Local act SUZE release new album Sounds from Thursday Evening
Somewhere deep within the bowels of a warehouse in Pittston — surrounded by floral supplies: foam, fake flowers, accents, vases, and assorted ephemera — lead singer and guitarist Adam McKinley of SUZE turns to make a point. “I’m really glad we’ve got a chance to talk to everyone in the band. Usually I feel like I’m just talking and they never get a chance to chime in.” A minute or two and a few twists and turns past even more endless rows of merchandise and it becomes clear why it’s important to hear from the rest of the guys. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of jabs and in-jokes at times, but eventually photographer Keith Perks corrals the five-piece band together for long enough to snap a few shots. Later, they undergo some serious discussion of cigarette-smoking in front of a “No Smoking” sign before judiciously heaping some flak on drummer Kevin Gallagher for breaking the previously agreed-upon “cigs-in-mouths” composition for the photo.
While it’s obvious these guys like to enjoy themselves and joke around, things turn way more serious when music comes up. SUZE began in 2007 when friends Adam McKinley and Brandin Shaffern (bass) started jamming with mutual friend Chris Bednar. One night, after filling in a quick set at a benefit show, Shaffern and McKinley were at a bar. McKinley began to talk about forming a band. As it turned out, Gallagher was in the same bar. “I was looking to jam with people, and I happened to be sitting a couple stools down from Adam,” he says. “Our mutual friend — Alan Peterson — heard McKinley talking about how he needed a drummer, so he just said ‘talk to this guy.’” A few beers later, and things began to develop from there.
“Chris and his wife were having a baby, so he decided he needed to spend more time with family,” says McKinley. “We only had a couple of original songs at that point, and in the fall of 2009 we added Adam Gabriel on lead guitar.” Like many of the SUZE stories, it was a pretty casual introduction: more mutual friends, and quick compatibility. “It was a very rigid audition,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “I think I just played and we said ‘alright!’”
The next addition to the band’s history starts when a series of laughter erupts over Gabriel breaking an ankle on his birthday. “We had a show the very next night, and obviously he couldn’t play,” recalls McKinley. “I had known Angelo [Miraglia] for about 15 years, and at the time I didn’t play any lead guitar parts. It would have been a pretty boring show without any kind of lead, so I asked him to just fill in and play some keyboard solos over the songs.”
With a full five-piece lineup, SUZE finally took its modern incarnation. “Once those two guys joined, the whole dynamic changed for the better,” says Shaffern.
“Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but…” jokes Gabriel. Even a ‘serious’ discussion with these guys is punctuated by the occasional ribbing.
With the full lineup, though, SUZE began to transition from mostly cover songs to original material. “We played a lot of covers,” says Shaffern, “but a lot of it was stuff people don’t really know – more or less jam bands, but not the obvious choices.” McKinley adds, “Like I always said, if you’re going to cover Cream, don’t cover ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ you know? Do something else, that’s the way we looked at it. We’ve done an eclectic mix; we’ve even covered Wu-Tang Clan before.”
What started as a few friends jamming and playing an odd show or two had turned into something more. The band’s first album, When the World is Not Enough, resulted from the natural progression as SUZE developed more original material. “We didn’t even have a full album’s worth of material when we started recording,” says Gabriel. SUZE entered McCrindle Building Recording Studios with the intention of laying down tracks while writing new material.
“We weren’t experienced at that point, we thought ‘oh, five songs will take us forever,’” says McKinley. “We weren’t going in very often to record, so we figured we’d have enough time.” That time turned into two years of sporadic recording sessions, during which the band continued to write more material. From there it was a matter of promoting and playing more shows.
“Just having an album, something we could give to people, opened up some doors,” says Gallagher. “That’s when we started developing a fanbase. Before that it was like, ‘Hey, you guys rock! Where can we get more?’ and we had to say, ‘Uh, I dunno, look us up on MySpace or something I guess…’” Naturally, there’s a pause for laughter and reflection on old technology.
“One of our goals was go get into the River Street Jazz Cafe,” says Shaffern. “It’s one of the essential places to play original music around here, especially for our style.” The earlier days of playing mostly covers paid off when fans stuck around as the band transitioned to original music. At first, a few original songs weren’t enough to fill an entire setlist, but gradually the tide turned as the band’s output increased with additional contributions to the writing.
