RAMzine caught up with lead singer AJ Channer of Texas based band Fire From The Gods on their recent tour across the UK with The Hu. The band released new album American Sun back in November and released video for the title track and single ‘Right Now’. AJ discusses what Fire From The Gods are all about, a bit about his background and being managed by Zoltan of Five Finger Death Punch.
How are you today?
AJ: I’m Chillin’ how are you?
I’m great, thank you. We just heard a bit of your sound check and it was sounding great, we’re looking forward to the show! You released new album American Sun back in November and it’s already clocked up over 5 million streams!
AJ: You know what in contrast to what Narrative [2016 album] did, it might seem as if they’re neck and neck. But American Sun, I feel has [already] reached so many listeners… I feel like people are really getting what Fire From The Gods are about, what the music and the message is about. The reach has been immense and the reaction has been incredible.
I must admit that when I first watched your video for single ‘American Sun’ I felt as if already knew the song, it sounds familiar, in a good way [not in a copied way]. I just wanted to keep playing it.
AJ: That’s what we wanted to achieve with this record, give people something that they’ve never heard, not reinventing the wheel, but give you a sound that does sound similar to something that you might have heard. I don’t know the word, I think the word to use is familiar, so that it can reach more ears and hearts.
Yeah I kind of want to say the word nostalgic, but that’s not quite the word either!
AJ: Exactly! You can’t quite put your finger on it. It has that air of nostalgia because… a lot of people like to say we’re nu metal revivalists. [But] we just did what we grew up on, we took those influences and we tried to make it our own, and if it reminds you of Limp Bizkit then fine, if it reminds you of a bit of Slipknot then fine. If it’s familiar then it means that we’re doing the right thing.
Could you tell us a bit about what the single ‘American Sun’ is about?
“We’re all leaving the darkness of who we were and trying to find a brighter, better new day…”– AJ Channer talks about ‘American Sun’
AJ: Obviously we’re a band out of the States, and so it’s not so much an ode to the great country that we live in and come from, it’s really leaving the past behind, and running it into this new light of an American Sun. And what we mean by the American Sun is the future. A lot of what we deal with these days and the political atmosphere, everyone is so divided and everyone is so polarized and the idea of being a refugee seems to be a political buzzword. But it’s like we’re all refugees because we’re all running from something. We’re all leaving the darkness of who we were and trying to find a brighter, better new day. And so American Sun is really leaving that dark past behind, and running from that dark past, and if you are a refugee from that meaning or you’re looking for something better in your life, then you’re looking for that new Sun, that American Sun, that brighter new day.
There’s a lot of meaning to that in 2020, across America but also across the UK too. You know with Brexit it kind of brings two sides of people…
AJ: It brings out the darkness and evil in people. With my background having lived in the UK and being an American, I feel that and I feel the reverberations of this polarizing in our atmospheres’, not just in American, but the whole world. I mean there’s so much animosity and so much hatred and violence right now, and people just don’t know what to do. They don’t know where to run. We’re looking for something better and that’s what it is, leaving that past behind and looking for a more amicable way to survive and have a better future.
I feel like this is where music and creative things come in. Someone might come to a gig, hear a song and connect with the message, or they might connect with it a few years from now. It’s music and films and anything creative that helps guide people and influence them.
“I’m not a politician, I’m an artist and this is my way of speaking out on what’s happening…”– AJ Channer
AJ: I’m not a politician, I’m an artist and this is my way of speaking out on what’s happening, and this is my way of saying can we find something better than the polarising atmosphere? Can we find a better way to associate with each other… can we find a better way to communicate with each other…? American Sun, the record as a whole is my way of saying that I know the world is dark and I know that life can be tough, and it can be hard and those things can make you want to choose a side, but the only real side is that of the human race. If we don’t unite, we won’t survive and we’ll never see that new day. This is my way of saying, can we all get along, so to speak.
I think it’s good that you’ve got a platform and that you’re using it in that way.
AJ: Thank you!
So I read that you grew up partly in the UK, partly in the Bronx and you went to Ghana as well?
AJ: Yeah Ghana, West Africa.
I was wondering where music fit into those places for you? At which point did you pick up an instrument or start singing?
