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“The world through the eyes of a drummer from Idaho”

“Boise, Idaho” is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of sizable metal scenes. In the aftermath of COVID, we have 3 dedicated metal venues and a handful of others that occasionally book metal bands. Often, out of town bands will completely skip Boise when scheduling their tours. Yet, our local shows attract enthusiastic crowds regardless of which of our many bands are playing. It’s not the biggest scene with the biggest shows. But it’s where The Fire Rising calls home. 

Our music community had been struggling for a while. People wouldn’t turn out for local shows, the community wouldn’t support local bands, and, like the rest of the world, we took a big hit during the pandemic. Multiple smaller venues had to shut down permanently. My band at the time was struggling to hold together, the pandemic was the final nail in our coffin.

The Fire Rising almost didn’t happen.

In 2020, (TFR bassist) Morgan and I were at a crossroads. We had just put years of our lives into our previous band, which ultimately failed. We’d invested considerable time, creativity, and energy… all for nothing. Morgan and I had the same vision and mentality, but we couldn’t ever get the entire band on the same page. After several mentally exhausting years of attempts to corral, refocus, and steer the band with varying degrees of success, he was ready to call it quits and focus on his life and his family. After all, his college band Sonic Destruction had toured, received attention from labels, and enjoyed their fair share of success. For someone who’s experienced the highs, starting a new band and repeating a lot of that legwork is just not worth doing. But I was not ready to finish my drumming career on that note. In November of 2020, I called Morgan.  “You and I have almost the same vision for a band,” I said. “We understand what it takes to be successful, and what steps will get us there. If we find a couple of other like-minded musicians and buckle down, we can get to where our last band left off in 6 months or less.” He was hesitant, but agreed to give it one more go. We texted back and forth about band names. Two days later, The Fire Rising was born.

Over the past 12 years of my life, I filtered through a total of 18 bands, none of which worked out for a multitude of reasons.

Conflicting personalities, creative differences, or simply, I just wasn’t a good enough drummer. You don’t worry about that when you’re young. But when you become older, you start to feel the urgency to actually accomplish something as opposed to spinning your wheels bouncing around bands. And after the ultimate failure of our last band, I realized that I only had 1 more attempt left in me before I too have to call it quits and move on. Our mission for TFR was simple:

we were going to build this band from the ground up, and we were going to do it the right way. No shortcuts, no cutting corners, no compromises. We will do this, we will do it right, and we will see where we can take it. 

Left to right: Will, me, Craig, Brad, Morgan performing in 2021. 

Morgan and I had written several songs for our old band that had never been used. We created scratch demos and used them to audition guitarists and singers. In January of 2021, Craig found our ad for a singer. He called me and said “Hey, I like your music, and I see you’re looking for a guitarist as well. I actually know a guitarist who might be interested”. We set up an audition at our practice space for him, Brad, and several other interested musicians. It took Morgan and I less than a day to decide. Craig and Brad were invited to join the band. We needed one more guitarist to get the full sound we wanted. In February, we met Will through a mutual friend, and he joined the band. Our lineup was complete, and we immediately got to work on recording demos and releasing a 5-song EP (From the Ashes or FTA for short) that spring. 

FTA was recorded quickly. Four of the five songs had already been written by me and Morgan, and the fifth we wrote as a band. I recorded the drum tracks for all five songs in one day so the guys could immediately get to work on recording guitars. And we did gloss over a handful of imperfections for the sake of time and production. Still, the songs seemed to do well, with local radio stations playing them for several months. Crowds at our shows enjoyed them and would stay for the whole set. But in the back of my mind, I knew that we would need a second release before too long. 

A From The Ashes promo show in Boise, 2021.

Our original plan had been to release a full length album one year from the release of FTA. But come fall 2021, it was apparent that we really just needed to get more music out quickly. FTA was beginning to feel stale, and three members of the band had yet to have a song of theirs released. Dark Sands of Time was our solution to this problem: a 5-track EP, with each band member contributing a song, that would bridge the gap between FTA and our full length album. 

A lot of hard work went into the Dark Sands of Time. Compared to FTA, it has a more mature and refined sound. Morgan produced and recorded both albums, but we made several improvements to our recording process. For one, each guitar was recorded three times and blended together to get a full stereo sound with natural reverb. The vocals were recorded twice and layered. The songs have more intricacies and are more complex. And unlike FTA where each song was forced through the pipeline as quickly as possible, we spent more time on DSOT and put out a product that we can all be proud of. Our full length album got pushed back another year, and we are currently writing and demoing songs for it. 

Our writing/demoing process is a comprehensive one.

Once a song idea is fleshed out, I will record demo drums for it using my electric drum kit. The other band mates will follow and add their demo part, with demo vocals coming last. The demos are made as the songs are written, sometime over the course of many months.

Each of us has a slightly different approach to songwriting. Some of the guys will bring a concept and complete it with band mates, whereas others will flesh out the whole song before presenting it. I write all of my own drum parts, with bits of input from the band. Writing drum parts that compliment the guitars (as opposed to clashing or overplaying) is a learned skill. Essentially, what it comes down to, in its most basic form, is lining up kicks with strums. I had to develop this skill over the years (and I am still developing it). Drums that don’t rhythmically match the guitars won’t single handedly ruin a song, but syncing the rhythm section will definitely make for a much tighter song.

TFR before a show in 2021 at a Boise metal venue. 

