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Letters From The Fire Interview

Letters From The Fire Interview
September 22, 2016 (live)

Letters From The Fire Interview

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I strolled into the venue to meet up with Letters From The Fire vocalist, Alexa Kabazie, for an interview before the band’s Spokane show. In the promo pictures, everyone looks suitably grim and leather-clad. Likewise, the band’s new album, Worth The Pain, has plenty of rocking riffs, but still has a dark and aching quality to the lyrics. “Give In to Me” (based on Alexa’s love-hate relationship with her ADHD meds) is written from a drug’s perspective, as it attempts to seduce a user into just giving in. A few songs later, “Last December” tells of her cousin’s slide into hopeless, helpless addiction. Dark stuff, right?

So, it was a surprise to meet a young lass with a positively incandescent smile. Psych! We scampered down into the basement arcade, which is housed in a repurposed bank vault. Surrounded by the blinking lights of old-school arcade games, we got down to the business at hand. Dive in for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Worth The Pain, the whirling nexus between psychology and music, Alexa’s musical girl-crushes, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  Alexa, it’s so nice to have the chance to talk with live before your Spokane show. How about giving our readers an introduction to Letters From The Fire?

Alexa:  I have been in the band for a year and a couple months now. I joined Letters From The Fire, and then, we went right into the studio and did our record. <laughs> So, immediately, we jumped right into that, and I think it made the record really interesting. We definitely retained the edge and the heaviness of Letters From The Fire from before, when there was a male vocalist. But I definitely bring a more pop edge to the table -- with my vocals and how I write and how I sing -- which is interesting. I think there is something for everyone!

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  You wrote most or all of the lyrics on Worth The Pain; is that correct?

Alexa:  Yeah, I wrote or co-wrote every song. There are a couple songs that I didn’t write as much of, but I had input in every song. And there are a couple of songs where I wrote everything. I tried to be really involved, and I tried to make sure that, when I’m singing a song, that it’s something I would say … you know, something that would come from ME … because everything that I put out and all the music that I put out, I want it to be very personal. That is one of my priorities when I make music.

Sonic Cathedral:  I saw on Facebook that you were a psychology major. How does that affect your approach to making music?

Alexa:  That’s a good question. I guess it’s not really an overt thing; I don’t really consider that. Hmmmmm, now that you mention it, I’ve never really thought about it. I am sure it plays a role in how I see things around me, think about them, and then end up writing about them. When I write a song, I sit there, and listen to the music … for this record, at least … I listen to the music, and I think about: “Okay, how does this make me feel? What is this evoking? What do I feel when I listen to this song, what kind of mood?”

Then I think about what kind of experience I’ve had that goes along with that feeling. I go from there, and tell a story about something I went through or something I felt or some struggle that I had. I am sure that the whole psych major thing kind of affects how I view everything, but it’s not something that I really consider specifically when I was writing.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  I didn’t have to look any lyrics up in the DSM-IV, so kudos on that.

Alexa:  <laughs> Yay!

Sonic Cathedral:  But your lyrics are very personal, and some of them like “Last December” are extremely hurtful. If you always sing about events that are real, doesn’t it just reopen the wounds?

Alexa:  When I perform these songs, you would think that it would hurt every time. But writing and performing them is cathartic -- it’s how I work through these things and how I get over them. It is kind of weird, but I almost disassociate from the songs sometimes. When I’m performing someone else’s songs -- like covers or when I filled in for Failure Anthem for a few shows -- it was so easy for me to be emotional in my performance.

For some reason, I have to really remember to do that when I’m performing my own songs. I have never really considered why. <sighs> Now, it’s like we’re opening Pandora’s Box here. But I think, because they are so personal, maybe it’s a defensive thing where I don’t want to delve into what they are about. <rueful laugh> Sorry, I’ve kind of gone off the rails here.

Sonic Cathedral:  Not at all! It is very cool to watch the gears turning in your mind.

Alexa:  This is so fascinating, and here’s the psych major coming out. You know, that’s funny. I kind of thought about this the other night a little bit. But now that we’re talking about it, I’m thinking about it more -- how I feel like I emote less when I’m singing my own songs, performance-wise. I don’t know if this is a defense thing, or if I’ve resolved this thing. Oh god, that’s an unresolved thing. I feel like I didn’t really answer your question, but that’s an interesting thing. Man, I could talk about that for a WHILE.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  Because I am almost freakishly private, nothing would horrify me more than being stripped naked emotionally. So, I’m fascinated by people who are willing to be that open and vulnerable to a bunch of random strangers.

