Inside Phoenix on the Fault Line's bunker 


It's an inauspicious building from the outside, a detached garage on James Sweeney's Southside property where previous owners used to shoot opossums - for fun or necessity isn't noted.

Now it's the practice space for the motley carnivalistic rock band Phoenix on the Fault Line. Sweeney, who plays guitar, added a small foyer and bar, and doubled the thickness of the walls for soundproofing.

Known as "The Bunker," it has all the markings of a rehearsal room. Posters advertising previous gigs line the walls. There's a V-shaped guitar on display that POTFL received for winning Birdy's Battle of the Bands in 2011.

And then there are the trappings that could only be unique to a close-knit group of friends. This one has its own 10 Commandments ("Thou shalt not be a douche via social media," is one) Break that or any of the other nine and you have to take a shot from the Jug of Death.

A leather-bound, tequila-shaped container, it looks like something Indiana Jones would rescue from treasure thieves. It's called the Jug of Death because it contains remnants of various liquors - including moonshine and absinthe - going back years. Rumor is there's even a cicada in it, but that's never been substantiated. A device like this is necessary to keep order in a nonet.

That's right, Phoenix on the Fault Line has nine members. That includes two guitarists, three horn players and, yes, two drummers. Over a recent gathering at The Bunker that included copious consumption of Hamm's beer (logistically sound for a nine-piece at $10.99 per 30-pack) and fun with a homemade radish gun, Sweeney explained they've just kept adding members since starting six years ago. They've all known each other since their youth.

"The fun thing about this band is nothing has ever been planned," Sweeney said. "Things just happen and eventually you look back and think, 'You know, this all kind of makes sense.'"

Vocalist Tony Ferreira was the only one actively pursued. Everyone else just sort of showed up to practice over time - bearing beer, of course. Sweeney says the door's still open for more, but they'd have to get a bigger rehearsal space.

"Obviously we're pretty open-minded," he said. "We don't want to limit ourselves to anything."

That most definitely includes their music. With their fourth record, Zombie Kill 85, officially out July 19, POTFL are taking their pirate-y pummel to new heights.

"If Danny Trejo has 30 minutes of zombie killing to do, this is what he should be listening to," Ferreira said of the new material. They'll get to play it on one of their biggest stages yet, opening for Black Sabbath Aug. 18 at Klipsch Music Center.

Basically tales of survival in the zombie world, Ferreira was inspired to take on such a theme when the band wrote a song titled, "They're Coming to Get You Barbara."

"I started waving my hands trying to sell the guys (on this idea)," he said. "This is known as rabbit-holing within the band. There's very complex, neuro-linguistic programming you have to do with nine guys to get them on the same page."

Added Sweeney, "Tony's either a BS artist or a master manipulator. We still don't know. I don't think we want to at this point."

The new record comes on the heels of POTFL's first book, 9 Shall Rise. Guitarist Chip Strohs fleshed it out into a novel from Ferreira's ramblings on time travel at band practices.

"We all kind of laughed it off, but then he started talking about it at shows," Strohs said of the singer's ideas. "He was referencing stories none of us knew about. Finally it got to the point where it either needed to be written down or let go."

The book parallels their previous album, Basement of the Coliseum, and both set up the new record. POTFL's next plan is to write another book or graphic novel and keep moving the story forward. As self-proclaimed dorks, they figure they live in their own world anyway. This way other people can experience it. Fortunately, as rowdy as a nine-member collective can get, everyone involved in this one learned to check their ego at the door early on.

"That's really served us well," said bassist Nate "Johann 51" Gray. "It's allowed us to all mature as players. I think that's why our sound keeps evolving too. Everyone has a say. It all kind of gets blended in. It's a neat thing to have nine talented players with good ideas."

Though that also means each section of the group has to think like it's a department within an office.

"We just have to carve out space. There's not a lot of it there," Darby, who plays trombone, said of the horn section.

The same goes for both drummers - Big Andy and Ocho (some of the members are only known by nicknames or part of their real appellation).

"You just have to play a lot less," Big Andy said. "It's two hands on one steering wheel. Once you get past that, you really respect each other's boundaries on not overplaying."

Indeed, what's kept Phoenix on the Fault Line going, other than their longtime friendship, is their union in opposition to personal agendas.

"We learned a long time ago this beast is much bigger than any one of us," Ferreira said.

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