Denver’s Church Fire recently became a trio with Kate Warner (formerly of Mirror Fears) joining Shannon Webber and David Samuelson in crafting a sound that melds noise, industrialized hip-hop influenced beat making, electronic dance music and emotionally charged pop. Church Fire also infuses its performances and words with political content that dives deep and examines deeply rooted issues of systemic, cultural and personal issues that can be tricky to examine much less untangle in a way that the band, with its visceral presentation doesn’t abstract so much as clarify in a way that isn’t intellectualized even as it doesn’t lack for sophisticated thought and nuanced emotion as manifested in art.
Recently the band released its video for the song “Mechanical” from its fantastic 2018 album Summer Camp Doom Diary. Visually it’s striking and on par with the more imaginative dark fantasy and horror cinema. It also represents well the feel of the band’s shows that operate as a cathartic, mystic, pagan ritual dance. It’s a song and video that embraces and works through, integrates and transcends personal and cultural darkness in a productive way that doesn’t preach yet doesn’t wax vague in its meaning. Church Fire is nothing if not direct. We recently sent some questions to the band regarding the video done with Cheyene Grow of the video collective 75 Ohms. Read on after seeing the video immediately preceding.
Queen City Sounds: How did you come to work with Cheyene Grow and why was working with him a good fit?
Shannon Webber: Cheyene and Ryan Peru (75 Ohms) are fantastic visual artists who have veejayed a lot of shows we’ve played over the years. We love their glitched out retro VHS style and the way they live-loop video recordings and add fascinating and fun effects. Having seen what they do live, it was really exciting to have the chance to visit Cheyene’s studio in Colorado Springs to do some filming, and we couldn’t wait to see what he’d do with the footage. Cheyene’s been active in Colorado underground scenes for years, dragging a huge analog setup to shows to create live visuals like no one else. The splicing of organic, live footage with retro neon effects and glitchy visual noise feels like a natural visual representation of our music. As an artist, we trusted him to take full creative license to create a new version of our music through his visual art. ‘Mechanical’ is about transformation in a lot of ways, and we were thrilled to see how Cheyene would transform the song.
There’s a kind of “lost VHS tape” quality to the video. Was that an aspect of the video you discussed with Cheyenne? What do you like about that kind of aesthetic?
This style is pretty quintessential for Cheyene and 75 Ohms and it has a lot to do with why we wanted to work with him. In our music, we like to get lost in darkness and light and to hold more than one extreme at a time, and Cheyene’s video techniques do the same. Using direct footage of something as simple as our heads gives it a natural, intimate and raw feel. Combined with his visually noisy techniques, bright colors, distortion and glitchiness, one gets an experimental, dark and exhilarating feeling watching the clips. It adds a striking intensity to some already pretty intense but simple headshots and keeps the momentum of the video and music going strong.
While not new and it now occurs to me resonant in ways with the name of the band and pagan black metal, there is a kind of tribal pagan mystic aspect to your performance garb including an antler crown. What is the significance of that for your band? With a lot of those early Norwegian black metal bands there was some reference to cleansing the land of non-native religious structures built over traditional Viking holy places and thus a call for a return to an older, more primordial native spirituality. American black metal bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, of course, are more obviously oriented toward nature and the preservation of that as part of holistic view of our existence.
Our identity as a band definitely continues to grow and has developed a lot even after changing our name to church fire in 2012. When David made this crown, it felt like a portal was created for us to step into when we perform and write. The crown itself, actually preceded our aesthetic. Initially, it wasn’t an idea inspired by anything in particular and honestly had no greater vision behind it other than it was curious to us and felt powerful. It was a very organic transformation for us. I think the image and feeling of the crown and our masks have felt more powerful for us as time goes on, and allows us to let go of our everyday identities and step into the new worlds that we’ve created with each other through our music. It feels transcendent and liberating to us but is not connected to any existent culture, image or community for us – not intentionally, anyway.
That said, after we stepped into the crown, the flowers, the lights and the masks, we have been able to even more fully relish in a dark, earthy but surreal experience. There is a sense of the divine feminine and of the power of nature in those images, of a softness, a strength, and a darkness, and that’s where we come from when we write and perform. To keep these unshakable, powerful and ancient images in our minds when we create and perform makes our own experience with our art more fulfilling and transcendent, and we hope others tap into those feelings and are inspired as well.
“Mechanical,” tell us a bit about what inspired this song and its tones and sense of urgency.
I was sitting on a beach in Oregon watching the waves roll onto the shore, sifting through rocks and shells, thinking about how drastically these artifacts have changed over more time than we can fathom; how they used to be huge and jagged, perhaps, and are now smooth and small and have creatures living inside them. I started thinking about all the ways that we transform throughout our lives and beyond our lives, transitions that we have no awareness of having undergone whatsoever; how some of the most powerful things that make us who we are, make reality what it is as we know it, are really tiny, delicate waves washing over us, so small we can’t even feel or see them; and that this version of everything we see, feel and know to be true is only what it is in this instant and instantly is forever changed again under a new wave.
We fancy ourselves in so much control, able to eliminate our desires if they don’t suit us, able to cure illness before it ever afflicts us, but the waves will still take over. It’s beautiful to be tiny and insignificant. It’s unrecognizingly powerful to transform and to be changed by the earth and Her elements. In writing the song, the meaning started to transform as well. In watching Cheyene’s video, the meanings continued to change, touching on gender and identity and transformation of these aspects of ourselves as well.
In 2018 Church Fire played a kind of one-off, special set that was some kind of black metal/noise/industrial set. Was this video a kind of precursor to that or inspired by that? What about the sorts of feelings you’re able to conjure playing that side of your music do you feel are different from and/or complimentary to what most people have seen/heard from Church Fire? I feel like your live performances always had that dark yet cathartic quality and that your latest album brought that out more in your recordings.
We’ve been secretly playing some doomy sludge guitar/drums drek for fun for a few years now, and when we were asked to play the Noise vs Doom festival last year it seemed like the only appropriate way to show up! [The] March 14th [show] at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, with The Drood, blackcell and DJ Mudwolf, [was] our first show with David playing drums and Kate Warner (Mirror Fears) on electronic music. We’re not a duo anymore! We feel honored to work with one of the most talented and hard working musicians in our scene and to transform our own music and push our limits in new ways.
Statement from the visual artist (Cheyene Grow)
One of the many things I find compelling about Church Fire is how they can simultaneously occupy seemingly diametric spaces. You could argue they are too noisy to be pop, too poppy to be noise. Too theatrical to be punk, too punk to be theatrical. Too goth to be cyber, too cyber to be goth. The list goes on.
I wanted to embody that contrast with visuals that would occupy conflicting spaces. So went for a look that felt aged and dirty, while also being clean and cyber-futuristic. Shannon has an intense and very engaging stage presence that I wanted to feature. So, instead of trying to put forth an actual narrative of transformation (which the lyrics capture well), we went with a performance piece and tried to incorporate transformation elements into the performances and the visual effects. The video glitches serve as way to mechanically degrade the image and make it feel like old film, while the core image maintains a certain high-end integrity.