Alexa:  It is actually easier to do that. I don’t care about strangers … it’s my family I worry about. The first time my family heard the record, it was nerve-wracking because “Last December” is about my cousin who passed away. When my aunt hears that song, I wonder: “Is she going to mad that I wrote about this?” It is one thing to write about myself, but to write about someone else, it’s nerve-wracking. I don’t have a problem with it. I see it as I’m being a singer and I’m being an artist, and I can only do this with the support of fans. They are giving me their support in whatever way -- emotional, financial, or whatever. So, how am I giving back to them? Well, it’s through the music that I make. So, in my mind, that’s why I do this.

It is cathartic for me to write about these things, to get them out, and to get rid of my pain through art. That is kind of cliché, I know. But why I wanted to be a musician and an artist is because I know that music has helped me get through so many things. It is something that I’ve always leaned on when I needed it. So, I want to be that for someone else, even if it’s just one person. That is my view on it. I am getting something from the fans, and I’m giving them something back.

Sonic Cathedral:  Worth The Pain has been out for nearly two weeks now. Have you gotten feedback from fans about what your music has meant for them?

Alexa:  Yes, and it still seems crazy to me. I do this with the intention of people relating to them. But when they actually do, and they tell me “wow, your song really helped me get through this” or “I really identify with that” … when they relate to it so much and are so passionate about it … it just blows my mind every time. It makes me wonder: “How is something that I came up with doing this?!?” The reaction has been crazy so far. It feels weird and bizarre, but it’s very exciting!

Sonic Cathedral:  The album barely hit the streets, and you’ve already got at least one fan with a Letters From The Fire tattoo; right?

Alexa:  <laughs> It is CRAZY. Yeah, there were a couple others whom I think got it, because the guys were like: “Oh yeah, someone else has a Letters From The Fire tattoo.” But this is the first one who got it because I am in the band, so I was in shock that someone would do that. I don’t even have that tattooed on me.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  Let’s get into the meat of the album. One of the prettiest song that I’ve heard this year is your ballad, “At War”. Can you give us a little background?

Alexa:  My good friend Donnie Thomas, who is an INCREDIBLE lyricist/songwriter and knocks it out of the park every time, wrote the chorus to that song. I listened to it, and I said: “Whoa, this is great! We’re going to use this.” So, I heard the chorus, and I sat down and wrote the verses and the bridge.

As I was writing, I was thinking about all the times when … well, I try to be a good friend and to support everyone around me. I try to do that maybe too much. I am always there when somebody needs something or wants something or whatever. I try to be super-supportive, but when I turn around, and am like: “Okay, now I could use some of that.” It is never there. I see that also in people who are close to me, like my mother.

So, I thought about that, and I thought about them -- especially my mom -- when I was writing that song. That is where it came from. <quotes lyrics> I’ve been a soldier in every battle but my own. I have been fighting for everyone else around me. But I am NEVER able to fight for myself, and no one is ever there to help me.

Sonic Cathedral:  Awww, I hope you there are at least some people who have your back.

Alexa:  Yeah, there are. With music, the thing is that it’s always … I don’t want to say exaggeration … but you take artistic license with reality. No one wants to listen to a song about “Oh, sometimes I feel slightly sad, but it’s okay. I’m more like just meh.” Who wants to listen to a “meh” song? So, you definitely have to take it to the extreme when you’re writing.

You know, I wrote about relationship struggles on this record, and it was hard. But everything is taken to an extreme, and it’s blown out of proportion a little bit. That sounds bad, but I don’t really know how else to say it. It’s art.

Sonic Cathedral:  Understood. Okay, on the other end of the spectrum is “Worth The Pain”. I laugh spitefully every time I hear that “fuck you/thank you” chorus.

Alexa:  <laughs> Oh, you are just going down the rabbit hole on this interview! Man, this is just … okay, okay, I’ll go into the full story.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  Don’t hold back, Alexa!

Alexa:  I dated this guy, and before I dated him, I was kind of not into rock at all. I didn’t really wear black, didn’t have a shaved head, none of that stuff. I really wasn’t into it. I had always kind of wanted to be, but I never really knew because no one around me was into it. I dated him, and he was really into rock and metal. So, I started going down that path, and was like “oh yeah, rock music!” <growls>

I started wearing black, and I went through this really big transformation. All my family was like: “What are you doing?!? You’re changing for this guy. This isn’t you.” But I was like: “No, this is me. I am finding myself.” Yeah, maybe it was brought about by this guy, but I’m still finding myself. So, when we broke up, and I continued further down this path of music and wanting to be a rock star and wearing nothing but black and shaving my head, my family was like: “Oh okay, maybe this is really you. Maybe it was brought about by a guy, but whatever.”

