The Backfires are a British/American indie rock band based in New York City. In between their recent shows at the Moroccan Lounge in LA and The Loft in San Diego, the band (Alex Gomez, lead vocals; Harry Ruprecht, lead guitar; Matt Walter, bass; with Frankie, guest drummer) graciously stopped by the KXFM studio for a chat with our intern, Molly, about their music, their transatlantic origins, and their first ever West Coast tour.
Molly: Thank you for coming to Laguna Beach! Super cool that I caught you en route. This is the first time that you guys have played in California? How’s it been?
Alex: It’s been really incredible to be honest. It’s crazy to think about the fact that we’ve been a band for a few years, but not really, because Matt and I grew up together and we played in bands in high school, and then I was over in England for my first year in college and met Harry and Max [drummer Max Wanduragala] over there. It was almost like a studio project in the sense that we were only together for a couple months or weeks at a time, and we’d record something and that would be that. Then, at the beginning of 2022, everyone moved in together in New York and we were like, ok we’re gonna go for this and see what happens. Almost two years ago now. To think about us playing tiny rooms in New York, to then playing bigger rooms in New York, to now playing around the United States and people coming and knowing the words to our songs is… insane. It almost doesn’t make any sense and is the most surreal experience. There were people last night who knew the words to every song – and gave Harry a friendship bracelet!
Harry: It says “Preoccupied” on it, which is crazy.
Alex: We just feel so grateful for everybody that supports us and is helping us along this journey and really excited about everything.
Molly: So you played the Moroccan Lounge, classic LA spot, really good show –
Alex: Thank you!
Molly: How would you say the LA crowd compares with New York?
Harry: It was good! Might’ve been more lively. As I was singing, I couldn’t really tell because I was too in the zone, but I would say that it’s a bit friendlier.
Matt: I couldn’t see past the first three rows of people, unless the back lights were on. But the front three rows were having a great time! I would say it was comparable.
Alex: Yeah, I felt really good to see people singing the songs, and I felt like at times during the show I was trying to sing the songs with them and that was really fun. Sometimes in New York, people are kinda playing it cool, but I feel like last night people were just having a great time. It was awesome.
Molly: If you were asked to describe your music in three words, what would they be?
Matt: Rock and Roll
Harry: That’s good, yeah. I would say, The Best Ever
Harry: The Best of the Best
Alex: That’s four – no, that’s five!
[even more laughter]
Molly: At the show last night, I think “Blindsided” brought out the biggest crowd reaction. That’s been your biggest song – are you ever surprised by which songs become the most popular? Or when you made it were you like, this one’s going to do well?
Alex: That song was written towards the end of Covid. I’d gone over to see Harry and Max in England, right when the borders opened. So we hadn’t seen each other for like a year and a half, and that song happened. Then Matt and I went over and we recorded it in London a couple months later. But I remember when writing it, I had such a feeling that it was a good song, and when we recorded it, I felt like it was a good song. It was one of the first times that I was really proud – not that I wasn’t proud of things before, but I felt like ok, this is progressing. I remember being really excited about that song.
Harry: We also took an approach to it that was different from what we’d done before. We tried keeping it quite simple, like with our songwriting, which was something we had kind of forgotten about. And but we are kind of going back to that again with the stuff that we’re putting out – where everything is simple.
Matt: It’s also that we recorded the EP, and we had never done that before. When we recorded “Song 55,” we were still separated. Alex and I did stuff in New York and then Harry and Max did stuff in England. Then when we recorded “Blindsided” and “Reflections on My TV,” I felt like we had a lot more experience and more so knew what we were doing, though obviously still learning.
Harry: And we just started working with a new producer, Ayad. Shoutout Ayad. He’s been teaching us some new tricks and helping us with finishing up a record now.
Molly: That song-writing process is so fascinating to me, since it’s not something I’ve ever been able to do. What is that process like for you guys? Do melodies and lyrics hit you out of nowhere, or are you more intentional – like sit down and write it?