“Over time, we shed away a lot of covers and replaced them with more writing,” says Gallagher. “Adam [McKinley] does most of the writing, but we now have additional contribution, so it adds some variety. For example [Miraglia’s] songs have a much different structure from [McKinley’s]. And [Gabriel’s] songs are much different from either of those.” Immediately, everyone chimes in to make one point definite: writing in this band is a democracy. Everything is up for discussion, and while individual passions flare, ultimately the best sound wins out.
The conversation begins to border on the too-serious side, but comes to a grinding halt when too many “Adams” are thrown around. Reassurances are issued that editors are magical, and things continue.
The short story says McKinley writes lyrics and does much of the arrangement. Members of the band generate ideas — Miraglia might present a series of sketches, Gabriel may throw some riffs together, Shaffern comes up with a bassline, Gallagher gets an idea for a drum fill — and SUZE comes together enjoying making music.
Things have moved much more quickly for SUZE since the first album was released. With an increase of creative output during the lengthy recording process, it was less than a year before they began work on Sounds from Thursday Evening. For the second album, entering the studio was much more streamlined. “We learned a lot from the first album, how to work in the studio,” says Shaffern. “We got organized. We got focused.”
McKinley adds, “The first time – you go into the studio, you’re like 26 years old and you don’t really know anything, and then all of a sudden you’re in this professional environment. We had to write stuff on the fly, coming up with new arrangements. Honestly, before that we hadn’t even heard ourselves on a recording. You hear everything, hear yourself breathe.”
Miraglia pipes up, “You can even hear the drummer singing along…” and again the guys detour for a moment into some good-natured ball-busting. At some point, Shaffern describes the process as “A Rush” and the rest insist on that as the headline for the story.
The latest recording experience also gave SUZE the opportunity to add another dimension with the studio work of Carl Krupa adding saxophone and flute parts to six the tracks. “When the horns get involved, the whole mood of the song changes, and that was something of an epiphany for some of them. We didn’t even really know what we wanted, and he would just create great ideas on the fly,” says McKinley. While SUZE won’t be adding a regular woodwind instrumentalist to the lineup, Krupa will appear with the band for the album release show.
“All I have to say,” says Miraglia, “is that the flute on [album-closer] ‘Fall of the King’ – it transforms the whole song. It’s like magic.”
SUZE has continued to build a portfolio of material, but there aren’t immediate plans to rush back into the studio. “Last time there were a few songs here and there that we could have worked into the album, but they weren’t quite ready,” says Gallagher. “Same thing this time, they might not have fit, but with some development they can work for the future, it’s nice to have them in your pocket.”
After the band’s album release show at the River St. Jazz Cafe Friday, they’ll play a mirror show at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, which the band refers to as a “home away from home.” Other notable upcoming appearances an in-store release at Gallery of Sound on March 12 and a set on PA Live on March 24. McKinley rattles off a quick list of shows that will take SUZE throughout the region and as far south as Maryland. “We have a lot of stuff lined up, a lot of dates still to be announced, so we’ve got a full plate, and get the music in front of more people,” he says.
“As a product, this album is just leaps and bounds beyond our first one,” adds Gilbert. “We really just took it to the next level. We’ve got a mix of some new venues, some places we’ve played for a while, so the future is looking good.”
The excitement of opening a new chapter flows through this group, and it’s easy to share the enthusiasm – these guys are having a blast, and making music they love.
“We’re putting out music that we want to put out,” says Shaffern. “Some people may not like it, and that’s fine. We’re not targeting any sort of specific fanbase.”
“I think we’re eclectic when it comes to that,” says Gilbert. “We’ll have as many people our age, and people 20 and 30 years older than us getting down, you know? We work really hard at it.”
“We’re not just there to party, we want to put on a good show for people, and show people that we’re serious about this, and not just some party band that’s making extra cash on the weekend,” says McKinley.
There’s a moment of reflection and agreement on this, and it looks like we’re about to close on one of those rare serious notes.
“I would like to add, however,” interjects Miraglia, “that we can party.”
Laughter ensues, and it’s a fine way to sum these guys up.
— tucker hottes
IF YOU GO:
SUZE Sounds from Thursday Evening
album release party.
