Fire in the Northern Firs are a thoroughly entertaining bunch (as you will see from the photos they submitted for this article). Birthed of a jam session, they have maintained this initial "off the cuff" attitude in creating an eclectic mix of shoegaze and ethereal yet forceful psychedelic-tinged rock. Their obvious and easy chemistry with one another lends itself well to the music. "It just sort of writes itself," says drummer Scott Weller.
This Sunday at the Turf Club, FITNF will herald their third release, the three-track See You in Hell EP. They will be joined by other bands on Ecstattic Studio's roster and have a single on the Ecstattic Studio compilation cassette, which will be released the same night. Gimme Noise met with the band for drinks at the Hexagon to discuss their new songs and get to know to know each other a bit better in a shouting match over the rowdy trivia game going on.
Since their 2012 full length, Of Bones and Things, FITNF has been been quite busy. Bassist Shane Kramer celebrated the birth of a second child and the group added a synth player, Marie Haberkorn.
"We just felt like we needed a little extra noise behind our sound," explains vocalist Carin Barno, who is Haberkorn's bandmate in long-running local band First Communion Afterparty. They spent some time playing shows, integrating Haberkorn into their already-written songs, and creating new material. "We have another full length written at this point," says guitarist/keyboardist Adam Kirsch. "We chose just four songs to record, one of which is going to the compilation that Ecsattic Studio is putting out, called "Song for T.K."
"Song for T.K." begins with an ominous drone, building into a dreamscape pierced by Barno's haunting voice. The song is disarmingly beautiful yet somehow disturbing, capturing the essence of FITNF's signature sound. It is a nod to Trish Keenan, vocalist of the indie electronic band Broadcast, who passed away in 2011 of complications from pneumonia.
"I remember waking up one morning to a text like, Trish Keenan's dead," says Weller. The band cites Broadcast as a huge influece on their dark psych pop sound. Barno and Haberkorn had the opportunity to get to know Keenan personally at Broadcast's performance at Carlton College. "She was standing all alone, by her merch table, and Marie and I went over and totally fan'd out on her," says Barno. "We ended up talking to her, and smoking like a pack of cigarettes with her in the snow outside. It was really cool to actually meet someone that I was influenced by. I totally nerded out. It was a pretty amazing experience."
The other three songs they chose to record make up the new See You in Hell EP. The name itself is intriguingly abrasive for such melodic material. "Shane has this really charming way of like...his parting words are always, 'See you in hell!' in this really nice manner," says Kirsch. "It just...I don't know, it turned into how we say goodbye to each other."
Even the album artwork is worth noting. The cover is a pixelated depiction of a leering devil, hovering over an 8-bit fire. For their previous releases, the band employed methods such as sewing cassettes into stamped burlap sacks. According to Kirsch, everything turned into an arts and crafts project -- until they came to the decision that none of that mattered anymore.
He has a fittingly cynical way of describing the image that he created for this album cover: "It's nice and it adds an aesthetic, but...I don't care. With the artwork, I feel like some of our things sound like 8-bit Nintendo music, and a lot of our melodies harken back to original NES, so that's where the 8-bit stuff came from. It's just this kind of dead technology that we're still using, 'cause all my gear is like, old garbage."[page]
The EP's first song, "Cupcake She Wrote," is a perfectly weird pop song. "We thought it sounded like cupcakes and lollipops," says Barno. Indeed, it has a pleasantly dance-y vibe. A perfect song to fall in love to, considering that her lyrics are written "from the perspective of a slutty romance novel," complete with the use of words like 'petticoat' and 'propriety.' "My Mom reads like 800 of those a year, and I've never read one in my life," Barno says. "I think its hilarious that she has like stacks of them by her bed. I'm like, what are you reading? She's like oh, this one's about vampires."
"Cat Mountain" brings the tone of the EP back into familiar territory, with Haberkorn's synth playing adding an interesting texture to the endlessly echoing guitar and driving drum beat that sprawls beneath Barno's gorgeous yet somehow creepy vocals. The end of "Cat Mountain" is a cacophony of noise.
The band jokes that whenever they would play the song live right after writing it, a technical glitch would occur. Thus they christened the curse of cat mountain, which according to them sounds like an awesome Disney movie. "That was one of those songs that kind of happened organically, but wasn't quite there, and then you have one of those practices where without saying anything, everything just clicks," says Weller. "We're like oh, okay, hopefully we recorded that and remember what we did, because that's what it is now." By the way, the song is named after Kirsch's fiancee's T-shirt depicting a mountain and cats.
Perhaps the weirdest anecdote about this album is the story behind "Tijuana Medical Vacation." The song was written immediately after Barno had returned from Tijuana, after accompanying her mother there to undergo surgery. "So we came back and I mean, it was just telling all these guys all this bizarre shit that happened to us in Mexico, and how fucking weird it was to be in a hospital in Mexico," Barno says. She laughed while recalling her experience there, describing the strange juxtaposition between the hospital and the slums immediately outside of its sterile walls. "It was the weirdest experience of my life," she says.
Like "Cat Mountain," the song ends in a swirling pool of layered noise. The band likes to experiment with different endings in their live performance of the song. "It's always different," says Kirsch. "We always lose track of time. You just kind of get lost in it. It closes itself, in a sort of way." Barno compares the ending of the song to "being on too much medicine."[page]
All four tracks were recorded in Ali Jaafar's attic studio. "Ali is like, the best dude to work with," says Kirsch. "He's Easygoing, doesn't try to force stuff...he knows what he's doing, and he knows what we're trying to do, and he doesn't try to force us to do something that he wants to do. Some people who are recording will do that." The band compares Ecstattic Studio to the comfort they feel while jamming in their practice space. Their favorite part? "Ali had a bunch of crazy like, a big pile of logs in his front yard, so we took a bunch of logs and built a tree drum set," says Weller. "We used twigs as drumsticks and that was all just in his front yard...It was comfortable."
The future is somewhat unknown for FITNF. Barno recently announced that she is pregnant. "It's really weird. I don't know what my future in music looks like," she says. "It's just hard to know what your life is going to be like when something like that changes your life forever." Never fear, though, as she isn't at all giving up on FITNF. "If I have my way, I'll be back practicing with these guys within six months," she says.
Those at Ecstattic Fest on Sunday will be in for a special treat. Aside from their new releases, what you will hear from FITNF is many new songs that haven't even been recorded yet, but were written in the time between their full length and now. The performance should be a clear demonstration of their acute ability to work as one. "I think this is an amalgamation of all of our musical interests, without us trying to do something. We do what we do, now," says Kirsch. "As far as playing music with other people, this is kind of the most satisfying experience I've ever had. We all get it."
Ecstattic Fest is this Sunday, March 23, at the Turf Club featuring 10 bands on 2 stages: Fire in the Northern Firs, Hollow Boys, Fury Things, Up the Mountain Down the Mountain, The Okerlunds, Bouncer Fighter, Strange, Acres, Naptaker, HACK. 7 PM, $8, 21+GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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