles. Apartheid had just ended in '95, so it was four years later. People stared daggers at you. You'd talk to kids, and they'd go, "Oh, you're American! You're in a band like Michael Jackson!"
Especially for us, where I felt like everything we did in Five Iron was like being a mall Santa, this was better. Nobody cared. They just heard we were a band, and they went to hear music. It may have been the first rock music they ever heard. Kids just wanted to play with you; they didn't care. None of that mall Santa thing was going on.
It was just you, and you're playing music, or you're playing Ring Around the Roses with eighteen kids. You're playing soccer with kids that lived in the dump, or their only joy was sniffing glue. For me, I always hated the mall Santa part of Five Iron. I just wanted to be actual Santa. Or more than that: Santa's not real, but Jesus is. This is actual hope, and this is actual peace. He actually existed, and he loved you. I think, at that point, it could happen, so I really loved that trip.
LT: That was one of the hardest trips we ever took. One thing you don't see in the video is that we had given our bracelets and different trinkets to street kids, and they had gotten the crap beat out of them for doing that because older kids wanted to steal their stuff. So we got reprimanded big time. I knew it would be hard, but I'm glad we got to play in little villages where people didn't even have TVs.
There's a mission there called Thrive Africa, and they buy tons of land and create obstacle courses and beautiful areas for street kids to play. There's a ton of orphanages there, and they need the kids to have a good time. We played secular clubs and skate parks, too, and that was a little gnarly because you definitely saw right at the beginning that the blacks and the whites were segregated, for the most part. There was one band we played with that had a black person in it.
We went to an orphanage, and there were zero toys. There was just dirt and tires, and the kids would go to the bathroom wherever they were standing. Our job there was to love these children. Yeah, we got to be musicians at night, but during the day, we were hugging kids and playing with children. Andy would be playing soccer for hours with these kids.
That's not for the fans; that's for us. God gives us those opportunities in order to grow up. What difference are you making to a kid in an orphanage when you're there for one day? I don't have any false beliefs that I'm making a difference in that way. But I do believe that overall it's going to make into a person who can do more good throughout the long run.
One of the biggest things Five Iron ever did was we raised money for Kenya Spare A Dollar. They created a Five Iron Frenzy rescue center that's actually there in Kenya, and we raised over sixty thousand dollars. Our fans did. Our fans paid money to buy a well, to buy a cow, to buy land for a girl's orphanage. Last year, Frank Tate, [the founder of our old label Five Minute Walk], went to Kenya for the first graduation of the kids of that school.
Scott Leaves the Band
SK: Most of that process was kind of a cerebral one for me. It wasn't that I was sick of Christians and didn't want to be associated with them or anything like that. Although I did come to that conclusion, as well -- and I don't mean any and every [Christian] because my wife is Christian to this day, and so are most of my friends.
It sort of began in high school, but during college, some of my doubts about the truthfulness of Christianity came into question and became troublesome enough that I made a full-fledged effort to get to the bottom of it. I started reading Christian apologetics' books. Truthfully, they did more to erode my faith than anything. I found a lot of the explanations, at best, not persuasive, and, at worst, intellectually disingenuous.
I just came to the conclusion that if I really wanted to seek truth, I can't read one side of it anyway, and I read David Hume and Bertrand Russell. I really felt like I didn't want to simply mend a hole in my faith. I wanted to live with my eyes open and if accepting the truth meant walking away from Christianity, then I wanted to be able to do that, and that's the conclusion I came to. It had nothing to wanting to turn my back on God or live by a different moral code. My values have changed very little in that regard.
It wasn't a shock to the band, I don't think. My nose was always in a book on tour, and we would talk about it. It certainly affected me in other ways. There were a number of factors at work, but I was kind of cranky. To be completely honest, I was kind of a dick sometimes, and I have a lot of regrets about how I handled that at that time, and I've expressed that to the other guys a lot, and everyone's been very forgiving and gracious.
They were my friends, and they were concerned about me, and the band and how my attitude affected the band. We were all really young. I was maybe 22 at the time, and you're maybe ill equipped to deal with all those emotions. The world tends to be more black and white. I think everybody did the best they could with what I was going through. I don't think anyone disagreed with my decision that it was time to leave.
RR: I don't know if I pushed him further into that crisis or not. I don't think I was a very tolerant person at the time. On the Ska Against Racism Tour, there were a lot of secular guys, and I think it cemented for him that he didn't feel comfortable calling himself Christian. He had so many doubts.
