My South Florida Music Binge Journey in Quarantine Chapter Two: Darling Fire ignites the flame to start our Music Journey

Elliot Tritto

Central Bureau Chief

Living in South Florida under self-isolation presents many challenges. Unanswered questions lead to an open mind to which escaping from reality plays an important role to stay sane. One method that helps includes finding a selection of local bands to listen to. As I’ve previously stated in the first chapter of My South Florida Music Binge Journey, I’m listening and interviewing several musicians about their career and how Coronavirus has affected them. Why? As a musician, it’s crucial for all of us to look after each other. Since playing music live isn’t allowed, it’s essential to recognize and motivate our work together. Also, listening to the same records gets old so new music welcomes a fresh, creative outlet of the 2020 quarantine life.

For our second chapter in our music journey, I’ve selected a band that’s only been around for a few years yet has great potential. With only one album in their discography and another in the works, the Darling Fire exemplifies the qualities of an upcoming original band every South Floridian should hear. Stated in their Bandcamp page, “After years of individual success in some of the scene’s most beloved bands, The Darling Fire was born of both deep struggle and deeper friendships. A veritable mosaic of indie notoriety, the band features members or ex-members of The Rocking Horse Winner, Further Seems Forever, Dashboard Confessional, Poison The Well, Shai Hulud, As Friends Rust, and Strongarm among others.” Their debut album Dark Celebration from Spartan Records suggests a vivid, pulsating, and innovative listening experience to the average listener. As the bio describes again, “The debut album, “Dark Celebration,” is in many ways what you’d anticipate — energetic, powerful, melodic, and heavy; however, it is far more nuanced than you would imagine. The collective sum of the parts and the alluring heart-on-sleeve lyrics produce a more intimate, spacey, and bewitching experience — an authenticity that speaks to the true cathartic nature of the project. The result of their collaboration with producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Government Issue) is a powerful coalescence of artistry and vision — a record that five artists spent their entire careers waiting to make.”

As Dark Celebration nears its one-year anniversary, the band has grown to new measures internally and externally. Specifically, by finding their sound, understanding who they are, and how do they communicate can predict what the average listener wants to hear. Much like a great book or movie, it’s important to view a piece of artwork for a second time as it can explore new interpretations. Listening to Dark Celebration for a second time, many thoughts grew into fruition of what I perceived it. The unique album follows a simple formula where the drums play a slow yet driving beat where the guitars and bass would meet to play a dynamic riff. From where vocals would enter to naturally blend with the band’s sound to please the listener.

Speaking individually on Skype and on the phone, I spoke with Jolie Lindholm (vocals), Jeronimo Gomez (guitar) Gregg Moore (bass), and Steven Kleisath (drums). Before each interview, I gave a personal introduction of myself about how I’m presently in the South Florida music scene and know how it’s like being a band while explaining the meaning behind my south Florida binge music journey. The first person I spoke to was Jeronimo.

How’d you guys meet?

Jolie and I are married. We were in a band together in late the 90’s early 2000’s called The Rocking Horse Winner. We released two albums and that’s how we met. We then started dating, got married over a period of time, and basically stopped playing music for a long time. And then we started up again because we missed it. A couple of years ago, we started writing songs together and we thought we could turn this into a project. We’ve been friends with Steve Kleisath (drums) for a very long time and threw him a demo. He said he loved it and jumped on board. He then showed his old friend Gregg Moore (bass) the demo and he was into it. Little by little, Darling Fire became who we are today.

Before Coronavirus striking, did you have more gigs or tours in place?

We were going to do a little stint up the east coast in South Carolina March 28 and 29. We had shows booked and this whole thing canceled it.

Where did the name Dark Celebration come from?

Dark Celebration came from all of us in the band with things in the past. We’ve had some hardships and through the darkness we all had, we came together and created this band to almost celebrate that. We had those hardships but without that, the band would’ve never been created and never played, that’s the celebration and that’s where it came from. For the artwork, there’s a fire tower they have for the forests. Darling Fire. Fire Tower and the Forest. I don’t like giving meanings to songs because I like for people to interpret them the way they want to see them. I don’t want to say this is how you’re supposed to listen to this. I want people to get their own meaning out of it. 

How do you guys write music?

Gregg is in St. Petersburg and Steve is in Pompano Beach, we’re all kind of spread out. I kind of write most of the music while Jolie writes the lyrics. So, her and I generally work together all the time. We pretty much present the songs to the rest of the guys and make changes if we need to. Gregg and Steve write their own parts, so I’ll program their instruments to get their parts and go from there.  When we recorded the album in Baltimore, we listened to our parts and played together in one room.

