INTERVIEW - FIRES IN THE DISTANCE
Late in the fall of last year, Jamm Tomorrow spoke with Connecticut’s Fires In The Distance whose debut long player Echoes From Deep November had not long been released. A stirring record of emotional doom metal which stuck out from the pack, it generated immediate and significant interest and attracted plaudits from critics and fans, later being voted as debut of the year online.
Kristian Grimaldi (Guitars, Vocals) and Jordan Rippe (Drums) were absolute gentlemen who talked about being signed by Prosthetic and releasing their crunch debut during a global pandemic lockdown, singing death metal with pneumonia, and what drives their sound.
JT: How have you been surviving during lockdown just as you release your debut? Are you getting to jam together or rehearse online?
K: We have been rehearsing every other week. We actually moved our gear for the time being to Craig’s (Breitsprecher, Bass, Vocals) house where there is space for it and it works out better for now.
JT: What did you do before this band?
K: Before Fires in the Distance I was in a metal band called 60 Grit named after the sandpaper! It comes from my family business of sanding and flooring which is a difficult job. Its tough to come up with a good band name and though that name really wasn’t as brutal as I wanted it to be, it rolled off the tongue nicely. We had that band for about 13 years and that went from high school into college and I also played alto saxophone and a lot of jazz in big bands at high school. Most of the guys I played with, lots of my good friends when 60 Grit were around, were all fellow band mates from our high school bands. After many years I kinda dissolved it for a time and I was in a serious relationship but that was my grounding.
JT: 60 Grit sounds hardcore?
K: It was originally a little more hardcore but I took over and eventually said I want to get into more of the death metal stuff.
JT: Well done on the new album, it jumped out from the new releases this year (late 2020). You guys seemed to have come from nowhere but the music, the mood, and artwork all stood out and it seems to be getting a positive reception?
K: I would say so. The majority of the reviews we are getting from online magazines and podcasts has been exceptionally good. It makes us feel great and makes me feel incredible. This is something we just love and making music like this is what we wanted to do forever. Yegor (Savonin - guitars, synths, lyrics, composition) writes the majority of the music but he and I have always been doom fans. Our previous bands were death metal and we just played music for ourselves and then we were picked up by Prosthetic Records
JT: That seemed to happen really quickly? The signing and album release?
K: Really quick! Pretty much Steve Joh from Prosthetic Records reached out during lockdown after hearing The Climb from an online podcast and so we sent him everything we had and he really enjoyed it. He quickly asked us if we would be interested in signing and we all talked about it, looked at all the contractual side and agreed. So it happened quickly. As you say, they reached out and the rest is history.
JT: Did you suspect that when you were putting that music together, did you have a feeling it had this potential to get bigger?
K: Even when we were getting basic ideas I had a feeling it was outside the norm. It had similarities to what we also like to listen to and but is was unique and different to what I heard elsewhere. Others who heard it all said ‘this is really different, you could go some place with this’ but sometimes your friends and family say nice things like that. But I did think it could go bigger and it did. We are just really lucky.
JT: And how is it for you Jordan joining the band just as they are signed up by a label and releasing a debut?
J: Yeah joining a band during global pandemic was an interesting one. I had a mutual friend who linked me up with FITD when they were looking for a new drummer. We were introduced and started jamming a couple of times. The style and the sound was something I was quite unfamiliar with but it’s very cool. The things I would normally listen to might not include as much synths in the background but it is really cool to get into this genre.
JT: Was the style of drumming already laid down for the album before you joined? Was that easy to adopt?
K: Yeah the hardest aspect of this style as opposed to maybe other styles of death metal is being able to have the control to sit back and groove more in these slower tempos and being able to support the singer more. It is different to the other styles I have played but the feeling has still got to be there and has to be just as intense but at a slower pace. That is the hardest change in style but overall it’s great.
JT: You also have jazz experience?
J: yeah I was in a jazz band in high school. A little bit. The complexity of the two styles of jazz and metal sometimes calls for the same type of player.
JT: On first hearing the album it could almost be European, perhaps Nordic – the music has that flavour to it.
K: Yeah. A lot of people said that that we have perhaps a Finnish or Norwegian or Swedish style and I think a lot of that comes from Yegor coming from Russia! His mother is a really fantastic piano player and he grew up with a lot of musical influences and genres plus we were always into European metal bands. When I was in school and college it was all European stuff I listened and a lot of it was Nordic; though I’m open to every style really that Nordic sound is probably my favourite.
JT: Echoes From Deep November seemed to subtly encompass a range of styles.
K: Oh for sure. My influences have a broad range. Starting off from Eric Clapton and Cream and then Jerry Cantrell. One of my favourites is Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth and then more extremes like Meshuggah or Blasphemer from Mayhem is amazing at guitar. Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Nevermore – I could go on but in my heart I am a blues fan that loves the passion of metal. And Yegor, he came up with the main ideas and I added my own couple of cents. We all do that even Jordan by the way he plays drums. And it works so well it adds so much to what was initially there.
JT: A lot of doom metal albums are an endurance test. They can be so oppressive or remorseless, they can be a tough listen even for fans as they can be so punishing. Echoes From Deep November has subtleties and shading that helps it flow more.
J: I am the same. I agree it wasn’t a gruelling test. There are a lot of melodic parts which is a big element. Those movements really stand out, especially the soaring triumphant parts, the strings in the background, it really kind of bucks up your ear. It not like a very dissonant experience and I think it is a good mix of progressions like you might hear in a movie.