It was very honorable for him because, at the time, there were a lot of Christians that made bad music and put the word Jesus into it a lot and made a good living. I think a lot of bands were doing that and didn't believe or didn't apply what they believed to how they were living. He didn't want to be that guy, so he quit the band. Look at Slayer: I don't think they're Satanic; they're just milking it.
2001: The Sad Year
RR: I think until about the 2000s, everything was happening fast. Then I think ska wasn't popular anymore, and we kind of woke up and said, "We have to work at this." I think, by that time, we had missed a lot of opportunities. We went on a couple of years and figured out a lot of guys were getting married, and we didn't want to do it anymore, at least to the capacity we did -- we were playing two hundred or two hundred fifty shows a year.
LT: The sad year. The weird thing is, when I watch the DVD -- and Micah has said this, too -- it's like you're seeing it from someone else's perspective. There are things that are happening in each other's personal lives that you have no idea about. You have no idea how they're affecting one another. You can be in the same band but have an amazingly different experience. Some of my best years are other people's worst years, and vice versa.
I've always been pretty even keel. I haven't had a lot of massive ups and downs. My brother did die, and that was difficult, but I was able to bounce back through my faith pretty quickly. I wasn't ever miserable recording. I wasn't ever miserable touring. I didn't mind not being home. I did miss having community, and that was hard for me, and it was hard, sometimes, the dynamics of being the only female. I don't remember things being so rough. I saw people go through rough times. I saw that it was hard for certain people in different years.
At the same time, throughout it all, it seemed liked we all really enjoyed it. There was only one day ever, in all of Five Iron, that I ever wanted to quit. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I called my family -- we were in Little America headed out of town -- and everyone passed around the phone to say hello to me, and I was just bawling.
I just wanted to go home because two of the guys in the band were fighting with each other. Can you imagine being in a truck stop and everybody else is having turkey and sitting around passing the phone around -- here's grandma, here's mom, here's dad, here's brother, and I'm gone for three more months. That was probably in '98 or '99.
AV: By that time we were a well-established entity and well-known around the Christian punk circles and we were playing mostly Christian venues at that point with a few secular venues peppered in there. I guess that's sort of what put me in the mindframe of questioning my faith. It was the thing that started the whole departure from Christianity for me, just being around and playing all these Christian shows and meeting people that weren't Christians that were great people.
And then within that questioning my whole worldview: The concept of Hell was a big thing for me. I knew all these people that weren't Christians, and we played with lots of non-Christian bands, and frankly, I thought they were better people than we were. Particularly Dan Potthast from MU330; I just think he's a good person. He's just a genuinely good person, and at that point, he wasn't a Christian at all. Those were the kinds of things sticking in my head.
The two things that were the biggest components to me sort of turning my back on it entirely were my dad dying, then 9-11 happened shortly thereafter. The media coverage of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and all these people saying these things that I just could not agree with. I could not espouse those sorts of beliefs. I also found out, shortly after that, that my nephew is gay, and that threw me into a whole new frame of mind.
Believe it or not, I started reading apologetic books. I was literally trying to convince myself because I didn't want to not believe it. The more I read these books and tried to convince myself, the less convinced I was. It didn't make sense to me and it didn't add up. Finally I said I couldn't believe that stuff anymore. That was shortly before Five Iron decided to break up.
Scott had already left the band as a result of a couple of things, one of them being him being an atheist. At that point I was like, "I'm a hypocrite. I'm up here and I don't believe this stuff." That fucked-up rhetoric I heard surrounding 9-11 and that whole "God Hates Fags" thing came out, and I was trying to come to terms with what I believe. And the whole time, we'd play these shows where youth ministers get up and rant the same nonsensical, narrow-minded garbage. I knew the guys in my band didn't necessarily believe some of the stuff that was said.
At one point, it came to a head when we played a festival called Kingdom Bound. I think it was in Rochester, New York. The kids were being kind of rowdy. This guy gets on stage and is just being kind of a pushy like Gestapo. I had had enough at that point, and I got up from my drums and I said something, "That guy doesn't represent us. He's not part of Five Iron Frenzy. If he freaked you out in any way. Don't let that make you afraid to come and talk to us because he's not what we're about."
Afterwards it just erupted. It was just him and this other guy and me by myself. These guys were both huge, and they would have eaten me up. I'm like, "Look, you can't say stuff like that and not expect somebody to come back and say something. I'm not going to let you yell at these kids because they're having a good time." He gets in my face and yells at me and this other guy comes over and starts yelling at me.
