INTERVIEW: I Set My Friends On Fire (20/10/2018)

Credit: Promo

Ever since their MySpace stardom and initial jump start into recognition aside their peers with their 2008 debut ‘You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter’, Floridians I Set My Friends On Fire have unfortunately faced more than their fair share of hurdles and setbacks.

Indeed, during the creation of its follow-up ‘Astral Rejection’, guitarist and songwriter Nabil Moo stepped down from the band, leaving sole member Matt Mehana to regroup, learn how to write and produce himself, and take it from there.

Since then, a third album titled ‘Caterpillar Sex’ has been in the works for a number of years, and multiple speed bumps have contributed to its continued delay, one of which being a short-lived label deal that didn’t quite go to plan.

Now over in the UK celebrating the tenth anniversary of their debut album, we spoke with vocalist Matt Mehana and guitarist Nate Blasdell to celebrate the ten-year milestone, obtain a progress report on ‘Caterpillar Sex’ and a fourth album, the story behind ‘Astral Rejection’ and its original recordings, and more.

DP!: You’ve just wrapped up your Manchester headliner whilst you’re over here in the UK. How’ve you been finding it?
N: It is way fucking better than the last time that we were here.
M: That makes us appreciate it a lot more. We love it.
N: We’re really happy to be here and it’s going really well and, like Matt said, because it wasn’t so good last time it definitely makes us appreciate it more now. We’re still losing a fuck tonne of money, but we’re out here and everybody’s happy despite how much it costs for us to get here.

DP!: What did you think to that show you’ve just done? Obviously it’s a weird stage in Satan’s Hollow.
M: It’s definitely a weird stage, but somehow it worked.
N: I don’t think that stage could’ve worked in any other type of venue. It sounded really good too. Shout out to our boy Jesse for making us sound good.

DP!: This tour is in promotion of the tenth anniversary of your debut album, ‘You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter’. Did you ever think when you first put out that record that you’d be here ten years later celebrating that milestone?
M: No, not really. I mean, to be honest with you… yeah, probably no, because there were a lot of ups and downs. Obviously, when we first started the band it was just two people, and when one person leaves and in turn leaves half of the band it’s kind of like, “What the hell do I do?” I didn’t write music before. I was only the lyricist and vocalist, so when Nabil (Moo, ex-guitarist/songwriter) left I had another big responsibility to take on.

I needed to learn how to produce, so I started doing that. I was actually not going to tour anymore after ‘Astral Rejection’, and then one day Nate hit me up on Facebook and it was really random, and he said “Yo, if I ever got you a tour in Russia would you consider touring again?” and I was just like “Well, yeah, of course.” We were talking about touring for about a year, and then finally we got the tour and went, and it’s been three years since then. We tour a lot, but it’s the only way to stay up there, you know? I learnt in my hiatus that if you’re not doing anything then nobody gives a fuck.

N: We tour way too much, but it’s kind of crazy to see things come back around. There was a time when we were touring which was like we were going downhill, but now we’re literally visually seeing it coming back and we’re seeing our relevance come back. I think a lot of people thought that this band was dead, and a lot of bands like us that were in smaller positions that try and come back die out, but I think if a lot more of them stuck with it and didn’t give it up when things got rough then they’d see the pay off like we’re starting to now.

DP!: I know a lot of fans over the past few years have been asking when album number three, ‘Caterpillar Sex’, is finally gonna come out. What’s happening with that? What’s the current progress report?
M: It’s closer. I’ll explain it a little bit in more detail. Basically, since I took on the responsibility of producer and producing music since Nabil left like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been writing the whole thing myself. That takes a lot of time; not only writing something yourself but writing something yourself that’s good, and not only writing something yourself that’s good but writing something yourself that’s good and different. It takes fucking years to do that. If I can be completely honest with you, there’s no way that it only takes one year to learn how to produce and then write something of high quality. It’s like I’m a salamander, and now I feel like I’m fully developed salamander, I can breathe in water and out of the water… musically. Sorry, I tried sticking to the metaphor thinking I can’t go back, haha.