River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains
Friday, March 7, doors 8 p.m.
$5 at the door. 21 and older.
Grateful Art in The Electric City
We caught up with The Grateful Gallery’s John Warner about his upcoming appearance at The Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, on Friday, March 7 as part of Susquehanna Breakdown’s Fee Free event. The night will feature selected works from The Grateful Gallery, as well as live music from The Kalob Griffin Band and The Tom Graham and Bill Orner Duo.
Give us a little background on your work.
I work primarily in the music business creating concert posters for bands like The Allman Brothers, Further, Phil Lesh & Friends, moe., Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes to name a few. I’ve also created artwork for festivals like Lockn’, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. In addition to posters, I design T-shirts and other band merchandise. I also work locally with Cabinet and this upcoming festival – the Susquehanna Breakdown.
How did you get involved in the business?
I’m originally from Binghamton, N.Y., not far from this area. As a kid, I was a huge fan of album artwork and it was my objective from a young age to become a professional artist. I started seeing the Grateful Dead, Phish and other jam bands in high school and I fell in love with the scene. I started making fan art back then in the ‘90s, selling my T-shirts in the parking lots at shows. I moved to California in 1990 and followed several Grateful Dead and Phish tours. At the same time, I was developing my design business, working with local bands and clubs. After a while, my art just kind of got noticed, my client list grew and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. I always prioritized developing good working relationships with the bands and have been designing for some of my clients for five, 10, 15 years now. In addition to artwork, I’ve worked on the business side of the music industry by booking bands, promoting shows and so on. In 2004, I moved to Austin, Texas to focus on developing my graphic design business, and at the same time I started managing a bar and booking shows there. I created the artwork for the shows and did promotion too. In 2007, I moved back to the Northeast and continued developing my design business with some great new clients like Citizen Cope. I met Cabinet in 2008 and booked them at a festival I was producing and promoting — the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival — which was in its second year in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since, and I am thrilled to design posters and other artwork for them.
You’re not “just” a full-time artist, then?
Oh, no — I work on the production side too. I work with Bill Orner who is the lead promoter for the Susquehanna Breakdown. I’ve helped with the nuts and bolts of the festival like layout and attractions. I also coordinate vending for a few music festivals.
How did you get involved with Susquehanna Breakdown?
In January 2013, Orner called me up and said “LiveNation is giving us the opportunity to host a festival at Montage Mountain.” He knew I had worked with Mountain Jam, Peach and other festivals and that I had some experience. He wanted to know if I would come on board to give a hand and we’d see what happens. I love Cabinet and it has been really awesome to see their success and growth over the years, so naturally I said “absolutely, anything I can do to help.” Initially, the festival was supposed to be outside by the front entrance to the venue. We had some bad luck with the weather, which turned into good luck, because they moved us all under the big Pavilion tent. I really don’t think it would have been the same if we hadn’t moved it under the Pavilion. It just added such a special vibe to an already great event. It was dumb luck that we wound up underneath the tent, but it totally transformed the look and feel of the whole thing. In the first year, despite bad weather, we put on a show that looked like a legit, real, big event.
Everything went really well, and it was pretty much an automatic decision that day that we were going to do this again. So Orner usually takes care of all the booking, ticketing, promotion and organization there, and I fill in the gap by coordinating food and craft vendors, sponsorships, that kind of stuff. This year the lineup just speaks for itself — it’s fantastic. We really have some great talent this year and we’re really looking forward to it.
It’s great to showcase local talent on a stage that houses giant national acts.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. I’m originally from the region — I love the area. My mom lives in Susquehanna County and there’s just so much local talent around here that I think all too often gets passed over. There’s the proximity between NYC and Philly, so we get overlooked, but I think our region is ready to get put on the map in a big way. I know there are a lot of people in this area who just have no idea that so much great music is in their back yard! The other day, I was checking out the Facebook page for Montage Mountain, and somebody posted “What’s with Montage Mountain booking these festivals with bands nobody’s ever heard of?” This is a good thing! This year’s lineup for Susquehanna Breakdown is amazing year with both local talent and nationally touring artists. I recommend skeptics come up to the show to check it out, because they’ll walk away thinking “wow, these bands are really good!”
It shows the strength of the local scene that we can support a main stage show with local acts.
