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Comets on Fire
Comets on Fire
Background information
Origin Santa Cruz, California
Genres Psychedelic Rock, Noise Rock, Garage Rock, Punk Blues, New Weird America
Years active 1999 - 2008, 2013
Labels Alternative Tentacles, Ba Da Bing!, Silver Currant, Sub Pop, Yik Yak
Associated acts Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, 200 Years, August Born, Badgerlore, Basalt Fingers, Black Ships, Coypu, New Bums, Plague Lounge, Tonal Shrine, Futur Skullz, Gargantula, Gorehounds, Feral Ohms, Heron Oblivion, Howlin Rain, Man Slaughter, Murder Murder, Sic Alps, St. Joseph & the Abandoned Food, The Lowdown, Colossal Yes, Burning Star Core
Website Official Page

Comets on Fire were a noise/psychedelic rock band originating from Santa Cruz, California. Founded by longtime friends Ethan Miller and Ben Flashman, the band would draw from the likes of Butthole Surfers and Hawkwind among a wide range of other influences to create rhythmically and sonically intense music that paid no attention to categorizations. Notably the band utilized a heavy use of Echoplex, used primarily on vocals but on other instruments as well. This often renders the lyrics unintelligible. Lead vocalist Miller also claimed to not remember the lyrics after putting an album together.

In their original run spanning from 1999 - 2008 this quartet would evolve into a full quintet by their 2002 album Field Recordings From The Sun and, upon signing to Sub Pop in 2003, attain critical success with 2004's Blue Cathedral and 2006's Avatar. A common theme with the band's live shows was also their DIY aesthetic, often selling jams, live performances and demos by way of handmade CD-Rs and cassettes.

In their original run Comets on Fire managed to release four albums amid a host of DIY releases and toured the United States and Europe. The band would go on a hiatus in 2008 with each of the members pursuing new projects but would reunite in 2013.

HistoryEdit

Graverobbers: Self-Titled and Field Recordings From The Sun (1999 - 2003)Edit

Comets on Fire would form in 1999, founded by longtime friends Ethan Miller and Ben Flashman. Working with initial drummer Chris Gonzales and Noel Von Harmonson, the band found their niche playing manic noise/garage rock swathed in Echoplex. The band would release their first demo known as Graverobbers in 1999, limited to 30 copies. One of the band's earliest known shows would be at the Saturn Diner in Santa Cruz on 3 October 2000, which would be recorded and given to labels for consideration.[1] Comets on Fire would self-release their debut on CD-R (With a different tracklisting) and LP (Limited to 500 copies) in 2001 as the band began work on new material and toured around the West Coast. Retroactively this eponymous Comets on Fire would get more notoriety and praise when the CD would be reissued by Alternative Tentacles the next year.

In an interview with KQED, Ethan Miller would speak of the first album and beginnings for Comets on Fire:

"I had been in bands since high school. I was 16 or something like that when I was in my first band that actually rehearsed. I had a few bands through high school, and a few bands in Eureka, the small town I was living in on and off, after high school. In 2000, I went to Santa Cruz and formed some stuff there.

Comets was after I had an epiphany and realized I wanted to get serious. This was the kind of music that we could put out our own record after recording it on a 4-track. Only certain bands or certain types of music can really fly in that environment. Somethings aren't going to sound very good on a cassette four-track. [Laughs] But we just did something on a whim. Flashman and I had a little vision for it, and we got lucky with what ended up on that cassette.

It's a 4-track cassette album. We went to Tim Green's studio and he mixed it right off the Tascam through his board onto the computer. So we came out of there with a CD.

And it's still four tracks. We didn't do any overdubs in the studio. We originally recorded the drums, the bass and the guitar, and bounced down the drums to one track so we could free up one track for Noel and I to use for the crazy vocals. And it's never been mastered, not even the version on iTunes. We didn't understand mastering -- we thought it was a ripoff."

