Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band straight from the members themselves
Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega Till: I think what I liked about it was that it was very much against the status quo. A lot of songs talked about not wanting to find this job that I don't like that I'm going to give my life to and then I'm going to have an ulcer from all this anxiety and die.
What's the point? I never saw life like a ladder. Going up and up and up. I never had goals that are only about me. It felt like a community of people that said, "Question things!" There's a lot of good to be gained from just questioning, and not necessarily always having the answer, but saying, "Yeah, your teachers, your parents, your church, they might not have the answer either, and the government definitely doesn't have the answer.
My parents were part of the Chicano movement in the '70s. They had been in the military but when they [got out, they] became very much involved. We moved out to the country, and all the adults that I knew were talking philosophy and listening to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. They had been very much against the Vietnam War and things they had been brought up with. Yet they had this strong work ethic and this positive idea about community and a positive idea that you can make change happen.
That's the other thing I liked because I'm a massive optimist. That's why me and Justin from my high school band started writing this 'zine called Under Vesuvius. The concept was that we're kind of blind, and we're getting tossed around, but let's look at some things that need to change in society and within ourselves -- I think that's important. I never thought there was "The Man" or the bad guy -- I always recognized that "The Man" is within me.
I saw Jesus as a hero, politically. Almost like a punk rock hero. Jesus was all about fight the system. He didn't come to break laws; he came to fulfill the law, but he was not about the law; he was about relationships. He definitely cared about people, no matter where you're from or what you'd done in your past. Everybody was on the same plane.
I think I identified with a lot of the early church people, in that they sold their items and gave to the poor. They had one big collective where they all drew from. I think those anarchist ideas really excited me. You mix high school with punk rock with Christianity; they do go hand in hand because you want to change things anyway. So it seemed like a good fit at the time, and today, I hold a lot of the same ideas. So yeah, I was eating, drinking and breathing punk rock, Jesus and music all the way in my youth.
Andrew Verdecchio: I discovered punk in seventh grade in Philadelphia. I had this friend Steve, who was this really strange, dirty ball of energy. I gravitated towards him because he was weird. That was the first time I heard Black Flag, TSOL, the Dead Kennedys -- I just loved it. I was a really energetic kid. I was always getting into trouble, so I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder at a young age. So I thought, "This is the music for me." I moved on to post-punk like Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure.
I'm sure there was an element of disaffected youth and anti-establishment to it. But at my age, anti-establishment meant teachers, parents, youth group leaders. I just wanted to buck the system, but I didn't really know what that meant. That's just who I was from an early age -- you know, questions, being sort of abrasive and being okay with being abrasive and people not liking me because of that.
I should add that my oldest brother, in addition to listening to Led Zeppelin and stuff like that, was into early '70s punk, like Iggy and Patti Smith and the Ramones. I heard it growing up, and I liked it, but I didn't associate it with punk; I associated it with my brother's music. It was only later that I realized it was punk.
When I moved to Denver, I kind of fell in with a group of skater kids and got really into the skateboarding scene and got really into skate punk like D.I., and S.O.D., and M.O.D., D.O.A. -- all the bands with initials for names. You get my point. A lot of that kind of stuff that crossed over into heavy metal I was getting into. It matched my personality.
I had a lot of energy, and skateboarding was up my alley because it wasn't a sport. It was a lifestyle commitment. You're committing to getting arrested and getting into fights with the gangbangers that hated skaters. That was a big problem in Denver then. The skateboard was a weapon, too. I would be skating down the street but you always had one eye over your shoulder waiting for someone to start some trouble because you looked weird or just because you skated.
Reese Roper: Punk is kind of angst-ridden, which I think every teenager is anyway. But I think ska is upbeat and positive, and I think as young Christians, that was important to us. We were upbeat and positive.
RR: Keith and I always wanted to start a band, and somehow we ended up talking Micah and his brother into being into a band with us. It started out as a thrash metal band, and then his brother quit. We didn't have a drummer, so we threw some money together and got a drum machine. Industrial music was big then, so we were like, "We'll be industrial."
Scott, who was in Five Iron as a guitar player and is back as a bass player, was in that band. I started going to UNC, and his wife, who was his fiancé then, went to UNC, so we met up there, and he joined our band. We did that for a couple of years. It was really bad music, first of all. We were kids so we were very excited to play the show we got every two months. We maybe practiced once a week.
AV: I played the final Exhumator and Five Iron's first show -- our first show before we had a horn section. We were just a pop-punk band. Obviously, I had gotten way away from Christianity and the church. I sorta got back into it a little bit. There was a show at either the Aztlan or the Gothic. It was this band the Prayer Chain. I hadn't been to a show in a while and thought it would be fun. So I went.
One of the kids up front was wearing a the Crucified T-shirt. I told him, "Oh, man, I love that band." He said, "Right on. You should meet my friends. They're in a band called Exhumator." It turned out this kid was Mark Denny, who ended up being the bass player for the Smiley Kids with George from Four. "You're a drummer? Right now they're just using a drum machine and samples." So I talked to those guys about playing drums, and they invited me over to rehearse and see what happens. That's kind of how Five Iron was born. Exhumator fizzled out quickly, and Five Iron took over.
I was intimidated by the guys in Exhumator, I think. I wanted to impress them, and I really wanted to get into the band. I had gotten involved in a lot of ugly stuff just being around the Denver punk scene. You don't realize how scary some shit is until you're involved. Fortunately, that's what drew me into the religious thing. I really wanted to be a part of their band because, to me, at that point in my life, it was a saving grace. It was going to get me out of where I was at and helped turn me around a little bit.
