A band, like a successful rom-com or a degree in aerospace engineering, requires chemistry. When a group finally fills all of its musical positions, it can only hope the members bond into a stable compound. Like H2O. Pearl Jam are the H20 of the rock world – 25 years together with no break ups, nobody walking out, and millions of records sold.
Most bands are not like water. The majority are more akin to nitroglycerin. They explode onto the scene in a bright flash of light, they rock their surroundings, and then disappear in a puff of smoke.
Welcome to Jonathan Fire*Eater. Never heard of them? That’s because Bang! Flash! Poof.
They were just boys when they met in junior high and high school in Washington DC. After graduation they all moved to New York City and adopted the name Jonathan Fire*Eater, suitably evoking the dangerous and the theatrical – but still down to earth – sound of the quintet. The band quietly released a full-length album and an EP, and then, in 1996, released their second EP, titled Tremble Under Boom Lights. There was nothing quiet about this one. Rarely do rock critics swoon about a little EP, but swoon they did. And they weren’t the only ones.
Now, there are two ways to incite a record label bidding war in the music biz: 1.) by sounding like everyone else, and 2.) by sounding like the future. (Of course, those are also the two ways to make labels ignore you – depending on who’s listening.)
Jonathan Fire*Eater sounded like the future. In fact, they sounded an awful lot like a post-Strokes indie band from the 00’s, but way ahead of schedule. Geffen Records wanted them, and Geffen Records got them. Unfortunately, America did not. Whether because their style of rock didn’t fit with the still grungy times, or because internal tensions affected the quality, their major label debut album fizzled instead of sizzled.
After exploding in 1996, the band disintegrated in 1998.
But sometimes an unstable compound finds stability if you simply remove a couple of elements. Three of the band joined with a new lead singer and bass player to become The Walkmen, whose albums consistently appeared on Best Of The Year lists during the 00’s.
Here’s where they started, a scrappy young band captured mid-Boom.