Have you ever considered doing a concept album?

I think every album is going to be a little different than the others. The next album is going to be a little different. I want every album and song to be better. Me personally, I’ll never be happy with the last song I wrote. I want every song to bet better than the last. Me and Jolie are pushing limits and are wondering, if the rest of the guys are going to like it. It’s all about how far we can push the limits of each song. The idea is to sound like us despite being heavy or soft. Everything is going to be changing.

How’s Quarantine treating you?

It’s been interesting. We’re writing music and finishing our third track with a touch of cabin fever. It’s been nice to be forced to relax.

During quarantine, it’s very easy to get into a rut and let our hobbies dictate our work ethic. Have you experienced getting in a rut while under quarantine?

There’s a little struggle to be motivated. But we do try to get something during the day. I actually did vocals for a friend of mine’s band so that helped. I also started learning our songs on the guitar. It’s hard not to leave the house and create tasks for yourself.

What are the themes or song ideas that you’re currently experiencing?

I will say for this band, first time I fully express myself with lyrics. Our lyrics are like coal commentary with experiences. This situation has influenced one of our songs during the pandemic. I don’t have a thing in me that says this is how I want to write. It comes out organic and evolves over time. I don’t have a process where I write ideas and this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s based on life experiences and social commentary.

Everyone’s different with writing music. As the singer, how do you write music?

Jeronimo wrote for the chorus and wasn’t sure about the next song. I heard it and I thought that’s great and heard something to bounce off in my head. I usually have him leave the room when I record the vocals first because I’m trying things out. Like improvising the chorus and it comes out. It happens differently with each song but whatever comes to mind, it comes out. Yet some take more time to manifest. We take the guitars and send it to Steven and Gregg and they go from there.

If there’s one song that the Darling Fire ever produced so far you would want the world to say, this is who we are?

That’s tough but if I had to pick a song for a few reasons, it’s a song we haven’t recorded called Downer. That is my all-time fav song to play live.

After speaking with Jolie, I gave Steven and Gregg a call about the recording process and how they manage to practice and record in different parts of the state and country. Before we begin, it’s important to add that any band needs the rhythm section to click. With great musical chemistry, listening skills, and a great attitude, their rhythm section has something special as they’ve known each other for so long. Both have said they’re each other’s oldest friends and have played in numerous projects since they were young. A band needs the bassist and drummer to sync and these guys got it best.

Steven laid out more about the recording process of Dark Celebration as well as what past and future show they’ve played and wanted to play.

Just wanted to start off on a simple note, who is your drum influence?

Wow. How much time do you have because I have a lot. Ha. I’ve been playing since I was four so this is second nature to me. I listen to many different genres from all eras of music. When it comes to classic rock, there’s John Bonham, the king/god of rock and roll drumming. There’s no debate about that. There is so much power and finesse in his playing. I like to channel his playing when I play live. He’s great at listening to his surroundings and knowing when to blend his sound to others. For jazz, Jack DeJohnette. He’s played with all the jazz greats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He goes back years and years. Also, Mac McNeilly from The Jesus Lizard. Great drummer with a sort of modern sound.

Steven transitioned the conversation about recording music and upcoming shows that they’re unsure of playing in the future.

There’s a festival that we were graciously asked to play in September in Birmingham, Alabama. This is the 20th anniversary of the festival starting up. It’s called Furnace Fest and you’d be surprised on who’s on the lineup. It’s very far away from where it’s going to go. Hopefully, everyone is safe and we can do the show. If not, I’m sure they’ll reschedule and we’d be happy to do it another time.

Back in the day when bands start out, they come together, learn and make some songs, play a bunch of gigs, make connections, and Get discovered and get signed. Now it seems the complete opposite where bands meet up, make an album, gigging, perform the album they recorded, connect, and maybe get signed. Do you feel Darling Fire does one of the two or something different?

One thing we do when we have enough songs, we play live. When it comes to a record label, it’s 180 degrees different than it was several years ago. There were budgets and advances. In this music climate, it’s more of a “do-it-yourself “method where you gather the best equipment and record. A lot of records like our label Spartan, we established a one-off releasing deal. We split everything evenly. We paid for our recording and they paid for PR. It was a team concept but, in our case, we write these songs and reached our connections to see if we could get a start of what’s the best option for ourselves for publishing. We knew John Frasier of Spartan Records and was the most interested and we went from there. We’re free and clear to branch out on how we want to publish the next record.

