By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The album is a direct challenge to anyone who ever thought of the band as a "country" outfit—no matter how many modifiers like "alt" or "indie" couch the term. If you had to stuff all the songs from Matter into a single genre, folk seems to leave the fewest loose ends. But the band's wide range of influences and voices reference blues, soul, mariachi, norteño and—OK, fine—a bit of country, as played by guys weaned on rock, who've spent plenty of time in below-the-radar experimental rock bands.
As great as the original songs on Matter and Light are, the band's instrumental take on Elliott Smith's "Say Yes" provides as clear a definition of their unique sound as any of their own songs. Banjo, piano (toy and full-sized) and trumpet take turns playing the melody, each rising from and then fading back into a swirl of fiddle, accordion and ghostly moans. It's haunting and joyful at once, a celebration and requiem, familiar and comforting in spite of some very weird moments. Better yet, the story behind it epitomizes how a bit of good fortune can shine on talented musicians and validate everything they work for.
Jessica Peters first heard the band in 2006 at the Wall of Sound music festival, where she fell in love with the song "Beatrice." Peters, who happened to be working on a documentary entitled Future Butterflies about Smith's fans, became a dedicated fan of The Theater Fire's, catching as many of the band's shows as she could.
When she found out that the guys in the band shared her Smith affinity, she asked them to cover "Say Yes" for the film. She also introduced them to Smith's grandfather, Bill Berryman, at her birthday party that year.
A musician himself, Berryman talked music with the guys, complimenting them on their tunes and regaling them with stories about his grandson. At the end of the night, he left them with a precious parting gift: seven CD-Rs of unreleased Smith home recordings.
"That's why you become a musician," Heath says.
No matter the varying approaches to The Theater Fire sound, that's something everyone in the band can agree upon.