Interview: I Set My Friends On Fire

NYS Music Speaks with Guitarist Nate Blasdell and Bassist Connor Mitchener on Eve of Tour

I Set My Friends On Fire has come a long way in the past decade. The post-hardcore band that started with two teens and a laptop and has evolved into a full band with members from across the U.S. NYS Music caught up with guitarist Nate Blasdell and bassist Connor Mitchener as they were readying to take off for the tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of ISMFOF’s debut album You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter.

photo: Daniel Finkelstein

Paula Cummings: How did you get your start in I Set My Friends On Fire?

Nate Blasdell: I played in a band called The Bunny The Bear. I was pretty young, 18 years old, just out of high school. I learned a lot from that band. It was everything I thought I wanted. We were signed to a label, doing well on tours. We had a booking agent. On the outside, that looks awesome. But there’s a lot of awful stuff that happened. We burned bridges, we made mistakes. We were kids. I was considering what I wanted to do with my life and how I wasn’t a free-spirited 18 year-old looking to run away anymore. I just wanted to play music with people I cared about. Matt Mehana and I started talking and one day I asked if he wanted to get ISMFOF rolling again. We went back and forth for eight months. One day, I was like, “Let’s make a deal, if I can book us a tour in Russia, you’ll start ISMFOF up again and we’ll start touring.” Twelve hours later we had a contract and the plane tickets were fully paid… You have to be crazy to be a musician.

Connor Mitchener: You have to be a masochist.

NB: You have to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s hard to maintain relationships. We sleep in a van, from sleeping in hotels. We went from having plane tickets paid for you to having to front for plane tickets. So we started to lose money and we went through member changes before things fell into place. We had this strand of two months of touring that were horrendous. Not just financially but emotionally. We were in Russia and we all got sick.

CM: I missed a show.

NB: Our drummer got robbed of his camera. My Uber driver ran someone over.

CM: I almost got detained.

NB: He almost got kicked out of the country because his visa expired. We saw money lost from our hotel room.

CM: Literally all the money gone.

NB: All the money we made from tour we lost on our last day in Russia.

CM: That was the kick in the gut.

NB: The biggest thing about that is we flew from Russia to New York and had to play a show in New Jersey that night. We ended that tour with a smile on our faces. Everyone was still laughing, still making the best of it. That’s when we knew we had the right lineup. I think we’ve finally got it right.  We’ve all been through the struggle. Instead of being jaded, it makes us that much more hungry and more appreciative of whatever comes our way.

PC: How many countries and continents have you played?

NB: It was thirty last year. Then we did Estonia, Latvia and Sweden. So thirty three. We did Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. Russia was awesome. We didn’t expect to be treated so well there. People were waiting at the train station. We couldn’t walk outside the show. They were really appreciative. We can have that experience, then we can come home and be completely normal people. I think it’s cool because you can experience it, but it’s not your full life.

PC: What was the feedback from your teachers and school counselors when you wanted to pursue a career in music?

NB: I grew up in a suburban area. I came from a good family too. There were expectations. I went through a lot in high school. I used to be all about sports. As I fell out of love with sports, I fell in love with music. Teachers and counselors I had thought I was crazy. Not only teachers and counselors, but some friends of parents and some extended family. I got lucky that I have the most supportive family every. My father has a good job. He saw that money doesn’t buy happiness, and he wanted me to be happy. I went to college when I turned 21. I’m glad I went back. I think that anyone who had a tough time in high school shouldn’t rule out college. It’s crazy. I work as a substitute teacher now alongside of some of the teachers who told me to give up. I had an orchestra teacher tell me I was a failure at music when I was in 6th grade and that I should give up violin. When you tell a kid something like that…

CM: At the most vulnerable age.

NB: It’s funny how that stuff comes around. I had some caring teachers who wanted what was best for me, but I had some who were like, “You have no idea what you’re doing.” We went out and found ourselves.