But, yeah, the music is crazier than ever. It doesn’t sound like anything that I’ve heard before. I can’t really compare it to anything else because there isn’t anything out that’s like it yet. All that I can say is that it’s probably going to be one of the most versatile albums that you’ll ever hear in your life from anybody, ever.

DP!: Obviously it’s been in the works for a while, and as you’ve said you’re learning how to produce but are also learning how to write something unique and that you’re happy with. Have any other factors come into play regarding the delay in its release?
M: Well, one, we actually signed to a label, Tragic Hero Records, and they really wanted this album. I agreed to give them the fourth album, because we have two in the works right now. I said “We’ll do a fourth and you can have that, but you can’t have the third.” You know? I’ve been working on this shit for four to five years now, and you can’t just slap your name onto it and and put a release date on it or anything.

So, they tried to put a release date on the album and I was just like “Sorry, man. I’m not done with it.” and they finally were like “Fine” but they kept asking for it, and asking for it, and asking for it, and not living up to their promises. We were only technically signed to them for like four months, but nothing happened other than one song that came out of that. I was just like “This is bullshit. I’m doing fine independently. This is silly.” All of that put a delay onto it too, but there’s a bunch of reasons, like also being interested in the album, and then not being interested in the album.

On top of all of that, I also suffered from hearing loss about four years ago, and that really made me super depressed. When you’re down about something that you use to listen to music, you’re like “I don’t even want to work on this shit” because the quality is just not there, you know? I had to shake myself out of that and get back onto it. It’s really, really close to being done, and hopefully in 2019 it’ll be out there.

DP!: It’s almost like a ‘Chinese Democracy’ situation with all of these delays. So, to clarify, you’re no longer signed to Tragic Hero Records?
M: No, no. We still talk to the owner, Tommy LaCombe. He’s a really nice guy. I feel like he’s a really good guy that was taken advantage of by his own team.
N: Tommy is one of the nicest people that we’ve ever met. He was definitely taken advantage of with his niceness in our situation. It’s kind of set and done I guess, but it was a bit of a weird cut off. There’s a lot of stuff that was never solved or never addressed, but it’s kind of better that way, probably more so for their sake. Pretty much the way that we’ll leave it is they’re going to do their thing and we’re going to do our thing, which is fine.

DP!: As you mentioned earlier and as you also said in the news of signing with them, there were plans for a fourth album. Is that still happening and going ahead?
N: Yep, that’s still happening.
M: It even has a chance to be released before the third album.
N: We have three songs done for the fourth album so far, and it’s been a really cool experience. If it comes down to it, where ‘Caterpillar Sex’ isn’t finished but that is, then we’ll probably release that first and tour on it. We just want to make sure that ‘Caterpillar Sex’ isn’t overshadowed or anything. That’s the biggest fear of it, because it’s something that’s definitely going to change the game and has been worked on for a really long time, and we just want to make sure that gets the proper attention. At the same time, ‘Caterpillar Sex’ isn’t as much of a tour record as the fourth one will be, which is why it might come into play that we put the fourth album out first. A big part of putting out a record is supporting it and going out on support tours, and there’s definitely only a few select bands that you could tour with.
M: Unless we start going out on tour with rappers, but as far as bands, yeah.
N: Yeah. ‘Caterpillar Sex’ would fall under the realm of rap more. We might have to go out on support tours for the fourth record first in order to get into tours that would market ‘Caterpillar Sex’ better.
M: Considering we’re one of the few bands that are mixing those two genres, we don’t really know our place in that society. We’re kind of the outcasts, but we like it that way.

DP!: So the plans is to put them both out next year?
M: Yeah. I don’t see why not. The other thing that takes a lot of time away from them is that we tour a lot. We tour a lot, come home, say “fuck life”, go back on tour again, come home, say “fuck life” again.
N: That’s another thing. I mean, now that we have an agent that doesn’t suck we’re currently in the running of getting some really good support tours at the moment, and one of the support tours that we have a very good shot of getting, there’s no way that we can go out on that without a new album. So, there’s a very likely chance of that, and it’ll be in March and April. If you see us announce a tour in March and April relatively soon, and we’re also relatively low on the bill, chances are that there’s gonna be a new album with that.

