About the Fire spent its five years of life (2002-2007) burning gloriously like a Viking funeral. And while the band snuffed itself out prematurely, the embers of its music still glow in the hearts of young and old alike.
On the cusp of the band's second and final reunion show, slated for Friday at the Melody Inn, About the Fire lead singer 'Fat Sammy' Clevenger remembers those early years.
"We all knew each other from our various bands that played in the city," Clevenger says. "But one day Chris Morrison [currently of Bulletwolf] approached me at J. Clydes and asked if I wanted to sing for his new project. I listened to some of it, and it was really good. But I said to him, 'This is really good, but you don't want me singing on this.'"
Clevenger's vocals are gruff and loud, perfect for Oi and hardcore, but not an intuitive fit for the brand of melodic punk rock that ATF plays.
But Morrison insisted. Clevenger: "We all got together one night and jammed and it was awesome. For whatever reason, it just worked."
After working up a rough and quick demo, About the Fire hit the local scene.
"From the very beginning, ATF was a sort of therapy session for everyone involved, especially me," Clevenger confesses. "I stopped drinking after our first show or two, but I still had plenty of personal problems to vent. Being in that band probably saved my life; it mentally got me into shape".
During the first few years, About the Fire played at just about every venue in town. Clark Giles released the band's first album on his locally-owned, nationally-renowned hardcore label Happy Couples Never Last.
Clevenger became a mentor of sorts to up-and-coming bands, giving opening slots to bands like the Chicago-based Shot Baker.
"Tony [Kovacs, lead singer for Shot Baker] and I have a very similar style of song writing," Clevenger says. "We both had a lot to get off of our shoulders, and there was no better way of doing that than through punk rock. We bonded over how therapeutic punk rock was and we've been friends ever since."
After a shaky break-up in 2007, former About the Fire members found new bands, including Bulletwolf, Stand and Deliver and Junker.
"I've been playing punk rock in this city since 1989," Clevenger says. "I've seen a lot of ups and downs for the scene. The local scene, like punk rock in general is both suicidal and cyclical. There can be one really incredible summer with lots of promising bands, good basement venues and solid turnouts, but that can all fall apart just as fast as it came together."
As for the current state of the scene, Clevenger, acting as a local punk rock Yoda, muses that "the new Dojo is awesome, even though things are pretty stagnant now, but the next good thing is just around the corner."
In an attempt to find closure, the band decided to get back together for two reunion shows. The all-ages show, held August 13 at the E.S. Jungle, was an incredible sight. Most of the crowd was in their 30s, friends and fans from the glory days, but there were still plenty of young faces, many of whom had grown up on About the Fire shows. With fists in the air, fans sang along to every line of every song.
This Saturday will mark the final farewell show for the band at the Melody Inn.
"For openers, I looked for both quality of the dudes and the quality of the music," Clevenger explains. "'Bake [from Sex Before Marriage] came to just about every single ATF show, so I called him up and asked if Sex Before Marriage wanted to play, and they were down. They're also releasing an EP the day of the show, it'll be exciting."
"It will feel so good to see old friends and faces again," Clevenger says of the farewell show. "But it will suck to have to break up all over again when it's all over."