The one thing I remember being said was, "When I was in the Marines, we had a way of dealing with guys like you." I said, "What do you want to do? You want to kick my ass? I'm right here? Go ahead and kick my ass in front of all these kids. I would love for them to see that." That's where it ended. He just walked away and said, "There's no way to get through to this guy."
These little events, and I said, "Fuck this shit, I cannot be a part of this anymore." So I got out. The thing that was crazy was that the guys in the band weren't like that, not in any way shape or form. They're not fundamentalists. They're not pushy, you know? I knew not all Christians are like that, which is probably why I don't have an axe to grind with Christianity.
I know that there are good people. Writing someone off before you get to know them just based on their religious beliefs is just as bigoted as what a lot of fundamentalist Christians do. At that point, I didn't go so far as to say I was an atheist, but I didn't think the God of the Bible was a good god or the right god.
RR: I felt like I became an adult at that point. I remember as a kid, my dad saying, "I don't understand this. I'm like you. I'm a kid trapped in this adult body, and I don't want to be." I couldn't understand that until that point. My fiancé broke up with me without ever explaining why; Scott had quit the band; Leanor's brother died; Andy's dad died -- all this very serious stuff. I finally got what my dad was saying. There's no diploma. You don't get knighted or anything. You don't pass a test. I think most people become adults gradually, or some people don't ever. But I think that happened for a lot of us that year.
I think after about 2001, it just seemed like we were kind of lost. Ska was not the flavor of the month. Imagine being in the early '80s and being a disco band, and everyone is going, "Disco sucks! You are so old! Quit!" And all of a sudden we were that band. I don't think we were that much of a ska band at that point. We were skacore and then became a rock band with horns.
But it was too late. I think everybody was like, "This is dead. We should stop." I always envied bands that had just been like, "Okay, we're just going to be rock." Talking to Dennis about it before we started back up again, he said, "I think we could have kept going if you guys had just gotten rid of the horn players." Just the fact that we were a ska band contributed to our own demise.
The Fall of Five Iron Frenzy
LT: It never felt like the band was going downhill. It was quite a shock to me that we decided to quit when we did. The way we decided it: We had a spiritual retreat, like we usually did, and we went around, one by one, saying the shortest and longest amount of time we would be in Five Iron and stay in it. One person said the longest he could commit was one more year. Based on that information, we said, "Well let's just be a band for one more year because we don't want to do it with anyone else."
That person was Andy. He and his wife had been married for a while, and they were thinking they wanted to have children and it would be too hard. Melinda was already pregnant on our last tour. At that meeting, we decided it would be one more year we planned it to the T. Let's tour one more time. Let's put out a studio album. Let's record ourselves live on our last tour and call it a day. And that's exactly what we did.
AV: At the spiritual retreat, I announced I was no longer a Christian, and that I was done with the band. I said, "I would like to do another tour if you guys would let me, but I'm done." We were talking, and it seemed like most everybody was on different pages, in terms of what they wanted from the band.
For me, I couldn't do this thing where we go out for two and a half months and then are off for six months. For me, it was either I need to quit and get a real job, or make this our job. I didn't want a half-ass job working at a coffee house for six months while spinning wheels with the band that may or may not play enough shows to pay my rent this year.
Other people thought we didn't have to play live and just make records. I thought that was ridiculous, for one; part of the fun of being in a band is playing shows, which is why I was in the band to begin with. We couldn't get on the same page, and we made the decision at the prayer retreat and that was it. We decided to play one more tour. Do the summer festivals, do a fall tour through Thanksgiving, and then we were done.
When it ended, we were all still friends. We weren't in debt. A lot of bands break up because they can't pay their bills, and they're not friends, and there's some sort of rift and somebody hates somebody else. When we broke up, we were still pretty tight. I was still doing Brave Saint Saturn with Reese, and Scott and I were doing Yellow Second. Brad and I lived right across the street from each. Brad is one of my best friends to this day.
RR: Mike Sayers, who helped form us as a young band, we talked to him about how uncomfortable we were, and he said, "Cool, let's just have a retreat." Andy was like, "I don't know if I believe anymore, and I don't want to mislead you guys. I'm thinking about quitting." We took a break to think about it, and prayed. Then everybody said, "You're right. It's time to quit." I think Sonny and I thought we could do it better. We tried to do a band after that, and it failed, then I tried to start a band after that, and I failed.
