Interview with Scott Kerr of Five Iron Frenzy and Yellow Second
In light of ska/punk/power-pop band Five Iron Frenzy’s new album “Engine of a Million Plots” landing at #3 on my 2013 Top Ten, I decided to reach out to FIF bassist Scott Kerr, who, as the frontman of Yellow Second, wrote my favorite record of the aughts. Given my thorough enjoyment of the entire Yellow Second catalog, there was little chance I wouldn’t be enamored of FIF given Scott’s involvement (he co-wrote 11 of the album’s 12 songs), and as expected, I wasn’t disappointed.
1) What happened to Yellow Second? You guys released my favorite album of the entire decade back in 2005. Are you still on good terms with the former members of the band?
Thanks, man. We are definitely on good terms. Those guys are among my closest friends. As for what happened to the band, we just seemed to reach a dead end. YS just could never gain enough traction. As proud as I was of the songs, we didn’t have enough success to make it viable. I also turned 30 in 2005, and my wife and I had put off starting a family while I was on the road so much. It was just time to move on.
2) Both Five Iron Frenzy and Yellow Second are routinely identified as “Christian rock” bands, although according to Wikipedia you left FIF back in 1998 due in part to a renunciation of Christianity. Yellow Second’s debut, “June One,” didn’t come out until 2000 — how did YS still carry the “Christian rock” tag? While it may not be fair, being categorized as such would seem to be something of a barrier to appealing to a more widespread audience.
My reasons for leaving Five Iron were not well known at the time, and I often wrote about my former faith in Yellow Second, albeit somewhat obscurely. And what I wrote was seldom negative. I mourned it, really, and for a time even came back to a place where I loosely identified myself with Christianity again. Many if not most YS songs dealt with the cognitive dissonance I felt between what is rational and the traces of belief that persisted in spite of that. Not to mention Floodgate Records, which released Altitude, was known primarily as a Christian label. All that to say, it’s not that surprising that the band would still be associated with that world. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was really a hindrance or not. If anything I’d say my abstruse, self-absorbed reflections on religion don’t make for good, relatable power-pop lyrics. Haha.
3) Following “Altitude” and the dissolution of the band, it seems you went on something of a musical hiatus. What made you decide to rejoin FIF? Did you do anything musically from 2006 through 2011?
During that time I wrote a handful of YS songs, a couple of which we released alongside the remix/remaster of Altitude in 2012. I also wrote a number of songs and song fragments that had no home in a particular band. I never stopped writing, though I was definitely a lot less prolific during those years. My kids, work, etc, became more of the focus, but I’m always thinking about music.
I rejoined Five Iron as an excuse to reconnect with my old friends. I grew up with these guys (and girl). That’s really as far as it went at first…just practicing together and reminiscing about old times. Honestly, the thought of making a new record and playing shows again made me kind of nervous. I imagined our differences in worldview might make for an awkward collaboration, and I wondered how interactions with fans would be as well. It’s actually been great, though.
4) Aside from playing on the record, what are your contributions to “Engine of a Million Plots?” Did you co-write or write a number of the songs? Yellow Second devotees can hear the unreleased title track from “Altitude” repurposed in the second half of “Zen & the Art of Xenophobia.” Are there other snippets from compositions meant for YS that made it onto this record?
Yeah, I wrote the music for 11 of the 12 songs on EOMP. Dennis wrote the other one, and he also composed some of the horn parts on other tracks. Reese writes most of the lyrics, which often necessitates some give and take with vocal melodies. I also wrote the lyrics for the album closer, “Blizzards and Bygones”, which was originally going to be a Yellow Second song, and contributed a few words here are there on some other tunes. There are other musical fragments from older unreleased songs (some of them YS, some not) that I cannibalized for this record as well, probably nothing you would have heard, though.
5) In Yellow Second you were the lead singer and guitarist, but in FIF you handle bass duties. How is it not being the frontman? Do you have a preference?
I sometimes miss singing more than just bgv’s, but not really the other aspects of being a frontman (e.g. between-song banter, etc). I do enjoy playing bass as much as guitar, though.
6) What are your favorite tracks off of the new record?
I can honestly say I like them all. My favorites change. Right now probably “So Far”, “Someone Else’s Problem”, “Into Your Veins”, and “Blizzards and Bygones”.
7) What are some other 2013 releases that have blown your mind?
Haha. I don’t know if these “blew my mind”, exactly, but some of my favorites include:
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Charli XCX – True Romance
Paul McCartney – NEW
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Mosquito
8) Since not everyone releases new albums every year, who are some of your other favorite artists?
My favorites of the last few years:
Metric, Rival Schools, Ladyhawke, Tame Impala, Marina and the Diamonds
9) You have hinted to me in the past that Yellow Second might put new music out at some point. The last bit of information the Internet has on this is on your Wikipedia page, which states that “In 2011, John Warne of Relient K joined Yellow Second and they are now working on a new album.” Please give us an update as to whether there might be any chance of a new Yellow Second album in 2014.
Yeah, there’s not much going on right now. We played a show (opening for Five Iron) in August, which was fun, but that’s all we’ve done recently. There isn’t really a plan to do another record at this point. You and about 12 other people will be disappointed to hear that, I’m sure. :)
10) Aside from a possible Yellow Second reunion, what are your other musical plans for 2014?
I’ve started writing for the next Five Iron record, and we will continue to play shows and possibly do a couple of short tours.