Originally published in Beat Magazine.
I went to my first over-18 gig in 2015. Drunk Mums were playing at Ding Dong Lounge, and my mates and I got there as the first supports were setting up. Eventually, the band began to play, and we made our way to the front of the stage.
After their set, the energetic three-piece unassumingly made their way to the bar. We shook hands with the frontman, complimenting him on his performance. In return, he bought us a round of beers. The band was Rival Fire, the frontman was Rob Farnham. Two years later, I’m interviewing him.
As soon as I brought up the Drunk Mums show and the round of beers in the small talk before our conversation, he knew exactly what I was referring to. I couldn’t believe Farnham remembered us – he probably couldn’t believe he put money down on five drinks for some random teenagers.
Rival Fire are an alt-rock five-piece outfit from Melbourne who have just released their debut LP, War. “Most of the album’s been done for a few years. It was just a matter of all the stars aligning for the right moment to release it,” Farnham says. They’ve had two prior releases, both from 2016 – an EP, Riot, and a single, Badman. You’ll find these songs on War.
“Sometimes a song writes itself. Every part you’re like, ‘Oh, hang on a second,’ – bang, there it is. Bang, there’s the next bit,” he says, speaking of the title track. “It was a keyboard part that I came up with. Tim [Smyth, guitarist] was like, ‘Oh, keep playing that for a sec.’ He started playing along, and then it turned into a song.”
The album strikes a great balance between slow, synth-based ballads and guitar-driven, in-your-face vocal onslaughts. They’re a band known for changing their setlists show-to-show to cater for crowds of different tastes, so it’s a great reflection of their approach to music.
“It all still sounds like us. Instead of putting out an album of all [the heavier songs like] Slave and War, or an album with all Memories and Let It Go – songs which are very synthy, poppy sort of stuff – we just did what we do. We never set out to write any particular style, it just happened that the three of us worked and that was the vision we came out with.”
While the album has been ready to go for some time now, it came together over the span of a few years across three different cities. “Myself, Tim, and Matt [Darcy, drummer] wrote a lot of it in a cabin in Mansfield. The other 60 percent of it was written in Los Angeles in a hotel. Then, the last four songs that we added recently were done over various writing sessions in Sydney at Sony.”
Luke Palmer and Clint Vincent of Dead Letter Circus assisted in the album’s production. The two bands have toured together extensively, most recently this past June. “We have a good working relationship and friendship with those guys. Nothing’s really off the table,” Farnham says.
But when it comes to songwriting, not everything comes as easily as War’s title track. “I write four to five songs a week – whether they’re bad or good is irrelevant, you just get it out. The more you’re doing it, the more practise you have at it, the better you get,” he says.
In terms of any potential future releases, he says, “We’ve got heaps of new material waiting to go. We won’t be doing anything with those for a while though, because we feel like this has got some legs.”
So, what’s next for Rival Fire? “We’ve got a bunch of shows coming up on the horizon, and some other big things happening,” Farnham says. “It’s about the grind, trying to win more fans, and enjoying what we love to do and create. That’s the main drive – we love playing shows.”
That’s certainly the impression I got when I saw them perform. Rob, I owe you a beer.
Rival Fire’s debut album War is out now via Sony Music. Catch them at Sea Shepherd Melbourne’s Stand Fast Festival on Saturday September 23 and supporting The Butterfly Effect at The Croxton on Saturday March 10, 2018.