AJ: Well I really started to get into heavy music when I got back to the States and got into hardcore. New York hardcore like Sick Of It All, Madball, Agonistic Front, all of that. And then I heard Slipknot for the first time, and I was like woah wtf is this. But I had always heard punk music and reggae music. My folks are Jamaican so ska was always a big part of my upbringing and gospel music in America and all that. So I was always around music and I always wanted to be involved and I played various instruments and tried various avenues. But singing and singing in a band really made an impression on me once I started going to shows and seeing first hand what it sounded like live, and not just listening to a record or a CD or something like that. And I saw a band called Seven Dust and [saw lead vocalist] Lajon… it was like oh that’s a black guy and he looks like me. At the time, I had dreds (in high school). And I was like wow we can do it too, so to speak. And I know that sounds odd but it’s like there’s a place in this world for me, because I didn’t just want to be into hip hop and rapping and all that. I do love hip hop but I wasn’t drawn to it as much as I was heavy music. So with Fire From The Gods, that opened up an opportunity for me to take all of those influences that I gathered all throughout those years. Living in Ghana you get exposed to African and world music so that has a bit of a Caribbean flavour to it. All of it became more evident to me once I joined Fire From The Gods, I was in other bands where I was just plainly screaming and just using shouting vocals, deathcore and stuff like that. Fire From The Gods opened up a world where everyone in the band was very open minded. The guys in the band were like use the reggae aspect, use the hip hop from London and The Bronx, use all that, use the rock sound.
AJ: We wanted to do this and it wasn’t intentional but we knew we wanted to do something a bit different. And so using my background and the things I was exposed to as a youngster, there are a few grime elements in there every now and then, there’s a lot of reggae in there, there’s a lot of heavy hardcore vibe. So I think we do it well, I think that’s why people are responding to it the way that they are.
I think it’s great that you found a band who were then open for you to bring those influences in, as what that’s allowed you to achieve with Fire From The Gods, is great.
AJ: Yeah and people from around the world are open to it, like you said it’s familiar. I’ve got a lot of friends in England who don’t listen to music like this at all! But they’re like ‘Right Now’ thats the banger! And my family has really responded well to it, my mum is like I can really understand what you’re saying now, haha. That’s a testament to myself, that at least I’m doing the right thing.
Yes definitely! So to switch the conversation around a bit, you are managed by Zoltan from Five Finger Death Punch. What’s he like as a manager and how did that come about?
AJ: He is fantastic! We were in between record labels, we weren’t exactly going to leave Rise Records, but we were looking for a new opportunity as our management contract with our previous management company had just ended. Our lawyer, who is a really good guy, worked for Five Finger and he worked for Bad Wolves as well, and he says to Zoltan I’ve got this band called Fire From The Gods who are looking for something new, they are looking for a new manager. He played the record for Zoltan and immediately Zol rang me and was like woah, what are you guys doing?
AJ: But the most important takeaway from that conversation was that he understood what we were doing. Up until that time I felt like people didn’t really understand what Fire From The Gods were about. They just kind of wrote us off as this political band. You’re just another RATM, you’re rapping and you’ve got a political message... But that’s not exactly what we were looking to do or who we were at that time at all, and I figure that people really didn’t understand what we were doing, but Zoltan he immediately knew.
AJ: And he used the exact same words that I’ve used to describe the band to people. He described it to me saying you’re a socially conscious band, you’re not really looking to make a political statement, you’re only looking to walk the line of unity and community. I said mate that’s exactly what we are trying to do and so I was immediately like how do we do this, where do we sign, so to speak, it took a while.
AJ: Since we have connected with Zoltan, we’ve done arenas in the States with Five Finger, we’ve done amazing tours, a lot more people have responded well to the band. The Five Finger crowd who are some of the most dedicated fans in the world and know what Five Finger are about, have opened up to Fire From The Gods and shown a lot of love; so i just want to continue working with the guy. He knows what’s up, he’s working on a few others that I can’t talk about, a few other bands that he’s bringing under his umbrella, but Zo’s got an ear for it.
AJ: But the biggest thing here is that he wants to reshape the genre, and bring about a new breed of rock band. You can see what’s happening with Bad Wolves, and hopefully we are the next one’s up.
It sounds like a perfect match for management!
AJ: Yeah Zo’s the man, big Up Zo, I love you man.
Fire From The Gods will be playing the Dogtooth Stage on the Saturday of this years Download Festival.