The second half of 2017 has seen FIREBURN burst on to the scene in a big way. Before their “Don’t Stop The Youth” EP was released digitally on July 28th not a lot of information about this 4 piece from Southern California was out there. The band consists of Todd Youth on bass; who has played with many of the greats including Murphy’s Law and Warzone, along with Danzig and even a few dates with Motorhead. Behind the mic is Israel Joseph I who many may remember as the vocalist on the 1993 Bad Brains album “Rise”. On guitar is Todd Jones who also sings and plays guitar for Nails, and Nick Townsend on drums from Deadbeat and Knife Fight. Quite a resume to say the least. Anyway, these Fireburn guys have created quite a buzz in the underground based off this new EP and only a handful of shows on the West Coast and one in NYC back on October 1st which was part of the Raybeez Tribute Show in Tompkins Square Park. Their style is 150% a throwback to the roots of hardcore punk with a definite Bad Brains influence and the results have been met with a truck load of positivity from pretty much across the board. Closed Casket Activities later released the “Don’t Stop The Youth” EP on 12” vinyl in late September. I set up this phone interview with Todd Youth and Israel for November 8th and what I found were two dudes who were just locked in on this Fireburn thing. The vibe was great, and I could just feel the excitement coming off these guys as they told me a lot about this new band that they have helped put together in pretty much a short period of time. I hope that the positive energy and exuberance that was given off by these two flows into the text version that you are about to read as this was a flat out fun interview from a band I am very excited to hear more from.
IE: Right now it is Wednesday night, 11pm my time, 8pm your time out there in LA. If I wasn’t calling you for this interview what do you think you would be doing?
Israel: I am out in Los Angeles, been out here for about 15, 16 years now. I came out right after 9-11 and been doing music. If you hadn’t called I would be doing what I am doing now which is going to the studio. Going in and creating. We all have the work that we do to earn a living but we gotta create as well. We get together and create at night, that’s what we do.
Todd: Usually on Wednesdays at 8 o’clock we are here in the lab working on music.
IE: Todd, in our last interview back in July you briefly touched on this band and in that interview you mentioned that yourself, Nick, and the other Todd (guitar) were already jamming together when Israel was brought into the mix. Was finding Israel and getting him in the band more of a chance meeting or did you kind of have him in mind to be the singer?
Todd: It is funny how I ran into Israel. Darryl (Bad Brains) did this thing for OBEY over the summer and I saw him and I was thinking I have to remember that he is living out here now so when we started putting this together and we were trying to figure out which direction to go in with the music… we had probably 10 songs demoed… Four or five of them turned into Fireburn songs and the rest were kind of more… I don’t want to say generic hardcore… but more in the vein of Negative Approach or early Agnostic Front. I wanted Israel to come in to sing on these demos and just see how it felt. He came in and “Suspect” was the first song he sang and that was all she wrote man.
IE: Israel, when you come into this situation with this band what is going through your head when you actually come into the studio and start jamming with them?
Israel: It’s kind of mystical in a certain way, not something that can be perceived with the five senses. Before I met these guys I was like thinking about for a couple of years now about making a hardcore album. I wanted to make this album that is just raging, and I am feeling this energy. I was making a lot of reggae records because I don’t have the ability to express myself with instruments with the hardcore stuff so I was hoping and putting it out there energetically that something would happen. Todd sent me an email with the music they were working on and I thought to myself, man…. Todd Youth… this guy is a good player… and from the minute I listened to it I understood that this is what I was talking about doing the last few years and what I was looking for for a long time. I heard it and thought “Wow, this is it, whatever this is, this is it”. This is what people need right now and the lyrics just started flowing and flowing and flowing. I feel that we all have a strong spiritual connection which leads to a good set of music that is coming out so far.
FIREBURN @ ALL STAR LANES, LOS ANGELES, CA AUGUST 26, 2017. PHOTO BY: JOE CALIXTO
IE: Todd, how many songs into that first practice with Israel did you think to yourself “this is the guy?”
