Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band straight from the members themselves
"Every New Day"
SK: Like any song, you hear it and play it all the time, and it gets old. It is special, but not necessarily for me the same reasons as it is for the other members of the band. I certainly remember how I felt at the time I wrote the music, and Reese and I were working out what the song was going to be about. I think it was a good statement of how I felt at the time. I didn't write the lyrics, but the way that the music and the way the lyrics go together was a good expression of how I felt at the time. It's a snapshot of my life, and it's special for that reason.
AV: You'll notice that I'm the only one that doesn't comment on that song. I like that song, but I hate playing it, because, from a drummer's perspective, it's fucking boring to play. The beat hardly changes throughout the whole song. It flip-flops and goes to a half-time beat at one point and then does a doublet time.
But, for the most part, it's just boring to play. And we've played it every single show since the song came out on our second album. That's a long time, and a lot of times to be playing the same song. I like it, but it's not my favorite song to listen to, and it's not my favorite song to play. I love "You Can't Handle This," "American Kryptonite" and "Phantom Mullet" -- they're fun to play, from a drummer's perspective.
LT:When we first wrote it and it was just music, it had a lot of building, and it sounded a lot like the Police. In fact, we had to change the end because it was kind of sounding like "Don't Stand So Close To Me" at the end. It sounded beautiful, but it wasn't very spiritual. From what I remember, Reese was having a really hard time coming up with lyrics. We used to have crazy deadlines all the time. He went upstairs, locked himself in the room and sang it, belted it out, and came out with that. It was just a shocker to everybody. It wasn't the most amazing song until the vocals were on it. It took it to the next level.
I think that Reese has a knack for seeing the change you want to see happen inside of you. And being very honest. There's a massive dichotomy in being a Christian because you exist in the already and the not yet. We are forgiven, but we still sin. We are saved, but we still live in this world.
To recognize and put words to that tension, that we all experience, but for which it's hard to put words to the weight of that tension, and the feeling that we're above and beyond this world, but we still have to exist in this world, and how we long to be sanctified and justified is a surreal amount of pressure. I think those lyrics with the music just spoke to that perfectly.
RR: It is a metaphor of itself. The song is about new beginnings, about starting over. I feel that so many times of playing that song and just hearing it, that it's like a reset button. If I had a bad day, all of a sudden, that song makes it okay. It is about God renewing and somehow making a new life in you. We recorded that song three times -- on two live albums, and of course, on the original studio recording. Scott wrote it and said, "Hey, would it be cool if we make this the last song on the album? I think it should just be a praise song." I wrote the words and literally threw away a hundred versions of it.
For your first album, you have all the songs already. For us, we had to make a new album every year. That was kind of how Five Minute Walk operated money-wise. It was too much, so I had gone through those hundred versions just throwing stuff away. I think we had two weeks booked in the studio, and we got down to the last day, and [the band's producer] Masaki was just like, "We're ready for the song." I told him it wasn't done. He said, "Okay, you've got five minutes. Go upstairs with your notebook and write it because we have got to finish this. We've got until tomorrow morning, and I'm not staying up all night. Go finish the song." He might have given me fifteen minutes.
I remember I was terrified of writing a horrible song. I got on my knees and prayed for five minutes of the ten or fifteen minutes I was up there, and sat up and wrote what I thought was crap. Then I went downstairs and I remember recording it because we had to, and when I got to the bridge I started crying. There are a few instances in my life that I can go back to that I know that Jesus Christ is real, and I know that he loves me, and that he has just spoken to me and that is one of them. Something other than me came out. I figured that I prayed, and God really spoke.
I feel like every time we played that song, that it really speaks to people, and it really means something. If you were going to sum up the teachings of Christ, it is that he's a giant reset button. We constantly need to stop and say, "I need something to make this okay. I need to know that I'm okay." I feel like that song does that.
South Africa Trip
RR: In South Africa, they had never heard our music. I think we played five shows: two in Johannesburg and two in Pretoria. One we played in this town called Phuthaditjhaba, which is near Lesotho. There were, like, eight white people, and no other white people for five hundred miles. Apartheid had just ended in '95, so it was four years later. People stared daggers at you. You'd talk to kids, and they'd go, "Oh, you're American! You're in a band like Michael Jackson!"
Especially for us, where I felt like everything we did in Five Iron was like being a mall Santa, this was better. Nobody cared. They just heard we were a band, and they went to hear music. It may have been the first rock music they ever heard. Kids just wanted to play with you; they didn't care. None of that mall Santa thing was going on.
