Monday, October 18, 2010

To Light A Fire

Birmingham’s melodic alternative rock quintet, To Light A Fire, began when vocalist/keyboardist Ben Smolin and guitarist Tyler Cody started playing music together their senior year of high school. “We eventually got everyone together. I was dating Allison (drummer/vocalist) and she started singing harmonies in the group and started playing drums and keys,” Smolin said.

Bassist Shane Cardinal and guitarist Andrew Flickinger rounded up the final lineup. The band started to practice regularly and seek out shows in local venues, finding audiences in coffeehouses, and then eventually expanding to The Nick, Bottletree, and Workplay.

Smolin chose the name To Light A Fire as a metaphor for what the music creates in both the listener and the musicians themselves. “The idea was that when you hear a song out of a person that you really like, it’s usually because you relate to that and feel an emotion inside..reminds you of breaking up, reminds you of something you feel.”

The group cites a diverse range of influences such as U2, Radiohead, Tool, Slash, and Our Lady Peace. Cardinal hails from New Orleans and Smolin says that Cardinal’s vast knowledge of all things musical and melodic heavily influenced the band’s sound in the early months. “A lot of the stuff I listen to is stuff he gave to me. Like when he joined the band, we were like, ‘You should give us some of the stuff you listen to.’ And he literally brought down a stack of 15 CD’s and gave them to me,” Smolin said. “And he did that every single practice. He definitely brings uniqueness to the group.”

Lyrics and music are almost always written together during practice. The band emphasizes the idea that every instrument has its own voice and carries and complements the song in an unique way. Smolin often writes lyrics on the spot to go along with the emotion being exhibited in the music. “I guess a lot of themes that come out are personal, definitely religious, God, struggling with all that. I guess that’s probably been some of the main themes. I like to think that a lot of the lyrics apply to everyone in the band because I really do emotions from what Tyler is playing with his notes and the beat that Allison’s doing,” he said.

“That’s the majority of it and the rest he’ll take and make stories, fictional stories of someone we have no relation to or haven’t experienced yet. “Take Your Time” and “World War 2” are basically stories. “World War 2” is coming from the perspective of someone in World War 2 and he’s really good at putting himself in these places; singing to where we all can relate to it somehow,” Flickinger added.

So far, the band has released two recordings, 2009’s To Light A Fire EP and 2010’s Inward Dwelling, recorded by local producer Joseph McQueen of Dos Amigos Recordings. While the majority of the songs of TLAF were written solely by Cody and Smolin, Inward Dwelling represents a more collaborative effort. “In a five person band, we’d each come in with ideas but you have to see it as a group thing. You can’t think of your part as the most important. And it wasn’t that any of us were arrogant or trying to be selfish; it was just this idea of learning to play,” Smolin said.

“For me personally, it was an enormous jump between the first and second CD’s. I made my own name in the band and I was able to make my voice heard. And that was the big difference for me, putting my emotions into it. We’re still learning about what our style is and it changes all the time,” Flickinger said.

As far as live shows go, the band has started packing up the trailer and hitting some out-of-state gigs on the weekends. However, finding their niche was a difficult task in the beginning. Smolin said he would find plenty of venues, but the band would almost always end up on a bill with hardcore and screamo acts, a problem pop-punkers Saves the Day had to deal with early in their career. This time around, he hopes to do things differently. The band has shows lined up in Birmingham, Mobile, Nashville, Atlanta, and Athens.

Ultimately, the band hopes to develop a following along with achieving a sense of longevity. “Even if we have an awesome tour and we quit our jobs, we don’t want to be that one band that has a successful hit and then dies. Even if we were set for life and that’d be awesome, but what we really want to do is to keep playing music. Take a band like U2. One of the reasons I respect them is that they’re not doing a reunion tour where they’re playing their old hits for the 50th time. They’re creating new music and even at 30 years, they’re still enjoying each other’s company,” Smolin said.

“They’re a family and that’s what we are. We really are a family and we’ve been through a lot together. Not one of us is going to walk out on this project,” Cody added.

“We’ve almost got enough new material for another album and it’s gonna be completely different from the last one because we learned more about how to play with each other. Out of all the weird styles, we’re learning to bring it together as our own and we’re learning our own style,” Flickinger said.

Check out the band at or become a fan on Facebook.