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May/June : Five Iron Frenzy

by John Sant

 The ska craze, which at one point threatened to consume our country, much like the plague, is still a vivid memory in many people's minds. Rude boys and horns dominated the airwaves and upbeat guitars saturated our CD's. One of the bands, Five Iron Frenzy, appeared on the music scene as a catalyst for the ska explosion that eventually took over the nation.

 Playing alongside other bands such as Reel Big Fish, the Supertones, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, their arrival was an example of God's perfect timing. Five Iron was birthed as merely a side project in the summer of '95 by members Keith, Micah, Scott and Reese as an outlet for their goofier side. They were already involved in a band by the name of Exhumator, an industrial thrash metal band, but the scene and the style didn't click for them.

 "When we first started Five Iron, we were completely oblivious to what ska would become. We were like, 'Man, we're the first ones to do this! This is so cool!'" said frontman Reese Roper with a laugh. "It's a good thing it exploded too, because it has helped pay a lot of bills. And really, we just did it because we just weren't into the thrash metal thing that much. Exhumator proved to [be] a good step for us in that we were able to feel our way around as far as being Christians in a band, or a Christian band, if you want to call it that. What we decided then, and what we've always been is a band without an agenda. We're not going to do anything with some predisposition, we just want to be who we are and let God [be] with us."

 The band steadily built up a fan base, playing around the Denver area, frequently hitting clubs. Being one of the only ska bands in the area, Five Iron Frenzy frequently opened for the big bands that would come through. "For the first two and a half years of playing, the most we ever got paid for a show was fifty bucks, and that was only if we had to travel two hours to get to the place," said guitarist Keith Hoerig. "Even then, I had a blast. It pretty much came down to one question for us and that was, 'What's the date?' If we were free that day, we were there."

 After two straight years of relentless playing, they attracted the attention of several record companies. Alarma Records got them to play Cornerstone, which gained even more attention from record companies. Signing offers ranged from an RV for the band, to signing bonuses. Reese says that in retrospect, the band sidestepped a potential landmine when they decided to sign with Five Minute Walk. "With all the offers we were getting, we got into this mentality of, 'Well, we're going to make a living off of this, so how much can we get?' I think a lot of bands do that, but it still isn't healthy. Frank, at Five Minute Walk, just laughed when he heard what we had been offered, he said he knew that there wasn't any way they could back up their offers. The thing that made us choose Five Minute Walk in the end was that during our talks with the other labels, they would constantly say, 'If you don't sign with us, you probably should check out Five Minute, they've got a lot of integrity.' The other big thing was Frank's attitude about signing us. He told us that the label's only job was to make sure that the band was spiritually healthy so that they could pass that onto the kids who were listening. When we talked to the other labels, Jesus Christ was not brought up once. When Frank said that, we were like, 'Oh yeah, that's why we're doing this.'"

 Since signing with Five Minute Walk, Five Iron Frenzy has released two full lengths, two EP's, and are in the process of finishing up their new album, All the Hype Money Can Buy. "With our new album, there is a larger mix of styles. Right now, with where we are as a band, we don't want to put out the same record twice. We've spent more time writing and recording this album than we have in the past, and I think people who liked our other albums will definitely like this one," said Keith. Reese adds, "We've got everything on this album from salsa and calypso, to reggae, and then there's ska running through all of it. We even got the percussionist from Santana to do a song for us."

 "Content-wise, there's a lot more heavy stuff on the album. I had a tough year in 1999, and that comes across in the album. There's a song on the CD called 'Hurricanes,' which is probably the most depressing song you'll ever hear from us. The thing is though, that's the truth, and that's the reality of my situation, so that's what I am going to talk about. In the past years, God has totally stripped away all my other motives for doing this band besides serving Him."

 The band plans on going on a summer tour as soon as their album is released. The tour will start in, of all places, South Africa, and then move back to the States for the major music festivals.

 As the band grows older, and their music evolves, Reese says that they plan to stick to one simple thing. "I think that people want to hear good music and good songs, regardless of what style it is. The reason why putting 'SKA BAND' on a flyer won't guarantee a sold out show is because it got to the point where people were sick of hearing bands that all sounded the same. By the time it had become popular, we had already established ourselves as distinct, which was a good thing. Now that we're here, our main goal is just to write good songs and be authentic."

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