it was an honor to have the opportunity to explore and share our approach to songwriting and performance, our hopes and dreams, and the importance of building intentional community in Denver’s music scenes with FEMMUSIC.com Magazine.
303 Music Fest Preview – Church Fire – Shannon Webber & David Samuelson
by Alex Teitz
Noise. Scream. Growl. Thunder. To describe Church Fire is to give a thesaurus a workout. This Denver 2 piece is a live performance that comes on stage and tears apart convention. The bass levels are so low sometimes you know it is being registered on a seismograph. The music itself can vary from being heavenly to devilish in a beat.
The band began in 2013 and has been on a high trajectory to the top in a short time. Webber came from Dangerous Nonsense and is known for working with groups from Girls Rock Denver & Titwrench. Before this interview was set, Church Fire was booked to play Titwrench Stockholm. Church Fire will be playing at the 303 Music Festival on May 17. For info visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/303-music-fest-tickets-42925745059 & https://churchfiremusic.com/
NOTE: This was done as an e-mail interview. Only in the places specified was there a definitive separation between Shannon & David. For that reason, many of the questions are answered as CF: Church Fire.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
CF: David writes music every day and Shannon writes words. David shares his music with Shannon and her reaction dictates which songs we pursue. Together, we join David’s music with Shannon’s diary entries and craft the flow and structure of our songs.
FEMMUSIC: Your live shows are very theatrical. Do you take on a different persona when performing? How would you describe that persona?
CF: David is the church and Shannon is the fire.
Shannon: I definitely feel like I enter into a different persona/realm when I perform. I really can’t help myself. No matter how I’m feeling, I just slip into something new on stage. In Dangerous Nonsense, we would put together elaborate costumes for each performance and, while dressing up assuages my stage fright by allowing me to separate myself from the audience/real world, I also find power in embodying the experience. The music takes me over. I’ve always been a little dramatic, was involved in theatre a lot in high school, and I absolutely love performing. I find it much more difficult to break the fourth wall on stage and actually talk to people. I would love to just creep on stage from the darkness, shout my diary at everyone along to David’s dope beats, and then slink back into the darkness without having said a word or shown our faces much at all during the performance. It feels powerful to step into a world that David and I have created, to feel possessed and just let myself manifest whatever ends up flowing through me.
I wouldn’t necessarily say there is a specific persona I’m “going for,” but there’s something primal in getting swept away in music, anger, inspiration, and so I let myself do that. It’s really the only way I know how to be on stage. If I break “character,” I just end up embarrassing myself or saying something inappropriate/forgetting what I was going to say and my nerves get the best of me. It is a spiritual experience to slip into these other dimensions we create together and really own the power of letting go – and our live performances have become one of our greatest strengths. When I’m captivated, it allows others to be captivated as well. Also, I have never been the best, most accurate singer and I am not a graceful person. I’ve found so much strength and freedom in letting myself be the weirdo that I am instead of trying to fit into an arbitrary mold of someone else’s imposed sense of perfection. In turn, being ourselves and expressing ourselves in our authentic, weird ways makes us a unique band.
We’ve been described as riveting, and I have come to understand that there is a real need for people to see women being powerful and ugly. I don’t mean ugly as a slight here, but I am not concerned with being easy on the eyes/ears. I am disturbed and angry. Our anger is powerful, and our power is beautiful. For me, seeing women truly hold space in anger, ugliness, power and rawness feels existentially necessary. That’s where I go when I perform.
FEMMUSIC: You’re both Colorado natives. How would you describe how the scene has changed? What is better? What do you miss?
CF: There is more money and more people, and more people trying to make money on music, which, on the one hand, is good, making music is a lot of work and why should the people selling beer get all the money? On the other hand, you lose a little bit of the wide open crazy spirit, which we love. The enormous diversity of music in Denver has been amazing to be a part of. Now there are more musicians aiming for something with broad appeal which can kind of crowd out the more interesting stuff a bit. But weirdos will always find a way, and even with a whole lot more slick mainstream stuff going on there still seems to be plenty of room for interesting and unique events. Maybe having tension between the two sides is okay because conflict can help spur creativity. As long as all these new rich people don’t price out all the amazing artists here, which unfortunately is happening, but that is a different more difficult question. We miss Rhino, and we miss Colin Ward. It’s hard not to look at that tragedy and not be angry and sad about the changes in Denver.
FEMMUSIC: How did Sew Buttons on Ice Cream & Dangerous Nonsense prepare you to become Church Fire? What did you learn from your early projects?
CF: Sew Buttons On Ice Cream is church fire, but we did learn that less is more, in terms of number of words in your band’s name. Our earlier projects taught me how important it is to try and make the music that you want to hear, and to follow your interests and let them change.
