Haze Pop, Flashbulb Fires and Whisper the Dog : Lessons on Listening to Your Sister-In-Law
Going to the hipster paradise of Normal Heights, a neighborhood just north of the famous Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo, to see my niece’s guitar teacher’s band, SHOULD have been a horrible experience. It should have been the type of cringe worthy night where you are just hoping each song will be the last. But watching Colorado indie band FlashbulbFires on October 18 at Lestat’s was a chance to witness a tight, cohesive band share their commitment and passion for music. Genuine and humble (but not d-bag humble) and honestly happy to be on tour, Flashbulb Fires is the type of band you want to make sure your friends know about. They have that live “something” that makes the songs linger into the next day.
Knowing very little about the band until about three days before the show, (except that the lead singer/keyboard/acoustic guitar player is my nieces’s guitar teacher in Denver), I purposely listened to as little of their music as possible….just enough to know they were interesting, but not enough to make any assumptions.
On the outside, the indie band life seems romantic. But on the inside, it appears to be more luck than talent. It requires the guts to put yourself and your music out into an already over saturated music world. For Patrick, Chris, Michael and Eric, the members of the band, it takes someone who can’t imagine themselves doing anything else, even if that means getting a part time job at Whole Foods and teaching music to little kids so they can go out on tour.
They have been to San Diego before and even played Lestat’s, a black box venue known for one guy and his guitar (that dude opened for them) and a sweet little dog named Whisper. One member mentioned, “Lou, the owner, liked us last time and the sound was good” and that was enough to bring them back again. And this black box did have good sound..maybe it was Lou’s control of the board or Whisper walking around the place, butFlashbulb Fires made enough sound to not only fill the room, but a space 100 times the size. Mentioning my observation after the show, they said with a grateful tone, “Yeah, other people say that too.”
All originally from Colorado, the band started several years back with three out of the four members. Adding Eric along the way as a bass/keyboard/jack of all trades player, they have released two albums, with Gasconader (May 2012), released to multiple positive reviews from places like The AV Club and The Huffington Post.
But it’s their musical category, “Haze Pop,” listed on Bandcamp, that leaves room for some confusion. Generally, labeling music ends up sounding like the pretentious wine drinker claiming the alcohol has “a fruity, chocolate fragrance with a rich body of freshly cut grass and horse manure.” Yes, country is different from rap, and a banjo sounds different from a piano, but does good music have to be categorized into so many sub-genres?
Turns out, yes. Patrick says their version of “Haze Pop” includes “the different effects” they use to create a “cinematic feel”. What they didn’t mention is Eric plays the omnichord to produce some of those effects and Michael stomps around a bit with trashcan lids attached to his feet while playing guitar.
Yep, I said trashcan lids.
It is pretty awesome to watch.
But not as awesome as the fact I am pretty sure they cart around a xylophone only to use it during one song. That’s commitment. So if an omnichord, trashcan lids and xylophone (plus keyboards, electric and acoustic guitar and drums) are labeled “Haze Pop,” then maybe sub categories are actually necessary.
And of course, what indie band timeline doesn’t include at least one trip to SXSW (that little unknown music festival with over 2000 bands playing in a six day period)? Many bands question if attendance is necessary because it can be at a great cost, but these guys offered a fresh insight, it’s “Spring break Cabo for musicians.” That’s a tagline SXSW should use on all of their ads. When attending two years ago, it was the opportunity to play for Denver fans that made the experience worth while. “It’s a short drive,” says Patrick and it gave them better exposure in Denver after. They appear to believe it is a necessary part of a band’s life, but question if they will go back in the future and would prefer to play in New York’s CMJ.
The big excitement, and when their faces lit up most, is the scheduled recording session at Daytrotter in San Francisco. They should have done it earlier in the band’s existence, but were literally stopped in their tracks on the way to San Francisco by an old lady and her car. Daytrotter is a BIG deal. The quality live recording sessions with old and new bands give fans exposure to great live music for a minimal monthly subscription fee. For bands, it’s another music outlet trying to reach as many people as possible. Plus, they get an epic artists rendering of the band. A definite “next step.”
So why had I never heard of Flashbulb Fires? It may have to do with the over saturation of bands in a digital world or the fact I ignored my sister in law for three years. No matter what, it definitely doesn’t have to do with lack of talent and desire. Maybe the future of music is in the live performance and people taking chances on little places like Lestat’s to experience music live and raw. These indie bands like Flashbulb Fires can’t survive on Spotify, Bandcamp, SXSW and Daytrotter alone. They will live and breathe by word of mouth.
After the show, an enthusiastic new fan walked right past the merchandise table after receiving an affirmative answer to the question, “Are you on Instagram? iTunes?” Does that mean she is so excited that she will go home and buy their albums or at the very least download a few songs? And if she doesn’t, does this mean the tour means nothing?
Absolutely not. These guys just want to make music. They have to play and it’s blatantly obvious on stage. Guitar lessons and organic grocery stores are fine, just not lifelong goals. But at the heart of Flashbulb Fires, it doesn’t matter how big the check is from Spotify or if that girl leaving the show actually buys their music or tells her friends about them, because as Michael reminds me, ”To some people we have made it, we are on tour.”
On December 8, 2014, Flashbulb Fires announced they were breaking up. Another group swallowed up by the music beast. Best of luck to the members and here is to hoping they find another way to create music soon.