They're back! On November 22, 2011, the former ska band announced their return after hyping up, rather ambiguously, the exciting news for many months. They planned to raise $30,000 to record a new album in 2012 for a 2013 release and ended up meeting that goal within the first hour of announcing the Kickstarter campaign! Now, as this goes to print, fans have pledged over $165,000 and the number just keeps rising. Jesusfreakhideout.com's Scott Fryberger caught up with the band's saxaphone player, Leanor (AKA "Jeff The Girl") Till to discuss what she's been up to and the band's grand return...
This interview took place on: 11/30/11.
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): So you're working at Scum of the Earth Church now. What's your role there?
Leanor Till: I am licensed as a pastor. I do mainly women's ministry, but we also have a big emphasis on the arts at our church, so I run an art gallery at our church, and I also give a few sermons a year.
JFH (Scott): When did you start at Scum of the Earth?
Leanor: Scum of the Earth began as the Five Iron Frenzy Bible study. When I joined Five Iron, Reese [Roper] and Keith [Hoerig] had a Bible study going on in their house, our old band house, and I used to go to that Bible study. And it grew and grew and grew, and while we were touring - probably for our first four years, while we were on tour, other people would keep it going. And then we eventually found a church called Corona Presbyterian that we all liked, and we started having our Bible study in their basement. And then a pastor named Mike Sares was there, and he got let go from his job there, and we all decided to make a church. And Reese thought that a good name for it would be Scum of the Earth, from the verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about people seeing Christians as the scum of the earth. And so when it first started, Reese was the co-pastor with Mike Sares, and I started on leadership and I've been there ever since. And my role has changed from doing mostly leadership to art to women's ministry and now to speaking.
JFH (Scott): Cool, I'll definitely look that up. You guys got a new building recently, is that right?
There's a book called Pure Scum, if you're interested. It's written by Mike Sares, and the foreword is by Reese. It talks about how Scum came to be through Five Iron and Mike Sares.
Leanor: Well, kinda yeah. We bought a new building two years ago, I think. And we fundraised for it and bought an old, old beautiful church that had been owned by an artist. And honestly, if you look in there, it looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie. It's surreal. Right when you walk in, there's galaxies all around and stars twinkling and planets rotating, and these Mosaic bathrooms that are all intricate. And after we got it, and we were meeting there for a while, then the fire marshalls were alerted to our presence and our using it as a church, and we got shut down. So now, we just got it renovated and we're almost done, probably next month we'll be done getting it up to fire code. And we have to fundraise, and we still owe $200,000 on it. I'm selling my poetry books to raise money for it. But it's handicap accessible now, so it's awesome! It has a handicap ramp, and handicap bathrooms, and it's really safe and everything now, so it's gonna be really amazing for us.
JFH (Scott Fryberger): Awesome! Okay now - since Five Iron Frenzy broke up, you've been involved in several other musical projects: Dance Mexican Dance, Hearts of Palm, and I think there was one more but I can't remember. What's the status of those bands?
Leanor: Well, Hearts of Palm was first called Nathan & Stephen, and it was really just Nathan, a friend ours, and Stephen, my husband. And they really wanted to put horns to it, so that became a huge band called Hearts of Palm. Nathan & Stephen made one EP and Hearts of Palm made one EP, and I'm on both of those. I also sing on both of those a little - some background vocals. And it was really fun playing the local Denver scene. I think we actually won an award from the Denver Post for best band of the year. But we never really did too much with that. Then another band I was in - well, I tried to start a band called Earnest and Eager, and I still wanna do it, but I don't know when I'll ever have time for it. It's a punk band where I sing, and I don't know if it's gonna come to fruition, but I hope to. It's just turning out really hard finding time. And now the other band I'm in is called Boba Fett and the Americans. Have you heard of that?
JFH (Scott): No, I haven't heard of that.
