FTY : Can you introduce the members of Fires were shot?
We’re Clay Walton and John Wilkins, handling equal duties on acoustic guitar and all other tasks necessary to keep an ambient guitar machine running. This is our first interview.
FTY : How did the band get its name and also give a brief history of the band?
We actually met briefly in high school, ages ago. Later, we roomed together in college for a couple of years. Though neither of us was serious about playing guitar yet, there was still a strong sense of musical connection happening during that time. We each moved to Austin for different reasons in 1995-1996.
The name Fires Were Shot came about during this time, this still being before we actually played music together. It was just a phrase we thought sounded funny, a play on a news report that said “shots were fired today . . .” (We’ve noticed the phrase “fires were shot” being used more often in the media these days to describe shots being fired, but we’ve had nothing to do with it sadly. It’s just the result of bad writing.) We then decided that, since we had a name, we might as well get together with a couple of guitars and play some music.
FTY : Can you describe your sound?
We like to avoid describing it, but someone once wrote that it was akin to brief glimpses of the sky, which we kind of like. We’ve also taken to “noise-folk vignettes.”
FTY : Your latest album, Pieces Of The White Sun was released in August. What can you tell me about that release?
Pieces is an album we put together using a combination of newer and older recordings spanning our time as a band. It’s a group of songs we picked with a conscious eye towards a more “tangible” versus ambient take on what we do. As with our other records, it represents a different variation of our strengths and weaknesses, but not a definite realization of what we want to do and can do. We’re still working on that.
FTY : This was also released on cassette, why not on CD or Vinyl??
Since we self-released it on our own imprint (It’s Only Me Records), a cassette release felt like the best (and cheapest) choice between an analog, hold-it-in-your-hands artifact and just throwing it up on the internets. If we could release every record on vinyl until the end of time, we would. As for CDs, probably not (unless someone wants to release it for us ☺).
FTY : This is your 4th full release, your first release was in 1998, second was in 2004 and third in 2011. Apart from this latest release, why was there such a big passage of time between your first three releases.
Just a combination of life stuff and obligations, but we’ve never gone more than a couple of months without playing or doing something with the band, as our stash of large document boxes filled with cassette tapes will attest! Just recently we’ve decided to start making more records with more of a fire under us.
FTY : Two of your releases have been on your own label, is having your own label all about having control of every aspect of the band from writing to releasing the music. Is there any advantage in having your own label.
Having our own label does allow us to release whatever we like, obviously, but it really hasn’t affected our creative control or anything like that. The labels we’ve worked with in the past have been great. And we’ll always be interested in releasing our material on other labels, as it presents opportunities to reach larger groups of people. But in some ways, it is very liberating to have our own imprint to release our songs in any way we like.
FTY : So thinking back to the first album that you released, is it now easier to record the music, what is the biggest thing you have learned about the music or band from release to release.
It sounds strange, but we’re just now figuring out how to do the band. All of our recordings, with the exception of “Maritime,” have been more or less made from 4-track recordings we’ve made together and separately over the years. We’ve never made a recording of songs that we specifically wrote to play live, so there’s a much greater divide between the sound of our recordings and our live show compared to other bands. We’d really like to do a “real” recording someday, but still sit down with it like we do now, molding it into something that tells a story.
FTY : What is the process for writing the songs? Do you start at the beginning or in the middle? Is it a band effort or single member etc etc
It’s a combination of all of that. Pieces that we use for records are usually molded and put together in a kind of post-production sense, and in this environment we like to put an emphasis on getting beginnings and endings of tunes to shine. When doing it live, we give more attention to structure and movement of the body of the pieces. But the songs and recordings are definitely equal opportunity employment.
FTY : How do you name the songs on your albums?
It runs the gamut from the first thing that comes out of one of our mouths to something we might have written in a poem to something we just throw our hands up and accept. For example, “Quickbeam” is a Tolkien reference, “Bad Bird, Winter’s on its Way” was said out loud to an actual bird who didn’t seem to want to get out of the rain, “Form the Hearth” is from a poem that was written while camping in the Rocky Mountains, “Undersatuary” was created out of thin air, etc.
FTY : When you are creating or recording your music, do you consider how difficult it would be to play live?