Not that I always think religion is a fix-all -- especially not now that I'm an atheist. But I certainly have no axe to grind, and it was there for me when I needed it. It was the community and structure I needed. But I think it could have been any religion had I been raised with another. That last Exhumator show and first Five Iron show was at Outer Limits Coffee House. It probably only lasted a couple of months and was put on by a youth group. I don't remember exactly where it was located. There were maybe four people there.
Scott Kerr: I was dating the woman who eventually became my wife. She was going to school at UNC and Reese was going to UNC. We met at a Campus Crusade meeting and kind of hit it off. I don't remember if it was that first time we met. I had a guitar, and I played, and Reese was kind of singing along. I thought he had a good voice, and he told me he was in a band.
That was Exhumator he was talking about. I went to check them out at the Ramskeller in Fort Collins, and they were horrible. But I'd played so little, and at some point Reese asked me if I wanted to be in the band. That was an exciting prospect, especially for someone who had never done that before, and I kind of jumped at the opportunity. My first show with the band, I think, was at the Bug Theater.
LT: When I was in high school I met the Soulbender crew -- Bobby Jamison, Brent Burkhart, Corey and a bunch of other people -- and we started going to shows together because shows were hard to go to because they were so far. Exhumator opened for Mortal at the Oriental -- which was one of the first shows I went to with a decent mosh pit. I was blown away.
Then I saw Exhumator at the Fire Escape in Greeley. I think Soulbender played that show, too. I got to know those guys and then they played this show at Vinyard Church in Greeley, opening up for a band I don't remember, but it was a touring Christian band, and so it was a legit Christian show. That's when, basically, I was asked if I wanted to be in Five Iron Frenzy, the side project of Exhumator.
I was the girl with the mohawk that hung out backstage. Not like a groupie because we'd actually be praying before the show. I was the spiritual girl that most people know because in those small towns; there were only a handful of us. People already kind of knew me at that point, and they knew I was Micah's cousin. People assumed that punk rock and Christianity was a fad for me because I was so extreme in both of them. They thought I would grow out of it.
But when I went to college and learned about theology, it was really hard for me because punk rock and Christianity had not seen eye to eye yet at all. There were rumors and assumptions about me and my belief system. I think people didn't take my Christianity very seriously because of how I looked. They thought I was seriously into punk but not serious about the Lord.
Micah brought Reese up to church camp. Micah was in Exumator, so he brought Keith, this guy Larry and Reese up to church camp. Everyone's eyeballs about popped out of their heads. These guys had long hair, wearing their metal shirts, legit metal heads, and good looking. We were high school girls, so we were freaking out in our tight, acid-washed jeans and T-shirts.
When I first met Reese and Keith I thought they were hilarious and very strange. Then I started to notice something really different. One, they wouldn't cuss. "Jerk" would be the worst word. They didn't smoke -- all of us were sneaking around in church camp, smoking. They weren't interested in girls, as far as trying to make advances at all, which confused all of us girls, too. They didn't make fun of people.
I noticed that these guys were different from other guys. These people know how to party and have a blast and do it completely sober. I wasn't used to that. I was used to the typical teenage fun. But these people had a lot more fun doing no drugs or alcohol and not at the expense of anybody.
One the first memories I had about when it came up is when I lit up a cigarette in the back of the van on the way to a show. Everyone turned around and looked at me and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Smoking a cigarette, I opened the window." They said, "No, we don't smoke." I asked, "We as a band, or we as in Christians?" They didn't answer, but I just got the idea that we don't smoke, so I just quit.
What I started to do is not talk about the differences; I just started watching them. There's concept in Christianity called discipleship. You learn how to be a follower of Christ by watching other followers of Christ. I watched them read thick, meaty theological books, read their bibles, host bible studies in their homes, let homeless people stay in their homes, tithe, go to church, repent, work on issues.
Yeah, everyone had issues, and none of us were perfect, but [we were] not being okay with it and [we were] fighting hard to be whole. I had never seen people live that out in the way that I saw in this community at that time and still love punk rock, still love being goof offs, still loving to dye your hair and still love going to shows and moshing, but as an expression of gratitude and of joy instead of angst. I think that's what ska did for the scene -- [it said] it's okay to be happy; it's okay to celebrate; it's okay to have fun; it's okay to be a dork; it's okay to be a nerd; it's okay to be smart; it's okay to be a band geek.
All of a sudden, the doors are open for people who the metal scene had nothing to offer -- the angry, black wearing crowd. Then you have kids that aren't pissed off about anything, and where are they going to identify? I think the ska scene, especially back in the day, like at the Mercury Cafe, where everyone is skanking and dancing and having fun and being underage, and so not drinking -- it was awesome, it was pure fun.
SK: I think all of our musical tastes had started to branch out. I know mine certainly had. I became not as interested in metal and industrial music. Maybe it was kind of strange to go to almost the exact opposite to intensely happy music. The first ska record I had listened to was Skankin' Pickle, and once that started, there seemed to be a steady influx of ska records and compilations that introduced us to other bands. I just thought it was fun music, and I enjoyed playing it. It was fun to have that contrasted with what Exhumator was doing. It didn't take long for me to think that Five Iron was more fun, and I lost all interest in Exhumator.