Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band straight from the members themselves
Five Iron Frenzy: The Early Days
RR: We started listening to a lot of punk and ska, a lot of Skankin' Pickle and a lot of NOFX, which was branching into ska. We wanted to do that, so we decided to make a side project, and Scott said, "There's this guy at my church that plays trumpet; we should get him in it." Micah's cousin is Leanor, and he said he knew a saxophone player. We played a couple of shows and this adult pastor from this church we were going to showed up with this guy that played trombone, and that was Dennis.
The first show we played as Five Iron Frenzy, we opened for Exhumator. It was so much better, and we had so much a better time playing the Five Iron stuff because it was what we were excited about. People liked it so much more, that we just quit Exhumator at that point, and said, "Let's just do this." That first show -- I think it was April 17, 1995 -- was at this coffee house that a church had off Kipling. Leanor's first show, I think, she played the fourth show, and Dennis played the next show after that.
Our third show, we were opening for MxPx. That never happened with Exhumator. It was us and some other local metal band that was kind of thirty or forty year olds still holding on to REO Speedwagon or whatever. All of a sudden with Five Iron, we were doing that. And we had some friends that Micah went to high school with that started working for some local promoter, Dan Steinberg.
They came to a couple of practices, and they got us our first bar show opening for the Rudiments at The Raven. It was like three in the afternoon. It was the worst sounding show I think any of us played. Somehow this promoter thought we were good enough to put us on a bill with Mu330, Less Than Jake and Cherry Poppin' Daddies and stuff.
I think for all of us it was a confirmation that we were doing the right thing. He didn't pay us very well, and there were all these bands who warned us against him. But for us, he would say, "Hey, I'm going to pay you two hundred bucks." Then he would pay us two hundred bucks. We knew he was making great money off of us, but we never felt that we should have opened for those bigger bands, but we got to. We never felt like he ripped us off.
SK: The first Five Iron show was at a coffee shop, and I want to say it was Exhumator's last show and Five Iron's first show. I think it was in Lakewood. I thought it was great. People had a great time, and I saw a lot of smiles in the audience. I think that cemented my ideas about Five Iron being the way to go rather than Exhumator.
Some of the guys were going to Corona Presbyterian and met Dennis there. Mike Sayers was one of the pastors there, and had become friends with Reese and Keith at least, and I think he had taken Dennis to one of our shows. I met him later at one of our practices, I think. Brad went to a church that my then fiancé went to. He mentioned he played trumpet, and I talked to him once we decided to add horn players. Micah and Leanor are cousins, and he knew she played saxophone, and so we added her, and Dennis came last.
SK: There weren't many ska bands in Denver, as I recall. 2B Announced Presents brought through all the big ska shows, like Less Than Jake. We played with them a lot, pretty much every time they came through. Ska was gaining a lot of steam in the underground at that time, and so there were always a lot of kids at the shows. We had those shows, and we also had shows in the "Christian market" -- if that's what you want to call it -- so when bigger Christian acts would come through, mostly booked by Fred Meyer, we would get to open for them. As far as why? I don't think we were very good at that time.
AV: We met Leanor at a Sometime Sunday show. They were kind of an alternative rock band that played in Fort Collins, somewhere at some church or something. She lived there, and she mentioned that she played saxophone. Brad was the first person to join on horns and then Leanor and then Dennis.
Jeff the Girl?
LT: I was in a play and the character I played was a boy. His name was Jeff, so my youth pastor said, "She hates that; everyone call her that." It stuck, and I was fine with it at the time. It doesn't bother me, really. I'm kind of desensitized to it. I was twelve when I got that nickname. When the guys, Reese, Keith and Scott and Andy, when they met me, they met me as Jeff. When I was a punk rock girl, that girl was Jeff.
The Mission Statement
RR: This guy that brought Dennis to the shows is named Mike Sayers. He was the single adults pastor at Corona Presbyterian Church, which I think half of us went to. We started going there because we got kicked out of another church because we wouldn't cut our hair. When we were in Exhumator, we all had long hair. It was heavy metal. I had a nose ring, and I think I had earrings. This church wanted us to take this stuff out. We were just like, "I don't think this is what church is about." We sat down with the pastor and said, "This is wrong, but the people that are paying the bills want this." And we just left.
We went to Corona because it was the closest church to our house. I don't believe in accidents and definitely don't think it was an accident. Mike Sayers kind of took us under his wing and was a bit of a manager to us. It was his idea to come up with a mission statement, so we knew what we were about. So we sat down and came up with a mission statement and planned out what we wanted and how we were going to do it. Many bands could benefit from having a mission statement.