Well, that’s the thing — last year could have been a huge failure and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have come back. It gives me a feeling of pride that so many people came out to support Cabinet and the local scene, and the whole thing was a success. This year, I’m really hoping that we get a wider variety of the community to come up — those who aren’t necessarily Cabinet fans, friends and family, but people who just heard about the festival and thought it sounded pretty cool.
What’s going on Friday at The Backyard Alehouse?
A night of music by Susquehanna Breakdown artists The Kalob Griffin Band and Tom Graham, along with a chance to buy festival tickets with no service charge. (Ticket prices are $20 GA and $55 VIP.) I’m going to be there with a gallery of my artwork as part of a sneak preview of the Grateful Gallery concert poster and photography show that I bring to music festivals throughout the summer. I’ll also have some posters from Mike Dubois, another Grateful Gallery artist, and there’s a chance we’ll have a special guest and some other surprises. These gallery shows are a great opportunity to pick up a poster from a favorite band or a show you attended.
What can we look forward to at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown?
In addition to the music, we also have a great variety of vendors and artisans this year. We have some of the best vendors in the country, like handmade apparel, accessories and artwork from the non profit Eden’s Rose Foundation; organic cotton and bamboo clothing from Hooked Productions; hand-painted ornaments made from recycled Christmas trees from our local favorite S.A.W. Family Creations; and Uncle John’s Outfitters, which is my own family business. We also have a couple of the best food vendors joining us — the Gouda Boys have an out-of-this-world menu and we are happy to have our local favorites Shady Grove Wraps. We’ve got some new stuff coming in like a children’s drum workshop from Everyone’s Drumming. There’s going to be something for everyone. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be able to help bring this kind of event into my backyard.
— tucker hottes
Up Close & Personal
Let There Be Snow
Surrounded by snow in sub-freezing temperatures outside the lodge at Montage Mountain, it’s easy to forget that the summer’s Lazy River attraction is buried nearly eight feet below. With only a few inches of natural snow on the ground outside the boundaries of the ski area, it’s a testament to the snowmaking staff that it’s so easy to take all the snow for granted. If you camped on the mountain for Peach Festival and hit the slopes, you’ve skied or boarded in the air over your tent. Brian Rotherforth, director of snowmaking, has been making snow for 15 years, ensuring locals and visitors have plenty of white terrain to enjoy in the winter, even when the weather conditions are less than ideal. Without man-made snow, skiing in this area would be sketchy at best, so those of us who enjoy hitting the slopes owe a debt of gratitude to the intrepid people who do what Mother Nature can’t. Snowmaking at Montage Mountain seems deceptively simple: pipe water from a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain through a main pipeline about a mile long, distribute it through another couple miles of pipes and hoses and point a snow gun. The ‘artificial’ snow is just water and air (no chemicals), but it’s a process that seems easier than it should be and is harder in practice than it sounds. Brian cleared up some misconceptions and gave us some fun facts.
How long have you been making snow?
I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I love to ski, and was looking for a job. I was like, “Hey, free skiing, I don’t mind snow, I don’t mind the cold.” I don’t really ski anymore — I do, but not as much. When I get a day off, this is the last place I want to be sometimes, you know? But you get a lot of gratification out of the job. You start with nothing, and then a week or two later the mountain is open and you have people enjoying it.
What does it take to get things running each year?
You’ve seen the mountain in the summer — it’s all grass — so we’ll start off in early November if temperatures start to get low enough. We have a pump house that pumps 6,000 gallons per minute of water a mile up the mountain. To the top, we’re pumping about 4,000 gallons a minute. We’ll start with a base of wetter, heavier snow, but in general if it’s white, it’s good; that’s what we shoot for at that point in the season. Anything we can get on the ground to get us open is good. From there, we focus on a few main trails. We try to get a few beginner, intermediate and expert slopes covered. We try to cater to everyone to open the mountain. Then we focus on other things like our tubing, because anybody can go snow tubing. Our goal is to be 100 percent open for Christmas. It doesn’t always happen — Mother Nature doesn’t always work with you — but once we get trails open and it starts to get colder, we can make more snow. Twenty-eight degrees is our starting temperature where we can make snow; you’re not making a lot of snow at that point, but when the temperature drops you can add more water to each gun, which creates more snow.