LT: I'm glad we broke up at the time we did. I always thought no one would marry me when I was in Five Iron. That's a lot for a guy to swallow. You know, being the merch guy? No. When I dated, I had serious relationships, but they always kind of crumbled. I think Five Iron ending had a lot to do with me being able to be devoted in a relationship to where I could consider marriage. It was definitely to the best guy I'd ever dated. I'm so glad the band broke up and I married him, and I was able to be part of the Scum [of the Earth Church] community, and have some children and finish my college education, and all these things I had put on hold.
The Return of Five Iron Frenzy
AV: Joel Gratcyk, the guy that does our website, it's all his fault. The domain name was about to expire. He didn't want it to. He was a fan, and he thought it would be a shame for it to go away. So he said, "I'll just go ahead and reboot it. I'll buy the domain name." So he did, and he put a countdown to when he was going to release the site again.
People took that as a sign that we were getting together. It blew up into this big thing. At first, we totally weren't getting back together. Then we thought, "Man, it would be stupid not to capitalize on that. If we're planning on getting back together sometime, why don't we do it now?" So we did, and we used that countdown to our advantage to release a new song, and obviously there were awesome results.
SK: I don't remember even how the conversation between Reese and me started, and I don't know if he talked to anybody else prior to our conversation. We just talked about how we missed each other, and that it might be fun to do something in some capacity. I didn't really give a whole lot of thought to it because I thought the chances of the band coming together were pretty remote. I also assumed that Keith would want to be a part of it, and Sonny would as well. I thought maybe I would help in a writing capacity.
At some point discussions turned a little more serious. Reese mentioned that Keith wouldn't want to be involved and asked if I was interested in playing bass. I thought it would be fun to try something different. Those of us who lived in Denver decided to get together and play a few songs, and it went well. Of course there was the countdown that Joel put on the Five Iron website. Fans began speculating if it was a new record or a new tour, et cetera.
We were just going to clear the air and say it was just a website and nothing more. Before we came out with our statement, I think it was Reese who said we should do what we talked about and actually get back together. After the first time we did talk, I wrote the bones of "Dark and Stormy," the song we released last December. There were also song sketches that I had tabled and hadn't touched since. Once we decided to give it a shot, I think Dennis suggested using Kickstarter, as he'd used it with another band.
RR: I do not understand why people like Five Iron as much as they do. I listen to their old stuff, and there are times when I think it's very horrible. And when I listen to it, I think, "Oh it's not as I remember." I truly do not understand it. I think if we have a legacy, it's because we were authentic. I think that we were all damaged people, and for most of us, I feel like we believed that Jesus Christ accepted us as damaged as we were, and we wanted to share that with people.
If nothing else, I just hope that we were and are good and nice to people. The reason we make music is because we like it, and that we had something good in us that we wanted to share with people. I believe that Jesus Christ loves me and really does give me peace and really is something to hope for. I care about people and I want them to have that. As Five Iron, even if it's just, "This is funny. This makes us happy. Have some of this." I hope that is our legacy. That we're just as broken or messed up as everybody else.
AV: There were so many different personalities, and everyone had something to bring to the band. Leanor had that close connection with the fans; Dennis being able to be the responsible one; Scott being able to take the responsibility of being the asshole from time to time to get the job done; Micah being caring enough to know that you're hurting and just sit there and talk to you about it.
Of course the clowns that make it a good time. Without all those elements, I don't think Five Iron would have worked. That's obvious because we all tried to start our own bands after Five Iron broke up, and none of them had anywhere near the success that Five Iron did. I think that's kind of what made the band special.
Going back to the mission statement, one of our rules was we will never just go backstage after the show. We made it our mission to meet everyone and talk to everyone and spend time with our fans after the show until the club is so pissed they're just kicking everyone out.
We never wanted to be rock stars sitting in the bus and separating ourselves from our fans. We always wanted to be a band that was talking to our fans and engaging them and shaking everyone's hands. The show's not over when the last song is played. The show's over when you feel like you've talked to everyone and given them their money's worth. I think that's why our fans have stuck with us for so long.
SK: There are eight people in this band, and there are probably eight different opinions about that. I think the band helped people to think and also have fun and take themselves as seriously, including myself.
Five Iron Frenzy On Reese Roper
SK: Oh, Reese. Reese, I butt heads with more than anybody else. I often say I love him like a bother, but we also fight like brothers. He is, like Andy, very passionate, also very optimistic. The way that he can put the things he feels into words is amazing oftentimes. Sometimes, I think, to feel things as deeply as he does, it's like an exposed nerve or something; I don't think I'd want to trade places with it, but I think that, like, everybody reaps the benefit of the poetry inspired by it.