It was just you, and you're playing music, or you're playing Ring Around the Roses with eighteen kids. You're playing soccer with kids that lived in the dump, or their only joy was sniffing glue. For me, I always hated the mall Santa part of Five Iron. I just wanted to be actual Santa. Or more than that: Santa's not real, but Jesus is. This is actual hope, and this is actual peace. He actually existed, and he loved you. I think, at that point, it could happen, so I really loved that trip.
LT: That was one of the hardest trips we ever took. One thing you don't see in the video is that we had given our bracelets and different trinkets to street kids, and they had gotten the crap beat out of them for doing that because older kids wanted to steal their stuff. So we got reprimanded big time. I knew it would be hard, but I'm glad we got to play in little villages where people didn't even have TVs.
There's a mission there called Thrive Africa, and they buy tons of land and create obstacle courses and beautiful areas for street kids to play. There's a ton of orphanages there, and they need the kids to have a good time. We played secular clubs and skate parks, too, and that was a little gnarly because you definitely saw right at the beginning that the blacks and the whites were segregated, for the most part. There was one band we played with that had a black person in it.
We went to an orphanage, and there were zero toys. There was just dirt and tires, and the kids would go to the bathroom wherever they were standing. Our job there was to love these children. Yeah, we got to be musicians at night, but during the day, we were hugging kids and playing with children. Andy would be playing soccer for hours with these kids.
That's not for the fans; that's for us. God gives us those opportunities in order to grow up. What difference are you making to a kid in an orphanage when you're there for one day? I don't have any false beliefs that I'm making a difference in that way. But I do believe that overall it's going to make into a person who can do more good throughout the long run.
One of the biggest things Five Iron ever did was we raised money for Kenya Spare A Dollar. They created a Five Iron Frenzy rescue center that's actually there in Kenya, and we raised over sixty thousand dollars. Our fans did. Our fans paid money to buy a well, to buy a cow, to buy land for a girl's orphanage. Last year, Frank Tate, [the founder of our old label Five Minute Walk], went to Kenya for the first graduation of the kids of that school.
Scott Leaves the Band
SK: Most of that process was kind of a cerebral one for me. It wasn't that I was sick of Christians and didn't want to be associated with them or anything like that. Although I did come to that conclusion, as well -- and I don't mean any and every [Christian] because my wife is Christian to this day, and so are most of my friends.
It sort of began in high school, but during college, some of my doubts about the truthfulness of Christianity came into question and became troublesome enough that I made a full-fledged effort to get to the bottom of it. I started reading Christian apologetics' books. Truthfully, they did more to erode my faith than anything. I found a lot of the explanations, at best, not persuasive, and, at worst, intellectually disingenuous.
I just came to the conclusion that if I really wanted to seek truth, I can't read one side of it anyway, and I read David Hume and Bertrand Russell. I really felt like I didn't want to simply mend a hole in my faith. I wanted to live with my eyes open and if accepting the truth meant walking away from Christianity, then I wanted to be able to do that, and that's the conclusion I came to. It had nothing to wanting to turn my back on God or live by a different moral code. My values have changed very little in that regard.
It wasn't a shock to the band, I don't think. My nose was always in a book on tour, and we would talk about it. It certainly affected me in other ways. There were a number of factors at work, but I was kind of cranky. To be completely honest, I was kind of a dick sometimes, and I have a lot of regrets about how I handled that at that time, and I've expressed that to the other guys a lot, and everyone's been very forgiving and gracious.
They were my friends, and they were concerned about me, and the band and how my attitude affected the band. We were all really young. I was maybe 22 at the time, and you're maybe ill equipped to deal with all those emotions. The world tends to be more black and white. I think everybody did the best they could with what I was going through. I don't think anyone disagreed with my decision that it was time to leave.
RR: I don't know if I pushed him further into that crisis or not. I don't think I was a very tolerant person at the time. On the Ska Against Racism Tour, there were a lot of secular guys, and I think it cemented for him that he didn't feel comfortable calling himself Christian. He had so many doubts.
It was very honorable for him because, at the time, there were a lot of Christians that made bad music and put the word Jesus into it a lot and made a good living. I think a lot of bands were doing that and didn't believe or didn't apply what they believed to how they were living. He didn't want to be that guy, so he quit the band. Look at Slayer: I don't think they're Satanic; they're just milking it.