Todd: I knew within the first 30 seconds of him doing “Suspect”. It was just like “that’s a wrap, you know what I mean?” Then there is also that initial period of getting to know each other musically and me and Israel spent a lot of time in those initial days, the two of us here at the studio just working on stuff. Without trying to sound corny I think that there is a bigger picture here with the four of us who come from such different walks of life have been brought together to do this thing and it obviously has resonated with people. When we dropped this and made the announcement we didn’t know how people were going to react to it. The reaction we have gotten to it has been so positive with so much love coming our way man and I know we are on to something here.
IE: The whole Fireburn thing seemed to come from out of nowhere. Before your label Closed Casket put out some teasers about the band not much was known about Fireburn. The EP was released digitally on July 28th and even after that there weren’t shows right away and there wasn’t much for people who had heard the music to go on.
Todd: We kept everything under wraps until we were ready. In this day and age people all have their Facebook and Instagram, band photos and all this other shit before they even play a lick of music together. I wanted to make sure everything was right and we kept it all under wraps for like 2 months. We had the EP already recorded by then.
IE: When you guys hit the studio to record “Don’t StopThe Youth” how quickly did it all come together? With everyone’s background and abilities I would be surprised if it didn’t flow right away.
Todd: We recorded and mixed that EP in a day over at NRG Studios in North Hollywood. We were well rehearsed. Everybody is more than capable as a musician so we just went in and banged it out. Israel’s vocals for “Jah Jah Children” were done live while we were playing, it all went down live, first take.
IE: You brought up “Jah Jah Children” which has a unique vibe with that reggae bass line. Was a song like this already in the works prior to Israel joining on or did he join and bring up the prospect of a song in this vein?
Israel: Todd is the man. I’m going to tell you right now. Todd told me that he had a wicked reggae bass line and I was like well let me hear it. He played it, and I sat behind the drum kit and he played it again and then I played some drums. We stopped and I said press record and it was just like that. We got some guitars, hit record, I went to the mic and the first set of inspirations that came out I sang on the mic and that’s the demo of “Jah Jah Children”. That was not the recording obviously on the EP but that is how we first built it. Todd is very very very interested in reggae and spirituality in general which encompasses of course the teachings and the inside of Rastafari. He is very knowledgeable about those things as well. He brought that to the table.
Todd: Which all goes back to the early days of me hanging out. In the early days of hardcore there weren’t a lot of records released yet so when you would go to a club or if there would be a show or something, the DJ’s would inevitably end up playing some dub. Being around the Bad Brains so much in those days obviously… those guys educated me… Doc is the one who showed me how to play reggae guitar. With Murphy’s Law we kind of flirted with it a little bit as well. I have a huge reggae and dub collection… and ska… it is rebel music to me and is not that far off from hardcore punk.
Israel: That’s the thing that I think unites it right there. It’s rebel music and from the time I was a kid I was interested in Rock ‘n Roll. Before I heard any type of advanced Rock ‘n Roll like hardcore and all that stuff I was interested in Rock ‘n Roll. Growing up in New York, WCBS FM… Cousin Brucie. I listened to Cousin Brucie from the time I was a kid, I knew all the songs from the 50’s and 60’s and I knew them word for word. I knew which ones were more crazy and I always liked the crazy guys. I liked the Little Richard’s and the crazy dudes and hardcore to me is just an extension of Rock ‘n Roll. It is the same beat, just real fast. Reggae is rebel music, hardcore is rebel music which is trying to liberate something in society. I am not going to say exactly what it is because each of those genres, each one, each song, may have a different intention. The idea of liberation, the idea of redemption, the idea of people coming together is all in these types of music. You do get touches of the extremes in all of these musics as well but generally speaking they have real positive intentions. The other music is more along the lines of “hey baby I love you”, ya know? Stuff like that. Let’s party, let’s get drunk, alright… that’s’ cool but this music is saying something to people to help them.
FIREBURN @ TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK, NYC OCTOBER 1, 2017. PHPTO BY: JC PHOTO MEDIA
IE: Are there plans to write more songs like “Jah Jah Children” going forward?
Todd: Yeah, we actually wrote a new one over the last few weeks that we just demo’d called “War And Poverty” and I am really happy with how that’s coming out.
IE: You were saying earlier that when the band was still trying to find a direction of sorts that you had written songs that were more in line with stuff like Negative Approach and early Agnostic Front. Can we expect to hear newer songs that will go in that direction as well?