AV: I think Reese's strong suit, from a musical standpoint, is his lyrics. He's a very good wordsmith. He has a really cool way of making a statement. He's not always very concise about it, but he has a way of putting words together that are provocative and have a way of explaining his thought, so that people can understand what it is he's saying without being dictatorial. Spoon-feeding a moral is a way of saying what he wants to say with his words. He has a great connection with the crowd. He's goofy. People really look up to him.
RR: I don't know if I ruined everything or not. I'm a very passionate person, and I feel everything deeply. If I feel something is unjust, I have to write a song about it, or I have to talk about it. If I feel that something is true, I have to make it known. I don't know if that's a contribution. I don't know if that has held Five Iron back or not.
Five Iron Frenzy On Micah Ortega
AV: Micah is a very caring individual. He's a big guy, and I think he sometimes puts on a front that he's kind of rough around the edges or tough, but he is very much somebody that cares for people. For being such a big, hairy, tough guy, he's really a softie. I remember one time in the band when my dad, at home, was really sick, and we were on tour. I couldn't take it anymore, and we had been on tour forever, and there was tension in the band at that time.
I lost my shit and randomly started screaming in the van like, "Fuck this shit! I want to go home! My dad is dying! I shouldn't be here!" Everyone went into the hotel, and Micah came back into the van and sat next to me and put his arm around me, and we sat there and cried for twenty minutes. That's something that sticks out to me, as far as Micah is concerned.
LT: Micah is a thinker. He has a very interesting brain that is different from most peoples'. He almost over thinks things. It makes him an amazing technical musician but he also has a lot of feeling. So he's a good balance between a thinker and a feeler. I will tell you one thing. Anytime we vote, me and Reese are the only ones who vote with our hearts -- how it feels. Everybody else is so logical, and me and Reese would always get outvoted on things, and our band is a democracy. Micah is one of those people that even if he votes one way, he can understand why another way would be good. He's very diplomatic and loving. He's a very devoted person.
SK: Micah brings some other expertise to the band in terms of live sound and even recording. He became interested in that before the rest of us did. We always defer to him and rely on his expertise with those sorts of things. He also writes great riffs as well. Anything he has to say is usually well-reasoned and thought out. He's got some wisdom.
RR: Micah is funny because he's super even-keeled, no emotion. But when he gets upset about something, it's really cool. In the last incarnation of Five Iron, his role in the band was being in charge of the bus because he was into cars. Now that he's a grown-up, we don't have the bus anymore, he does so much. He printed up cheat sheets for me. He's done it for four shows to put on the monitors, so I don't forget where I'm at in the song. Plus he works for a sound company now, and he's in charge of putting together a rider to make sure we have the right equipment.
Five Iron Frenzy On Dennis Culp
AV: I want to say this without sounding condescending or insulting at all but he's always kind of been like the dad. Not in a comfy, cozy kind of way. But in sort of on the level of maturity. He's the guy that does the books, and he's almost always the guy that's not goofing off. That's what he brought to the band for sure -- structure.
"Okay guys, it's going to cost us this much money to do this, and this, and this, and this is how much money we have, and we want to make money." He was the guy that could put it together and make it work. He was an integral part of the band and one of the best musicians I've ever gotten a chance to work with. He's a great bass player -- a lot of people don't know that -- and he's a great trombone player.
RR: Dennis is the only one of us who has actually had musical training other than my three guitar lessons. He minored in music at DU. I think a lot of times he would be, "This song is too long. Change this." He was the guy that, when he came on, said, "Here's how to form this horn part. Here's how to write horns." I don't think we ever would have become what we were if not for Dennis.
On the other hand, he's been our business manager, so he writes the paychecks. He pays for the gas and for the equipment and stuff. When we started, he was assistant manager at the Westin. He was the only dude who could get a credit card. We couldn't have started without him because I don't know how we would have paid for gas or whatever we did. Now that we've started back up, he's still doing that.
SK: There was a noticeable improvement in the band, especially in the horn section, more experience than the rest of us did. He actually had formal education in music. So I kind of feel we improved a lot once he joined. He helped all of us learn to communicate in musical terms and made the horn lines a lot more interesting. He also brought a business sense to the band. He helped us keep our head above water, financially. He was one of the responsible ones.