2001: The Sad Year
RR: I think until about the 2000s, everything was happening fast. Then I think ska wasn't popular anymore, and we kind of woke up and said, "We have to work at this." I think, by that time, we had missed a lot of opportunities. We went on a couple of years and figured out a lot of guys were getting married, and we didn't want to do it anymore, at least to the capacity we did -- we were playing two hundred or two hundred fifty shows a year.
LT: The sad year. The weird thing is, when I watch the DVD -- and Micah has said this, too -- it's like you're seeing it from someone else's perspective. There are things that are happening in each other's personal lives that you have no idea about. You have no idea how they're affecting one another. You can be in the same band but have an amazingly different experience. Some of my best years are other people's worst years, and vice versa.
I've always been pretty even keel. I haven't had a lot of massive ups and downs. My brother did die, and that was difficult, but I was able to bounce back through my faith pretty quickly. I wasn't ever miserable recording. I wasn't ever miserable touring. I didn't mind not being home. I did miss having community, and that was hard for me, and it was hard, sometimes, the dynamics of being the only female. I don't remember things being so rough. I saw people go through rough times. I saw that it was hard for certain people in different years.
At the same time, throughout it all, it seemed liked we all really enjoyed it. There was only one day ever, in all of Five Iron, that I ever wanted to quit. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I called my family -- we were in Little America headed out of town -- and everyone passed around the phone to say hello to me, and I was just bawling.
I just wanted to go home because two of the guys in the band were fighting with each other. Can you imagine being in a truck stop and everybody else is having turkey and sitting around passing the phone around -- here's grandma, here's mom, here's dad, here's brother, and I'm gone for three more months. That was probably in '98 or '99.
AV: By that time we were a well-established entity and well-known around the Christian punk circles and we were playing mostly Christian venues at that point with a few secular venues peppered in there. I guess that's sort of what put me in the mindframe of questioning my faith. It was the thing that started the whole departure from Christianity for me, just being around and playing all these Christian shows and meeting people that weren't Christians that were great people.
And then within that questioning my whole worldview: The concept of Hell was a big thing for me. I knew all these people that weren't Christians, and we played with lots of non-Christian bands, and frankly, I thought they were better people than we were. Particularly Dan Potthast from MU330; I just think he's a good person. He's just a genuinely good person, and at that point, he wasn't a Christian at all. Those were the kinds of things sticking in my head.
The two things that were the biggest components to me sort of turning my back on it entirely were my dad dying, then 9-11 happened shortly thereafter. The media coverage of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and all these people saying these things that I just could not agree with. I could not espouse those sorts of beliefs. I also found out, shortly after that, that my nephew is gay, and that threw me into a whole new frame of mind.
Believe it or not, I started reading apologetic books. I was literally trying to convince myself because I didn't want to not believe it. The more I read these books and tried to convince myself, the less convinced I was. It didn't make sense to me and it didn't add up. Finally I said I couldn't believe that stuff anymore. That was shortly before Five Iron decided to break up.
Scott had already left the band as a result of a couple of things, one of them being him being an atheist. At that point I was like, "I'm a hypocrite. I'm up here and I don't believe this stuff." That fucked-up rhetoric I heard surrounding 9-11 and that whole "God Hates Fags" thing came out, and I was trying to come to terms with what I believe. And the whole time, we'd play these shows where youth ministers get up and rant the same nonsensical, narrow-minded garbage. I knew the guys in my band didn't necessarily believe some of the stuff that was said.
At one point, it came to a head when we played a festival called Kingdom Bound. I think it was in Rochester, New York. The kids were being kind of rowdy. This guy gets on stage and is just being kind of a pushy like Gestapo. I had had enough at that point, and I got up from my drums and I said something, "That guy doesn't represent us. He's not part of Five Iron Frenzy. If he freaked you out in any way. Don't let that make you afraid to come and talk to us because he's not what we're about."
Afterwards it just erupted. It was just him and this other guy and me by myself. These guys were both huge, and they would have eaten me up. I'm like, "Look, you can't say stuff like that and not expect somebody to come back and say something. I'm not going to let you yell at these kids because they're having a good time." He gets in my face and yells at me and this other guy comes over and starts yelling at me.
The one thing I remember being said was, "When I was in the Marines, we had a way of dealing with guys like you." I said, "What do you want to do? You want to kick my ass? I'm right here? Go ahead and kick my ass in front of all these kids. I would love for them to see that." That's where it ended. He just walked away and said, "There's no way to get through to this guy."