 
— Ethan Miller, KQED [2]

The band would see a new drummer in Utrillo Kirschner in time for recording the band's second album. Expanding into more psychedelic rock territories rather than raw, noisy garage rock, Field Recordings From The Sun would be released via Ba Da Bing! Records on 22 August 2002 to relatively positive reviews. The band would perform more frequent shows around the West Coast, eventually releasing a live compilation entitled Live! From The West Coast 2002/2003 along with a split with Major Stars entitled Live in Europa. Notably one collaborator in Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) would join the band in 2003, fleshing out the band's lineup even further and leading the band to work as a collective team on their songwriting, rather than Miller writing all of the music.[3] The band also met one C. Spencer Yeh (aka Burning Star Core) who did an impromptu performance with them while they were jamming, which led to several collaborations.

Wild Whiskey: Signing to Sub Pop and Blue Cathedral (2003 - 2005)Edit

Sometime in 2003 Comets on Fire would be offered a deal by Sub Pop and would sign to the label, initially releasing a collection of Jams as a promotional disc leading up to the band's third album. Working at Louder Studios with Tim Green (The Fucking Champs), Comets on Fire would release Blue Cathedral on 24 July 2004 to widespread critical acclaim, pushing the band to even further success. The record exposed them to a whole new fan base and the record found favor with enough people for Comets on Fire to tour as the opening act for Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and Mudhoney among their own extensive touring.

Notably the band would feature all sorts of live albums and rare CD-Rs & cassettes, sold only at shows. Notably among the lot were live performances, two full collaborative albums with Burning Star Core and even a multi-CDR box-set limited to ten copies. In an interview with Slug Mag, Ethan Miller would detail being signed to Sub Pop and the process of their limited tour-only merch:

"[On Sub Pop] It was little bit of a surprise that they were so interested. As far as the band fits, right then, Sub Pop just had its kind of burst of success with The Shins and The Postal Service, so they had an opportunity to open their doors to the underbelly of the label and bring in Comets, Wolf Eyes, A-Frames, etc. kind of groups and they were doing the Radio Birdman and Yonkers reissues. We liked the idea of being on a label that wasn’t a perfect fit for us; that was a little bit of a surprise.

[On the tour-only merch] Yeah, we try to do as much of that as we can. We might as well … it’s fun, too. There is not a huge artistic weight lying on your shoulders to do a limited edition lathe-cut record for tours, as there is to do a record that may reach thousands of people. And they’re like, “make the next record and make it good!” With the limited edition thing, it is kind of like a handshake between the fans and yourself. It’s like, “We’re having fun and you want some collector’s shit to buy …” The whole world isn’t going to end if it isn’t a fucking masterpiece, you know, that is what they’re there for. They’re just supposed to be these fun items that show a little different sector/vein of the band."

 
— Ethan Miller, Slug Mag [4]

Lucifer's Memory: Avatar, Hiatus and Reunion (2006 - 2008; 2013)Edit

From January to April 2006, Comets on Fire would begin work on another album, working again with Tim Green at Louder Sound. Avatar would see it's release on 8 August 2006 to a generally positive critical reception despite the band's sound turning away from their psychedelic noise jams for a more subdued sound that ventures close to classic rock at times. In an interview with Magnet the band would sum up the comparisons between Blue Cathedral and Avatar:

"We watched a lot of documentaries, like one about the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and went about it with those techniques of album-making and bringing a whole lot of foundations together architecturally. Blue Cathedral was like, ‘Let’s hook our trailers up in the trailer park, create a hurricane and see what our little town looks like after that.’ With Avatar, we were like, ‘If we’re going to make an album full of melodies and actual vocals that isn’t just crazed-out Echoplex stuff, let’s make it as perfect as we can get it."
 
