Growing up around music and playing in bands off and on for the last quarter century or so, I’ve met a lot of musicians. I’ve met some that have left me feeling icky when I got home and I’ve met many that were gracious, gregarious and inspiring. Of the hundreds (thousands?) of singers, guitarists, drummers, pianists and horn players I’ve generally had the pleasure of meeting, I count a precious handful of them friends.
I took Fishbone guitarist Rocky George out on the town and showed him around Aspen. Then we went back to the hotel and I talked to his wife on the phone while he made a pipe out of an apple and got high. Sorry Rocky, that’s a fun story.
Perry Farrell and I talked trash about Dave Navarro backstage at Belly Up after a Satellite Party show while his wife rested her head in my lap.
I may or may not have had too much to drink with Shooter Jennings on his tour bus while strumming (gulp!) his dad’s guitar.
And recently I’ve grown to know and become friends with a tremendous trio out of the great city of Los Angeles called Fire in the Asylum.
Guitarist/vocalist Josh Miller, Bassist Joaquina and drummer Graham Mueller are Fire in the Asylum, and besides being a great group of people their music will rip your damn face off.
Josh Phillips ended up forming Fire in the Asylum a couple of years ago in L.A. Before that he lived in Aspen for most of the ‘90s and played in one of the greatest bands the town has ever seen, Big Swifty.
“I went out to L.A. and was playing in a band that was doing a lot of showcases for labels,” says Phillips. “We kind of flopped and I just wasn’t that into it. So this guy tells me about a band that needs a guitarist and that I should join them and steal their drummer (Mueller). So I did. And then Graham went and stole Joaquina. Basically, we did the whole shady backstabbing L.A. kind of thing.”
Phillips started playing guitar when he was 17, which is amazing because he and I are roughly the same age. I started when I was eight but every time I hear him play I want to sell my guitar, my amp and all my effects, and take up basket weaving.
“Yeah, I started when I was 17,” Phillips begins in a frustratingly nonchalant way. “I joined this band called Medication. We played like Zep covers and shit. We had this drummer that was kind of older and he just kept pushing me … he was the one that really got me going.”
We can all thank that drummer, which is saying something, because drummers rarely get credit where credit is due. Phillips has managed to move on from senior year beginning guitar player to successful, full-on rocking musician.
According to Phillips the name Fire in the Asylum was born out of a song he wrote.
“You know at the time, it was right when the economy started to tank and the elections were going on and things were so messed up. I had this epiphany about a fire in an asylum. So I wrote a song called “The Asylum is on Fire,” which is the next to last song on our disk. I had this vision of an asylum burning and all these crazy people wandering the streets. Anyway, I didn’t like the name of our band. We had kind of a generic name at the time. So I switched up the wording of the song title and we became Fire in the Asylum. It just sounded cool.”
Phillips, Joaquina and Mueller also make it look cool. They take the energy from their self-titled debut and shoot it like a bottle rocket into the heart of their sweaty, eager audience when they are onstage.
“Our shows are precise chaos,” says Phillips. “We’re tight and precise but there is also a lot of frenetic energy. You can never bore the audience. We try not to be self-indulgent. We’re not gonna sit there and jam. If the audience is really digging a guitar solo I might extend it a bit, but we’re not a jam band.”
Phillips describes their music as “guitar rock.” He also says they “land somewhere between Queens of the Stone Age and Tool,” which is a perfect description. Their sound is heavy, neat and soulful. To hear Phillips scream is to hear what pain feels like.
Fire In the Asylum will be playing three shows in Aspen this week. Tonight and next Friday, Sept. 4, they will be at The Mustang, and Sunday, Sept. 6, they will perform at Bad Billy’s. Go see them. You won’t regret it.