LT: When he first joined the band, oh boy, I was not happy because he worked at a fancy hotel downtown and had a briefcase. My idea of him was that he was a preppy, and my idea of him was that he was going to change our punk rock edge. What I did not realize was that he is the most musically trained and talented out of all of us. And we needed him if we were going to survive because he rewrote all of the crappy horn lines that had already been written, for one. For two, he really is fun and funny. It's just that I didn't know him and I assumed a lot of things I shouldn't have assumed in the beginning. Spiritually, too, he's very wise. He does all of our money, and I appreciate that skill set, too. I think I was young and naive and threatened by someone like him.
Five Iron Frenzy On Andrew Verdecchio
LT: Andy, of anyone in the band, would be my big brother. Andy is Italian. He's got a temper. But he definitely comes with a lot of love. He always starts with love. If I ever need protecting, I don't even have to worry. He's one of the craziest people I've ever met. He worked with his dad laying brick, and he would turn on the TV and lay in the middle of the band house, where ten people would be hanging out, and just fall asleep in his work clothes. He's crazy! In a wonderful way. I love him. I love his joy. I love his excitement. I see it in his son now. He has a great zest for life.
SK: Andy provides no small amount of comic relief. Sometimes in the form of nudity. Andy is passionate, and he's also really driven to improve. I know he takes his instrument very seriously and practices a lot. That is important to me. The drummer is maybe the most important person in the band. I feel like if the drummer sucks, the band sucks. He has really grown over the years, not just as a drummer, but his greatest improvement is that he has become more malleable. He always has good ideas but he always listens. He wants to play for the song, not just play a complicated beat for the sake of showing off. He's very good in that regard.
RR: He is a very emotional dude. If he's happy, he makes everyone else in the band happy. If he's angry, or bummed out, he's a stereotypical Italian, and he has a terrible temper. Everybody's tense, or everybody's mad. I think that we never found a managerial role for Andy, but in terms of intensity, like if he's excited about something, it drives our band, and if he is bummed out about something, it kills it. Part of the reason we reformed is that Andy is very excited about it. If he's excited about something, it's very contagious.
AV: My role in the band was to keep things interesting. I am the antithesis of Keith and Dennis, I think. On a social level, I love practical jokes; I love getting to the hotel room before whoever is sharing the room with you. Getting there first and waiting at the door with my dick hanging out and, "Hey, what's up?" Stuff like that. And, of course, I have always had a temper, and I've always been a very passionate person. I'm very staunch in my views of the world and how I think things should be. I'm sure it's very skewed because I'm talking about myself.
Five Iron Frenzy On Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega Till
RR: The first time we were together, there were some major jobs that had to be divided up. We pushed the job on to her of answering fan mail, and she made it her own thing. I just think the reason Five Iron can get back together and be a band and have cult status is that Leanor wrote personalized letters to everyone that wrote us.
She answered every piece of mail that came in. I think she really cares about everybody that writes letters. She's friends with hundreds and thousands of people that come to our shows. For me, I'm like, "I know five people from being in Five Iron that I'm still good friends with." I mean I have a hundred acquaintances, but she has thousands. If we have this huge cult following, that's Leanor. She did it.
SK: Similar to Brad, she has a connection with the audience that not everybody in the band has. Just very warm and would always take the time to write back and fan when we received mail. Being a woman in the band, she has a different perspective that I think is valuable for us to consider.
AV: Leanor has a really close connection with the fans. She would handwrite and return every fan mail. If Five Iron got fan mail? She would handle it, and she would write every single fan back. She had such a close connection to the fans. She's always been kind of like a little sister to me, a little bit. I've always been protective of her.
This is going to sound hokey but she brings a little bit of innocence. In fact when the joking would get really coarse, one of the things we would say is, "Jeff is in the van. Leanor is in the van. Tone it down a little bit." It sounds so condescending, but she's always had sort of an innocence about her. She's not as devil-may-care as some of us.
Five Iron Frenzy On Nathanael "Brad" Dunham
SK: I think that Brad is one of the reasons that the fans feel so connected to the band. He's always been very personable. He takes the time to talk to people. He's been mostly responsible for talking to the people backing the Kickstarter project and keeping that communication open. It's funny because he's kind of a mellow guy. Sort of quiet. Then he gets on stage, and goes nuts. I think a lot of our stage presence is thanks to him.