Leanor: It's a guerilla march band. And what we do is - well, let's say there's an art gallery or a bowling alley or a wedding - we do a lot of weddings - we're about sixteen people dressed up in red, black and blue totally crazy costumes, and we have a guy in a Boba Fett outfit, and we just play top 40 music as loudly and as fast as we can, and then get out of there. *laughter* And we play all over, and it's amazing. We just went to New York City and played for Occupy Wall Street. And we played for the protestors just to kinda lighten up the mood, and then we also played for the cops. We played "Eye of the Tiger" for the cops, and they loved us. So it's fun. It's just a light-hearted, funny, fun, crazy band and I love it 'cause the musicians are amazing and it's a marching band. Very fun.
JFH (Scott): That sounds amazing.
Leanor: Very cool! It's one of the most fun things I do.
JFH (Scott): I'm gonna have to look that up too. Now, obviously, the big announcement from you guys was the comeback of Five Iron Frenzy last week. When and why did you guys decide to get back together?
Leanor: It's kind of a long, strange story in some ways. Rumors were getting started, and it might have been my fault, I don't know. But what was happening was that people were asking us "When are you gonna get back together?" And I was at Cornerstone, 'cause I was doing the videos for it. I was working for Cornerstone. And I was talking to a kid there, and we were just having a conversation, and he said "Do you think Five Iron will get back together? Do you wanna play some shows?" And I said things like this: "I hope so" and "That would be cool" and "I'd love to." Words like that. And then when I got back from Cornerstone, he had written an article with the headline "Five Iron Frenzy Confirms Cornerstone 2012."
JFH (Scott): I think I remember seeing that.
Leanor: And he just based it on that conversation that we had. I wasn't online for a couple days 'cause I was driving back from Cornerstone, and my phone had blown up with messages and emails and Facebook, and it was mostly the guys in the band saying "What are you telling people?" And I said "Sorry, I didn't really say anything. I had talked with this guy and said I had seen the guys and we'd talked and I'd like to." And then I talked to the guy, and I felt so bad for him, 'cause he was very embarrassed. But basically the good thing that came out of it was me saying "Well guys, we should figure out what we wanna do. Do we wanna do something?" And everyone did. So the more we started emailing and talking, it was apparent that we should get together and decide what we wanted to do. Scott [Kerr] had already been working on songs, and we all agreed that we would just add ourselves to them. And all of us wanted to play live, too. So once we got together and started talking, we realized we all wanted to do the same thing. We just weren't sure how to go about it.
JFH (Scott): And when did you guys write your new song "It Was A Dark and Stormy Night"?
Leanor: Well it's strange, 'cause the way you can write now - sorry to sound like an old and outdated person, but we never used computer technology to do music before. So this is new for us. But Scott can write it, and he has technology to make it different keys that Reese can sing it in, and different people can add different parts, and then... *laughs* I don't know how it works! It's magical to me, but somehow it all works. And then there's fake horns and we can change them into our real horns, and that's kinda what we did. So it was a lot of computer work back and forth. Not everybody was in Denver. But everybody's input is definitely involved in the writing. And that's probably how we're gonna do our new album; we're already starting to send songs back and forth online, and hash them out and look at them and tweak them.
JFH (Scott): Is that song gonna be on the album?
Leanor: Probably. I don't know. That's the weird thing: a lot of questions are coming out that we don't know the answers to 'cause the momentum has just gone so fast. But yeah, I imagine, it's an amazing song. I love it. We have to, it's so good.
JFH (Scott): I know it's really early, 'cause the album won't be out for a couple of years, but have you thought of an album title yet?
Leanor: No. We've tossed some around, but it's really hard doing everything through email, you know? We're gonna have some times coming up real soon where we're all gonna be together and we can hash out a lot of big things. We've been having conference calls and email conversations, and we can do some things that way, but we're so relational, and we're such goof-offs. I mean, if you know anything about our humor, we thrive off of each other's humor, and hassling each other and being silly and weird. I think the best just comes out when we're physically with each other. So I'm excited to be with each other again, when we can start figuring out all that stuff.
