Cars On Fire Interview - July 2012

by Jodie Humphries

Cars On Fire Interview

There are many sides to the guys in Cars On Fire, but at the forefront is the fact that they are showmen; men born to be on stage and live their lives through music. Over the last few years, Live-Music-Scene has seen Cars On Fire grow as a band and as people. Now, as they get ready for the album launch party of ‘Black Hearts & Bloody Hands’, we sat down again for the most frank chat the four guys have ever given us.

“We haven’t played any shows in a while cos we’ve been tied up with the making of the album; a lot of effort has gone into putting the CD together,” Ali says when asked about what has gone on behind the scenes. “It’s been a long time coming, but behind it’s pretty much been all about the album and the last few weeks we’ve started rehearsing a lot again. The CD has a 24 page booklet with it that came about because we really wanted an image hand drawn for each song. We sent all the lyrics to Dave Clifford, who is a really good friend of ours who draws for a comic ‘Dexter’s Dozens’; he read the lyrics and interpreted them into pictures. Other bands have quite a lot of artwork on their CDs, but we specifically wanted a picture that represented the lyrics for each song. Naturally he asked us what we wanted him to draw, but I told him to read the lyrics and do his own thing. We were all really intrigued to see how he would interpret the songs. The first couple of drawings came back and were amazing.”

For the guys, it’s all about having the whole package when it comes to their music; Mikey says, “When I was young there was a lot more effort put into the CDs and the production of the booklets. Recently with more digital downloads, you don’t get that so much. We wanted to think about the whole package, not just the music.” But does it not worry them that people will mainly download the album? “That’s a difficult one for us because most of our sales comes from digital sales,” James explains. “It says in the liner notes that we’ve never done anything for anyone else, ultimately the artwork was done that way because we wanted to do it that way – nothing is conceived for any other reason other than it’s what we wanted to do. It’s the same with the music – we didn’t compromise on the songs or the production.” Ali goes on to say, “As James said, the liner notes explain the whole ethics behind what we’re doing and our mentality in terms of how we approach the music industry. This band has been about doing what we want to do and not being scared to make whatever music we want to make. If we want to link jazz and metal, we’ll do it, and if someone doesn’t like it, then that’s fair enough as everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Cars On Fire Interview

Talking further about the physical release, Ali says; “The material on Bandcamp has gone really well, but we’re still getting a lot of messages off people who are waiting for the physical CDs. I like to buy a CD because I like to look at the artwork, read the liner work and see what gear the band are using. There are still diehard CD fans out there who want to buy the whole package rather than just having it downloaded all the time.” As Steve points out, “Sometimes you see a band for the first time and really like them and because you’ve maybe had a few beers you get swept away with the moment, so you ask if they have a CD and you buy it on the spot. If you didn’t have that opportunity to buy it on the night, you may go away and think ‘I can’t be bothered to download it’.” Cars On Fire have reason to have faith though; “When we toured the mini-album, we sold so many CDs on the road, we were having to phone the label and get more sent out to us because we didn’t take enough.”

Despite the confidence that is obvious with Cars On Fire, releasing ‘Black Hearts & Bloody Hands’ was a mixture of nerves and excitement for the band. Mikey says, “It had been long time since ‘Dig Your Own Grave’ – that came out November 2009, so there was an eagerness to get it out there and heard by people.” “I think there’s always a degree of nerves as you’re worried how people will receive it, but we were pretty confident in it ourselves – we all love it. We hope everyone else will too,” Steve says. On the feedback side of the album Ali explains; “We’ve had no negatives; I’m sure someone will come along and say they don’t like it because it doesn’t sound like Katy Perry or something like that – it’s fine. It doesn’t matter, if people comment on it, it means we’ve had some kind of impact on them.” James adds; “It’s just been positive from everyone we’ve played it to. I guess ultimately if people understand the way we have done it, they can’t slag it off. I don’t understand that whole thing with music – if you don’t like it, don’t fucking listen to it. There’s loads of music I don’t like, I don’t spend my time sat around slagging it off.”

When it comes to the bones of the music, Ali says, “It comes from our love of loads of different types of music. We’re all roughly in the same ballpark, but everyone listens to loads of different stuff. James and Steve listen to a lot of hip hop, then there’s jazz and stuff like that – then me and Mikey tend to listen to the more manly stuff like metal. We all like a lot of crossover stuff – anything that is interesting basically. We’re big fans of Everytime I Die, Refused and Alexisonfire.” James says, “There’s the likes of the Beastie Boys, Refused and Faith No More we all love.” Expanding on his previous point, Ali says, “I guess the musical side behind it was mainly to keep ourselves entertained – you’ll probably realise that we’re all a bit ADHD – we need to be constantly entertained. Musically for us, it had to be something that we were really interested in doing; jamming stuff together that doesn’t fit; like doing a crazy jazz breakdown into something that it shouldn’t go into. The lyrics are just about loads of stuff that affects most people – the usual stuff that people think about in their lives – sex, death, living life, getting through the hardships, the usual stuff. I guess anybody will write songs about what they are thinking about, so there’s moments on there about sad things that have happened, or things that make you angry, or good things that have happened that have gone bad. I don’t really like to talk about the lyrics too much as I want people to read them and take their own thing from them. Usually when people ask me about the lyrics, I just go ‘whatever it means to you’ because some of the stuff I don’t want to talk about. Other songs do mean a lot to me, but it won’t be massively personal stuff; it might be about someone else people I’ve encountered in different situations on my life. Then some of it is just fun stuff.” James adds that “We don’t even know what the lyrics mean to Ali, but we know what they mean to us.”