Todd: We demo’d these songs with Israel, it’s just that certain songs beat up other songs when you’re writing songs in a group. It’s not that they are bad, but the other ones are just better. I feel like we have set the bar very high with what we want to do playing hardcore punk and how to move that forward in a sense.
Israel: When I first found out that we might not be using some of those songs I have to admit that yes… anyone would be like… wow, those are amazing tunes, but what happens is that the musicians are already writing like that but what happens almost organically is that they are writing better versions of what the feeling is. Those songs captured feelings but what is happening is that they are writing better versions of what the feeling is if you can understand what I am saying.
Todd: We just finished writing what I think is one of our hardest songs which is called “Turn It Up”. It is the most gnarly song that we’ve got so far. For us the test kind of is…even if it is a rehearsal room demo…our rehearsal room is always set up so we can record whenever we want. When we demo something if we sit there and listen to it 5, 6, 7 or 8 times in a row when we are done then you know you got a banger. That’s kind of the test.
IE: Where did the name Fireburn come from and is there any special meaning behind it?
Todd: There are a few different meanings. Fireburn is always a name that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a band. Again, going back to the Bad Brains and stuff, it’s Jamaican slang which means to denounce. Also that the fire still burns for this kind of music all these years later.
Israel: Fireburn has a few other meanings too. Fire symbolizes a force that is connected with what we can call God, right… it symbolizes a judgement time, a time of purification. A fire in the forest can burn trees down and then new trees grow. The fire is like a creative force. In Rasta, when you chant Fireburn you are chanting like burn it up. You chant Fireburn on something that is negative. Actually what you are doing is you are asking the force to create something positive in place of that negativity.
IE: Can you talk about the artwork to the “Don’t Stop The Youth” EP which was done by Tim Lehi? Does the cover need any kind of interpretation in your opinion?
Todd: Todd Jones is the man when it comes to aesthetics and artwork. Just look at what he has done with Nails. Everybody in the band brings something. Nick, our drummer is an engineer, owns a recording studio and is one of the best mastering engineers in LA. He is one of the few people who can still cut laids for vinyl. He has a laid and that is what he does for a living. We have an engineer, mastering guy, with a recording studio in the band who also happens to be a ridiculously bad ass drummer. Todd is a fucking great guitar player which made it easy for me to move back to bass. Plus he has the eye for the artwork and the t-shirts and all that kind of stuff. Israel is the golden voice, you can’t fuck with that plus he writes the most brilliant lyrics. The art on that was a Todd thing. Tim Lehi drew it and will also be doing the artwork for our full length when that comes. I feel it is important for a bands artwork to have consistency.
IE: So Todd had the idea for the cover and then pitched it to Tim Lehi?
Todd: We had all talked about it kinda like… sorta like that Sean Taggart style on like Crumbsuckers “Life Of Dreams” where the faces are in the back. I was like maybe put some politicians and some police and some of that kinda in there and the tiger is just busting through fucking everybody up sorta, ya know?
Israel: I was surprised by the art. I got it in an email and I was like wow, look at this! I studied it, looking at all the little things going on in there for like 5 minutes, 10 minutes. I started thinking about the power of the tiger and what it means metaphysically, the eye of the tiger, like that Rocky song. The tiger has those little black things coming up on his stripes and it looks like fire. I am thinking like we are bringing this tiger force. Nobody is using a tiger. I think it is a powerful image and I really like it.
Todd: What is also bad ass is that it is an actual piece of art that somebody painted as opposed to some cheap computer graphic shit which I see on a lot of records. People I don’t think take the time for their covers because we are told that music is this disposable thing which I don’t really believe. Artwork is not that important.. FUCK THAT, it is all a piece of the art, the overall art. I think that Tim did a fantastic job with that. The guy who did all the lettering and all the writing, he is amazing too. Everything on there is hand written.
Israel: Plus imagine having a tiger in the mosh pit, you know it’s on!