JFH (Scott): Now you guys announced the new album last Tuesday, and it was funded in an hour. (*Leanor laughs*) And last I checked, which was a couple of hours ago, you had over $150,000 pledged. Is the immense amount of support you're getting really a surprise to you at all?
Leanor: Are you kidding me? *laughter* Yes! For the first hour, my daughter was vomiting because we'd been having a stomach flu going around here. And in between cleaning up vomit, I'd run back and hit refresh and it would be up about $5,000 more almost every time. My mind was blown, and I couldn't sleep at all the first night, and I kept bursting into tears. The only thing I could compare it to is the night I got engaged, because of the amount of love I was feeling. For me, when I feel that amount of love, it's direct from God. And I was just praising Him and thanking Him and saying "What is this?" And even the first time I went to church after that, the worship was surreal to me. We're not very charismatic at our church; we're always kinda mellow, to be honest. And I was standing there and I was just moved by that outpouring of love. It's affecting me physically, it's affecting me emotionally, it's affecting me spiritually, and it's keeping me from sleeping, but not in a bad way. Yeah I'm still in shock. I'm looking at the numbers right now, and it's $157,716 right now. And I just can't fathom that. I can't fathom it. 'Cause we went with $30,000, and I was thinking "Well, I can hit up everybody for my Christmas list. Instead of Christmas gifts, I'll just ask all my friends and family to donate to this!" *laughter*
JFH (Scott): That's a good plan.
Leanor: Yeah. But I didn't have to do it. *laughter*
JFH (Scott): And you guys still have two months left.
Leanor: *laughs* Sorry.
JFH (Scott): What's all the extra money gonna go to?
Leanor: Well, here's the way we see it. We've talked very soberly, and we have to talk very soberly because - I'm gonna be a pastor here for a second, I can't help it - when you think of Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus, and you think of an angel - which could've been an angel or could've been a star - but it's right over them. There's a light on what they're doing. The light is good, because it brings light to what's going on with them. But it also brings an awareness to all the people. And the good thing about that is that people can realize when a miracle happens. Look at this Kickstarter number: God did something miraculous. But the crazy thing about that light and about people noticing it is the amount of accountability that is gonna be built in now. And that's good, but it's also somewhat obnoxious, because we cannot hide under the covers anymore. And it's hard, because we don't have answers to all the questions because we haven't even been together physically. We never thought this would happen. So I think the way we see it, as much as we've been able to talk online and on the phone and not really be able to get together and really hash things out for the amount of time we need to to really be responsible for this amount of money, is that this is the kind of money that will be able to carry us for the next couple of years to fly out to shows, to buy equipment we need, to rent practice spaces in the cities that we're gonna play in, to smartly calculate how we wanna spend this money and how we wanna bless the world with our music. So it's cool, 'cause it gives us longevity, it gives us options, it gives us the ability to not always do red-eyes all night long and always be wasted the next day and play a terrible show and not eat good food. It gives us the opportunity to really put out quality shows and music. I like being Five Iron, and I still wanna be Five Iron, and there will still be work to it. But it was always hard. I don't know, in some ways we paid some dues. But it will be nice to not have to eat gas station food. Or play a show, then get a little bit of sleep, then play a show again. Or have to practice in someone's basement that doesn't want us there. You know, it's nice to have that kind of money where we can make gold happen. If we're smart about it, and if we're kind about it. And there's also something to be said about blessing people. And I don't know exactly how it's gonna work, because we haven't had these conversations, but I definitely wanna bless people with what we've been given. And I think what they want is shows. They want our new music and they want shows, I think.
JFH (Scott): I think so, too. I like a lot of the rewards you guys have for your Kickstarter. One of the things I'm interested in is the new EP of silly songs. Is that gonna be available outside of the Kickstarter?
Leanor: I'm trying to see which one that is. Is that the one where people can get a silly song for themselves?