So anyways, I always wanted to be a singer. But this guy was in a band, and I started wanting to do it. When he left me, he left me because he didn’t want me to have it too. He was a singer, and anybody who said that I was a better singer than him or whatever, he couldn’t deal with it. So, he broke up with me, thinking that it would cripple me and that I wouldn’t be able to do it without him. Well, here I am! We were doing this record, and I thought: “I have to write the spiteful song. I HAVE to do it.” I never got my just desserts for that break-up. He essentially dropped off the face of the earth right after we broke up. I don’t know if he knows what I’m doing …

Sonic Cathedral:  You know that he probably creeps you on Facebook; right?

Alexa:  If he does, I hope he knows that I’m doing what he wanted to do and what he never got to do. But that’s what “Worth The Pain” is about -- it’s about that guy. So, it’s like: Fuck you for killing my faith, but thank you for walking away. Because when he walked away, I learned how to do it on my own. So, try to break me, but you made it worth the pain. This was worth all of that bullshit. It is just a big “fuck you” to that ex-boyfriend.

I am sure that if he did hear about this interview or know that I wrote a song about him, he would spin it in a way to make it like: “Oh yeah, she can’t live without me!” <laughs> But I had to write ONE song like that, and it was a fun one to do.

Sonic Cathedral:  Speaking of living the dream, every aspiring rocker wants a big tour. You had never played live with Letters From The Fire, and now, you’re one month into a two-and-a-half month tour run. Give us an idea of what day on tour is like for you.

Alexa:  Okay, a lot of people think this is a glamorous job, and I’m here to tell you that it definitely is NOT. <laughs> My parents saw a show first-hand, and were like: “Wow, this really sucks.” And I’m like: “Yeah, you know, it’s not great, but we do it for that thirty-minute high on stage.” So, when we wake up depends -- sometimes it has to be super-early if we have a long drive, and sometimes we can sleep until noon if we have a short drive. The boys all kind of share driving responsibilities. Clayton drives most of the day, and then Cameron or Mike will drive at night … sometimes Brian. I don’t really drive because I don’t trust myself driving that huge rig.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  The chick with ADHD does not get to drive the humongous van.

Alexa: I learned how to drive in a big Suburban, so I’m good with big vehicles. But that is reeeeally big, and I don’t really want to learn on tour. Then, I also go: “Yeah guys, I need to rest. I have vocal cords to take care of.” <laughs> I definitely use “singer’s privilege” a little bit there. I am lucky that I don’t have to drive, so I can kind of relax. But I do have to put on my make-up! I am a make-up addict/guru, so it’s a whole process that I start about an hour-and-a-half away from the venue. When we roll up, is normally when I’m finishing.

Sonic Cathedral:  You must have very steady hands!

Alexa:  It takes extra time because I am in the van. It’s bouncing, and I’m trying to do my eyeliner. I have to do one small stroke at a time, but I like doing it because it gets me ready -- it gets me in the mindset. Then we roll up to the venue at 3:00 or 4:00 PM, and load in. I hang out with everyone, and say “hi” to everyone.

Depending on how much time we have … sometimes, we play a little bit earlier, and things are more rushed … but I like to go lay in the van, or just chill out. I change my clothes, put on my lipstick, and try to eat something. But if we are playing super-early, I don’t like to eat less than two hours before I sing. So, if I don’t have time to eat, I don’t have time to eat. Then, it’s just put on my lipstick, put on my clothes, and do warm-ups.

I like to warm-up about an hour before I go on, and then chill. I do my Melissa Cross warm-ups, which are quite entertaining! I actually did a lesson with her in New York; I love Melissa! I texted her the other day: “You are saving my butt out here with these warm-ups. Thank you!” I have my lesson with her that I listen to and go through to warm up. Then I sing a snippet of one of our songs to get in the mindset.

Then I kind of just chill, go on, play a show, come off, meet with fans and hang out and talk. Afterwards, we drive. Well, sometimes we don’t drive at all, and sometimes we’ll drive a couple hours. Go to bed, wake up, and do it again.

 Letters From The Fire Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  Mmmmmm, that definitely sounds like a glamorous job! I know this isn’t your first tour with a band, but what is the one thing you wish you knew before going on such a long tour?

Alexa:  Well, I was lucky enough to have gone on a few tours with Failure Anthem, whether I was just hanging out or doing their merch for a couple tours. So, I did spend some time on the road, but it was never this long. Pretty much right now is the longest I’ve spent on the road. I think the longest stint I did with Failure Anthem was just short of a month, and we have been out a month already.

