Interview: BoySetsFire

BoySetsFire - Photo courtesy of BoySetsFire

BoySetsFire – Photo courtesy of BoySetsFire

BoySetsFire is a band that doesn’t play by the rules. Whereas many bands on the same level as the Delaware-based hardcore band wouldn’t think to run their own label or have a member in another country, for BSF, that’s just the way things work.

Case in point: bassist Robert Ehrenbrand, who joined the band in 2004, is originally from Germany. And though he lived on the East Coast during the band’s first incarnation, after the 2006 breakup, he moved back to his hometown of Munich.

When the band decided to get back together in 2010, Ehrenbrand made it clear he wanted to stay in Germany, where he had a wife, kids, and a dog.

“A band is a wonderful thing, and music is a wonderful thing, but I have a hard time placing it over, you know, kids, or, you know, relationships,” Ehrenbrand said, sharing why relocating to the U.S. was not an option for him.

Meanwhile, the other members—Nathan Gray, Chad Istvan, and Josh Latshaw—made it clear they wanted him in the band.

But instead of throwing in the towel, as Ehrenbrand described it, “we just sat down and figured we’d make it work this way.”

“The things was this: logistically, it’s pretty intense to, you know, be part of a band that is from the United States, obviously. And you know, a couple of times I brought it up to the other guys and said, ‘Look guys, it’s probably easier if you guys just, you know, find a good bass player over there,'” he said. “But they would not have it, you know, they were like… ‘well you’re like family, you’re our best friend.’ So we had tried to think of other ways to make it work, and they came up with the idea that our very very good friend and my former bass tech, Chris Rakus, who is very close to all of us, and has toured with us for a number of years—he’s also a player…and he could perhaps fill in when I couldn’t.”

That plan worked out well, and now Ehrenbrand plays European shows and elsewhere when he can, but Rakus covers the United States and other scheduling conflicts.

“[It’s] a very uncommon scenario, but it’s just how BoySetsFire works,” Ehrenbrand explained. “We don’t really care that much what other bands are doing or how other people are doing it. And we never consider ourselves very, like, professional in that sense.”

The band’s decision to have two bass players speaks volume about what’s important to the members, with family being a top priority. Not only do each of them place an importance on their blood families, but the five consider one another a family unit as well. As a result, BoySetsFire is what the Germans might refer to as a “patchwork family.”

“It’s the ultimate test of friendship, so to speak,” Ehrenbrand said of the setup. “I’m just blessed to have best friends in my band who would entertain such a crazy idea.”

How a German ended up in an American band in the first place is a story all its own. According to Ehrenbrand, his parents moved often when he was a child, and because he had to constantly make new friends and learn new locations, it was music that became “a real meaningful place at a real early age.”

As a result, he announced early on to his parents that he wanted to be a musician. A self-described conscious metal kid, Ehrenbrand gave the highlights of his musical evolution, starting with Metallica, then Pantera, eventually followed by Sick of It All, and then making it to Shelter, an East Coast Hare Krishna band.

“Shelter…kind of turned my life upside-down,” Ehrenbrand said, noting how the band introduced him to ideas like vegetarianism and Indian philosophy. “That was a real, like, game changer for me.”

Eventually Ehrenbrand was listening to and playing in hardcore bands, and its through his former band, My Hero Died Today, that he first met the guys in BoySetsFire.

Later, at the age of 19, Ehrenbrand moved to Berlin, which struck him as a logical choice for someone wanting to follow a musical trajectory. But it wasn’t quite what he expected.

“I had, to be honest, a really really hard time. Because Berlin, in my mind, it was like, OK I leave my lovely, beautiful but very conservative big village, Munich, and I come to a place where everyone is into art and music and politics and spirituality and stuff. And what I found was just a lot of people partied a lot,” he said. “I actually encountered a lot more talk about music, and the lifestyle—the punk rock party lifestyle—and not so much enthusiasm when it came to actually doing it.”

With this disillusioned reality facing him, Ehrenbrand had no qualms about leaving Berlin behind, and a call from BoySetsFire asking him to roadie for them on tour was all it took.

“I just jumped at the opportunity and got the hell out of Berlin,” he said.

Fast-forward to this month, and the band is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. To commemorate it, BoySetsFire decided to play three nights, each dedicated to its own album, along with a special acoustic set. The albums the band decided upon were “After The Eulogy,” “Tomorrow Come Today,” and “The Misery Index.”

As for the locations, while a dream scenario would be having the money and time and ability to play in multiple cities around the world, the band needed to remain realistic.

“We had to pick places where we knew this was even possible,” Ehrenbrand said, referring to cities where there was a solid fan base that would sell out a decent-sized venue.

This means shows in Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin, and Vienna, though some U.S. dates are in the works as well.

However, economics and logistics aside, Ehrenbrand admitted that playing less shows is better for the band overall, because the members don’t feel the burnout that comes with spending months on the road. This enables them to approach each show with original and real enthusiasm and energy.

“We benefit a lot from not playing so much…our shows are about intensity and emotion. And I feel playing a little less, and treating each show like it was our last, kind of, that really brings out the best of BoySetsFire,” he said. “We really, at this point in our lives, want the most pure and heartfelt music that we can come up with, and share it with whoever’s interested.”

BoySetsFire plays the next three nights at Lido in Berlin. The shows begin at 21.00.

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