“These are our stories our trials and tribulations. This is who we are.”
That’s Mike Keller, the guitarist/founder behind the Bay Area rock powerhouse Letters From the Fire, explaining his band’s moniker.
Ostensibly lifted from an old lyric, the phrase now serves as both a reminder of the band’s sometimes turbulent origin—as well as a rallying cry as the group moves forward and (re)introduces themselves to the music world. While Letters From the Fire has existed for a bit, the group only recently solidified a lineup that best represents Keller’s original vision (the band is rounded out by Alexa Kabazie, Cameron Stucky, Clayton Wages and Brian Sumwalt).
The band found a modicum of early success doing national tours with the likes of Fuel, Trapt, Non Point and Pop Evil, recording with former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody and scoring a few rock radio hits (“Zombies in the Sun,” a cover of “Eleanor Rigby”).
But singer changes abounded… until they met Alexa Kabazie. “We heard about this singer from Kyle Odell, this producer we were working with,” says Keller. “She was killing it on the demos we heard. We had to fly to North Carolina just to see if she could do it in person. She nailed the audition literally on the first try. Two weeks later, we already had seven songs ready to go. She’s a star in the making.”
With Kabazie now helping out on melody and lyrics, the band shifted gears. “She was all over the heavy stuff,” says Keller. “We actually scratched a lot of stuff and wrote around her voice. It’s interesting what she brings, because we’re not really like In This Moment or Halestorm or anything you’re hearing in rock right now.”
You can hear the band’s new focus on Worth the Pain, 13 new songs that offer a beguiling mix of melody and heaviness. Along the way, the album offers twists and turns: The slow piano build of “At War” gives way to the harsher realm of “Control,” while the heavy groove of “Last December” co-exists near the perfect mix of pop and aggression in “Mother Misery.” Throughout, Kabazie sounds both defiant and reflective, stating “I’ve been a soldier in every battle except my own” and, in the title track, simply stating “Thank you for walking away.”
There are wounds here. “The record is full of stories,” says Keller. “And this is the first time I really felt something lyrically when we were writing the record. Alexa actually says what she means. Her songs actually have helped me get through a lot of my own personal shit.”
The first single, “Give In to Me,” a pummeling mix of electronics and heavy guitar, centers around a person who has an addiction that gives into their dark side. To compliment the song, the video features a mysterious stranger torturing a prisoner, who (Fight Club-esque spoiler alert) ends up being themself.
After the video and album release, the band plans to hit the road for the forseeable future, concentrating on the now. “We’re just going to play the new stuff,” says Keller. “Shed the past, let this stand on its own.”
Expect the album’s title track to be a highlight. Like the band’s name, it seems to summarize the group’s early struggles and present triumphs.
“With everything we’ve gone through, we kept fighting,” says Keller. “There were times we were so close to giving up and moving on. At the end of the day, it’s been worth the struggle and the fight to do this.”