Analogue Music | Five Iron Frenzy

Five Iron Frenzy

By Sam Edgin

Andy Verdecchio has spent upwards of 25 years as the drummer for Denver ska/punk outfit Five Iron Frenzy.

Although life and jobs and families have spread the years between releases, Five Iron Frenzy has grown almost in parallel with the fans who loved them first as the scrappy Christian rockers who sang about oppressed peoples and pants, school shootings and long-lost combs.

Now FIF and their fans are adults whose opinions on the culture they spawned from are complex and weighed down with plenty of baggage. But a few things yet remain: they still care about all that is good in the world, and they love punk rock with horns.

Analogue: First off, I was kind of curious what it's like getting together with these people that you've known for over 20 years to make an album like this. Do you normally see people from the band often?

Andy: Late ’94 maybe? The first show was August of ’95.

Analogue: So, 25 years.

Andy: It’s pretty noteworthy that the eight of us have been friends for all of this time. I should say nine of us, because Keith is not in the band, but I’m still friends with him. I just talked to him over text a couple of days ago. A lot of bands don’t remain friends on the road, and I think it helps that there's eight of us. If you have a battle with this person, you can go hang out with this other person; but we never let it get to the point where we want to say, 'I hate you. I never wanna see you again' or that kind of thing.

Analogue: How did that factor into making an album during the pandemic?

Andy: Well, I mean it's easier to do something difficult with people that you like. It definitely wasn't an easy task to make this record over this period of time, but [the pandemic] simultaneously made it possible for us to make a record. Does that make sense?

We were already working on the songs, but when COVID happened, a lot of people were furloughed and obviously nobody was going out and doing things. My wife and I are building a salon and it was supposed to be open and functional a year ago and it's just now getting into construction. So we had all this stuff we had to do and now it's all been pushed on the back burner because of COVID. It just gave us the time and space to work on a record and make it really good.

"Because we were so immersed in the evangelical community while not really being evangelicals ourselves, we've always felt it was our responsibility to challenge those ways of thinking."

Analogue: In some interviews with other members of the band after the release of the new album, one thing that seems like a constant is that this is one of your favorite albums, collectively, and maybe your best album ever. Why do you think that that is?

Andy: Stylistically I like it a lot. I really dove into the two-tone ska, dub and reggae stuff. I was really stoked when Scott started sending out demos because they were all very two-tone vibe, very reggae-vibe stuff and I think we were able to blend the Five Iron flavor with that style of music really well. I think both of those styles complemented each other.

Analogue: It seems like this album is a return to the more traditional ska sound than a lot of the songs on some of your more recent albums, like Engine of a Million Plots, which is more distinctively rock-like.

Andy: Yeah, I was getting really burnt out on the fast punk stuff and the hyper-energy ska stuff that we've done in the past. Maybe it's just 'cause I'm older now and I want to relax and chill out and I don't want to get up and dance and skank or get in the pit. I have old bones now.

You know, two-tone ska and traditional ska was where my head was; and the fact that my head was already there, and Scott was sending out these demos that fit that. When we first started working on this album, we were sending those demos to a DropBox folder. We would listen to them and decide, 'Well, this is good idea, and this here isn’t.' A lot of the songs sound very different from the original demos, and all of the songs are sort of an amalgamation of all of the demos. This part may have gone to that song and that part may have gone over to this song.

The intro to “While Supplies Last” is a good example. It was originally much longer, and when we sent it out to Jeremy, who mixed the record and engineered the vocal portion, he said we just need to cut the too-drawn out stuff and get down to brass tacks. And it’s great that way.

Analogue: Who influenced you going into making this album?

Andy: I was listening to a lot of The Skimps. I love that band. They’re a U.K. reggae band, and if you have a chance, you should check them out. A lot of Desmond Dekker, Buju Banton, Toots and the Maytals, a lot of early Bob Marley. As far as drummers go: Art Blakey, Mickey Roker, Stewart Copeland. They’re all jazz drummers. Stewart Copeland has always been a big influence on me, but definitely on this album in particular.

'Until This Shakes Apart'
'Until This Shakes Apart'

I did go to a lot of YouTube channels and reference a lot of reggae drummers. There's one channel where the guy just calls himself Reggae Drummer. He's amazing. Reggae is all about feel. It's gotta feel right.

I also have to mention Bernard Purdie, because I’m basically doing a hybrid of the Purdie Shuffle on “While Supplies Last.” There's a YouTube clip where he's talking about the Purdie Shuffle, and even if you're not a drummer, it's entertaining to watch. I referenced that single video a lot working on that song.

Analogue: You’ve been doing this for a long time, and it sounds like you and the rest of Five Iron are always seeking to do something better than what you’ve done before. Is this something that you as a band reflect on or just you personally?