K: It was a journey mentally when the album was originally written. Chained to the Earth was the actual first song written. Yegor and I were hanging out near where I live and he said ‘what do you think of this music?’ I immediately said I love this and had always wanted to do something like it. There was no theme really, but the music you could simply feel it - just the initial emotion of the music and the guitar work was something you could feel. And then gradually more songs were written and the vocals were eventually laid down and it came into its own but it wasn’t pre-planned. We just took our life experience which influenced the sound and it turned into what it is. Yegor and I were going through real tough times in our personal lives and this album seemed to reflect some real-life losses; I think the mood of the album takes you into that place. But for us we were living it which means we could bring that in to our musical life without actually saying it.
JT: I think you could get that just from the music and it could almost be an instrumental album?
K: It was supposed to be! We were going to have an instrumental album coming out! It was going to be all sensual and guitars with no vocals. And then Yegor said he wanted me to do vocals but I was reluctant as I had been doing vocals all my metal band playing life. But Yegor said ‘just try it’ and the other guys joined in saying ‘you gotta do this’ and it turned into a death / doom record but it was supposed to be instrumental.
JT: The vocals rip. There is a nice, ethereal start to the record before they the vocals just erupt out your speakers.
K: I appreciate that. I put my heart and soul into it. I was actually sick with pneumonia and fever when I recorded them. The first vocal track I laid down was The Lock and the Key and I blew my voice out in the first half hour. I had to keep coming back to the studio for short sessions because I felt so bad.
JT: Hang on – you laid down death metal vocals down while you had pneumonia?!
K: Yes. I was pissed off. The medication I was on made me nasty and aggravated and I am not like that. I had personal relationship issues at the time too so these things were making me worse. But maybe if those things weren’t happening then the performance might not have been what it was.
JT: There are some weird tricks to maintain harsh metal vocals. Max Cavalera once mentioned he drank full fat cola to help his delivery:
K: I have heard all sorts of tricks, there are vocalists who eat Rice Crispies, who drink coffee, drink tea, drink too much whisky. I’m glad you mentioned Max Cavalera as his style is really rough and strong and he has such intensity. When I was younger listening to Roots or early Soulfly his voice was so powerful, like on the song Attitude - that is the kind of intensity I reach for.
JT: You mentioned there was a lot of emotional influence to this album and there is a strong soulful aspect. You come from Connecticut which can be a very vivid landscape with the forested areas particularly in the autumn – did you have a connection with that which influenced your particular style of doom?
K: A good question. Autumn is spectacular here and all of us love the fall here more than any time. The weather is comfortable and the air has a certain crispness. I live in the woods – a beautiful wooded area of the state – people come from miles to walk there. Yegor would come around and walk around as the leaves were turning as it an evocative environment and there are nice rolling hills too. I think that had a lot of influence and many of our personal experiences happened at times during the fall. And when the trees are starting to lose their leaves and things are just beginning to die it really ties in with that profound doom atmosphere.
J: I like the fall too for the same reasons. I used to live in a more rural area where the colours were beautiful. I live near the beach now, which is nice but maybe too many hurricanes! The best thing about the fall is not sweating profusely all the time when we play gigs.
JT: Talking of gigs. You have a big epic sound. How does that translate into smaller more intimate venues?
J: A few weeks ago we played at a small bar at the Horsebrook Café and it was outdoor and safely distanced. It was small so that we barely fitted everything onstage. But it's just about getting the correct sound through the PA and locking in with the rest of the band to make sure that groove is going. The big sound translated really well in that setting.
K: To make the sound as big as possible then the PA systems have a lot to do with it. The music is driven a lot by synths so then we have to make the sound big. If those are mixed in properly and we have serious firepower in terms of equipment to bring out that epic sound even in smaller venues.
JT: A lot of different metal fans seem to be showing an interest in this music – from real death metal to more melodic fans and even the black metal crowd.
K: That is what you are hearing. The melodic side is really Yegor and the low-ends and chugs are mostly me and that is the twin influences right there so it applies to a wider metal audience.
JT: You also use keys and effects. These seemed to be integrated into the music rather than just added on which some other metal bands seem to do:
K: Yes, we wanted to write music like that. I was heavily influenced by Type O Negative - one of my absolute favourites. If they didn’t have Josh Silver doing the keyboards as such an integral part then it would be completely different and nothing like their sound. Then they had synth guitars and sustainers but without those keyboards it wouldn’t be Type of Negative. It is integrated into our music too, that was the intention. It’s all Yegor who writes the synth and keyboard parts which is amazing to have that kind of creativity onboard. I can do harmonies but Yegor manages to blend all those piano parts and mixes it into the songs harmoniously.
JT: Debut is out. What is next?
K: I cannot talk to you too much about some of our plans! But we are promoting this album and we hope to do some online shows and continue practicing of course. If we can, we will do live shows in 2021 probably in the East Coast of the US. It depends on the vaccine – maybe Jordan can tell you more about that…!
J: Yes, I work for a company that normally develops flu vaccines but is now involved in a vaccine for C-19. It will take time and a lot of intense trials but we are looking forward to playing live and travelling for real.
*Fires In The Distance are currently working on their follow up to Echoes Of Deep November and regular updates are posted on their social media.