RR: We had a mail order for merchandise. People had to print out an order form, and you sent in a check, and he would fill all the orders and mail stuff. This time, he's doing a lot of the stuff with Kickstarter. He makes sure all the stuff for Kickstarter is getting fulfilled. He's very compassionate about the people that have helped us out. The people who pledged a certain amount to be there while we were recording. He worked it so that at the same time that not only did they get to sit around, which I think would be kind of lame, he had someone do background vocals on four or five different songs, so those people are all over the album.
LT: Brad is the baby of the band. In my mind, it's Brad and me. Later Sonny came. But in the beginning it was Brad and me. I kind of felt like we were picked on a little in the beginning. Like I said, we weren't the best of musicians. When we recorded in New Mexico, it was told to us that we had better figure it out, or they were going to hire people to play our parts. After that, we really bonded practicing again and again and again.
I think Brad has become one of the closest friends that I've kept. His wife and I are very close, and he has kids the same age as my kids. Trumpet and sax? We have to practice a lot together. So I can go to his house and practice and our kids can hang out. Our families get along great. You'll see that a lot with our band -- our families love each other a lot. The kids all know each other. We hang out a lot, we do meals together with practice. Very family-oriented now. I think that's probably why we got together, too. We had a couple of band barbecues with the kids too and just saw this chemistry.
AV: Brad is my best friend. He's like my brother from another mother. He's got great stage presence. He's very laid back, which is funny because I'm totally not. My wife told me, "It's funny that you gravitate towards the people that you let into your life." I don't let a lot of people into my personal life. I don't make friends very well. But the people I tend to make friends with are usually people that are the exact opposite of my personality. That's Brad. He's just cool, calm, collected all the time. Always happy, always in a good mood. Very rarely is he in a bad mood or angry. You wouldn't think the trumpet player would have one of the best stage presences, but he really rocks it hard on stage. He definitely adds energy to the show.
Five Iron Frenzy On Sonnie Johnston
SK: Sonnie is awesome. He's also really good for comic relief. He lightens the mood whenever he's there. I appreciate his guitar playing a lot. He's a good player, and he has a good feel for the songs. I feel like it's good to bounce ideas off of him, and I appreciate his feedback when the songs are in the writing process.
LT: He was playing in Jeffries Fan Club, a ska band, and he'd become a Christian. I think someone in the Insyderz suggested him. We had an official audition to replace Scott. Sonnie was one of the people that auditioned. He really played the songs well. He understood ska. He had a vibe. He had some touring under his belt and understood that.
He was quiet in the beginning, but he has one of those senses of humor...If you've seen Ace Ventura, that's Sonnie's sense of humor right there. He's super funny; he's super chill. His wife is really sweet. I think it was hard for him to move out here without knowing anybody. He eventually moved back to southern California and married his girlfriend. But it was nice to have him live here at least for a while. But he's always felt like part of the team.
Right now it's the hardest to include him because we are practicing so much here in Denver. Dennis and Reese and Sonnie don't live here. So every week we practice, and they're not here. It's a big loss, and we miss their parts here when we're practicing.
RR: Sonnie is one of the funniest guys I know. He came on after Scott left. He writes good songs. He might just be too busy now because he hasn't written anything for the new album. When Scott left, he ended up writing a couple of our better songs like, "You Can't Handle This." He's just a funny, happy, super positive guy. When we were breaking up, he and I were the only two that were talking about still wanting to do it. Out of all the people in the band, I was most excited about still being in a band with him because he's so good natured; he's such a good guy.
AV: Sonnie has old man humor. He makes a lot of puns and stuff like that. After Scott left the band, I didn't want Sonnie in the band. There was another guy we had auditioned that I had wanted. But it couldn't have been a better choice because Sonnie and I got really close on the road. We'd hang out a lot because he's hilarious. He's an instigator. He's the guy that's like, "I'm going to get my friend to do something really funny, so that I don't get in trouble for doing it." Our joke was he would tell me something, and I would be like a zombie and go, "I will do it. It will be done."
One time on the Electric Youth tour, we were sitting on the bus and everyone else was asleep, and all of the vents to the bunks on the bus were fed from this one vent in the front of the bus. He and I were sitting in the front of the bus -- I don't know what I had eaten but I had rancid gas. He was like, "Dude, go fart in the vent." So I did and one by one people just started to filter out. I told the bus driver, "Did somebody poop in the toilet?" I don't know if you know, you're not supposed to poop in the toilet. "Why does it stink so bad back there?" Sonnie and I were chuckling because we knew what had happened.