FEMMUSIC: I see you’ve just been booked for Titwrench Stockholm. Congratulations! Is this your first international show? What are you looking forward to with it?
CF: Thank you! Yes, it will be our first international show. We have some shows in France and Germany before Titwrench but, yes, this is our first time playing outside the States. We’re looking forward to playing with artists that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see here in Colorado.
FEMMUSIC: You’ve now put out 6 recordings since 2013. What have you learned about your own music doing them? What are your own musical goals?
CF: Two of those recordings are remix albums, one by Solypsis and one by The Red Side, so we can’t really take any credit for those, but we do love them and hopefully some people learn about those artists from us. Another one is a split tape and collaboration with the fabulous Morlox, whom we also strongly endorse. There is a three song EP and two full length albums. We have learned that recording is not our strength! And we need as much guidance and feedback as possible. With our last full length, pussy blood, we feel that we made some major improvements and that had a lot to do with the help of Brad Smalling at Evergroove Studio who helped us improve our mixes and mastered the album for us.
We have also learned that despite our burning desire to be pop, our strength is probably screaming. And despite our comfort in the underground circles, we aren’t really that weird. We have our own little alchemy and we are always running the risk of not being anything at all and falling between two stools. We’ve come to accept that boxes exist for a reason and that most people, most of the time, want their noise to be noise and their pop to be pop. We’re the same way, but we also want everything all the time and we just can’t help but to try and combine those two things even though we fail most of time. Our goal is to be critically acclaimed and commercially successful! But since that is unlikely, we’ll just keep doing it because it’s the thing that makes being alive ok.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the most influence on you and why?
CF: My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – Kooler than Jesus, because it is dark and dance-y and a little funny and we always wanted to be a cross between Thrill Kill and Amy Grant.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with or tour with? Why?
CF: Well, we have collaborated with Mirror Fears on four tours and we have two more coming up with her, including the trip to Europe, and that seems to be a match made in heaven so we’d like to keep working with her if she’ll have us. And maybe somebody super-duper famous whose coattails we can ride, doesn’t matter who as long as we can bring Mirror Fears too.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against? You work with Girls Rock Denver. What is the most important lesson a girl should know to succeed in the music industry?
Shannon: While I have had some experiences where I’ve been dismissed, tokenized and sexualized, I have found that creating strong bonds with other women is very important. I try to make sure the communities that I endorse and engage in are spaces where womxn feel comfortable. We’d rather play shows that are early, free, all ages and accessible, and I work to build inclusive bills at inclusive venues. While collaborating with artists on our music videos this summer and releasing our new album (summer camp doom diary is on deck to be released late summer on the wings of a slew of music videos from the album), it’s important to us to collaborate with womxn as much as possible.
I’m still working on speaking up when it comes to compensation, claiming my space and sharing what’s important to me with the men who run spaces, run sound, and “run the show.” When I struggle with that, I reach out to people I trust and I rely on my friends to remind me that I’m strong and that my experience and perspective matters, and to keep me grounded. It’s important to say no when you know that’s the right response – and you don’t need to give anyone a reason or an excuse. It’s also important to feel like you can talk to promoters about being paid for shows if that’s important to you and demonstrate that you respect your own hard work.
I would remind a grrrl in the music industry to trust herself, value her own opinion and to advocate for herself and others. Work with people who respect you and others who are often marginalized in your field. Rely on other womxn in the community when you’re struggling with that, and let go of other people’s opinions of you. Your art will speak for itself, and you deserve respect. Also, if you see a need in your community, fill it. Sick of working with sound guys? Learn how to run sound! Sick of seeing men put together bills full of white guys on guitars? Book your own shows, start your own space, or find people you trust who are doing that. It can feel like you’re in a desert, but we are out here! I’ve been really lucky to be a part of organizations like Girls Rock Denver and Seventh Circle Music Collective, where I could learn how to run a soundboard, set up a drum set or build a light-reactive synthesizer in a comfortable and supportive setting. And now I have the amazing responsibility and privilege of extending that opportunity to others. Ultimately, it is your community that matters. There are some communities I am better off not engaging with. There are communities that I don’t want to validate; I’m not sorry for that and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. One way to hold communities accountable is through our participation (or lack of participation) in them.
One of the most phenomenal reflections I had the privilege of witnessing from a former Girls Rock Denver camper who now plays regularly around Denver is this: we are the ones who are actively changing the scene. We are setting the standards for treatment and behavior, and before too long those younger than us will be surprised by the notion that spaces were once unsafe and that women felt like outsiders in their own communities. Simply showing up, being yourself and being unafraid is a powerful statement in itself. Eventually, it’s those who marginalize others who will be marginalized.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you change about the music industry?