These little events, and I said, "Fuck this shit, I cannot be a part of this anymore." So I got out. The thing that was crazy was that the guys in the band weren't like that, not in any way shape or form. They're not fundamentalists. They're not pushy, you know? I knew not all Christians are like that, which is probably why I don't have an axe to grind with Christianity.
I know that there are good people. Writing someone off before you get to know them just based on their religious beliefs is just as bigoted as what a lot of fundamentalist Christians do. At that point, I didn't go so far as to say I was an atheist, but I didn't think the God of the Bible was a good god or the right god.
RR: I felt like I became an adult at that point. I remember as a kid, my dad saying, "I don't understand this. I'm like you. I'm a kid trapped in this adult body, and I don't want to be." I couldn't understand that until that point. My fiancé broke up with me without ever explaining why; Scott had quit the band; Leanor's brother died; Andy's dad died -- all this very serious stuff. I finally got what my dad was saying. There's no diploma. You don't get knighted or anything. You don't pass a test. I think most people become adults gradually, or some people don't ever. But I think that happened for a lot of us that year.
I think after about 2001, it just seemed like we were kind of lost. Ska was not the flavor of the month. Imagine being in the early '80s and being a disco band, and everyone is going, "Disco sucks! You are so old! Quit!" And all of a sudden we were that band. I don't think we were that much of a ska band at that point. We were skacore and then became a rock band with horns.
But it was too late. I think everybody was like, "This is dead. We should stop." I always envied bands that had just been like, "Okay, we're just going to be rock." Talking to Dennis about it before we started back up again, he said, "I think we could have kept going if you guys had just gotten rid of the horn players." Just the fact that we were a ska band contributed to our own demise.
The Fall of Five Iron Frenzy
LT: It never felt like the band was going downhill. It was quite a shock to me that we decided to quit when we did. The way we decided it: We had a spiritual retreat, like we usually did, and we went around, one by one, saying the shortest and longest amount of time we would be in Five Iron and stay in it. One person said the longest he could commit was one more year. Based on that information, we said, "Well let's just be a band for one more year because we don't want to do it with anyone else."
That person was Andy. He and his wife had been married for a while, and they were thinking they wanted to have children and it would be too hard. Melinda was already pregnant on our last tour. At that meeting, we decided it would be one more year we planned it to the T. Let's tour one more time. Let's put out a studio album. Let's record ourselves live on our last tour and call it a day. And that's exactly what we did.
AV: At the spiritual retreat, I announced I was no longer a Christian, and that I was done with the band. I said, "I would like to do another tour if you guys would let me, but I'm done." We were talking, and it seemed like most everybody was on different pages, in terms of what they wanted from the band.
For me, I couldn't do this thing where we go out for two and a half months and then are off for six months. For me, it was either I need to quit and get a real job, or make this our job. I didn't want a half-ass job working at a coffee house for six months while spinning wheels with the band that may or may not play enough shows to pay my rent this year.
Other people thought we didn't have to play live and just make records. I thought that was ridiculous, for one; part of the fun of being in a band is playing shows, which is why I was in the band to begin with. We couldn't get on the same page, and we made the decision at the prayer retreat and that was it. We decided to play one more tour. Do the summer festivals, do a fall tour through Thanksgiving, and then we were done.
When it ended, we were all still friends. We weren't in debt. A lot of bands break up because they can't pay their bills, and they're not friends, and there's some sort of rift and somebody hates somebody else. When we broke up, we were still pretty tight. I was still doing Brave Saint Saturn with Reese, and Scott and I were doing Yellow Second. Brad and I lived right across the street from each. Brad is one of my best friends to this day.
RR: Mike Sayers, who helped form us as a young band, we talked to him about how uncomfortable we were, and he said, "Cool, let's just have a retreat." Andy was like, "I don't know if I believe anymore, and I don't want to mislead you guys. I'm thinking about quitting." We took a break to think about it, and prayed. Then everybody said, "You're right. It's time to quit." I think Sonny and I thought we could do it better. We tried to do a band after that, and it failed, then I tried to start a band after that, and I failed.
LT: I'm glad we broke up at the time we did. I always thought no one would marry me when I was in Five Iron. That's a lot for a guy to swallow. You know, being the merch guy? No. When I dated, I had serious relationships, but they always kind of crumbled. I think Five Iron ending had a lot to do with me being able to be devoted in a relationship to where I could consider marriage. It was definitely to the best guy I'd ever dated. I'm so glad the band broke up and I married him, and I was able to be part of the Scum [of the Earth Church] community, and have some children and finish my college education, and all these things I had put on hold.