Your latest album, ‘Low Desert Surf Club,’ seems to encapsulate a distinct Californian desert vibe while exuding positive vibes and hope for better days. Could you elaborate on the themes, inspirations, and challenges you encountered during the past couple of years that influenced this album’s uplifting energy and the unique Californian essence it carries?
Towards the end of 2019 we decided to put our focus towards writing a new album in 2020. But then COVID happened, which forced us to a halt. We tried to change our process, work around the limitations imposed, work on songs individually at home … but that just doesn’t work for us. We need to get together in a room and bang it out or else the magic doesn’t happen. So there was a lot of frustration everywhere around that time. At a certain point we decided that we were done with bitching and moaning and would instead focus on creating positive vibes. We thought ‘if we weren’t stuck at home, where would we go and what would we do?’ and the answer was that we would go explore California, wander the deserts, drink beers on the beach, drive on the highways … So we started writing songs that would make a good soundtrack to that trip. We had already tapped into those vibes on our debut album Viper Vixen Goddess Saint, but we decided to go all the way this time. So for us, each of the songs connects to the desert or California in one way or another.
Of course we realised that it doesn’t make much sense for four guys in Belgium to make an album about the California desert, but we decided to embrace the contradiction and let that reflect in the title of the album, which also is a contradiction in itself. And obviously none of it is really about California, it’s just our escapism projected onto California and its wide open deserts, the holy land of the stoner/desert rock scene.
How does the artwork visually represent the album’s themes and sonic landscape?
The album art was made by Christi du Toit, a South African artist we knew mainly from his work for Walrus Audio effects pedals. We talked to him about the inspirations for the album, the contradictions of being a desert rock band from Belgium, and the juxtaposition of the desert with a surfer lady and he was on board quickly and delivered an awesome piece of art! We don’t really like ‘explaining’ the artwork, it’s more fun if the fans can make up their own idea of what is going on there.
“California” serves as your feel-good party anthem. Can you share the creative process behind this track and how it contributes to the album’s upbeat and positive tone?
California was one of the first new ideas we started working on and we immediately felt it could be a catchy feel-good song while still maintaining high energy and power. We screwed around a bit with different bridge sections and alternative verses until we settled on the definitive form you can hear on the album. We love playing it live and hope the crowd will feel the same energy we do. At the last show we played it there were moshers and crowd-surfers, that’s exactly what we want to see!
How did producing “Low Desert Surf Club” with Nick DiSalvo and recording with Richard Behrens contribute to shaping the album’s sound and capturing the desired atmosphere?
When we were writing the new material for this album we decided it would be a good idea to work with an ‘outside’ producer, someone who could listen to our ideas with fresh ears and give a new perspective. If you’ve been working on material for weeks or even months, you can get sucked in too much. That’s when we made a list of people we would love to work with, and at the top of that list was Nick DiSalvo. We obviously knew the man is a musical mastermind from his work with Elder and delving, and that he would be able to weigh in on things like songwriting, structure and instrument tones. But what also mattered a lot to us: we had met him at Desertfest Ghent in 2021 where we got to talk with him for a bit and he was very down to earth and kind and relaxed. So we were thrilled when he told us he was on board. Nick also suggested Richard as recording engineer and mixer, because the two of them had worked together on the delving album with great results. So when the time came to hit the studio, we flew both of them in from Berlin and got to work. They’re both very easy to work with, we really enjoyed the recording sessions. They made us try things we wouldn’t have thought of and at times steered us away from other things we wanted to try, resulting in the album we have before us today.
Your tracks, such as ‘Cocaine Hippo,’ ‘Surf Queen,’ ‘Hazy Snake,’ and ‘Here Comes The Flood,’ showcase a range of diverse sonic experiences, yet they all maintain a distinct cohesiveness within your musical identity. Can you shed light on your approach to experimentation within your signature sound and how you manage to keep your music fresh and unique, especially within a genre known for certain sonic tropes?
