By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last summer, they made a good impression on Hagerty, who invited the band to New Mexico to play a Drag City project "rehearsal." After a quick songwriting session and a promising one-take practice, the band went home hoping Drag City would "throw some money" at a proper studio version in the future. "They ended up just putting out the practice session," Heath says. "We're still kinda 'What?' about it. They literally set up a microphone in the middle of the room, we played, and they kept that."
They shouldn't have been surprised--they're one-take wonders, as anyone who's seen the group re-create its elaborate songs in concert can attest. In fact, the septet finally got a decent break at SXSW, where its two performances ended with newly converted fans, many from Europe, approaching and practically begging for CDs. "They're still e-mailing us," Heath says, and the band continues to ponder a European tour--one almost happened with the Earlies last month. "Everyone says we'd kill over there," Feagin says, stealing the words out of my mouth.
But the group's "uh, not yet" attitude is peculiar, if sensible. It's obvious the guys love these songs, but they think of Dark Side as a stopgap and a learning experience, not a turning point. National distribution through Undeniable Records and a first-ever focus on Austin and Houston are enough for right now. Hey, they still have day jobs: "For all of us to take off for a week or 10 days, it costs us a lot in terms of sacrifice," Feagin says. "So if we're gonna do this, we wanna make sure we make a dent...We need to learn more about what it means to put an album out."
Not that they lack ambition--the band is already eager to get another album done by the beginning of next year. But these guys aren't timely, and they're certainly not easily classified. The Theater Fire is happy with its disparate blend of old sounds, and winning over new fans of all kinds is making things nicer lately. "I feel proud that we're one of those groups that goes OK in an indie-rock club but...grandparents can come out and see us," Heath says. But more important, they know exactly why their "untimely" music is worth the effort.
"Usually the people that talk to us after [shows] are musicians," Heath says. "I guess musicians tend to have a broader look at it, at just music in general. And that's cool, 'cause maybe we're influencing other musicians...That's what you're really trying to do when you make music. At least for us. We know we're not going to make millions of dollars, but you want to take that mainstream, all its tributaries, and you want to get as many people on your way as possible."