It's always a questionable thing when a long-gone band suddenly reappears on the musical landscape. Too often the motive is obvious--money--and the performances laughable. Yet, there are those bands with the integrity to come back and do it right. More often than not, these are punk bands. (Remember how awesome the Buzzcocks were when they came out of retirement?) These bands left it all on stage night after night in their youth and wouldn't think of doing anything less in the reformation stage.
One such band with high personal expectations is fIREHOSE, taking another crack at it some 18 years after calling it quits. The seminal band thrived on the DIY ethos, from endless touring (more than 1,000 shows in seven-plus years) to making its own T-shirts to sell from the stage at the end of each performance. Few artists, James Brown aside, worked as hard.
Musically, no band compared; even came close. Rising out of the ashes of fabled punk band the MINUTEMEN, fIREHOSE--bassist Mike Watt, guitarist Ed Crawford and drummer George Hurley--fused driving punk, free jazz, classic rock, funk and soul into a tightly woven musical melee that wasn't exactly danceable, but caused inexplicable bodily movement.
"Nobody played like us, no one has since. Nobody's got those kind of balls," Crawford said during a recent phone interview from the band's Long Beach, California rehearsal space.
He's right, of course.
Unlike many reformed bands, fIREHOSE 2012 arrives with nothing more than back catalog. Crawford says the original music is strong enough to stand on its own, plus Watt's been too busy with his solo career, composing rock operas, and playing in the Stooges. That concept itself is a refreshing change; a true time trip to the land of what was, but a tip-toe down nostalgia lane.
Up on the Sun: I heard somewhere that the guys in Camper Van Beethoven convinced you that Mike Watt and George Hurley were auditioning guitarists after d. Boon died in the auto accident. True story?
Ed Crawford: Yeah, that's it. Victor Krummenacher, the bassist for Camper, I happened to ask him after a gig what was happening with the remaining MINUTEMEN and he said he heard they were auditioning guitar players. I don't know if he was making that up just to get rid of me, but that's what he told me. That got the ball rolling. The next thing you know, here I am.
Jumping ahead then to 1994, it's unclear why fIREHOSE initially disbanded. You'd play almost 1,000 shows in 7.5 years, which is crazy. Was it burn out or just time to move on?
It was a lot of different things. I couldn't point to one thing and say this was the reason. It was a perfect storm, a lot of different things. Definitely there was a lot to do with burnout, no doubt about it, but you can't point to one thing and say that's why we broke up. One day we just kinda threw in the towel. It wasn't a big blowout fight or anything like that, it was just, 'fuck this shit.' We didn't talk about it. But seven years just doing it, doing it, doing it that intensely, it started to take a toll is some ways. Plus, you're talking about Mike Watt. He's an artist. He's not just a bass player, and he needed to grow. Look at what he's done now and he couldn't have done that if he'd been in fIREHOSE these last 18 years. We could have been making terrible records for all I know. Sometimes shit like this happens for a reason. I didn't know we were going to get back together, I didn't know we were going to breakup. I have respect for an entity. It's not just me and George and Mike. When the three of us are together it's like a force of nature. I have respect for that.
You said you didn't know you were going to get back together, so how did it actually come about?
Very organically. I kept in touch with Michael and anytime he came through--I lived in North Carolina for 13 years, then Pittsburg for four years now--and anytime he'd come through town I'd go see him, get up and jam with him, play "The Red and The Black" with him. I was a friend. We'd talk once or twice a year. Then a couple years ago we had a really long conversation. We talked for two or three hours and got to know each other on a different level, not just being band guys, but we got to talking like friends talk. It just seemed natural. 'If you've got some time off, let's do some fIREHOSE shit?' 'Yeah, I've been thinking about that too." The Coachella offer came last year, but he'd already booked a tour for the Hyphenated Man record and some Stooges stuff, so we couldn't do it last year, but this year he had some time, so we're doing it. Here we are.
You've been having rehearsals only at this point, but how does it feel playing these songs again together after so many years?
Oh, grrrrrreat. It's crazy, it's a blast. I highly recommend it [Laughs]. We're sounding real good. It's coming together really nice. We're all excited.
We're in the era of reformed bands, including other punk bands. With the exception of a few, most don't pack the punch they once did. Does it concern you at all that reforming might tarnish the reputation fIREHOSE developed as a seminal and influential punk band?
Well, yeah. Obviously you don't want get up there and suck out loud. We're not going get up there and embarrass ourselves. Fuck no. That's why I came out here a few weeks ahead of time. We're practicing hard two, three hours a day. We're not going to get up there and suck. We're going to come out swinging. I've warned those young children... they better watch the fuck out. We're going to take them to old school. They're going to know we were there. I'm not bragging because it's true [Laughs]. As you can see, I'm very confident.
And that's also why we didn't feel like we needed to do any new material. We feel what we did has stood the test of time. No reason we can't play them songs; we don't need any new songs. If we feel like we want to make another record we will, but we don't need too. No pressure. No label beating on our door saying we need product. It might be in the cards too down the road, I don't know. Everything's on the table; nothing's off the table.
Where do you think fIREHOSE ranks in the annals of rock history?
So, when Mike and I started to seriously consider doing this, I hadn't listened to fIREHOSE in 18 years to tell you the truth. I didn't even own a CD. I had to go buy every freakin' fIREHOSE CD. And listening to it as intensely as I needed to to relearn the stuff, I'm thinking this has really stood the test of time. It doesn't suck. Some of it, I'm thinking, well we shouldn't have done that, or this was kind of weak; most of it though is pretty damn strong. So, I can only judge us against ourselves. I can't say we're as good as The Clash or slightly better than whomever. I always judge it against ourselves. I'm proud of what we did. Nobody played like us, no one has since. Nobody's got those kind of balls. I dare somebody to play like that. We played some crazy stuff.
You were hitting on rock, jazz, punk--all kinds of musical styles came together for you.
Yeah, I'm really proud of it. When you're doing it you're not thinking about the future, the legacy. You're doing it in the then and now and just doing the best you can, working as hard as you can. We had a very serious work ethic. We still do. We practiced every day we weren't on tour. We practiced five days a week. Even if we had shows on the weekend we practiced every day. We took it very seriously, it was our job. We fuckin' showed up every day.
You guys were known for selling T-shirts that you'd screened in the van that day off the stage at the end of each show. Whatever you made each day was all you sold. First come, first served. Merchandising is big business today, but might we see the old DIY shirts again, or are you just focusing on the music?
We're doing Coachella and then opening four shows for M. Ward, and with that big rock machinery in place, you can't even make money of T-shirts anymore. But I'm not sure what we're doing merch-wise yet.
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Why is the f lowercase in the name? Was it an art thing or just to mess with journalists?
The MINUTEMEN logo was all capital letters and Mike wanted to pay a little tribute to that so it was all capital letters except the first one. When we were deciding, it just looked cooler with the little lowercase f. We were sitting around Mike's pad doing the logo and did it all lowercase letters and that just looked stupid. Then we hit on the little f and used the same basic font as the MINUTEMEN. That's it, it just looked cooler.
fIREHOSE is scheduled to perform Tuesday, April 17 at the Crescent Ballroom.