As a drummer, writing full songs is a bit of a process. I can’t play guitar, and I can’t just write a drum part and ask the band to write and add their parts, hoping that the final product will sound as I’d imagined. So I downloaded GarageBand on my phone, and I will write all instruments of the song: guitars, bass, and drums, and program them in with MIDI notes. Then I will present the concept to the band, who will re-record the MIDI parts with actual instruments. It’ll change slightly as they make the parts their own, but the structure and the feel of the song remain.

When I get a new song concept from a band mate, I will usually listen to it several times and begin imagining the patterns that would fit the different parts. Again, this is often dictated by what the guitar is playing. Then, I will map the sections on a song learning form I made (I will link this form here, in case anybody wants to use it for their own projects). The last step is getting on my e-drums and playing the song over and over again, until the drum parts line up and sound tight. Then I will connect the e-drums to my computer and record the demo drum track. 

I have come to believe that the demoing process is absolutely essential. In prior bands, we would just skip this step, and go from rehearsal straight to final recordings. This would result in tracks that wouldn’t meet the standards and expectations of band members, and adjustments are much more difficult when you make them during the studio recording process. With demoing, each member quickly records their part at home, we quickly mix it all together, and we can make all of the necessary adjustments and work out the song before we go to the studio. 

Drum tracking in a recording studio. 

When it’s time for final recordings, we do it all ourselves, in house. Morgan is a very capable producer and audio engineer, and has recorded, produced, and made the first mix for all of our music. It’s an incredibly time consuming process for him because he has to be there for the recording of both guitars and vocals, as well as his own bass, and then spends hours and hours creating the first mixes for each song. But DIY recording is the only way we can afford to release music consistently, and it’s a process we’ve adopted and are continually working on improving.

For me, our previous band was the first time I had ever bought recording equipment and recorded myself DIY style. Prior to that, every band I was in had to pay for studio time, and we’d receive a product of varying quality. With our last band, we knew we would record and put out content regularly, so I invested in a starter pack of drum mics and an interface. Morgan had the ability to record guitars, bass and vocals, and he mixed and mastered everything. Our process for The Fire Rising has been similar, except now we have outsourced mixing and mastering to Morgan’s friend Angel Toro in Florida. I am still running my budget pack of beginner drum mics, with an upgraded professional quality kick drum mic. Lately, we have run into quality issues with my tom mics. They peaked on every DSOT song, resulting in the toms being turned very low in the final mix. Ultimately they’ll need to be upgraded before we record our full length album.

I prefer to complete the drum tracks for a single EP or album in a relatively short period of time so that recording quality and the sound of the drums is as consistent as possible between tracks. It took me a week to finish the five drum tracks for DSOT, and I made sure to re-record and correct as many mistakes as I could while adhering to our schedule. And the process will be even more careful moving forward as we strive to achieve the somewhat elusive high standard of quality.

Once the album is completed and sent to distribution is when you finally get to relax… right? Being a musician is considered a fun hobby. It’s SUPPOSED to be fun, and at times it can be. But it is a lot of hard work. It can be frustrating, demoralizing, sometimes soul crushing. You would think releasing the music is the end of the journey, it’s what you’ve been working towards and now you can sit back and enjoy yourself. In reality, this is where some of the hardest work begins. The new music needs to be promoted, both pre- and post-release. What’s the point of spending months writing and recording something if no one ever hears it because they don’t know it’s out? Shows need to be booked and prepared for. And finally, new music needs to be written and demoed for the next album. There isn’t really ever a break, it’s a repeating cycle of hard work. And you feel the enjoyment and rewards while simultaneously working hard towards future goals. To be successful, a band needs to be run like a business, like a startup. The harder you work, the better and more rewarding the results. We all have different definitions of what makes a band successful.

In my opinion, a successful band is one that grows and impacts an increasing number of people by releasing music and playing shows. That is what makes playing music rewarding for me. 

The Boise music scene has been incredibly generous to us. Don’t get me wrong, we have put in a lot of hard work. But that hard work wouldn’t pay off if you were in a place of dysfunction. We have great local venues that support the bands and give them a stage to play on. We have great local radio stations that will play us in the same segment as big acts like Bullet for my Valentine, Volbeat and Limp Bizkit. It is a small scene, but it is vibrant and has become incredibly supportive. It will give you opportunities for success. 

Live with TFR in 2021. 

TFR isn’t here just to be “ok”. We’re not even here to be “good”. We want to be great. We have full time jobs, and all of my band mates have families. But we all treat the band like a second job, rather than a weekend hobby. Next month, we are hitting the road to perform in two large music scenes: Portland and Seattle, with a return trip to Portland already planned. And we have already finished outlining and started writing our 12-song studio album, to be released in 2023. We are not afraid of hard work and we do not shy away from challenges, often sacrificing work, personal time, and family time. It took me 12 years and 18 bands to find this one. My band mates haven’t been through as many bands as I have, but they appreciate the hard working mentality and positive atmosphere that we have created.

We push ourselves and we push each other to be the best that we can be, and because of that, I know that our best days are still ahead of us.

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Metal Digest is an online music magazine specializing in rock and metal. It is aimed at the mobile market, who can get their fix whilst on the go. Whether you walk, drive, fly, sail or teleport make sure you do it with Metal Digest, bitesize heavy metal rock and metal news, reviews and interviews for when you’re on the go.

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