So all the snow guns are connected? How does it work?
The main line runs up the mountain, a mile bottom to top. Every trail has its own line — it’s about seven miles of pipeline that disperses water to each of our trails. Each gun runs on 480 volts of electricity, and we feed in high-pressure water. At the pump house we’re pumping 750 psi, but by the time it travels, you’re at about 350-400 psi at the gun. They use high pressure air from onboard air compressors, and the water and air flow through small nozzles. You put your high pressure water to your gun and the air breaks those particles up so small, and pushes them up in the air. Then a fan blows it all out, and it breaks the particles up more, and your air and water mixture, and that’s pretty much what makes snow. The water isn’t chilled; we pump out of a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain which is spring-fed, so it’s pretty cold to start with. When we start in November, our water is around 40-45 degrees. Right now if we were to make snow, our water is right around 32 degrees. It cools pretty quickly. We don’t use any chemicals — everybody asks ‘what are you adding to your snow?’ There’s nothing, it’s just high-pressure, cold water that freezes when it hits the air. You go outside these days when it’s below zero and spray your hose — you’re going to make snow.
Is it easier when it’s colder like it’s been lately?
It’s easier, but it’s harder on the guys working. You’re working against the elements. You’ve got running water in below-zero temperatures, so things freeze, things break. It makes it a lot harder when it’s colder, but you do make a lot more snow. You have to watch for things freezing up and make sure you have good flow through everything, and it gets a little dicey.
We usually run two shifts of about eight to nine workers per shift. I have to give the credit to all my guys: they’re the ones who are out there doing it all. I’m out there with them, but they do the bulk of the work. They’re the ones dragging the hoses, digging the hoses out, setting everything up. The credit definitely goes to them. They’re out there all night, and two weeks ago it was 12 below zero. The actual temperature with 20 mph winds… I don’t know what that adds up to for a wind chill, but it’s cold. You’ll have guys call over the radio asking what the temperature is, and when it’s that cold, you just say ‘it’s cold enough.’
What is the equipment like?
We have three different styles of snow guns, they’re all made by SMI Snow Makers out of Michigan. We have 50 of their Super PoleCat, which is their biggest gun. We have around 80 of the Standard PoleCat, and then we have about 35 of their Viking gun. They all make a little different quality of snow, but basically they all do the same job, which is getting the trails open and maintaining trails once they’re open. All the Super PoleCats are on our north face, our steeper terrain where you want more powder and where you want to keep your conditions top-notch. The bigger guns put out more water and more snow. The Standard PoleCats are basically the same, with less water flow, but they still put out a ton of snow. You can see that 30 foot pile of snow there from one gun right outside the lodge. We try not to make big piles, because once we have the trails open, the groomers come along and they push the snow around where it needs to be. We try to keep it in the middle, but the wind doesn’t always cooperate with you. Every gun has an oscillator, so the barrel will rotate back and forth 270 degrees, so that helps. You can also make a little pile, move the gun, and spread it out a little at a time. Right outside the lodge, we just cover our whole water park. You’re on like eight feet of snow on top of the Lazy River. There’s a lot of snow here — a real lot of snow.
How does natural snow factor in?
We’ve had around 20-30 inches of natural snowfall. It does help us, but when you get three or four inches of snow at a ski resort, it doesn’t really do much. It gets skied off, and when the groomers go over and run their tiller over it, it might be 1/4 inch. But when you get natural snow down in the valley, people look out their doors and say ‘hey, it snowed out, let’s go to Montage and ski!’ So it gets the people in the mood, so it definitely helps.
Natural precipitation affects the water supply, though?
We were a little low early in the season – it was a really dry fall. We watch the weather constantly, I’m on my phone every 20 minutes looking at weather to see what it’s doing out. We also have weather stations around the mountain that I can monitor from my office. But it was so dry in the fall, we got pretty low on our reservoir — you keep your eye on that. At that point, you say ‘OK, the mountain is 100 percent open, let’s shut down (snowmaking) for a couple of days, we’re covered.’ The weather affects things a lot. In December, we had pretty much the whole mountain covered. Then it rained and shot up to 60 degrees for four days, so that’s when the snowmakers come back in and work their magic. We have the capability to do it, and we did a pretty good job with it. You get the mountain back in a day or two, temperature permitting.