Ali goes on to explain, “James says that they never know what the lyrics are about, that’s mainly because I never do any vocals or lyrics until I get into the booth. We don’t rehearse and practice like a normal band; we’ll just chuck the music together, and sometimes it will be really quick, and sometimes it will take a while, but no lyrics will ever touch those songs until we get it into the studio. They are a long time in the making without any singing and lyrics; we could have a song that we’ve been playing for weeks and weeks, but no one will know how the singing is going to go.” For the band though, the songs change when the vocals are laid down; “When Ali puts the vocals down, it completely changes the shape of the songs in a completely bizarre way; a really cool way. They start to flow and sound like songs opposed to prog-fusion mentalists. If you listen under the lyrics, there’s so much going on musically, but then the vocals change it.”

Explaining the way he does the lyrics, Ali says, “With most of my favourite bands, I get the feeling that the lyrics and the lyric patterns aren’t something they’ve stressed over. Lyrically and vocally, I think you shouldn’t spend ages going ‘oh my god, what do I write about?’ I think if you do that, you’re going to wind up with something you are just going to keep changing and keeping changing. When I go into the singing booth, I just blah out whatever comes out, then once that has happened at pre-production stage, I’ll sit down and look at it – that’s how the song comes out. I have a vocal pattern in my head, but I never know the words, but I think that’s a better way of being honest about your songs; about being honest about what you’re singing about. When I get in the booth I just want to sing whatever is in my head cos that’s how it should be; that’s how a song should work.”

Cars On Fire Interview

Talking more in depth about ‘Black Hearts & Bloody Hands’, and whether any of the songs mean more to them than others, James starts by saying, “It’s not my favourite one, but ‘Anchor Your Heart To The Sea’ was the first song I wrote with the guys. I couldn’t have chucked more ideas in the pot if I tried; it’s mental. I like ‘Quarter Deck Confession’; to me that’s a good meeting of the craziness and the melodic stuff, I like playing that song live.” For Steve; “‘Quarter Deck Confession’ was my favourite song from the first session and the bridge bit of that still gives me massive goosebumps.” While Mikey struggles to choose; “There’s two songs that mean the most to me. ‘Borders’ is a good one; it seems to be a bridge between ‘Dig’ and this one. Jon did drums on this one, but then James came on board and did kind of a hip hop feel in the bridge and that totally changed it. On a personal note just as far as guitar playing, ‘Sex Death Sex Death’, and it reminds me of Black Fish who are one of my favourite bands, so it’s a nod towards them.” And Ali can’t pick; “My favourite changes each time I listen to the record because when I listen to it, I obviously remember what I was feeling at the time and reminds me about the time I was singing about, and that might be a good memory or a bad memory. Musically, there’s so many little bits; me and Mikey spent so long putting guitars down, we were there until 3 o’clock in the morning some nights and we’re really proud of some of the bits we’ve done. We’re proud of the whole thing musically; it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

So what about ‘Dig Your Own Grave’? It’s the mini-album that has been played so many times, but do the guys get bored of playing it? “I think for me, I get bored of rehearsing it, if we’ve worked a couple of ‘Dig’ songs into the grave….” At this point everyone descends into laughter. Still laughing Ali says, “What I meant to say was, if we’ve worked a couple of ‘Dig Your Own Grave’ songs into the set, I get bored of rehearsing it because we were touring it for ages. But that all changes when we play it live because it’s a completely different kind of feel with the energy, the adrenalin is pumping and people are singing along.” Mikey; “It’s nice to revisit as well as it takes you back as that is a few years old that album – ‘Burn The Suits’ is probably about four or five years old now; it’s probably one of our most recognisable songs and everyone gets into it. The energy of the crowd spurs you on.”

Cars On Fire

We’ve talked about the actual album, but on the 6th July at the Croft is when the boys will officially be releasing the album as their warm-up to the Relentless Energy Drink NASS Festival. Talking about the festival the guys all agree they can’t wait to play. About their album launch, Ali says, “Oxygen Thief is opening up; he’ll be on at like 7.45.” Mikey says, “We’ve got Empire which has got a couple of the guys from Casino Drive, and there’s this little band called Left Side Brain…. Only the best band in Bristol.” Ali adds; “We’re quite lucky that everyone on the bill we consider to be fucking great musicians and great friends, so we’re lucky that they’re doing it. We only wanted them on there so that we can get drunk after and catch-up. I think you can just expect carnage really, it usually is at our shows.”

‘Black Hearts & Bloody Hands’ may just be hitting our CD players, but have Cars On Fire thought about the next release yet? James says, “We’re always writing, whether it’s writing parts, riffs or ideas. There’s so much stuff that didn’t go on this album; there’s a whole album’s worth. So if we’re serious about doing another one, we need to sift through the material we didn’t use as some of it is fucking golden. We put a couple of tunes out at Christmas – one of them was a cover, but the other we wrote, recorded and had a video done for in the best part of 48 hours. We did it because we were bored; we were waiting for the album to come out so we set ourselves a challenge. I guess if it gets to the stage where we’re getting frustrated, we’ll just do that again; either write something or rework something that didn’t make it on the album. That’s one thing that the digital era has changed; the album is an album, it’s a complete package, but there’s little things that can go out on their own that don’t have to be in an album format, they can go out on their own which is cool.”

So what have Cars On Fire learnt in the process of getting this album out to us? “I will tell you what was quite funny about writing the album, is the fact that none of us thought about playing it live. We’ve had to step our game up musically to play what we wrote.” The final word goes to Ali; “That record sounds the way it does because of the shit we went through making it – that’s the sacrifice you make.”

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