Wheels on Fire

Album: yet to be titled (2013)
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  • Truly is a Seattle band whose Post-Grunge sound fell out of favor in the industry, leaving them orphaned by their label, Capitol Records. Their 1995 album Fast Stories... From Kid Coma won them many fans, but the band never hit it big. "Wheels On Fire" is their first release since 2000. Their lead singer Robert Roth tells us that in terms of meaning, it's sort of a follow-up to a song from Fast Stories called "Blue Flame Ford." Here is Robert's account:

    During recording Fast Stories... we took a month off and I drove down the coast highway to get away for a little vision quest, to write lyrics, listen to rehearsal tapes, and just have an experience while driving down the 101. I was trying to escape a little and "get lost... be free" the good old fashioned Kerouac-Kesey way.

    An hour or two north of San Francisco, a huge deer steps out in front of me and I slam on the brakes and swerve, but no dice, I hit this monstrous thing. In a mild state of shock, I see silhouettes of a group of kids gathering around the deer. As I got out of the car and walked closer I could hear that they were speaking Spanish. One of them looks up and says, "You killed it... and it was pregnant." I found myself stuttering trying to think what to do... this was before cell phones. "Do you have a phone I can use?" and the same kid says, "It's OK Mr... we're going to eat it." As I am walking back to my car I see the kids dragging the deer back to their house. I was completely freaked out. My car upon inspection had no damage whatsoever, just a little blood and one single hair stuck to the grill.

    So my idea of being "On the Road" and "freedom on wheels" completely inverted on me and suddenly I realized that I wasn't getting away from anything, I was the thing to get away from! I was an extension of society and the very thing I was trying to escape and rebel against. The lyrics describe the incident, but I also reference Henry Ford and his ideas about enslaving workers and chaining them to their stations.

    Lyrically "Wheels on Fire" is another reflection on a similar theme with questions about cars and freedom in mind. That type of freedom paradoxical and is ultimately somewhat false. It's an illusion that we've all bought into, similar to the cell phone now. It's really great to have this thing with you that has all this computing power, but without the grid our cell phones are useless. So maybe it's not these things that make us free? It's ultimately a leash. Maybe we don't really want to be 100% free anyway... deep down maybe we really do want to be part of the collective? How do we maintain a healthy balance between our autonomy and being completely isolated or "every man for himself" versus being part of the machinery? So, it's a ball and chain that we're all willing to wear, myself included. "Wheels on Fire" is about the automobile, fuel, war and the unravelling of the way we look at all of these things and how it's playing out lately. Look at climate change, look at Detroit! That's a big part of where we are now in 2013.
  • The band is comprised of Roth on vocals and guitar, Hiro Yamamoto on bass and Mark Pickerel on drums. Robert explains how they came up with the track:

    Musically, I had the verses, riff and melody and the full chorus. When I brought it in to Mark, Hiro and Ty [keyboard player Ty Bailie] it fell together very quickly thanks to this amazing rhythm that Mark came up with on the toms and snare. Mark thought it needed something else musically, like a bridge or something. It was a true classic songwriting collaboration. He hummed this melody that was completely different than the rest of the song and I started playing chords underneath. I flushed out the lyrics later, but I love how that part of the song turned out. "Holly doesn't know, it's not that she's slow, she's never left home, she's never been alone." She's a character from another song on the record called "Holly Grove" who is a spoiled rich girl who is named after the town she lives in. She represents that insufferably and proudly ignorant, closed-minded mentality that somehow always tries to position itself to stand directly in the way of any kind of possible progress we could be making. We're unable to solve any of our real problems or move forward even though the wind is in our hair and were getting that rush or feeling of movement.

    There's also a Dylan song called "This Wheel's On Fire." When my song, "Wheels On Fire," sort of presented itself to me I had come up with the chorus first, but knew that there was also this "other song" so some of the sentiment on the lyrics infused into the chorus is about that bohemian "On The Road" dream and where it has ended up. I believe it still holds some mystery, but it also feels like it could be in danger of becoming something like circling a huge strip-mall parking lot.

    I still go for a country drive with my family every week and I've been told recently by artist and former Big Chief bassist Mark Dancey, who is designing the cover for the "Wheels On Fire" 7" (that's being released before the end of the year), that Henry Ford thought one of the greatest things about the car was that it would bring people to nature, and for better or worse it certainly has. So, like all things in life and art it's also about the built-in contradictions about these things we intertwine our lives with.


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