Music Monday: Bands Evolve Too [The Fire Tonight]

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A lot of people get angry when their favorite bands don’t keep making the same music on later albums. I’m guilty of this same bias — I firmly believe that Linkin Park lost its balls about three albums ago, and new Muse sucks compared to old Muse.

But I have to admit, evolution of style can be a good thing. Often it is. Bands who make the same exact music (I’m looking at you, Breaking Benjamin) offer consistency … with a side order of boredom.

I want to recognize my favorite bands as they move through their discography, but I also want them to grow up into mature, creative producers of content.

I’ve had the rare opportunity to watch a group of my friends launch a band and keep it going. Over the past decade, I’ve seen The Fire Tonight grow from a couple college friends playing tunes to one of the Southeast’s most interesting live acts.

One of the band's earliest tour posters. I think this was 2006. Maybe 2007.
One of the band’s earliest tour posters, back when they were still called the Collin Derrick Band. I think this was 2006. Maybe 2007. Incidentally, this is one of my designs. Photography by Albert Speer.

Some bands take a while to find their perfect groove, and many don’t survive the process of changing members, switching styles, or moving to different cities. The Fire Tonight have done all three, moving toward music that’s a blast to listen to live or recorded, and also full of musical depth and genre diversity.

The Fire Tonight playing a show in 2014. Left to right: Collin Derrick, Stephen Russ, Jesse James
The Fire Tonight playing a show in 2014. Left to right: Collin Derrick, Stephen Russ, Jesse James

I’ve watched them wrestle through the really hard parts of creativity production: balancing touring with relationships; finding the resources to keep things going; reinventing their sound as they grew out of it; experimenting with business models that can be sustainable and genuine. And what’s been really interesting to me is their growth toward music that’s flavored with equal parts rock, pop, progressive and jazz.  As the band says of themselves, they “have a vision that all kinds of music should work together to make life better, especially when that music is supported by a solid foundation of rock.”

The creative process for songwriting flows among and around the band mates; a snippet of an idea recorded onto one guy’s iPhone on his morning commute might wend its way through email discussions into the collaborative engine of a rehearsal, storming its way toward a song that pops into a live concert lineup in a month or day. Or not.

Collaboration has become part of the band’s DNA. In fact, their last album was one huge party of collaboration with over two dozen musicians and friends lending their talents to the tracks.  Give it a listen:

In a world where music feels overly-produced and controlled by the time it hits any radio station, it’s nice to find musicians working together across time and space (yay! Internet!) to make music that’s both challenging and lovely.

You can hear TFT play live this weekend in Greenville at The Radio Room on Friday and in Atlanta at The Highlander on Saturday.

If you’re looking for a fun playlist this President’s Day, how about this one inspired by The Fire Tonight:


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