Steven talked about how the band’s existence only lasted for a couple years yet feels the potential is there considering all four members have experience in the music scene for a couple decades. Their confidence comes from a string of accomplished gigs with notable bands across the country.

We did have a period where we did a lot of touring and a lot of cool shows. We were able to do some out of state activity. As a matter of fact, our record release show for Dark Celebration which was almost a year ago. We played New York City a couple of nights. We played with a band called “Dead Swords” which is a member of Gaslight Anthem. Those were cool shows. We also played in Tennessee and parts of Florida.

Tell me what the recording process was like for Dark Celebration.

We paid for the recording ourselves and then John Frasier (Owner of Spartan Records) paid for PR and marketing. The man who we recorded with is a mentor of all of ours whose name is Jay Robbins. He’s most known for the iconic modern rock group if you ill, Jawbox. He’s just a visionary; as an engineer and musician. We believed in him and we all drove up to Baltimore. He has a studio called Magpie Cage Recording Studios and we were up there in 5 days.

How has Covid-19 affected you besides Darling Fire?

I’m self-employed and have a car service that provides transportation for tourists, seasonal employees, and business travelers to the airport. I’m completely dead. I haven’t had anything for a month now. I’m hoping for the small business loan and unemployment to claim to give me help.

How have you guys been able to practice while Social distancing?

We’re pretty late to the Zoom game but we figured it out. It’s a great program to do band rehearsal when you can’t be together. We can see, hear each other, and can practice certain sections. I’d recommend it to artists during this time to practice under these circumstances, use this alternative tool.

Nowadays, the bass is receiving more recognition. Maybe I sound biased but the bass is the most critical element in a band’s sound. It’s what connects the drums, guitars, and vocals. Especially, keeping communication with the drummer is extremely vital. Do you agree?

That’s the thing with me and Steve. I write totally different to what he brings to me. For example, if Jeronimo gives me an idea, I’m like a kid at Christmas; I know what I want to do, yet I want to hear what Steve wants to do.

One of the most unique things about Darling Fire is that the members are from different pockets of Florida. Gregg responded to where they are and how they practice.

I live in St. Pete; Steve lives in Pompano and Jolie and Geronimo live in Stuart. Take in mind, we all have full-time jobs. Scheduling practices and gigs; means we have to look ahead a few months to see what we can do. We make it work though and it’s challenging but making time for each other is worth it. It’s very special what we got. Every time we meet at a compromising location for all of us to practice, we make it a thing to have dinner. I know it sounds clichéd’ but it’s a second family and I love that.

How’s Quarantine treating you? Have you played bass still or are you in a rut?

“I started playing recently again. I’ve been very fortunate. I work a 9-5 job and still been able to work. We were going to start recording again when that stopped, I found myself taking a break from playing. I played a few days ago after we zoomed and figured out how we’re going to continue during this situation. Sometimes you need a new reset. A break is needed to appreciate the music again. There’s this item inside of you that appreciates the organic feeling of creating something. I love creating and putting it together especially with these guys. Playing live gives me a great high. I want it more. Music resides as a place where I feel safe. I’m at my most comfortable. There’s this mindset I go to that gives me this safe sensation that all my worries and insecurities can leave the door.”

 Overall, I look forward to playing with the band in person and doing shows again.”

If the entire world has to listen to one Darling Fire song, a song that says “this is everything you need to know about Darling Fire. What song would you choose?”

“Off the current record, I like the song Catatonia because of the tempo. It’s more up-tempo than the majority of the album. It captures the lower meter parts but the up-tempo parts blend very well in the song. That’s the one that I think everyone should hear. However, there’s something about this song that when I see our album, I think of the song Omaha. I think Jolie’s voice and lyrics and the story behind it, you can take it in different ways.”

Overall, this article provided a lot of deep insight into how the 2020 Florida music scene stands today. Music is always evolving yet there’s nothing better than listening to that new sound. Everyone interprets to art differently yet as the band has said countless times, it’s up to one’s interpretation to truly appreciate the art form. Dark Celebration taught me a lot about how hope is always there like a light at the end of the dark tunnel.  Especially, having the artwork display a Fire Tower overlooking a forest at night illustrates my point stated. During quarantine, we all need the hope that we can get. Darling Fire’s Dark Celebration is a great new listen to gain a different perspective on this new life we have to live in. I want to thank the band for the interviews and providing insightful music advice for musicians out there. Stay tuned for more chapters and be sure to check out the band as they’re currently working on their second record and have a music video entitled “Saints in Masquerade.”

Photo courtesy of Matthew Faciana 

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