What happens once the mountain is open?
We keep it up. We have tower guns on every single trail now. There are spots where we have mobile carriage guns that we move around where we need. You’ve got to make connections, you always need snow at the bottom and top of the lift. So we move those around as we need to. We’re able to move right across the mountain and make snow as we go. There will be trails where we focus, like up here on Mainline — we can make snow over on Highball. Not as much, but there’s enough to put down. Then once that’s open, you can move the water somewhere else. We try to get a top-to-bottom open to start, then cater to everyone: beginner, intermediate, expert right at the beginning of the season. A lot of places can’t do that. The setup of our mountain allows us to open up all different terrain so everyone can enjoy it.
A lot of places claim ‘first to open, last to close,’ but we were 100 percent before anybody else this season. A lot of people were still trying to get to 100 percent two or three weeks ago. We have terrain parks already built – we had two terrain parks built already running early January. All of our north face was open.
How do you build terrain parks and maintain trails?
I’ll work with the terrain park director, and we’ll go out there and he’ll say, ‘I want a jump here, a jump there,’ and I know where I need put piles of snow. But you also have to get the trail open, so sometimes we’ll just open the trail first then go back and do specific areas and blow bigger piles of snow for that.
When you look at the line of trees and see ones that are all white, that’s where the guns are. When you don’t get the right wind, it goes all over. You get it on the trail, but it’s more work for the groomers. They have to move it around more. Snowmaking and grooming are basically like one department, we’ve got to work together. I’ve got to make it and they’ve got to put it in the right places.
— tucker hottes
FIRE IT UP
A FIRE WITH FRIENDS CELEBRATE THE RELEASE OF GHOST HOUSE WITH A SPECIAL SHOW
Something has been swirling in the ether around the area for longer than a year, popping up here and there in front of audiences, and occasionally, alighting to be captured one bit at a time. Now it’s time for the spectre to fully materialize: Ghost House is the third EP from Scranton-based A Fire With Friends. To find out more about the album and its creation, we caught up with Daniel Rosler (vocals/guitar) and John Husosky (bass) during a rehearsal break. The band is finishing up rehearsals for the Ghost House release party this Saturday, Jan. 25 at TwentyFiveEight Studios, 703 N. Washington (Rear), Scranton.
“Ghost House is one of our longest EPs, with the most tracks on it,” said Rossler. “It took a little longer to put together, conceptually. It’s a little moodier, darker.”
Rossler said the album has been in the works for nearly a year and a half, including pauses to restart or refocus the band’s energy and ideas. “I’d rather it take a little longer and have a good product.”
A Fire With Friends also incorporated a different writing approach for Ghost House. “A lot of the times I’ll write a song and then work on it with the band as a collaborative effort,” said Rossler. “So this time we wrote a few songs together, and they came out well.”
The album has a consistent tone and mood, but falls shy of having a particular overarching theme. “I don’t think we necessarily sat down and talked about what we wanted it to sound like,” said Rossler. “We’ve been kind of arranging songs that we thought fit together well conceptually. It isn’t necessarily like a concept album in the specific sense, but the flow is right.”
Recording was a bit of a road show by itself. The band often wrote and recorded material in pieces, but the album did benefit from some marathon creative sessions. “We did a couple weekends out at a studio we rented in Reading,” said Husosky. “We had 24 hour sessions, overnight just writing and writing. One of our friends, Sean Davis, helped us do some pre-production and helped get a whole bunch of ideas down.”
With many of the foundations for Ghost House laid in those early sessions, A Fire With Friends then floated around the area fine-tuning and recording material. Some of the songs were played live at shows around the region, even as they were being recorded at locations like a building in West Scranton converted by the band into a makeshift studio. “It was very scenic tracking, I guess you could say,” Husosky said with a chuckle. “We finally got together all of our bits and pieces and passed them on down to the studio, and they were able to take all that madness and form it into actual tracks.”
The album takes its name from a track written by pianist Chelsea Collins. “Chelsea wrote the song, she had a piano line and ideas,” said Rossler. “I worked on a melody with her and wrote the lyrics, and we worked on it with the band. She wanted to call the track “Ghost House,” and then I think it was [guitarist Brian Errigo] who suggested we call the album Ghost House, and I liked the idea of that.”
