Art-rock trio The Fire Tonight’s latest album is called “How Could Anyone Do This?!” It’s quite the fitting title for this always-experimenting, always-changing outfit.
Released earlier this year, the album (which can be found on the band’s Bandcamp page, thefiretonight.bandcamp.com) can be best described as a mash-up, with the band plowing through different genres and sounds – indie rock, lo-fi, power pop, free jazz, even hip-hop – while bringing in about 25 guest musicians here and there. And since the band members and the guest artists are scattered all over the country, the whole album was composed through the Internet.
According to lead singer and bassist Collin Derrick, it was drummer/producer/manager Stephen Russ’ idea to turn “Anyone” into one big collaborative party.
“It was kind of his initial vision to get as many guest artists on the album as we possibly could,” says the Atlanta-based Virginian, 31. “And in the same way that we kind of changed how we wrote, instead of it being somebody brings a song and everybody just plays what that person says, with all of the guest artists, it was very collaborative.”
It’s certainly taken awhile for these boys to sound as out-there as they do. The Fire Tonight has been around for nine years, releasing their first album in 2007, titled “No One Is Fine,” which Russ says “was not nearly as good as our later albums.” After touring heavily for several years, the band needed to strengthen their songwriting skills.
“We decided to take some time to really, actually learn how to write music, I like to say,” says the South Carolina-born, D.C.-based Russ, 30. “So really, what you hear now, you get the combination of a band who has toured a lot and a band who had spent a lot trying to figure out their voice and writing music.”
Derrick and Russ had a falling-out over the band’s musical direction with guitarist Jamie Heitling, who performed on “Fine” and the 2010 EP “Sabotage Me.” This led the way for Virginia-based pianist Jesse James (yes, that’s his real name) to join the group.
“They actually brought me in around 2009, I think, to do some bass work for them,” says James, 24. “And after that ... they kind of asked me to do a little bit more. You know, play some piano parts – that kind of thing.”
Russ says the band finally found what they were missing when James came aboard. “It kinda started out with Collin and I as a collaboration, and I’ll say it took us a long time to find another piece that really fit as well as Jesse,” he says. “And we would definitely say now that we are a true trio instead of just kind of Collin and I and some people we brought along.”
They’re out on tour now, promoting not just “Anyone” but a newly dropped remix EP titled “How Could Anyone REMIX This?!” (They’ll be performing at Deep South the Bar on Saturday night.)
Considering how long they’ve been chipping away at both their sound and their band lineup, The Fire Tonight now has sage words of wisdom for other bands looking to find themselves.
“I just say, you know, make the music that only you can do,” says Russ. “Like, what are the unique things that you bring? Everyone brings their influences to what they do, but what are the things that you do that no one can do, like what is your style that you bring? And I kind of drill that in everyone to the point where we all have that in our head, where we think like, ‘What can we do that no one else is doing?’ ”