I wish I would have known how busy it was. I mean, I kind of knew it … but I kind of didn’t. This tour has been different with how busy things have been. I don’t know what it is about this tour, but everything is really tight -- like jam-packed. We don’t have a lot of free time, and I couldn’t tell you why. It hasn’t been super-surprising so far. But I guess I was expecting to have more free time, and I don’t have as much.

Sonic Cathedral:  What about your down days? Do you have time to just hang out and explore whatever city you’re in?

Alexa:  We’ve had a few days off. We had a couple of shows cancelled, so we had a few days off in San Fran, which is where the guys are from. So, it was basically like being home for three days, which was cool. I had down time then. But other than that, man, our days off are driving days. So, we drive all day -- literally, all day for 10 hours at least. Then we get to the hotel, and everyone is tired.

I’m always like: “Yeah, I’m going to catch up on my shows tonight when we get to the hotel, and I have WiFi again.” But no, it never happens. We try to cram in laundry because you literally have to do laundry any chance you get on tour, even if it’s washing three socks. <laughs> You never know … you might need those three socks later on. So, we try to do laundry; the guys try to go to the gym; and I try to do a little workout in the hotel room. Then, knock out, wake up, and drive to the next show. We really haven’t had down time on this tour, except for the couple days at home. .

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  Okay, it’s random love-fest time … Francheska Pastor of Bad Seed Rising.

Alexa:  <laughs> I LOVE her. Wait, do you know her?

Sonic Cathedral:  <laughs> Maybe a little …

Alexa:  We’re really good friends. Man, Franny is my home girl! It is weird that we’re really good friends now, because I totally knew about Bad Seed Rising before I even knew any of my band or was even doing music at all. I started doing this, and then Scott Marceron -- who is Aiden’s (their drummer’s) dad and their manager -- started managing me. I was like: “Oh, this is cool! He manages Bad Seed Rising, and Franny is so cool, and she’s younger than me.” Then I got to meet her, and we literally just became really good friends right off the bat.

I was totally nervous to meet her at first. I tell her this now: “Dude, I was legit kind of geeked to meet you.” She is like “really?!?” I’m like: “Yeah, I knew who you were, and I thought you were so bad-ass.” And she is four years younger than I am, so I was really stoked. But she is a great friend of mine. She is amazing; she is talented; and as a woman of color in this industry, I think that’s incredible! She has a really good head on her shoulders, and I think she really stands up for what she believes in, and I really admire that. I am super into the same social justice issues that she’s into. Man, she does a really good job of making her voice heard on those issues, and it just makes me proud to be her friend.

Letters From The Fire Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  Niiiiice! Next up … Christina Aguilera.

Alexa:  Oh, you really did your research! <laughs> I’m into it! My OG obsession was Christina Aguilera. Well, I went through the *NSYNC and Britney Spears thing when I was a really little kid. But then, I was 13 when I got really into Christina Aguilera -- it was her Back to Basics era. She made me really want to become a singer; she is what made me go “oh yeah!”

I had always wanted to be a performer, and was in musical theater as a kid. But I saw Christina Aguilera, and was like: “No, I want to SING. That is what I want to do!” So, I went to see her in concert. It changed my life, and threw my life upside down. I was totally obsessed with her … I’m still obsessed with her. I think she is the best singer ever.

Sonic Cathedral:  She has amazing pipes!

Alexa:  She is incredible. I always joke that, if I could wake up with her voice one day, I could die happy. I have definitely had dreams with her in it … with me singing with her. <laughs> I am not even ashamed to admit it. Yeah, I’m really into what she does, and think she’s an INCREDIBLE vocalist. She was the OG thing for me that did it for sure.

Sonic Cathedral:  Before you scamper off to warm up for tonight’s show, what love letter would you like to send to your fans?

Alexa:  I just want to say “thank you” to everyone for all of the support! It has been crazy ride so far, and I hope that it continues. If you don’t have the record, pick up the record. If you do have the record, tell all your friends to buy it. <laughs> Make sure to keep calling radio stations that are playing us -- and even ones that aren’t playing us -- and request the song, “Give In To Me”. Most of all, thank you for letting me do this, fans! If it weren’t for you all, I couldn’t do this. So, THANK YOU.

Sonic Cathedral:  Alexa, thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral tonight!

Alexa:  <laughs> Oh man, that was quite an interview.

Lots of metal love and gratitude to Amy Sciarretto of Atom Splitter PR for setting up the interview!

Photo credit (live shots): CowGirlZen Entertainment

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