As for the actual ‘ghost house’ itself, Collins said it refers to the band’s previous rehearsal space.
“We used to practice and record in an old basement … it was definitely haunted,” she said. “Equipment wouldn’t behave, the settings on the amps would go haywire, things like that.” While the title doesn’t relate particularly to the mostly instrumental track, Collins said the name just stuck.
The band’s plans for the album aren’t finished just yet. While they’ll likely play a few weekend dates in the area, there isn’t a major tour to support Ghost House in the works just yet. First, Rossler says A Fire With Friends be working on a video release for the title track.
“My friend, Jamie Sutor, wants to work with us on a video,” said Rossler, “We’ve got a couple locations in mind and a few ideas. I think we’re going to start shooting in February — we’re letting him have creative control on that.”
Promoting the album is also a priority, said Husosky. “The next step is to get it out there. We’re doing the whole SoundCloud, Facebook, YouTube thing — I wouldn’t mind sending copies to labels the old fashioned way.”
The band is proud of Ghost House and the effort that went into creating it.
“We worked on it so long, we’ll sell it ‘door-to-door’, so to speak,” Husosky said. “The songs speak for themselves; they just need to get out to the right audience to enjoy them. I don’t even think we’re targeting a certain age group or a specific style — we’re just trying to blanket everything we can. I think a lot of people will enjoy it.”
For now, the CD release party is a highlight for the band and marks a milestone in the long production process.
“I’m pumped, I’m really happy to get out there and play,” said Husosky. “And just to get the album out there — we did kind of a little pre-order a while ago, and a couple people pre-ordered it. Every now and then, we’d have people ask ‘when is it actually coming out,’ so it has been kind of a daunting task. It’s great to finally have a product to hand people, something tangible.”
It wouldn’t be a proper celebration without some other friends, and the band is excited to welcome We Were Templars, Shorthand, Esta Coda, and A Social State to share the stage at the show.
“I think it’s the fact that we’re getting such great support from other bands and the community, and to be able to share a stage with everybody,” said Husosky. “A lot of them are close friends; we tried to pick bands that we grew up with.”
“I’m just really, really excited to play with some of my favorite bands in the area and having a nice time,” he said. “It’s something to look forward to, and it’s what we all care about the most: trying to make music a career, playing shows and having fun together. I’m particularly excited to play with some of my best friends’ bands that I think are great.”
— tucker hottes
If you go:
What: A Fire With Friends Ghost House EP release show with We Were Templars, Shorthand, Esta Coda and A Social State.
When: Saturday, Jan. 25, 6 p.m.,
Where: TwentyFiveEight Studios, 703 N. Washington (Rear), Scranton
Information: Visit afirewithfriends.com.
Up Close & Personal
Superheroes and Great Parties
Like any good comic book hero, Matt Mang leads a double life. By day, he’s a mild-mannered manager at Scranton’s Comics on the Green, by night the bassist for Scranton’s up-and-coming pop-rock sensation, The Great Party. We caught up with Matt in between his time behind the counter and his time on stage to find out how he strikes a balance. Meet Matt Mang …
How long have you been into comics?
Like most kids, I got into them pretty young — during my early teens. I was shopping at Comics on the Green when they first opened, and when a certain time came and I needed to leave the job I was working due to scheduling conflicts, owner Dave Romeo said “Why don’t you come start putting in some time here?” It started out as little things here and there, and I eventually started doing more and started getting more responsibilities. It’s a good relationship we have — it’s like working with a good friend. We help each other out. If someone needs time off, we go in for each other. It’s just a good symbiotic relationship we have. Comics on the Green is celebrating our 22nd year in business. I’ve been there for a majority of them. I wasn’t there right from the beginning, but I’ve been there for the better part of it. It’s a great business — people hear comic book store and they have some kind of preconceived notion, especially since The Big Bang Theory has been around, but we do a lot of good business there. To keep us going for 22 years, obviously something good is going on!
Have all the recent comic book movies brought in new customers?
