Do the Ska: Five Iron Frenzy

Five Iron Frenzy

2003 found the ska/punk scene mourning the demise of the legendary Five Iron Frenzy, but after an eight-year hiatus the band reunited. Two more years followed during which FIF played a few rare dates. During those two years the band reentered the studio to record their 10th album, Engine Of A Million Plots. During a recent Toronto tour date, Five Iron Frenzy chatted with Arthur about their past and future.
We’ve been met by Leanor Ortega Till and Dennis Culp of Five Iron Frenzy. Thanks for joining Arthur.

Dennis: Thanks for having us.

In 2012 I met two guys at one of your shows. They had driven 30 hours, non-stop, from Los Angeles to New Hampshire to see Five Iron Frenzy play. All bands say they have a dedicated fan base, but that’s nothing in comparison to your fans. Why are they so obsessed?

Leanor: I really do believe that if you say you’re a Five Iron fan it denotes special qualities and abilities about you. It seems like we hit a nerve with people who felt nuanced, people that had a certain type of spirituality, a certain type of political desire and wants as far as social action goes. And it hit a nerve with Christian youth. Also quirky, crazy, fun people. I think when we added our personality to our albums, we were just really ourselves and wrote songs about what we cared about. We were basically a voice for people who already existed. We didn’t create any kind of fan, they just came out of the woodwork and said “Hey, we’re the same!”.

But now those youth aren’t youth anymore. They’re middle-aged, they’re moms and dads just like you are. Do you feel that’s going to change anything?

Leanor: No. I think it’s exactly the same, [but] now the [quesions are] ‘how do we raise our children, how [do] we make a society, how do we keep day jobs and be those same people?’ [They are] the people that want to change the world, the people that want to do something good, the people that don’t want to settle. I think lyrically our new album tackles all of those concepts.
We’re adults now …I’m 37… and when I joined Five Iron I was 18. Now I’m a mother of two and a wife. I think the people are really going to resonate with these lyrics on the new album, Engine Of A Million Plots, because we’re not necessarily old guys (laughs). We still feel very much young, and feel a burden to use our voice (laughs) and we’re still fun!

What about you Dennis? Has maturity seasoned the style of Five Iron Frenzy?

Dennis: I think for sure. I mean the way that we listen to music has matured. Certainly our approach in the recording of the music has matured. The parts fit a lot better. There’s a lot less individual showmanship and more playing together as a band. I think it really shows. It feels more cohesive to me. Lyrically…there’s a lot more thought that goes into the lyrics from all angles. Like we still have our world views, but they’re seasoned by experience and disappointments and life. I feel like lyrically we’ve certainly matured.

Engine Of A Million Parts isn’t the old-school Five Iron Frenzy. Much of your third-wave ska sound has stretched into whole new areas. What are your fans going to think?

Leanor: There will be some people who will say “Where is the ska?”. There is one traditional ska song. Most of it, honestly, is rock with horns. I think we have Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, umm… a lot of different punk bands to thank for that. We don’t necessarily follow in the ska vein, but I think our fans will like it. The songs are easy to listen to, but still have intricate parts. I hope that they appreciate the overall sound. The way the horns sound is amazing. Bigger than ever. The horn parts, we call [them] the wall of sound (laughs). Also, I think our fans will appreciate Reese, lyrically and emotionally, as he sings, he really goes. Fans will appreciate that more than anything.

Dennis: I think it’s a natural move forward for us. If you follow the arc of the band it make sense where we’re headed; but so far the response has been great. We did a two-week-early pre-release, a couple of days ago, to the people that backed our record. So far the feedback from them has been really positive.

One of your new songs, “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia”, looks at how American society isolates itself. What drove you to record this?

Dennis: I can’t speak totally on behalf of our singer Reese, who wrote the lyrics. He lives in a pretty rural part of Virginia and he finds the culture there to be pretty insular. I think the song is a commentary on that kind of rural Americana where people are afraid of outside influence and whatnot. I live in New York City: I don’t experience that at all. So I can’t say I share those views and even growing up in rural Colorado, I didn’t get a whole lot of that.

The music of Five Iron Frenzy often looks at social issues. Do you feel it’s the purpose or duty of the band to correct societal ills?

Leanor: Our lyrics pour out of who we are as people and because societal issues are very close to our hearts and in our minds, we choose to write songs about subjects we are passionate about. The most controversial song we have recorded and released is “God Hates Flags” which is now available on a preorder we released. The song tackles the current view that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ have regarding homosexual individuals and the way they are cruelly treated.

Discussing the new album has to include the topic of it’s funding, because that was insane! Describe how that process worked.

Dennis: Well, it’s exactly why we are here. It’s because so many people backed the band so enthusiastically. Uh, people continued to give (laughs). We eventually raised over $200,000. I think the final total was $207,000 on a goal of $30,000 (laughs). Pretty strong support!

Did that surprise you? Seriously, that had to be a big shock.

Dennis: Oh completely! I was convinced that we were done and forgotten, you know, everyone had moved on. We were all completely amazed by it. Absolutely stunned!

I propose that parliament change Canada’s national anthem to “Oh, Canada”, the Five Iron Frenzy’s version. If that happens will you relocate to the great white north?

Dennis: (laughs) Ha! I would certainly consider it if they would let us in, although I have my doubts about that.

Thanks guys for sharing your time and the best of success with Engine Of A Million Plots.

Dennis: My pleasure Dave and thanks again for having us.

This interview and the music of Five Iron Frenzy airs on Trent Radio, 92.7 FM, Dec 4 at 8pm on The Antidote.