AV: I think that was one thing that helped us be a little more organized than other outfits at that time. I think other bands were like, "We just want to play shows and get free beer" and whatever. Our thing was that we have a mission. At that point, I think it was to share Christianity with people and share that message and push that along.
Also we wanted to make sure we were playing an equal amount of shows in churches that we were in clubs. At first, all we played were clubs. Towards the end, almost all we did were Christian venues. The mission statement sort of amalgamated everything together, so to speak. Wanting to play in a rock band was the catalyst, but the thing that glued it all together was the mission that we had, for lack of a better term.
LT: Within the first year, we came up with a mission statement. I don't remember exactly when. Our mission statement included the idea that we would play 50 percent "secular" -- which is a word I had never heard until I joined Five Iron -- shows and 50 percent Christian shows. I think we honored that to the very end.
Also, as a band, we said we wanted to have musical integrity, which meant certain people needed to have lessons, including myself. We also said we were there to serve the promoters, which meant not lying and helping afterward. Basically, we wanted to be a blessing; we wanted to be a ministry. Basically what a Christian band was is that we had a set of ideals, and we had a job to do. Part of it was to evangelize, I guess, but part of it was to set the stage for God to do what he was going to do on stage and off stage.
We did get what we called "Bro'd," or "Brothered" -- that's when you play a Christian venue, like a church, and they say they're going to pay you, and then at the end of the night they go, "Thank you, brother, for blessing us." Then they don't pay you? That happens everywhere. It would happen sometimes, but not too much.
The Rise of Five Iron Frenzy
LT: I think the first and second albums feel very similar to me because we had been writing those songs around the same time. So we'd already been playing those songs, and messing with those songs, and getting a vibe to those songs.
SK: It felt out of the blue. I don't think any of us had any grand ambitions early on. I think everybody in the band had daydreams of what it would be like if the band took off. I certainly didn't have any grand delusions about it. The momentum kept building, and before you knew it, we were quitting our day jobs and touring constantly.
We never had a big radio hit or anything. The first album seemed to take off right away. But I didn't notice any additional surge from the second album, but that might be not remembering. The second album is my favorite, in terms of songs. But the first one, I think everything was just so unexpected.
I remember the first show of our first tour, and we opened with "A Flowery Song," and the vocals come in, and everyone in the audience sang along, and I couldn't even hear Reese because of the crowd singing. I was dumbfounded because I knew up to that point that we were doing well in Denver and the kids there knew our songs, and here we are several hundred miles away in Kansas City, which we never played, and they were just as enthusiastic and knew all the words.
AV: It did happen pretty quickly, but I think it needed to because the ska wave was over pretty quickly. If it hadn't happened at that time, we would never have enjoyed the success that we did.
LT: I suppose I've always felt we were a band that paid our dues because we did tour in little vehicles with no air conditioning and slept on floors and played ratty clubs. In all, it seemed really quick. We started in '95 with all the band members present. By '97 we were quitting our jobs to tour full time. To me, now, being married to a musician and seeing other musicians, that's really fast. And really rare to get that kind of crowd going.
The Christian market is a niche market, so you're guaranteed a lot of kids because there's not a lot of other things to do. We were going to Alaska, to Hawaii and all over the world, playing for this niche market that adored us. It was beautiful, it was surreal and it was special.
But then every once in a while we'd get to pop back into the other scene and play something like Warped Tour or Ska Against Racism. That was also really special to us. But I don't know if we would have had the success we did had it not been for the Christian market really embracing us because it's tough to make it out there. That afforded us the ability to quit our jobs.
RR: When our third album came out, we had just got off the Ska Against Racism tour. I think we could have, and should have, gone on to a general market label, but we did not. To this day, I will swear up and down, Five Minute Walk put their money where their mouth was. For being underground and for what they were, they really did want to help people.
It's one thing to say, now that I'm 39, maybe we could still be doing this, or we could have had one hit song that made the radio. But I would much rather tell my kids that we helped pay for two orphanages, or that every tour we did, we collected something -- socks or coats -- for homeless people.
In '96, September, I think, a lot of us were in college, so we played a show with Five Minute Walk in San Francisco to make money for the retreat for their bands. We ended up calling the school and asking to drop classes. A few of us kept their jobs going. Dennis was a manager at the Westin. Leanor kept going to school that semester.
We got our T-shirts from this couple, and I called them from the road and said, "Hey, I just dropped out of school to be in this band and you've been making our T-shirts. Would you mind giving me a job when I get home?" And they gave me the job. That was late August '96, and most of us quit our jobs. That lasted until we broke up.