FIREBURN @ VACATION VINYL, SILVER LAKE, CA AUGUST 18, 2017. PHOTO BY: DAN RAWE
IE: What can we expect touring wise out of Fireburn? In the first week of December you have a run of California dates set up with Dag Nasty and prior to that you had the lone NYC appearance at the Raybeez tribute show in Tompkins Square Park along with some other California dates before that. When can people expect you guys to make a serious run of shows and where are you looking to hit?
Todd: We are gonna tour but you gotta understand that I have been around the block enough times where I gotta be smart about this. For us to go out on tour off an EP doesn’t really make any sense. For us to regionally do the West Coast supporting Dag Nasty… that totally makes sense. In 2018 when we get our full length out then it will make sense because there will be a demand at that point. Then it will make sense for us to go out and make a real US run.
IE: I saw in some photos for those initial California shows that you guys played you made an old school style banner that you hung behind you while you played with Fireburn on it.
Todd: Yeah man, we were getting ready for those first 3 shows that we did which were at a record store, a skateboard shop and a bowling alley. I said something like back in the day we would just get a bedsheet and a can of spray paint and spray paint the band name and that would be your backdrop. We got a yellow bedsheet from Bed Bath & Beyond and Nick and his girlfriend just made it down at his pad.
IE: You saying that is kind of funny in a way as I have noticed that I am not alone in being someone that has been into hardcore for a long time and find myself doing a lot of the same things that I did when I was a teenager.
Israel: We are the Toys R Us generation, we don’t wanna grow up!
Todd: That shit keeps us young.
Israel: Keeping the dream alive, keeping your wonder about life, keeping your fervor for wanting to do stuff. I am 46, gonna be 47 in February, man I am telling you, I don’t know if I should admit this or not but really I do not feel a day older than my early 20’s. I still feel like that guy. It is just that mentality we have for the music we listen to, the culture. Whether were doing rap, hardcore, hip-hop, reggae, that whole mid-80’s to mid-90’s deal and what inspired us from before that got us going man. I looked at a lot of people at that Raybeez show and I was thinking all of us are still on fire. That’s great.
IE: At that show you guys got a really good crowd response for the songs that are on your EP even though it was not out there for that long prior to you playing that show.
Israel: It was great to see everybody come back. I think it is a new day. We all went away and learned some lessons… not went away really but we took the time to learn some lessons and now a lot of people are going to start popping back up with some great sounds. Hopefully we are one of the ones leading the way with that. Sweat music I call it. With this music you sweat. Your arms are gonna hurt, your muscles are gonna hurt, and if they don’t you aint doing it right.
Todd: All I know is that we had Dr Know standing on the side of the stage watching us and he was loving it. We got the thumbs up from him, we got the thumbs up from HR so I gotta be doing something right.
Israel: We are bringing a rhythm. I think Todd Youth, a lot of what is making us pop along is Todd Youth’s ability to play that bass in a special way. It has a lot to do with how we play with a thing called rhythm. Not just time, or beat, but rhythm. It cannot be put down on paper or described, you just gotta have it. That old song says it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing still holds true till today.
Todd: Even though we are playing this fast, hard shit, it still swings. You can snap your fingers to it and that’s the thing that the Brains always had.
FIREBURN @ ALL STAR LANES, LOS ANGELES, CA AUGUST 26, 2017. PHOTO BY: JOE CALIXTO
At this point we start winding things down when Todd played a portion of a new song that came in really distorted over the phone but had the same explosive vibe like the songs on their EP…
Todd: The new shit is gonna blow fucking people’s minds dude.
Israel: Hey Chris, let me tell you one last thing if I can. The main word we want people to get the vibe of is… empathy. In the end, it’s all empathy. For the water, the air, every living thing we gotta think of it as ourselves or were all gonna lose it. It’s all gonna break down and it’s all gonna go away. That is what “Break It Down” is all about. If we don’t think of everybody as ourselves… you know when a car breaks down? That’s it. You’re stuck in the desert. Nothing else. You’re gonna turn into bones. We need empathy. If we all get stuck and we don’t have empathy what’s gonna happen? Were gonna eat each other alive. It is gonna be our Lord Of The Flies. We need to foster a new emotion in humanity and it’s called empathy. The Rastas say I and I. It means that you are not you. It is not they or them.. it is I. You are me and I am you. The I and I movement it has to be man. This world is going crazy man.