— Ethan Miller, Magnet [5]

Comets on Fire would tour heavily through United States, Australia and Europe in support of Avatar. The band would perform at two of the All Tomorrows Parties festivals in 2006[6] with the band participating in ATP's "Don't Look Back" series in 2007 to perform all of "Blue Cathedral". The band toured frequently through 2007 and through the summer of 2008, culminating in an appearance at Sub Pop's 20th Anniversary Festival.[7] However, sometime after this tour the band would go on an extended hiatus. Ben Chasny would remain busy with Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, 200 Blows and several other bands. Ethan Miller would remain active with Howlin' Rain (Formed in 2004), Feral Ohms and Heron Oblivion (With Noel Von Harmonson, Charlie Saufley and Meg Baird). Von Harmonson would keep active with several projects including Sic Alps. Utrillo Kushner would remain active with Colossal Yes.

Notably Chasny would release a Six Organs of Admittance album entitled Ascent (20 August 2012, Drag City) which featured all four of his bandmates in Comets on Fire (Though members of the group have also collaborated on several Six Organs albums in the past.). In an interview with the Washington City Paper, Chasny detailed the process of Ascend, touring with Comets on Fire before joining the band and the contrasts between the two groups:

"Well, all of the Comets guys actually play on the record. We don’t play anymore, mostly because it’s too hard for all of us to find time where we’re not—-I mean, full-time dads, full-time jobs for a lot of people. But, there were a couple weeks last January when we realized we were all gonna have some time off, so we all got together with Tim Green, at Tim Green’s studio, where the last couple Comets records were recorded. And yeah, just got everybody together and did it.

A long time ago, before I joined Comets—-Six Organs, it was kind of like that was the formation of Six Organs ‘cause I used to tour with Comets before I was in the band and we used to always play these loud bars, so I couldn’t really play acoustic. So I kind of reconfigured the band so we could play bars that were loud and stuff. And when I joined Comets, we just dropped that side of Six Organs and I continued Six Organs as an acoustic band. So, y’know, I hadn’t seen those guys in a long time and I called them up and said, “You guys want to do that electric record we never did?” And everyone was into it, so that was kind of how it came together.

[On touring with Comets on Fire in 2001] Yeah. The environment definitely did. ‘Cause it was sort of before people got a little more hip to folk music, I guess, in sort of the underground. But honestly, it does get kind of obnoxious, too, if you’re at a bar and someone’s playing an acoustic guitar and you’re trying to have a good time and somebody hushes you or something, y’know? [Laughs] I don’t necessarily think everything should be super quiet—-it depends on where you’re playing. But for the bars that Comets was playing at at the time, which were pretty lowdown, dive-style—-Comets didn’t really have a record out at the time, just going up and down the west coast—-yeah, the bars were pretty loud.

[On playing and writing with Comets on Fire] With Comets, when we work on Comets stuff, all five guys get an equal say. They all come in and pick over riffs and if someone has a song, somebody else can be like, “That sucks, dude.” [Laughs] Riffs have to go through a hazing, songs have to go through a hazing where it’s thrown in the middle of five dudes and everyone attacks it, and if it still survives, then the song would survive with Comets. But with this, there was none of that because we just didn’t have the time and they were just Six Organs songs, so everyone was really cool about everything and there’s no real criticisms, or everyone’s just doing what they want and no one felt like it was a life-or-death experience just for a song, everyone just had a good time, so that was the main thing. And I did all the guitar solos on the record, with Comets, usually it’s me and Ethan [Miller] trading off, back and forth, so that was another thing. And also, I sang. In Comets, Ethan does all the singing."

