We spoke with Jonathan Miller of Philadelphia’s Fire In The Radio, who released their third record earlier this month. Called “Monuments“, and sure to be up for nomination for honors once this crazy year concludes. It is a wonderful piece of art. A suiting soundtrack to the current worldwide situation – made before it all unfolded. A sort of premonition I suppose. It has morose moments that always give way to hopefulness. Truly something worth checking out for anybody who hasn’t yet. And lets be truthful here – you don’t have anything better to do these days than to check out new bands. Am I right!
Given the release of the record, it seemed an apt time to have a few words with the band. To see what they’re up to in these strange days. Find out more about the record and gain their perspective on a few things. After all, it’s what we do. You’re welcome.
The album’s cover is a photograph taken at a 4th of July festivity. What we used to do before the end of all we knew. People used to gather in groups back then. Without fear of contracting it. The virus. Jonathan Miller, the groups vocalist and guitarist, was quoted as saying that things like the importance of the 4th of July have faded in American culture. Some would say the past belongs in the past. Others that the way forward is through lessons learned from past folly. I was curious as to which of these thoughts ringed most true for Miller.
“We are definitely not saying leave history in the past,” starts Miller. “We agree so many of the missteps we see happening today could be avoided with a better understanding of history. Dealing with the present pandemic is a perfect example. If more people knew the outcome of 1918 Spanish Flu they would understand that without a vaccine, or at least testing, we are not going to return to a more normal existence. In fact, we could be in a worse position. Hopefully, people who know and appreciate the past will work to educate those who do not. We are truly at a unique precipice where we are so directly reliant on one another to move forward safely.”
“With respect to the record concept, we were attempting to convey that in many ways we have become complacent as a society”, said Miller. “This has allowed harmful ideas to gain traction and re-enter mainstream culture. The leaders who peddle these ideas often point to historic symbols or monuments as cover for the platforms they are actually advancing. Rather than look to monuments to define who we are, we think people can be their own monuments. The actions we take in response to the division, challenges, and hatred we see in the world today will serve as the historical memory of what we stood for far more than any statute.”
“The racism that always existed below the surface seemed to bubble up when President Obama was elected”
Quite a few things have changed in the United States of America in recent years. Regardless if you support the current President or not, the nation seems to be in a period of transformation. The issues surrounding Donald Trump and his values and actions aside. Politics aside.
“I think our country has been at a crossroads for several years now” said Miller. “The racism that always existed below the surface seemed to bubble up when President Obama was elected. The fact that he turned out to be an excellent president only further infuriated those who opposed him. This spawned a divide between the highly educated and those without sufficient education. The loss of manufacturing jobs in our country only further exacerbated these issues. This is the climate that allowed the current President to take hold and become elected. Our country has unquestionably been affected over the past four years as a result. The undermining of our media and reshaping of the courts will have a profound effect on how our country moves forward over the next many years.”
“We have never held ourselves out as an overtly political band. However, when we were finishing up the last record cycle we noted people would negatively comment on social media when we supported certain issues that were important to us. This caused us to be clearer on this record about who we are and what we stand for. We are not for everyone and are perfectly fine with that. But to say that we should separate our music from what we care about seems nonsensical.”
Thus the concept for “Monuments” was born. To set straight the ideology of the band. And to purvey a message. Through music, that is indeed possible.
See also : Fire In The Radio “Monuments” Review
Although certainly unplanned; Fire In The Radio’s new record is dropping at a time of unprecedented panic, turmoil and unpredictability. It is a time of unease. Nothing comparable to the current state of the world has existed in any of our lifetimes. There have been several smaller scale events, certainly, but nothing like this. Nothing that has confined the entire globe to their homes. Not since the Spanish influenza pandemic more than a century ago.
In that sense, it seems like Fire In The Radio may have inadvertently written the soundtrack to this pandemic. Their new album, “Monuments”, has a sense of vulnerability throughout. Perhaps a certain bleakness to it. Yet, there is also an overwhelming sense of hope. To that degree, “Moments” feels so very relatable. We are in bleak times. Yet we have hope. For a return to some form of normality.
“We could not have anticipated this pandemic, at least not back in June of last year when we recorded this record”, states Miller. Quite accurately. “That said, we certainly did come at these songs with an element of hope against dark themes. I think that sometimes people can see hopeful messages as being naïve or overly optimistic. But without hope, we are generally lost. We have to believe that, even now, we can work together to improve things and build a better life. When people write to us and let us know our songs provide them hope we find it incredible inspiring. This band has never been about “making it”, whatever that even means anymore. The shared sense of community through music is what we are here for. If a song we write provides even one person hope then we have been wildly successful in this endeavor.”
“If people find comfort in religion and wish to practice their faith, who am I to say the place where they seek comfort is archaic”
In these times, all any of us can aspire to, is to grasp onto that sense of hope. A belief that things will get better. That our lives will return to something similar to what they were. Although, almost certainly, there will be differences. Unforeseen and as of yet untold changes. Perhaps some good will come of this. Who knows.
Another concept related to cultural monuments, is the church. Religion in general, but in this case, the Catholic church. On the track, “Sunday Cassock”, Miller’s lyrics seem to take aim at the establishment. The inseparable church and state mentality. Another monument. Pointing the proverbial finger at the church is nothing new. There is a seemingly unending abundance of cases to reference in this debate. Stories from as far back as anyone dare research.
Miller thoughtfully pondered this issue for us. “Sunday Cassock is not aimed at the Church as much as individuals within the Church that have used religion to perpetrate and conceal decades worth of childhood sex abuse,” he began. “I am for personal liberty. If people find comfort in religion and wish to practice their faith, who am I to say the place where they seek comfort is archaic. It just needs to be safe.”
“I grew up Catholic and went to twelve years of Catholic school”, explains Miller. “The Church was the center of my world for a long time. However, as part of my day job I became involved in efforts to help survivors uncover this abuse. It impacted my perspective. Writing songs like this has been a cathartic way to off load some of the trauma I have witnessed.”
“Regrettably, I do not think these issues are unique to the Church. I have seen similar issues with the Boy Scouts and other youth organizations. That said, the Church went to extremes to protect “the brand” over children and I expect that is why it has been at the forefront of this discussion.”
“At the time we first encountered Jawbreaker, it expanded our horizon on what a punk band could be”
Fire In The Radio’s music is beautiful. Somewhere between Post-Punk and New Wave, with moments that seem to nod towards influential artists. One of those being the wonderful band known as Jawbreaker.
“We have so many different artists we respect and have impacted our music. That said, Jawbreaker certainly has been one of them. Jawbreaker is an important band for us because we admire how they have amalgamated punk music and deeply personal and poetic lyrics. At the time we first encountered Jawbreaker, it expanded our horizon on what a punk band could be. They remain among our favorite bands and it has been great to see them recently get the recognition they deserve.”
Fire In The Radio’s latest opus, “Monuments“, was released on April 3rd, 2020. Released through Wednesday Records and available on the group’s bandcamp. Check out the limited clear with white splatter vinyl. It is a thing of beauty.