Five Iron Frenzy On Scott Kerr
RR: Scott co-wrote the whole album we're working on. Dennis wrote two songs, I wrote one and Andy wrote two. Mine got cut, both of Andy's got cut, I don't know if any of Dennis's will make it. Scott is this borderline genius guy who drives around to work, and then he's a webmaster for a couple companies, and he's the kind of dude that, while he's driving around, can figure out an entire song in his head and go home and write it.
He wrote the whole album. He pretty much decided that when we were getting back together, he needed an outlet and wrote sixteen songs. He's a smart dude. I think he was also that guy the first time around. I don't think we were ever legitimate until Scott got there. We were trying to figure out how to make songs good. Scott, who had only been playing guitar for like a year and a half, joined our band and turned it around. If you were to pin any success on Five Iron, it's because of Scott. I think Scott is a great songwriter.
SK: It's not how it's planned, but I ended up writing most of the music. I guess I feel like I have strong opinions about the musical direction of the band and the musical statements that we make. I feel the writing is the most important part for me; it's the most fun for me. Recording would be a close second, followed by the performance. Before I felt like my roles was to write the music and also to ensure that we were playing tightly. I've kind of mellowed in that regard, and I think everyone wants to play well. I guess it's very music centered. This time around I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the whole thing.
LT: When I first met him, he was more quiet. He had a wife and she's awesome, Stephanie. He's just a nice guy, but he's an amazingly serious guy too. He's a great songwriter. He can have fun, but he tends to be more serious, and he tends to be more focused. Our album now would not be done if it weren't for Scott. He has a great, amazing work ethic. It's hard to make him bust out laughing, but you feel really accomplished when you do.
AV: Scott is the workhorse of the band, I think. I say that because he's been working tirelessly on this new record. This is going to sound insulting, but I think he will admit to this; he's also kind of the band dick, but not in a bad way. He's the one that will say the thing that is harsh but needs to be said. He's gotten a lot better at that. In the past, he was very abrasive. Now he has a way of bringing it up without sounding like he thinks you're an idiot. On a personal level, Scott, for being that guy, he's very funny, and he and I have a similar sense of humor: very dark, twisted and dirty. He's a lot of fun to be on the road with.
Five Iron Frenzy On Keith Hoerig
AV: Keith is also like Dennis. My wife and I would always joke and call him "Party Planner Keith" because he was always putting together events. Like movie marathons. Not just, "Come to my house and we'll watch the Back to the Future trilogy or something like that." He would go so far as to have games, trivia, prizes -- you know what I mean? Nothing big, but he would really make it fun.
And he sort of brought that to the band. He would book tours sometimes. He was a good mediator because he was even-keeled all the time, almost to an annoying point, sometimes. You would want him to take a stance one way or another, or you just wanted him to lose his temper, but he never did. He was always even-keeled, and I think we needed that in the band to sort of curb some of the near disasters that could have happened with flare ups and tempers and things like that.
LT: I love Keith. Keith is the duct tape of the world because he can solve every problem. He's just a really good guy, through and through. He has a great heart, a great sense of humor, remembers fans. He was our PR/HR guy. He loves fans, remembers people, remembers their faces, is good at the details of things.
I don't think we have ever gotten to where we did with our success without a person like Keith. Keith is the Burt, and Reese was the Ernie. You have to have a dreamer and visionary, and you have to have a doer, or it doesn't work. You can't get anything done without a dreamer and a believer, but you also can't get anything done without the detail guy. They're a very important tag team.
Keith is the reason that Five Iron made it as long as it did. I think right now there is all this turmoil in Five Iron just because Keith isn't there. Keith is super organized. He would make tour books for us. It was before anybody had GPS or Mapquest or anything. He would map everything out -- distances and times, like what time we had to be there and the people meeting us. He was that guy.
RR: One of the things he would do is talk to the record label on our behalf and relay information. When I quit Five Iron and when I did that one Roper album, I remember swearing and screaming at the record label. So angry. And it dawned on me why Keith was so awesome. He was just this even-keeled, good person. He's not very emotional. So the record company could be like, "We messed up, so you have to drive for 24 straight hours. You're okay with that, right?" And Keith would be like, "Okay, I'll tell them."
And he would tell us and act as a buffer. Me being that guy who is talking to the record company, I would be like, "What?! Who can do this? We have to play a show! How can you drive for 24 straight hours and play a show?" I would just make enemies. Keith would be that buffer, and he really held the band together. We don't have that now, which I really lack.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.