So the band had started to sputter out before Derek announced his departure. After a whirlwind 2011, playing 22 shows – a few back-to-back in the same night, we could have been headed for burnout then. 2012 was slightly lighter, but we were playing shows upon shows upon shows that were getting us nowhere. With the addition of a daughter for me and the families of Derek and Gabe getting older, the prospect of playing another show in a burned out club was putting us in the red. Some nights only two or three dedicated fans might show up.
FTF is very dear to my heart. 2015 marks eight years it’s been a living, breathing, entity. The four of us comprise this outlet, this creative, riffing madness, but for a while it became the ugly gargoyle sitting atop our shoulders, peering over our backs.
Derek is a dear friend, and a monster bassist. He also is a husband, and father of three. He works long and hard playing in various cover bands, at churches, and teaching music. From This Fire was very fun for him and he wanted to stay dedicated, but being in an original band sometimes doesn’t bring in the money you would like it to.
I took it hard when he decided to step down. Not personally, but like a shipwrecked sailor in a leaking lifeboat, I went into “desperate mode,” trying to bail out as quickly as I can to stay float. I attempted to examine every other option to work things out to keep him. In the end – and looking back – the main ship was slowly being turned off course and was heading toward the rocky shoreline. What started as a band with a mission was just becoming another ordinary rock’n’roll act. Our optimism and faith drove us to a point and then – especially me I believe – started losing steam and the vision began to splinter.
Since hindsight is 20/20, it’s easy to see what we were being set up for, but in the moment you’re blinded by circumstance. Something had to give – something had to happen as a catalyst to purge the demons we let roam so freely. When it occurred, however, I was caught very vulnerable.
It’s certainly not the most popular stance nowadays. To be Christians in a band. Throughout 2011 and into 2012, that part – that very pivotal part of who we are – began to fade and take a backseat. The shows became the most important. “Let’s play anywhere and everywhere to get out there.” With wide eyes and curious hearts we strove to meet this goal, but in this finite world, funds run out rather quickly.
We opened for Evans Blue at State Theatre in August of 2012. Two days later, my daughter was born. I didn’t know it then – but this milestone began the process of regaining my focus. I mean, healing and self-examination never truly ends in this life, but we can strive everyday to become better than we were yesterday.
We played three more shows that year – culminating in the State Theatre Christmas show. The corporate praying and Bible study that marked our first practices and shows were all a memory now, erased by years of grueling touring and playing and recording. All the while working our day jobs. When was something going to happen? It’s a tug of war internally that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has: the spirit versus the flesh.
It’s certainly not my story to tell, but suffice it to say my friend Gabe Higgins has been through a lot in the last four years. He is the rock in the band that I lean on and is the most loyal friend I’ve ever had. This intense pressure he was under was visibly showing, and then the first crack in the impenetrable fortress that was FTF started to show.
2013 had us playing a mere three shows. And the first was a church show that Derek was unable to even show up to. In March, we got an offer we couldn’t pass up: opening for Adrenaline Mob in Tampa. Then, four-and-a-half more months until we played St. Petersburg in August.
And then, like a light shut off in an empty, windowless room, that was it. From This Fire flatlined in the middle of Central Ave. in downtown St. Pete. No paramedics rushed to the scene, there was no blood on the asphalt. No one even knew it was happening.
I tried offering this and that, suggested different scenarios, but the truth was Derek couldn’t continue. He had more important issues going on – providing for his family. Providing for them and giving them a future. This was something From This Fire as a band, job, thing, was unable to do. The band petered out and we were unable to sustain it. Mounting bills, our day jobs, life took hold – as it does – and didn’t let go.
We were lost.
Like Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” we were drifting aimlessly with no purpose, and down to three castaways. We still got together, but the momentum was gone. There was no more low end to lock the music in place for the guitar harmonies. Practice sessions were stunted with discussions of “well what do we do now?”
It was a cheap motel on the corner of discouragement boulevard and disillusion street. What we should have done – what I should have done was lead us back into that corporate prayer time. We know as believers that when we’re in distress, our help comes from the Lord.
Again, it is not my story to tell, but the band splintered even further. I wish I could tell you that Drew Macarthur came thundering in like a resurrected Cliff Burton to the rescue (in hindsight he did – and I don’t want to cheapen what he has certainly brought the band, but I’ve got to tell the story like this for you to understand) but it was more a painful grafting story. Drew came to FTF HQ, then located at a hot sweatbox of a storage unit in Clearwater, Florida, and we had a couple of disastrous rehearsals.
Little did I know until just recently, his own perceptions of being in a band were sapped by previous experiences (again a story I’ll have to let him tell).
On the one hand we had the monster music veteran who just had no more drive for playing free shows, sacrificing time and life that he could be spending with his family. And on the other hand, the nervous apprentice; beyond excited to be presented an opportunity that would possibly breathe life into his dream of playing music again.
We seemed to still be stuck at a crossroads. Not knowing what to do or where to move. Still feeling out this “new guy” and seeing if things were going to mesh again. For reasons that will probably remain known to only us, as husbands and wives, best friends and relatives often do, Gabe and I had a falling out. I believed I was doing right and had some righteous indignation. He felt he was the innocent victim. There was a strange time there when Gabe and I didn’t play together. It felt like an appendage had been amputated.
In retrospect, some of that time was good for us. There was no playing out or “touring.” I spent time with my growing daughter and he with his sons. I had some work to do on my marriage to make it strong again. And after some months of working with Drew on the songs and with Ben coming up on new riffs, I really felt the Lord tell me it was time to reconnect. We reconvened at my new house and jammed for a bit. It felt really good. Better than expected.
Could we do this again? It certainly seemed so. It seemed like we were more than ready. At my church, I counseled with my pastors. They told me that all too often; God will place a dream inside an individual who is chomping at the bit. This person is raring to go so much that he will run off half-cocked with nary a thought to certain logistics of how the Lord wants the vision carried out. After the 2011 run and the half-hearted 2012 attempt, the once life-filled FTF became an empty shell of what God intended it to be. And like the walking dead in the apocalypse, it was a shell. A mere shadow of a former glory. It became a body with no soul, for the Spirit had left it.
Drew came in and the drama reached unexpected levels. The vision was officially dead. Nowhere else to go. A grave was dug and a headstone erected. But also, with God, all things are possible. After three days, the tomb was empty! In order for the dream to come back to life, it has to die completely and come back exactly the way it was intended. The ship had to get back on course.
Could we handle it this time? Could the ship stay steady enough to embark on this crazy journey again?
04/04/2014 was FTF’s official “Resurrection Day.” DM was handling the low end duties, and although 2014 started slowly and was, for all intents and purposes, a slow year, it got FTF back!
Rehearsals are steady now, and we’ve just celebrated our 9th show with Drew in the band. We have around three albums’ worth of material and are looking forward to doing a video very soon.
The dream is back, the vision is alive, and we want to thank each and every one of you who have supported us through the ups and downs, every step of the way.
Please join us in praying for our next steps. We might do another crowdfunding campaign to secure some funding for the video and next recording. We’re not quite sure yet. The only things definitive for FTF that are coming up are the video shoot and the few shows we have left this year. And although it might seem like we’ve slowed down, we haven’t. We’ve been busy back on our original mission, taking care to have our steps ordered by the One who knows all our future plans. In this way we are able to be strategic as to where He wants us to be. We want to be were we are blessed so much that we can be a blessing to others.
Again – thank you all! And I hope to see you at a show soon! There will be many, many more.