When we’re in the process of writing new songs, there’s only one thing that matters: do all four of us think that it’s a cool idea? As long as that’s the case, we’ll go for it and see where the song brings us. We like to explore different moods and vibes and to get some variation between songs. If we’ve just finished two short, catchy songs we’ll probably go for something longer with a few unexpected twists next. That’s just in our nature. We’ve adopted a ‘let’s try and see’ mentality that leaves room for fresh ideas to be explored. Surf Queen was born when Kevin said ‘I got this surf idea, but I don’t know if it’s something that we can use’ and the rest of us thought it was a cool idea. Same with Here Comes The Flood, which started from an idea Jeroen almost didn’t share but then decided to bring to the table anyway. The cohesiveness comes from the fact that it’s always the four us banging out tunes in the rehearsal room until everyone is happy with the result. We know we share a love for certain kinds of music and we trust that we can tap into that and mix it up with different spices to cook up something nice.
Can you share a particularly memorable experience or a moment that stands out in your live performance journey?
Getting hand-picked to open for Fu Manchu when they came to Belgium on their tour was incredible. It was one the first big shows we got to play and an unforgettable experience. Getting on stage at Desertfest Antwerp also was a huge deal for us, it was one of the main goals we defined when we first started with this band.
Perhaps less glorious but also very memorable: our first show was for a handful of people in a small bar where there was a problem with the electricity and the microphone kept zapping Jeroen in the face. We often laugh about it now but at the time Jeroen wasn’t particularly happy, hahaha.
How do you craft a setlist for your live shows that incorporates tracks from your various albums while ensuring a cohesive and engaging performance?
We’ve got a pretty varied repertoire, so we try to fit the set to the occasion. Should we go for the more psychedelic tracks, or the heavier ones, or just go all in with the high energy, fast paced songs, stuff like that. Since we have some songs that are 10 minutes or longer, the length of the set also determines which songs will be played at a certain show.
“Low Desert Surf Club” will be released through Ripple Music. How does your partnership with the label contribute to reaching a broader audience and enhancing your artistic reach?
Getting signed by Ripple Music has been the greatest blessing for this band. They definitely help us reach a broader audience with their worldwide appeal, but getting signed by a great label like that was also important for us to be taken seriously as a band. We went from ‘oh, a Belgian stoner rock band, what’s that about?’ to ‘oh, a Belgian stoner rock band on Ripple Music, must be pretty good!’.
They also set up showcase festivals for their European bands, like RippleFest France and Ripplefest Cologne, just to give an example. And they really care about the bands and the music, and will do everything they can to make sure the artists can deliver their best possible work. We’re very happy to be part of the Ripple family.
Fire Down Below has been active since 2015. Looking back, what have been the most significant milestones and moments that have shaped your journey as a band?
When we started, we defined two important short term goals: getting an album out on vinyl and playing a show at Desertfest Antwerp. We reached those goals a lot quicker than we’d thought and now we’re just trying to push towards greater things every day.
Belgium isn’t necessarily synonymous with desert rock. How does your geographical location influence your music, and how do you connect with a global audience through your sound?
The stoner/desert rock community in Belgium is not very big, but with all the digital tools we have available nowadays it’s so easy to track music from all over the world and reach people with similar tastes in music that it doesn’t really matter as much as it would have in the past.
“Low Desert Surf Club” is poised to ignite every stage. What do you anticipate and wish for in terms of how this album will be received, and what sentiment do you aim to convey to your fanbase?
It’s not surprising that we hope this album will be received well all around the world, not only by our current fans, but also by new listeners both live and online. But however it turns out, we’re proud of what we’ve done and happy with the results. With this new album we hope to spread a bit of positive energy and good desert/stoner vibes, and compelling performances on stage. We’re aiming to get out of Belgium more often in the future and just play as much as we can.
Your albums have each marked distinct chapters in Fire Down Below’s discography. Looking forward, what is your vision for the evolution of Fire Down Below’s sound, and what ambitions and objectives do you anticipate for the band as you explore uncharted sonic realms and progress in your musical journey?
Right now we have no idea what the future will look or sound like. Once we start writing new material we will follow the music wherever it takes us, as we always have. There is another release coming up though, a split album with acoustic versions of a few songs. It’ll be a collaboration with a pretty cool name from the Ripple Music roster … 🙂
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