Andy: Yeah, I'm about halfway through making this album I decided I'm going to practice for an hour a day for 100 days straight. I'm about halfway through that right now. I always want to get better and there's always areas that you can improve on.

I'm not on social media anymore, but someone sent me a tweet that said “Five Iron Frenzy never makes the same album twice.” That's kinda true. We really try to branch out and make sure that we are keeping it interesting not only for our fans but for ourselves. We play music because we love it. It’s great that the fans love it too, but what it comes down to is that we make music for us.

I think the lyrical content on this record has brought a lot of people in. I think there we were sort of branded as this Christian band, but personally I don't believe in Christianity as the answer to all life's problems. Reese is still a Christian and he’s my best friend. Brad? Also, still my best friend. Still Christian. but I think that people conflate Christianity with evangelicalism. There was a time when we sort of fell into that evangelical trap, musically, because we were plugged into that scene. But, now that we're free of that scene we can be ourselves a little more. I mean, we’ve always sort of swung to the left.

Analogue: It’s interesting you bring that up. Five Iron Frenzy has had kind of a prophetic constancy through your discography. I mean, the very first song on your first album was "The Old West," which was about the horrors of Westward expansion.

Andy: About Native American genocide.

Analogue: Yeah. There's no hiding the way that you all feel towards people who are oppressed or your opinions on militarism or the dangers of violence. And this is a path you can map through all of your albums.

Andy: But all the way up to The End is Near, we were on a Christian label. We had that stigma of people automatically thinking that we were Audio Adrenaline or DC Talk but we've never really been that. We've always been challenging those [paradigms]. Meanwhile [people will say] you can't criticize religion, but you can. You can criticize any group of ideas. It doesn't mean that the whole is wrong or that belief is wrong; it just means that these specific tenets of that religion we take issue with. Because we were so immersed in the evangelical community while not really being evangelicals ourselves, we've always felt it was our responsibility to challenge those ways of thinking.

Analogue: That seems pretty obvious on this record. It starts off with “In Through the Out Door,” which rips right to the heart of the situation. Then you have songs like “Tyrannis” and especially “While Supplies Last.” I’ve read in a couple of other interviews that “While Supplies Last” was a difficult song for you all to write. Do you feel that way?

Andy: In fact, on "Tyrannis" we backed down a little bit. We brought it down because it was really aggressive at first. Reese tweaked a couple things because we want the conversation to happen. We don't expect everyone to go along with us on every single thing, but if our fans are talking about this record and talking about these issues—and especially if people are pissed off—then we've definitely done our job.

Analogue: Do you or the band spend time dwelling on what kind of legacy, if any, Five Iron has? You were this Christian band and you have all of these former youth group kids love you. You’ve become almost this strange constant where even if someone has left evangelicalism, you all are something that they reflect on fondly. How does that make you feel?

Andy: It makes me feel great. It means that not just Christians are listening to our music. You have to remember that all of these youth group kids grew up with us. If you listen from track one of Upbeats and Beatdowns to track 13 of Until This Shakes Apart, you see the evolution of our band. We've always sort of challenged ourselves.

I hesitate to speak for Reese, but I feel like he would agree with me on this: He wants to be an example of Christ, right? Well for him, an example of Christ means loving the people that the church hates. “Under Bridges” on the Brave Saint Saturn record is about homeless people and caring for them the way that Reese perceives is Christ-like.

"You don't spend eight years in a small, confined space with eight people and not learn to love each and every single one of them, for their flaws and their strengths."

I feel that on this record in particular, we aren’t fully evolved as a band. We will always change. One of the problems that that we didn't get to tackle on this record, but I wish we would have is the whole cancel culture thing. I feel like it leaves no room for redemption. Oh you fucked up? We're done with you completely forever and ever. Right? As opposed to: you fucked up? Then you need to fix this and change your behavior.

You have to learn a little bit of grace and forgiveness for people. Now that is a very Christian ideal. Forgiveness and redemption? But it’s not only Christian. There are many cultures that have forgiveness, redemption, and recovery. There are things that we've said on past records that make us cringe, but we were kids.

Analogue: I've always been interested in the dynamism of community, and I think that it's not much of a stretch to call your experience with Five Iron a “community.” You mentioned earlier that there are several people in the band who still profess faith, while you don’t. How does this play out in your small community?

Andy: I mean, community is important. You don't spend eight years in a small, confined space with eight people and not learn to love each and every single one of them, for their flaws and their strengths.

Analogue: Sounds like a marriage.

Andy: It really is like a marriage. Fortunately, we've all evolved together. We all have our own separate lives, but we will be forever connected. Keith as well, even though he’s not in the band anymore. And not just us, even people like Masaki [Liu], who recorded most of our catalog, and Jeremy [Griffith, producer] is an extension of that. These are people that we love and care about consider them to be part of our community.

VISIT: Five Iron Frenzy