We definitely see a lot more kids coming in looking for Iron Man, Spider-Man and Batman whenever there’s a movie around. And it really helps with the smaller properties, too — not the obvious big comic book movies. Like when Watchmen came out — that was something a lot of people never heard of before, since there was one specific book. So you have people coming in looking just for that one Watchmen book, as opposed to, when they come in looking for Spider-Man, there’s thousands of Spider-Man books and stories. Another smaller one was Scott Pilgrim, which is based on a series of graphic novels. The other big thing is The Walking Dead — it’s been a comic foralmost 10 years now, well pre-dating the show. Walking Dead anything is just huge right now, And again, The Big Bang Theory — we get people coming in saying ‘Oh, this place is just like Big Bang Theory!’ I don’t think we are at all, but that’s just what it reminds some people of. I think it’s also set a new trend, being a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ is more acceptable, or even trendy at this point. People are proud and want to let that shine more now as opposed to earlier when people were quieter about it, or even ashamed of it. Now it’s something that people will even brag about, it’s part of pop culture.
When you’re not slinging comics, what are your musical outlets?
Musically, The Great Party is my main focus right now. I’ve played with a good number of bands since high school. Previous to The Great Party, I was playing with a local cover band, Mr. Echo. Before that I had an original band called The Reigning Toads, which was like a funk-rock-instrumental-fusion kind of weird band. I definitely had my share of diverse bands that I’ve played with. But right now, The Great Party keeps me busy. We’re in the process of finishing up our second CD. We’re finishing recording and we hope to have it out sometime this winter. We are involved with a producer out of Philadelphia who got in touch with us and wanted to work with us. He’s worked with some pretty decent indie bands, so we’re excited about that and seeing what collaborating with him is going to come up with. He’s produced bands like Dr. Dog, Man Man and Floating Action. We were flattered, because they got in touch with us and sought us out and wanted to work with us.
Do you take time out to write music, or is it a more organic process?
We always have new music coming in that we’re trying to work on. We have a lot of snippets of songs that eventually come around. It’s been a year and a half since we put out our first release, so in that time we’ve definitely built up a nice catalog of music that we haven’t recorded. We’re just trying to record everything we have and find what’s going to make the best album out of that. Not necessarily using everything we have, but we’ll pick the best and see what makes the album flow. We’re sort of on a little hiatus from playing — we did a couple higher profile shows in September and October. In September, we had our music video release party for our new music video “Hecho en Mexico.” We did a big release show for that at Twentyfiveeight studios. Around the same time, we also opened up for Hank & Cupcakes, which is a duo out of Brooklyn who are getting some play on MTV. We played the Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces festival in October which was our last show, but we’re thinking about maybe trying to book a holiday show between Christmas and New Year’s. We want to get back out there. You don’t want to go too long without playing a show, but we’re sort of focusing on recording right now and getting that finished.
What’s the writing process like for The Great Party?
We have two people in our band who do the majority of our songwriting. Rose Eastman does most of our vocals (her husband Mike Eastman also does some singing) but she does a lot of our songwriting. She’ll come in with ideas and present them to us. The other person who does a lot of the songwriting is Mike Nordberg, and often he’ll have an idea for something and record it himself, or take something Rose recorded and try to layer other things on it to add more dimension to it or flesh it out into more of a whole song. Then the rest of us all throw in our own ideas, of course, but Mike Nordberg and Rose do the majority of the songwriting for the band. We do all of our recording at Nordberg’s house. He has a nice setup and he does a great job with the engineering and mixing. We’re lucky in that we don’t have to go pay for studio time. It makes things easy for us; we can record stuff whenever we have time to. We’re fortunate to have Nordberg and his knowledge and equipment.
That seems like a pretty full schedule — is there anything else?
I teach as well at Gallucci Music; they’ve been a staple in Scranton for decades. I’ve been teaching there for more than 10 years now. I do mostly bass lessons, but sometimes people come in for theory lessons too. I do occasionally do studio recording as well — get hired to play on other people’s albums. Often it’s at Windmill Agency, Eric Ritter’s studio in Lake Ariel. Sometimes they’ll call me up, and I’ll come in without ever even hearing the music, or even having any idea what genre I’m going to be playing. I’ll hear the song for the first time and have to plunk something down for somebody. It’s always fun and interesting and it keeps you on your toes. Sometimes they have a specific idea for you, sometimes they don’t. They’re looking for someone else’s input or ideas. We always try to get a good balance of what you think it should be and what you think they want.
— tucker hottes