The members of Flashbulb Fires wrestle with their faith
I have to stress," Patrick McGuire offers, "that I have great Christian friends, and the last thing I want to do is say that their faith is invalid. But I think sometimes in this country we take Christianity in like we buy new cars."
This sentiment is something the Flashbulb Fires vocalist/keyboardist thinks about a lot. For most of his life, McGuire has struggled with his own faith, drifted in and out of various churches and been baptized an astonishing three times. As a result, Flashbulb Fires' full-length debut, Glory, is riddled with religious hyperbole and political jabs.
For evidence, look no further than the album's liner notes, which sport pictures of a rosary draped over a Bible, a dollar bill, a handgun, an American flag and an assortment of pharmaceuticals in the shape of a G — images that seemingly represent the oversaturation of religion and politics in our country and the false pride it gives people. The members of Flashbulb Fires — McGuire, guitarist Michael James, bassist Tyler Reschke and drummer Chris Sturniolo — insist they don't want to offend anyone with this statement; they just want their listeners to know what offends them.
Despite McGuire's parents' strong religious ties (his father is a devout Catholic and his mother is a devout Mormon), the two separated when McGuire was very young. Because of his parents' beliefs (neither wanted their son to grow up in the "wrong" religion), he was baptized twice — once in the Mormon faith and once as a Catholic. Then, in 1999, in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, the young musician felt that neither of his appointed religions offered him the solace he craved, so he was baptized once again, this time in a faith of his own choosing.
The Christian church that Patrick attended was the same one that Cassie Bernall attended before she died. Bernall was shot and killed at Columbine after being asked by one of the gunmen if she believed in God. "It was a huge deal at my church to talk about that stuff," McGuire recalls. "I heard more about Cassie Bernall growing up than I did about Jesus."
Perhaps not wanting to hear about the tragedy anymore or maybe wondering what type of God would allow something like that to happen in the first place, McGuire began to question his faith, and now considers himself an atheist. "Some people in this world don't have a chance, and I don't think a loving God would let that happen," he explains. "When I started to think about that, I just couldn't come to terms with it."
Withdrawing further from his religious beliefs, McGuire looked for a means to vent his frustrations in a creative way. He chose music. Around this time, he worked at Olive Garden, which is where he met bassist Reschke, and the two discovered they had more in common than serving breadsticks to customers. During their downtime at work, they discussed music and soon began playing together and writing songs.
"We started playing guitar one night in his basement," Reschke remembers. "The chemistry was pretty surprising, and from that night on, we became much closer friends."
Inspired by their new relationship, McGuire and Reschke quickly found a drummer, wrote some songs and posted them on MySpace. James heard the songs and was impressed enough to join the band. His new bandmates were equally impressed with him. "My first impression of Mike," Reschke recalls, "was 'Wow, this is a real rock star!'"
"My first impression," McGuire ribs, "was that he dressed well."
The trio, unhappy with their drummer at the time, went through three different Craigslist auditions before finally settling on Sturniolo, who, as a bonus, had studied audio production in college and would later record and mix Glory at the Furnace Room. For his part, Sturniolo remembers being confused by one thing early on. "When I first joined the band, I thought they were really good friends," he says. "It took me a couple months to realize that no one really knew each other that well."
James chalks this up to the indescribable chemistry the band still shares. "We were all strangers prior to us being in the band," he points out. "I think it's rare to have four people who barely know each other to not only make decent music together, but even just get along. The chances of that seem pretty slim."
Despite not knowing every nuance of each other's personalities, the players found their feet soon enough and began playing shows under the somewhat drab moniker Fiancé, a name credited to their first two EPs. As they became more familiar with each other, the music they were writing began to change, too.
Things were progressing, and the outfit felt that a name change was also in order. "We felt like things were going in a different direction," Sturniolo explains, "and we wanted to start new." Well, that and the fact that "every time we told someone our band name, they would ask, 'Did you say Beyoncé?'"
"They would ask us if we were all going to get married," McGuire adds.
Out of these asinine questions, Flashbulb Fires was born, and with the new name came a more profound, albeit darker approach to songwriting from McGuire. With lines like "Heaven and hell I'm gonna burn you to bits" and "I sang glory, glory in the middle of a nightmare," McGuire had found a new way to express the frustration over religion that he had dealt with for most of his life. By then he had begun to see his former faith as an opioid that lured people into false comfort. On the song "Sleep Money Dawn," for instance, he reminisces about thumbing through the pages of a Bible, but then quickly compares the feeling to taking drugs, gently cooing on the choruses, "Come down, stay down, Oxycontin. You've been lost and you've been forgotten."
Although Reschke, who still considers himself a Christian, may not agree completely with McGuire's thoughts on religion, he can certainly identify with some of the confusion and uncertainty.
"As a believer in God," Reschke notes, "I don't take offense to it. I've had the experiences Patrick has; I just decided to go a different way. I've experienced a lot of pain and rejection, too."
In spite of McGuire's brooding lyrical content, Glory's harmonies are undauntedly layered with richly orchestrated horns that could come straight from the heavens and vocal harmonies sweet enough to be sung in any choir. "There's definitely some redemption there, both lyrically and thematically," Sturniolo allows. "That balance between what's beautiful and what hurts is what's cool about life."
It is a balance that Flashbulb Fires executes masterfully throughout Glory and even sometimes throughout the context of a song. The album's opener, "Pyramid Scheme," starts with an inspiring march-like build, and by the end dips back down into a sorrowful resolve as McGuire sings about being on a lonely subway car with a pocket full of pills.
McGuire says the last thing he wants is for someone to listen to Glory and think that he does not believe in God. He just wants people to question why they believe in the things they do, as he has done so many times before.
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