Marion, the frontman of Aurora's Fear Before the March of Flames, is speaking from somewhere in upstate New York, en route to a show in Farmingdale after a two-night stint across the border in Toronto and Montreal. He sounds exhausted. He and his bandmates -- singer/guitarist Adam Fisher, bassist Mike Madruga and drummer Brandon Proff -- slept in their van the night before, which he admits is par for the course ever since the group began incessantly crisscrossing the continent a couple of years ago. They don't have homes of their own; they barely have jobs. All aged 20 and 21, they graduated from high school straight into a road-weary purgatory of gas-station food, No-Doz and all-ages punk shows. Madruga even passed up a full-ride scholarship to CU to stick with Fear's relentless itinerary.
"We don't have time for anything else," says Marion. "Mike sometimes works at Starbucks, and I work on and off at Wahoo's Fish Tacos down in Park Meadows. But I haven't been there in a good six or seven months. Since we started writing our new album back in March, we haven't been home for more than a month total. We were gone for three months solid, came back for three weeks and then went out again. At the end of this tour, we'll be home for three days, play our CD-release show and go back out on the road again until Christmas. We're pretty much full-time. We're all pretty committed."
This commitment stretches back to their days at Aurora's Smoky Hill High School. There, Fisher, Proff and Madruga met and began playing together in various configurations, most notably the emo-pop outfit Thirtysixflip. The group's six-song EP, Sincerely, With Nothing Left to Say, came out in 2001, and it wasn't bad for a local release by a bunch of kids trying to cop the snotty whine of Newfound Glory and Saves the Day. Marion, also a friend from Smoky Hill, had never played in a band before -- but after Thirtysixflip upended, three-fourths of its members regrouped with him as their lead vocalist. Nearly complete, the quartet then went looking for its final and perhaps most important component: a cool name.
"We stole our band name from a newspaper article," Marion recounts. "I think it was the Denver Post." Actually, the article, which detailed the aftermath of a devastating wildfire in Conifer, ran in the Rocky Mountain News under the headline "The Fear Before the March of Flames." But the band's cannibalization didn't stop there: When it came time to christen their debut disc, Marion and crew returned to the scene of the crime. "We went and found that same article," he explains with a laugh, "and pulled out the line 'Odd how people shake.' The whole thing was something like, 'Isn't it odd how people shake when the fire's about to burn their houses down?' It's funny; some people have read into the title like it's supposed to be big and meaningful. But really, it's just us being lazy."
Odd How People Shake was released in late 2003 on the small Oregon imprint Rise Records, and it showed Fear to be a raging inferno in comparison to the flicker that was Thirtysixflip. Like a bath of battery acid, the album melted jarring guitars and thickly knotted rhythms into a churning pitch of melody and atonality. And while the disc clearly owed a back rub and a thank-you note to screamo kingpins like Botch and the Blood Brothers, it also had a deceptive depth and morbidly romantic sense of humor that was entirely its own.
Still, there was no reason to believe that Fear was going to be anything more than yet another decent Denver band trawling the countryside in a stink-ass van for gas money every night. But at a gig in New York, a representative of the eminent hardcore label Equal Vision caught the group's spazzy, bone-liquefying live act. As usual, the sharks started circling when they smelled blood; once one label took notice, others caught the scent. But after entertaining numerous offers, both independent and major, the foursome finally settled on a three-record deal with Equal Vision early this year. At that point, Fear Before the March of Flames had officially been together for eighteen months.
"It's been a very quick growth," Marion modestly admits. "And no one's more surprised about it than we are." The singer is taking his success with a grain of salt; he sees most of the industry attention his band has been getting as just another attempt by clueless opportunists to perpetuate the co-opting and dumbing down of hardcore.
"You'd be surprised by how many people interested in the hardcore scene really have no idea what it's about," Marion notes. "We could see right through them. They're just looking for something to take and to cheapen. We said no to that. I know we're not the only band in this position, and it's always interesting to see which ones will choose the opposite of what we did. We're content doing our own thing. It's worked for us so far, so there's no reason it shouldn't in the future."
Following their instincts definitely worked for the guys on Art Damage, their new record. Sutured with feedback and the symbiotic screeching of Marion and Fisher, the songs are denser, brainier and more textured than their counterparts on Odd How People Shake. The album was produced -- and inadvertently named -- by Matt Ellard at his Q Division Studios in Boston, where the renowned engineer has captured skull-crushing sessions by Motrhead and Converge. As Marion remembers, "He's an English dude, so he'd say to us in this really thick English accent, 'You know, you guys aren't really hardcore. You guys are art damage.' We thought that was cool, so we just stuck with that.
"The title kind of coincides with the theme of the album," Marion explains. "It has a lot to do with the music industry and all the crap that goes along with that -- and how we don't want to be a part of it. We don't want to ruin music or art. We're not about that."
But Fear's integrity hasn't helped it skirt the shit-talkers and naysayers. After Equal Vision announced its signing in January, a message board on punknews.org was swarmed with comments -- some positive, others quite a bit less so. In fact, the group was mercilessly taken to task for being "sass-core," "just another Blood Brothers rip-off band," "fake as fuck" and "a fucking joke."
Marion's online reply, however, sidestepped the hostility and obvious jealousy behind the jabs. In response to claims that his bandmates' past in Thirtysixflip proved that their new project is just a ploy to milk the screamo trend, he posted, "If a band breaks up and gets a new member and their sound changes, that doesn't make them a sellout. I make five dollars a day when we are on the road. And I work fast food when I'm home from touring. So we aren't in it for the money or the popularity. We do the band because we love it. I'm not pissed at anyone for hating us, because that's your opinion. I hope the ones who hate us realize we aren't out to take over a scene you love or change into something we are not. We are just four kids who write the best music we can."
No worries there. If Art Damage is any indication of how far Fear Before the March of Flames can come in a scant two years, the group's personal best should be able to get them through just about any kind of criticism, adversity...or plain old homesickness.
"Our schedule coming up is pretty loaded," Marion points out, listing a grip of prominent national acts his band will be touring with in the coming months: Norma Jean, Throwdown, Darkest Hour, Cattle Decapitation and even Denver's own arena-core champion Vaux, which will be releasing an EP soon on Equal Vision. "I like being able to stay out on the road and meet new friends and have fun. But I also like occasionally coming home for a break, because it is kind of tiring.
"We all live with our parents," he concludes, eschewing any pretense of punk toughness or rock-star cool. "We couldn't afford living on our own. It's nice going home and not having to worry about anything -- having our parents cook us our favorite meals, sleeping in our own beds, watching TV, stuff like that. You know, the little things."