 
— Ben Chasny, Washington City Paper [8]

Chasny would state that the band had not broken up but the future was uncertain as all five members remained busy with their own projects and family lives. Comets on Fire would get back together in secret after recording Ascent in 2012 to work on new material but once they got a special proposition had eventually begun rehearsing old material. Comets on Fire would play a warm-up gig on 26 November 2013 at the White Horse Inn[9] and then on 29 November, perform the final All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Camber Sands, curated by Loop. In an interview with The Quietus the band would hint that new material was in the works along with stories and anecdotes of their wild partying experiences with previous ATP showcases.[10]

DiscographyEdit

Studio AlbumsEdit

  • Comets on Fire (2001, Self-Released; 2003, Alternative Tentacles)
  • Field Recordings From The Sun (2002, Ba Da Bing!)
  • Blue Cathedral (2004, Sub Pop)
  • Avatar (2006, Sub Pop)

Live AlbumsEdit

  • Live at The Saturn Diner (2000, Self-Released)
  • Live! From The West Coast 2002/2003 (2003, Silver Currant)
  • Bong Voyage (2003, Silver Currant)
  • Live On W.F.M.U. (2004, Fuck Off And Di)
  • Live At The Paradiso, Amsterdam 01.17.05 (2005, Silver Currant)
  • Live At La Sala Rosa, Montreal 06.20.05 (2005, Silver Currant)
  • Live At The Hobgoblin, Brighton (2005, Silver Currant)
  • Live At Arthurfest 2005 (2006, Sub Pop)
  • Live At Butlins Holiday Resort, Minehead, U.K. 12.09.06 (2007, Silver Currant)
  • Knitting Factory, NYC, 9.8.06. (2013, Silver Currant)

Other ReleasesEdit

  • Graverobbers (Demo) (1999, Self-Released)
  • Comets on Fire (Demo) (2001, Self-Released)
  • Live In Europa (Split with Major Stars) (2003, Plastic Records)
  • Jams (Promotional Compilation) (2004, Sub Pop)
  • Comets On Fire / Burning Star Core (Collaborative LP with Burning Star Core) (2005, Yik Yak)
  • Comets on Fire / Burning Star Core (Collaborative CD with Burning Star Core) (2005, Yik Tak)
  • The Black Cassette (Jam Tape) (2005, Silver Currant)
  • The White Cassette (Jam Tape) (2005, Silver Currant)

MembersEdit

  • Ethan Miller - Guitar, Vocals (1999 - 2008, 2013)
  • Ben Flashman - Bass (1999 - 2008, 2013)
  • Noel Von Harmonson - Echoplex, Drums (1999 - 2008, 2013)
  • Utrillo Kirschner - Drums, Keyboards (2002 - 2008, 2013)
  • Ben Chasny - Guitar (2003, 2008, 2013)
  • Chris Gonzales - Drums (1999 - 2002)

List of Known ToursEdit

  • Blue Cathedral West Coast Tour (With Wolf Eyes) (2004)[11]
  • Blue Cathedral European Tour (2005)[12]
  • February 2005 Mini-Tour (2005)[13]
  • Comets on Fire & Growing Tour (With Growing) (2005)[14]
  • Avatar North American Tour (2006)
  • Avatar European Tour (2006)
  • 2007 Australian Tour (2007)
  • 2007 North American Tour (2007)
  • 2007 European Tour (2007)[15]
  • 2008 European Tour (2008)[16]

External LinksEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Discogs
  2. KQEDEthan Miller on his Roots and Being a Psych-Rock Lifer, Accessed 9 July 2019
  3. Penny Black Music
  4. Slug MagWHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR: AN INTERVIEW WITH ETHAN MILLER OF COMETS ON FIRE, Accessed 9 July 2019
  5. MagnetCOMETS ON FIRE: PSYCH BAND HARMONIZES ITS SPHERES, Accessed 9 July 2019
  6. Last.fm
  7. Last.fm
  8. Washington City PaperBen Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance on Drag City's Radness, Comets On Fire, and Greek Music Theory, Accessed 9 July 2019
  9. Last.fm
  10. The Quietus
  11. Comets on Fire Official via Wayback Machine
  12. / Comets on Fire Official via Wayback Machine
  13. Comets on Fire via Wayback Machine
  14. / Last.fm
  15. Last.fm
  16. Last.fm
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