JFH (Scott): There was one that said you could get a brand new EP of silly songs.
Leanor: Oh! I don't know. I'm interested in the wedgie one more than that one. *laughter* But I don't know about the EP. But I'm excited to write silly songs, 'cause we're always writing silly songs. But I do know that we have a lot of work to do to fulfill all of these, but it'll be fun. And the good thing is that my husband is a screenprinter, and he's gonna make all the shirts and onesies and hoodies and stuff.
JFH (Scott): So there's also gonna be a different line-up this time around, with Keith [Hoerig] not being there and Scott coming back. What's the reasoning there?
Leanor: Well, we asked Keith if he wanted to be in the band and he said no. And Scott already - well, in some ways he was the reason this all came about - but Scott was already writing songs. And Scott used to be our original songwriter, so it was very tempting to put our instrumentation on top of his songs again. I mean, it's such a great fit. So I think all of us were excited to work with Scott again, and Sonnie [Johnston] has never been in a band with Scott. Scott actually taught Sonnie all his parts before he left the band, so they know each other. But it'll be a really cool dynamic. It's a drag that Keith won't be in it, but he's in another band. And that's okay. He's got his own thing going on, and we're all still friends. But yeah, we're gonna be a new band in some ways.
JFH (Scott): I have one more question for you. Are you guys planning on releasing anything at all before the 2013 release date?
Leanor: No, I don't think so, 'cause I think we wanna put out our album. So before that - we haven't talked about it. We're gonna have our hands full writing those songs and fulfilling these pledges. So I don't foresee anything like that. We're gonna be recording in New York City, so once we get there, we're gonna hash out the album. But it's gonna take some time to work together and make the best songs possible. In some ways, we've become a lot more laid back as musicians. You know, when you first start and you're young, you're writing your songs and you feel strongly and passionately about everything. And now we're more laid back and we wanna hear everyone's opinions. That being said, every song goes through so many more versions. Which, in the end, makes a better sound, a more cohesive sound too. But it takes a lot longer.
JFH (Scott): Okay! Well that does it for my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Leanor: Um...yes. I guess I wanna say that my mind is blown that there is something about this band that is bigger than a band. And I wrote that in the little Kickstarter page. I wrote "To our absolute joy this band continues to be more than just a band to many of you....and you are more than just folks at a show to us." I want people to recognize, and I hope people recognize, and I pray people recognize that we aren't just a band. I don't think we're a band. We're on a mission in so many ways, and I think we are a family in so many ways, and I think we are a light in so many ways. And also a poking in the side of everything in Christianity that bothers us. I hope we're a voice for the voiceless. And I hope we encourage the masses. And at the same time, I hope people recognize that the pedestals aren't real. The pedestals totally aren't real, and to think that we are anything more than just sinners that happen to play these instruments well, that would be a lie. I'm not your pastor just because I'm in Five Iron, I'm the pastor at Scum of the Earth. I'm just a musician in Five Iron who is your sister. And that is amazing. We're just brothers and sisters, and we still wanna hang out with you and goof around with you and not be treated totally weird. And especially to the people who were never our fans before and never knew us, we're totally just relatable dorks and we just wanna hang out.
JFH (Scott): That's awesome.
Leanor: It's weird to think that we're gonna have new fans that we never had before. And this world is different. This style? We never played with social media. I mean, I tweet and stuff now, but this scene, this generation? We've never done shows for this young of a generation. This is all new, this life, this style, the black t-shirts - we used to wear extra large bright-colored t-shirts. Everything is different now. And I think that if people think we're gonna be a new thing - probably not. We're probably too old and probably too stubborn. *laughter*
JFH (Scott): Well, that's okay. I think we're all looking forward to the Five Iron that we all knew and loved.
Leanor: Yeah, exactly. And it's gonna be a treat for people who didn't know us, 'cause they're gonna be like "What are they wearing?" *laughter*
Five Iron Frenzy is back with a new album slated to release independently by the end of 2013... Stay tuned!