We really pay no attention to that. We’ve actually never written a song specifically to play live that has gone on a recording, but we’ve “relearned” songs to play live that we’ve recorded in the past. We’re a strange group of folks.
FTY : What bands do you typically play with when you have a live show? Do you like bands in the same genre or a total contrast in sounds.
We’ve played with Windy and Carl, Brian McBride, Amasa Gana, My Education, One Umbrella, thisquietarmy, and others. So we’ve played a lot of shows with people we’re not too, too different from. It is fun to play with an eclectic bunch of people—that’s probably something bands go through when they’re first getting started playing live. And it’s not like we’ve ever really gone knocking on doors to get shows; it’s usually a matter of being asked to play a show featuring ambient or post rock stuff. It’s better if we’re the openers though, especially if the other bands have drums.
FTY : What or who influences you to do what you do?
It’s probably easiest to mention what influenced us to start the band together, as those influences are still with us and most important: Landscape–Big Bend National Park; Philosophy–Alan Watts, Bill Hicks; and Music–Red House Painters, Aphex Twin, Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Guided by Voices, to name just a few.
FTY : Would you say that listening to bands in similar genres can influence how you sound?
Sure, but not as much you’d think. We were originally influenced by groups with different aesthetics from FWS: Guided by Voices, Red House Painters, Pavement, Aphex Twin, Morphine, etc. The influence of these people can be heard in subtle ways running throughout our records. Of course, along the way we’ve been moved by artists such as Flying Saucer Attack, Windy and Carl, Stars of the Lid, Roy Montgomery, and Sigur Ros. And all of these are just groups that we have a common interest in; there’s tons of stuff that we don’t agree on but that each of us is still influenced by.
FTY : How does the band promote itself, are you finding social media is a good avenue for this?
Social media is a great way to connect, and we’ve certainly discovered many inspiring bands through it. We’re not sure how to do promotion or what it would look like if we did. If it weren’t for Asphodel Records releasing and distributing Solace back in 2004, we would have exactly three fans today—kidding, there might possibly be one or two more! IOM Records may eventually help with this, but there has always been a large contingent of crickets in the audience, which is okay with us.
FTY : If you could collaborate with any artist or band, who would it be and why?
As far as like-minded collaborations, Roy Montgomery would be neat. Also, maybe doing something with Flying Saucer Attack when he comes back would be nice. When we think of playing with others, sometimes we get a kick out of daydreaming about what it would be like to play behind different singers. Joni Mitchell would be weird and interesting. Also, Jonsi would be a good one, but who doesn’t want that?
FTY : What advice would you give to any band playing instrumental music starting out today?
Don’t listen to anything Fires Were Shot has to say if you want to be moderately successful. If you don’t care about that kind of success, then we would just say find a golden tone and follow it, without imposing preconceptions.
FTY : Would you say that bands like yourself are turning the music industry on its head. You write, record and release your own music. That was never done without some form of record deal. How difficult is it to do everything yourselves?
It’s definitely easier now to record and release music, but because there are more people releasing music, the chances of getting heard are fewer. In our case, that’s not a deal breaker as far as remaining a band, as we’ve accepted certain things regarding what it takes to be “successful” artists, like getting heard (though we’d love to tour the world!). And, we would never be given a second look from the record companies that are being affected by the ongoing changes in the industry anyway. It’s always been very easy to do it all ourselves because we avoid the hard stuff, the only difficulty is time. Out of necessity we’ve sort of taken ourselves out of that game– it seems that the hardest parts of being in a world-conquering band would be setting up tours and promoting records, two things we always seem to place below playing and recording on our priority list.
FTY : Last piece of music you listened to, apart from your own?
John: Prayer — Last Species; lovely hypnotic, minimalist synth meditations
Clay: Julianna Barwick – “Bode”; an otherworldly, wistful anthem
FTY : What does the future hold for Fires Were Shot?
Much more frequent releases. Though we have not been so prolific to date, we have never stopped recording. So, we plan to make future albums based on our archive of tapes, as well as recordings of new material we are writing now.
Right now we’re in the middle of a new record, something different than what we’ve done in the past—very dark and noisy. We’re hoping to have it completed by early 2014. We are also working on ideas for taking everything we have written for live shows and bringing them into an actual recording studio. We have a couple of live shows lined up and looking to add more in the future. We are definitely ramping things up in our older age.