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Members include Dennis Culp, trombone player; Nathanel "Brad" Dunham, trumpet player; Keith Hoerig, bass player; Sonnie Johnston (joined group, 1999), guitar player; Scott Kerr (left group, 1999), guitar player; Leonor "Jeff" Ortega, saxophone player; Micah Ortega, guitar player; Reese Roper, vocalist; Andy Verdecchio, drummer. Addresses: Record Company--5 Minute Walk Records, 2056 Commerce Ave., Concord, CA 94520.
Denver's Five Iron Frenzy has managed the unlikely feat of combining a zany ska-hardcore punk sound with a positive Christian focus. Since its launching in 1995, this high-energy octet has toured at a furious pace in support of its CD releases, winning fans through both its music and its message. While on-stage antics and absurdly humorous lyrics are key elements of the band's appeal, Five Iron Frenzy also lace their music with serious expressions of the faith its members share. With the release of their 1997 CD, Our Newest Album Ever!, the band began to add more pop touches to their sound while retaining the rollicking edge that typifies 1990s ska revival bands.
Since their inception, Five Iron Frenzy sought to stay true to its Christian outlook even as it reached out to mainstream audiences. "I write most of the lyrics and can't be afraid to talk about what I believe," vocalist Reese Roper told Billboard's Jim Bessman, "but I'm not going up there with my Bible and beating people over the head either." The band sought to find a balance between the sacred and the secular in both their music and their lives. In an interview with Lou Carlozo for CCM, trombone player Dennis Culp noted that "When I was younger, contemporary Christian music did not appeal to me at all.... The time you praise God is definitely relevant, but that's not all there is to life. There's a need to be silly, a need to struggle, and that's always seemed more real to me. But our faith is definitely part of everything we do we sing what's on our heart. There's no calculated formula."
Five Iron Frenzy began in the spring of 1995 as a side project for Roper with bassist Keith Hoerig and guitarists Micah Ortega and Scott Kerr, then members of an industrial rock unit named Exhumator. The roster was fleshed out with the addition of Culp, trumpeter Nathanel "Brad" Dunham. Saxophonist Leanor "Jeff" Ortega (Micah's cousin) joined a few months later. As for the origin of the band's name, Roper recounted in CCMthat "a friend was joking around and grabbed a golf club and said he was going to use it to defend himself. Someone looked at him and said, 'Oh, it's going to be a five iron frenzy'!"
The band was a hard-working entity from the start, playing some 60 shows in eight months and sharing stages with Less Than Jake, Goldfinger and other neo-ska groups. From the beginning, it performed at both Christian music events like 1995 Cornerstone Festival and at shows with secular bands. The response they received was more enthusiastic than they anticipated. "For me personally, this [success] wasn't even a goal," Hoerig said in a 7ball interview with Nancy VanArendonk. "My original goal for Five Iron was just to be a good local band to be able to go as a Christian band and open for non-Christian bands at clubs in the Colorado area, just to do ministry there."
A 1995 Halloween show led to a recording contract with SaraBellum Records, a division of Christian music label 5 Minute Walk Records. Frank Tate, head of 5 Minute Walk, was impressed by the band's ability to reach a wide audience. "They're Christian to the core, but the focus is to show that being a Christian isn't weird it's just having a friendship with Christ," Tate told Billboard. "And it's like with Michael Jackson: people say he's a performer, not a Jehovah's Witness performer.... They [Five Iron Frenzy] can cross over because they're not playing a game but writing really good songs and being totally enchanting on stage."
Five Iron Frenzy's debut album, Upbeats and Beatdowns, was released by SaraBellum in November of 1996. One track, "When Zero Meets 15," dealt with homelessness in Denver and became a Christian modern rock chart hit. The band hit the road in its Ford van in support of the album, playing 150 concerts in 1997. In October of that year, it embarked on its five-week Rock Your Socks Off tour, which encouraged concert-goers to bring pairs of wool socks, to be donated to local homeless shelters.
The band's second CD, Our Newest Album Ever!, appeared in November of 1998 and found it broadening and sharpening its sound. "Anyone who listens to the two albums can see that we've grown a little bit," Culp told CCM. "Now we've made a turn to more polished songwriting, better arrangements, more pop-oriented songs.... And the horn parts are more consistent. It's not just chords, there's a lot more riffing, a lot more orchestration." Much of the material on Our Newest Album Ever! displayed the band's penchant for unbridled silliness, but songs like "Superpowers" testified to its Christian outlook as well. The CD became a top ten Christian music chart hit, and entered the Billboard Top 200 pop album chart as well. Both Upbeats and Beatdowns and Our Newest Album Ever! sold upwards of 90,000 copies, a strong performance in the Christian pop music market.
November of 1998 saw the release of an EP, Quantity Is Job 1. "Since we've been on tour so much, it's been more difficult to write," Roper told 7ball. "But we thought it'd be cool to get the songs we did have out there so people would have some new music." The EP ran the gamut from such expressions of Christian ideals as "All That's Good" and "Dandelions" to "These Are Not My Pants," a mini-rock opera that parodied heavy metal, swing, opera and other styles. Another highlight for the band in 1998 was taking part in the Ska Against Racism tour, performing alongside such secular ska notables as Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and the Toasters in venues across the United States.
By early 1999, Five Iron Frenzy had experienced its first line-up change, with former Jeffries Fan Club member Sonnie Johnston replacing Scott Kerr on guitar. The band continued on its ever-rigorous tour schedule with its new member in tow, and looked forward to the release of a live album, Proof That The Youth Are Revolting. "I miss my friends when I'm on the road, but this is definitely something we feel is a ministry," Hoerig told 7ball. "We hope we can serve the people we meet on the road, whether it be people at the shows ... or even just each other. We feel we need to serve people. I think it's a lot of fun."
by Barry Alfonso
Five Iron Frenzy's Career
Group formed in Denver, CO in 1995; signed with SaraBellum as subsidiary of 5 Minute Walk Records, 1995; released debut album Upbeats and Beatdowns, 1996; released album Our Newest Record Ever!, 1997; appeared on Ska Against Racism tour, released EP Quantity Is Job 1, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Upbeats and Beatdowns , SaraBellum/5 Minute Walk, 1996.
- Our Newest Album Ever! , SaraBellum/5 Minute Walk, 1997.
- Quantity Is Job 1 (EP), SaraBellum/5 Minute Walk, 1998.
- Billboard, October 7, 1997.
- CCM, February 1998.
- 7ball, March/April 1999.
- Ska-Tastrophe, Winter 1998.
- Additional information was provided by 5 Minute Walk publicity materials, 1999.
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