Colorado-born rock band Firefall had been playing the hits for audiences for years, and the bandmates needed a change.
“We’ve been coasting pretty much when we go out on the road and travel a lot and play 45- or 60-minute sets,” says guitarist and founding member Jock Bartley. “We play these package shows with three or four other ’70s bands. For a long time, it’s been the same 45-minute set.”
Although they don't mind playing the hits, because that's what the fans want, the musicians were yearning to write some new songs. The result is COMET, ten tracks that recall the Boulder band's first three records from the 1970s: Firefall, Luna Sea and Elan. COMET is the group’s first proper album since 1994’s Messenger.
“My main goal going into this record was I knew we needed at least half of the record to sound like Firefall did in the 1970s,” Bartley says. “Not exactly, of course, because we’d never do that again, but to sound like Firefall and be reminiscent of what the band sounded like, and then have a few songs that break new boundaries.”
Firefall formed in Boulder in 1974 and toured with Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, the Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Loggins and Messina, Chicago, Cheap Trick, Marshall Tucker and others. The group has existed in various incarnations since then. Recording new material has been a bit of a challenge because all five of the band’s current members live in different states and usually only get together to gig. Bartley didn’t want to let that get in the way, however, and they've taken advantage of modern music-production techniques to conquer the distance between them.
“I really felt like we had something to say,” Bartley says. “The songs are really strong on this record, and Firefall was big back in the ’70s because of the songs. It all boils down to how strong your songs are.”
Bartley has been the one constant through all of Firefall's incarnations over the years. But the current lineup boasts three original members, with Bartley joined by Mark Andes on bass and multi-instrumentalist David Muse, who plays the flute solos heard in many Firefall songs.
Bartley wrote a lot of the material on the new album, but it also includes contributions from outside songwriters and musicians, including members of the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers. Firefall's newest member, Gary Jones, wrote “Never Be the Same,” and the band recorded “Nature’s Way,” by 1960s psychedelic band Spirit.
The cover of the album nods to the cover on the band’s debut, and the throwback sound sparkles on songs like “New Mexico,” a sequel of sorts to “Mexico,” from the same album. Tracks like “Way Back When” pay homage to the music of the 1960s that influenced Firefall. Aside from the modern production, much of the album feels straight out of 1976.
Bartley says many classic bands put out new material knowing it's not likely to see the airplay of songs from their heyday. But aside from scratching a creative itch, it can still afford old bands new economic opportunities, like tours, even if the music doesn't go anywhere near the Top Forty.
Bartley says that he and his bandmates have never liked to just re-create their albums on stage. They still play their biggest hits when they gig; fans who drove four hours to a gig would probably be upset if they didn't get to hear “You Are the Woman.” And while the musicians like to improvise some of their live work, some songs, particularly the classics, require a higher level of adherence to the original arrangement.
“When we play ‘You Are the Woman,’ or ‘Just Remember I Love You’ or ‘Cinderella' live, those songs need to sound like people expect them to,” Bartley points out. “We basically play the record as close as we can live. We owe it to our fans.”
That said, the new album has been getting good feedback from longtime fans.
“They love the record,” Bartley says. “They think it stands up and is comparable and, maybe not equal to, but really sounds like Firefall and is as good as the albums from the 1970s.”
COMET is now available. Check out Firefall's website for more details.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.