DP!: Around the start of last year, the original recordings and version of ‘Astral Rejection’ leaked. Did you get any complications from your previous label Epitaph Records off the back of that?
M: No, and they actually hit me up the other day saying that they want to release it. They didn’t even mention the leak. I don’t think they even knew it leaked. Well, correction, I think they did know it leaked, but they literally didn’t give two shits.
N: Yeah, we still haven’t figured out who leaked it yet. Haha.
M: Haha, anyway. They emailed me the other day, and they’re willing to release it on Amazon and Spotify and stuff like that. I mean, why not? If it’s already leaked on YouTube, why not put it on streaming services? It was a body of work that took time, and happiness, and stress, and darkness, and light, so might as well put it out.

DP!: Why was that version pushed aside for the one that was officially released?
M: Basically the label heard it and said “This isn’t like the first album at all, it’s more mature.” They wanted more hip-hop. Ironically, back in that time they wanted more hip-hop shit, but I wasn’t writing the music at that time, but I knew what they wanted. I said “I know what you want, but I can’t write yet.” Nabil wrote all of that music. He would go into his room for like two weeks and write, and more power to him because I know how it is to write now and I can’t write with anybody around me, so I know what he felt at that time. At the time I was confused, and was like “Why would the hell would he go into a room by himself and write, and not let me be a part of the music?”

But, then I realised. Sometimes when I explain things it’s really out there. I don’t know why, I just explain things really bizarrely. So, imagine somebody like me trying to explain a part to somebody who plays guitar, and I know nothing about music theory or anything like that. It probably gets really annoying after a while. I don’t know, it was weird, because on the first album I would hum him some riffs and stuff like that, and he would play them and boom – we’d have written a song. I don’t know why he wanted to change the approach to writing on the second one. I think it was just stress and pressure to be honest with you, because we were deeper in the game, and once you release a first album there’s more pressure for the second one to be better.

So, he wrote and wrote, and then he would come back into the studio and show me a song, and my selfish ass would hear the song and be like “Mmm, I don’t like it.” I was just being honest, but we were also running out of time, so he’d get really frustrated and go back and write, then come back with something else. I didn’t want to tell him that stuff sucked again, but there were moments where the music was really good, and I did what I had to do over the music with my vocals. I just did what I had to do because I had no control over the music, and so when Epitaph heard it they even dissed me. They were like “Eh, your voice sounds like the guy from 311.” I was like “What? What are you talking about? Alright, whatever.” Obviously Nabil was super stressed already with writing the album, and if someone rejects the whole album he’s going to be like “Fuck this shit” and so he left.

When that was done, basically Epitaph Records wanted to close the book right then and there, and I was like “No, please, give me one more chance. I’ll write it with Travis from From First To Last and a few other dudes.” So, I re-wrote ‘Astral Rejection’ – the one that actually came out – named it the same thing, re-used a lot of old lyrics, and made a new album that sounded a little more like us. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that what we originally wrote was kinda cool, especially for the time. I go back and listen to it now and again and I’m like “Damn, this shit actually isn’t that bad. I can’t believe we even thought of some of this shit.” That’s basically what happened. That’s the whole story of ‘Astral Rejection’.

DP!: Are Epitaph going to be keeping the same title, or renaming it a little?
M: I think that we’re going to call it either ‘O.G. Astral Rejection’ or ‘Original Astral Rejection’, but I’m not sure.

DP!: After you wrap up this UK tour and the European leg just after, what else do you have planned for the rest of 2018 and 2019 so far?
M: There’s not much set in stone for now. We’re talking to a bunch of bigger bands that probably want to take us out. They’re not necessarily in the same genre, but they’re way bigger. I’m gonna finish ‘Caterpillar Sex’, release it, and hopefully it changes the game, because somebody has got to take a risk. Even if people don’t understand it at first, I still have to do something that nobody else is doing. I don’t know why, but I just have to. I mean, there are people that are doing different shit, but I feel like it can be even crazier.

The band’s third studio album, ‘Caterpillar Sex’, is expected to be self-released in 2019.

More details surrounding the album will be confirmed as it develops.