Alex: I find that with song-writing, for me personally, it’s very feelings-based. Sometimes it’s like chasing a feeling that I’m going through or any one of us is going through. For me, in growing up and listening to music, it was always about how it made me feel. When writing a song, it’s very much like, am I satisfying that? And sometimes it doesn’t get satisfied until months later, until rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I think that ultimately, for better or worse, we can be perfectionists, and even as we’re recording it, questioning is that the best thing for it.
Harry: Sometimes there are the songs that exist to be written and when you sit down to write them it’s almost like fishing in a way. I don’t necessarily sit down with the intention to write a song, it sometimes just happens. Some of our best songs have been written in 5 minutes. Like, at 3 a.m.
Alex: Sometimes there are also lyrics or ideas that are just sifting around for a while. For a new song that we’ve been working on for the record called “This Is Not an Exit,” I remember there was a sign at the Mercury Lounge, which is where we had our first proper New York show – a sign on the wall behind the the stage that said This Is Not an Exit. And it obviously just means that you can’t leave through that door, but for us, having gone there many times and seen other bands there, it always stuck out to me as a line. And the song came from me trying to figure out how to turn that into an idea. Things like that sometimes happen. But that isn’t always an easy process. You have to refine, refine, and refine.
Harry: You put it in one song that you had written, but you wanted more from it. So you just took the line and wrote a completely different song. Which I actually remember being a bit of an argument? And then I started playing a guitar line for it, and we just wrote it from there. But yeah, we spent a long time on that one.
Alex: Yeah, that song took ages.
Matt: I think I was away for a week and half, and that’s all you guys did.
Molly: At the show last night, you covered a Killers song, and I think I can hear a kind of Killers type energy in your latest single “Joyride” – what other muses or influences do you guys have?
Harry: Yeah, Arctic Monkeys, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Oasis, but don’t know how deep that transcends throughout the band. And of course some Fontaines D.C. love
Matt: Yeah, and Stone Roses, especially with the drums and bass. And the backing vocals, in Fontaines and by extension the Stone Roses, that has really been doing it for me lately. I don’t know that it has influenced any of our songs, but when we play live, I try to channel that energy.
Alex: There’s a certain sound that a lot of British/Irish bands seem to have been curating over decades now, and for whatever reason, I think we’ve just been drawn to that. Harry is from the UK, and Max is from the UK, but Matt and I have also been drawn to those kinds of bands and trying to figure out that sort of sound. I feel like I’ve been way more influenced by bands from there than from the United States. You have a band like the Killers that’s kind of trying to sound like a UK band, and it’s funny how that happens.
Molly: You’re touring without Max, your drummer, who you’ve called “the cleverest Backfire” –
All: [laughing] That’s probably true.
Molly: And you’ve found an excellent replacement for now, but how has touring been without your cleverest member? Have you been like, getting lost, forgetting lyrics, anything?
Harry: Not really, it’s been pretty good! Obviously we want Max to be able to play with us again as soon as possible again but Frankie has been killing it and we’re very grateful to him for coming in and saving us.
Alex: Yes, yes.
Molly: Shoutout Frankie!
Molly: And you’re coming back next month, with Phoneboy, will Max be back for that?
Alex: Max will be back.
Molly: That’s exciting, a reunion.
Alex: Exactly, it’ll be great.
Molly: Besides your San Diego show in a couple hours, and your tour next month, what’s next for you guys?
Alex: Also doing a show with Quarters of Change in New York.
Harry: And then we’re trying to release a record, and then touring again. Lots of shows!
Alex: Yes, shows, as many shows as possible. That’s kind of the whole thing – we just want to play live. By the end of this year, I think we’ll have played 40 shows this year. So put the record out and play as many cities as we can.
Harry: And we’re gonna go to the UK again, and to Europe as well.
Molly: Big things! I’ll be watching and listening.
Harry: Thanks! Thanks very much for having us.
Molly: Thank you for being here!
The Backfires will return to Orange County later this month! Catch them with Phoneboy at The Parish at House of Blues, Anaheim, on November 25, 2023.
Interview and photos by KXFM intern Molly Riehle. Interview edited minimally for clarity.