CM: We learned a lot more than we ever would in school.

NB: It took a couple years to find ourselves. We learned a lot from touring. Every kid has a different plan. I highly advise finishing high school. I know it’s a battle for some people, but once you get that piece of paper, it’s like your life is about to get a thousand times better.

CM: Like Dobby getting a sock.

NB: It will make your life that much better. You can hang it on the wall and no one can take that away. I went on tour thinking I was going to tour for the rest of my life, and I came back as a teacher. That’s one of the reasons I became a teacher is to push kids in the direction of their own greatness instead of society’s standards of greatness, and find themselves. College is always there. It isn’t for everyone, but I encourage people to try it. But there’s no time frame on it.

PC: Connor, did you have similar experiences with teachers and counselors in high school?

CM: Oh, yeah. I come from a way smaller place than Nate did. It’s pretty country. I remember getting called to the counselor’s office to do financial aid. I’m like, “I’m not going to school right away, so I don’t need to do this.” They were like, “Yes you do, because you’re dumb not to.” It sucked. High school sucked. That place just didn’t get it. People in my town never leave. There were teachers who were like “I had your parents when they were in school.”

PC: How supportive was your family?

CM: So my mom was stoked. When Nate called me, he was like, “Buy a bass, learn to play bass and come join me.” We were homies. I was like, “cool.” I go home and tell my mom and she was ok. I was a cross country and track runner. I had scholarships. I go to my dad and say, “I’m going to play music,” and he told me I was pissing away my future. They saw where this led and my dad comes to out of state shows now. They were concerned. It was random. It wasn’t a plan I ever had because I never thought I could do it. Honestly, at face value, our story is kind-of ridiculous.

NB: We both grew up in good families where there was a lot of trust. It’s cool because they’ve been supportive. There was a point where they were worried, but now there are instances like my dad will be at work and say, “My son is in a band.” They’ll ask what band, and he’ll say I Set My Friends On Fire, and they’ll be like, “No way!” Our dads brag about us.

CM: It started like, “My kid plays in a band. He doesn’t really do anything,” and now it’s prideful to say.

PC: What advice would you give to 18 year-old you?

NB: Look at the bigger picture. Don’t be blindsided by the initial look of something. And don’t let hate affect you so much. People are going to hate. I don’t let it affect me at a personal level. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Everyone has a different plan. You can’t compare your success to others. Try not to get attached to your idols on an emotional level.

CM: Heroes become human.

NB: Who they portray themselves as and who they are is way different.

Photo: Andrew Parker-West

PC: What is your favorite lyric on You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter?

NB: Matt’s lyrics are insane. “Don’t drink and park, accidents in cars cause population” from Beauty Is In The Eyes Of The Beerholder.

CB: The end of WTFWJD, “Let me get a sip of what you want me to say, I am so thirsty.” I love the end of that.

NB: IMFOF lyrics are more meaningful than they appear. You can’t deny that we’re a sexual and violent band with content.

CB: It’s more wacky than violent.

NB: The thing that Matt does that’s really cool is that he has lyrics that appear sexual or violent but they are part of a way bigger meaning. It’s not like he’s writing it to be edgy.

As I was thanking them for the interview, they mentioned that they will be doing an interview called ‘How Well Do You Know Your Bandmate?’ while on tour. I threw a few practice questions at them. Having known each other for seven years and spent so much time together, they nailed the answers. In case you were wondering… their favorite restaurants on tour are In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, Cook Out and Chic-Fil-A. Connor’s favorite beverages are Code Red Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. And Nate doesn’t eat candy often, but when he does, his favorite is Lemonheads.

Tickets are on sale now for the I Set My Friends On Fire on their 10 Years of Slaughter Tour. They still maintain their MySpace page, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Find music by I Set My Friends on Fire, from their debut You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter to their latest single “My Uzi Holds A Hundred Round Conscience” on iTunes and Spotify.