A typical Vicious Firs concert is not something that you follow out of the corner of your eye while drinking beer and doing shots with your friends at the bar. It’s like being strapped to the undercarriage of a ’89 IROC-Z as it roars, muffler-less, over the Mojave Desert. You simply cannot ignore it.
“We do a bunch of sound,” said Firs frontman and chief songwriter Ryan Spears, grinning.
What’s more impressive is that all of that powerful, melodic noise is coming from just three early-twentysomethings: Spears, bassist Rangeley Grisel, and drummer Austin Smith. And they don’t use any pedals or really any other effects of any kind.
“We’ve been told that [when] people … walk in the room, and there’s only three people onstage … they’re like ‘Damn, that’s crazy,’ ” Smith said. “And that just feels like a huge compliment.”
The group formed a couple of years ago and, after gigging at a steady clip, just put out its self-titled debut EP. Though no recording could match the danger of a Firs live performance, it’s nonetheless a solid representation of the band’s blistering, dynamic sound.
The album starts a bit slow, especially by Vicious Firs’ standards, as if they are introducing a journey that begins on the shipwrecked, bone-filled beach on the EP’s cover. Even when it’s slow, though, the sound remains heavy, a leaden fog. One of the best tracks is the anthemic “W.F.O.T.D.,” a three-year-old song that acts as a manifesto of sorts. “I’m not the man that built the wall,” Spears growls. “But, baby, I’m the man gonna watch it fall / Smash on through it / Through comfort and protection of home.”
Clayton Witt, who manages the band and served as engineer on the EP, said, “There’s no smoke, no mirrors, no Auto-Tune, no bullshit. It’s just a raw fuckin’ rock ’n’ roll record.”
This is an important time for the band. After 10 years of friendship and lots of jams, including a time when Smith and Spears played as a two-piece bluegrass outfit, Smith and Spears (and Grisel) have a bona fide recording to their name.
The recording essentially began at The Where House, the Firs’ de facto headquarters. It’s where they recorded the instrumental tracks for the album, where they’ve played bunches of shows, and where they met Witt. A regular Where soundman, he recorded a Firs performance several months ago and released it on the internet.
“We were listening to it together, and we were like, ‘This is live? Why can’t he just record our EP here?’ ” Spears recalled.
For the vocal tracks, the band headed to nearby Eagle Audio Recording, which, they all agreed, was sort of surreal.
“It was interesting to watch [Spears] in the little studio room,” Grisel said, “just dancing by himself, rocking in there.”
All three band members say they’re fully committed to Vicious Firs. The guys have battled through electrical shocks at house shows, broken noses, and circumstances that called for pawning instruments. The hard part’s already over, right?
Not quite. Spears is heading out of town for a while to do some land surveying as part of his daytime gig. Vicious Firs will regroup once he returns in January. He’ll be taking his guitar with him, and whatever he comes back with will be part and parcel of what has come before.
“It’s like any good song, bluegrass or whatever,” he said. “You have that ‘fuck yeah!’ moment [while you’re writing], and it’s like ‘All right!’ ”