Body and soul
At a recent Firebombing show, among a slew of rockin’ originals, the punk band covered “Shout Bamalama” by Otis Redding, “No Love Lost” by Joy Division, and “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. An early ripper by the soul man, a brooding strut by the post-punk group, and the signature song of the Boss. It might seem a disparate batch of covers, but those artists have things in common—masculine grit, songwriting prowess and … something ineffable.
“We like any music with soul,” says lead guitarist Garrett Donovan.
Those same qualities—grit, songwriting chops and soul—provide an apt description of The Firebombing. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Todd Imus sings with a gruff snarl, and plays with a choppy attack.
“My playing is more angular—though that’s a cliché word—but I’m very up and down, and Garrett is more fluid,” says Imus.
Donovan colors the band’s songs with dynamic lead playing that’s somewhat reminiscent of a bluesier version of The Replacements’ Bob Stinson. Bassist Cody Munger brings an unusual amount of melody to the low end. And Bob Conrad—a guy probably best known for playing in the defunct but beloved pop punk band Zoinks!—has an on-point drumming style, though he’s self-deprecating and critical of himself in a way that only proves how precise he is.
The overall effect is similar to early Social Distortion—up to and including the secret country music influence. The members also played together in an Americana band, Dust Raiser. “Got Nothing,” one of the songs on The Firebombing’s recently completed second album, scheduled for release in January, was formerly a Dust Raiser song. It has a slower rhythm and a country soul feel, but it fits in nicely with the rest of the record, which also includes ass-kickers like “Burn This Motherfucker Down,” as well as their Otis Redding and Joy Division covers.
The record was produced by Andy Ernst, a producer who has also worked with AFI, Green Day and Screeching Weasel. It’s a tight, cohesive, well-sequenced record, with no fat, nothing frivolous, 11 songs in 23 minutes. The album closes with “And the Whiskey Rolled into Us Like the Sea”—a song title drawn from Charles Bukowski.
Imus is a literate punk. “Another Life,” on the group’s first record, Wreckage, quotes Pablo Neruda. Imus and Conrad met through Craigslist, and Conrad was impressed with Imus’ post, not just because of the eclectic range of music listed—everything from Big Star to Black Flag—but because it was written with impeccable grammar and spelling.
The band members are also unusually vocal about their frustrations with the local music scene.
“Club owners give me shit because they expect me to sell tickets,” says Imus. Local musicians have to act as their own promoters, hustling to push their shows when they should be writing and rehearsing.
“There are a lot of great places to play in town now, and that’s part of the problem,” says Conrad. “There are so many great bands in town right now, and more places to play than ever before … but it’s become oversaturated.”
On any given Friday or Saturday night in Reno, there are a half-dozen decent rock shows competing for the same not-nearly-large-enough audience.
“Teenage Kicks,” the Undertones’ perfect tribute to young love, is another cover song in the band’s repertoire.
“I like to challenge the audience,” says Imus. “I want to bring some of the sex and danger back into rock ’n’ roll. We’re all guys in our 30s and 40s, but the music still needs to have that teenage spirit.”