Interview with Fireside Collective
Photo by Jace Kartye Edited by Charles Millar
INTERVIEW WITH FIRESIDE COLLECTIVE
Enjoy this interview with Fireside Collective by Lesson Pros. They are a progressive bluegrass band hitting the festival circuit hard.
Sandi: How did you get started playing music?
Joe Cicero (guitar): My dad played guitar and we always had a few around the house. He showed me a few chords when I was about 10 years old and got me on my way. Of course, back then I’d never heard of bluegrass, so I started off playing Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty tunes.
Alex Genova (banjo): My grandparents lived next door when I was little. My grandma played piano and sang. She taught me how to sing and play the piano when I was very young, like 3 or 4. When I got a little older, around 7 or 8, I found my mother’s old guitar in their house and started taking guitar lessons. After that, I took a lot of lessons, guitar, voice, piano, trumpet, violin, and eventually banjo, in high school.
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): I first got an acoustic guitar from my neighbor who was getting rid of things at a yard sale when I was about 22. I had never played music before but accepted the instrument and immediately fell in love! I went down a folk and blues rabbit hole which eventually led to bluegrass. After hearing a dobro on a Seldom Scene album and had to have one. Once I got my hands on a 1974 Dobro I pretty much dove in 100% and left the guitar behind!
Sandi: Who are your musical heroes and why?
Joe Cicero (guitar): There are so many. In the bluegrass world, I’d say, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, and Bryan Sutton have had the biggest impact on me. Doc was my first exposure to flatpick guitar, he was so fast and clean and I’d never heard someone play like that before, which piqued my interest and got me to start diving into the music.
Tony got me hooked officially. The tone that he pulled, the timing, and his note choice had me looking for every album of his that I could get my hands on. Not to mention his RHYTHM. I could listen to a whole track just focusing on his chord voicings and right hand. Bryan kind of brought everything together for me. He’s got it all; clean, tone, rhythm, and his technique allows him to play pretty much as fast as he wants. In my opinion, he’s the best out there. He’s who I’ve most closely modeled my technique after.
To be honest, though, bluegrass is just a portion of my musical taste, and I have many other heroes and influences. Bands like Radiohead and Tool, people like Prince and David Bowie, the list goes on and on.
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): Jerry Douglas is my dobro hero. His ability to enhance a song with just a few notes is something I strive for. I think it’s his tastefulness that is inspiring. Other influences are Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, the Beatles, and Tupac! I enjoy a great song and a captivating story that really hits your soul, and all those artists, although very different, are masters at that.
Sandi: Who is the songwriter(s) for Fireside Collective?
Jesse is the main songwriter at the moment but we all contribute musically which I think makes the band unique. Myself and Joe write a few songs here and there and I look forward to co-writing with other members at some point in the future.
Sandi: Favorite Songwriters?
Joe Cicero (guitar): Again, this list could go on and on, but I’ll limit it to the first 3 that come to mind. John Prine, Guy Clark, and Billy Joe Shaver. They’re all amazing in their own way. Prine could make you laugh with one line and cry with the next, all while making you feel like you’re listening to the song of a dear friend with a heart as big as any other. Guy Clark, no one could say more with less than that man. Every word seems perfectly placed and he could capture the human condition like no other. Billy Joe Shaver is one of the most real humans to ever live. His songs could be poetic and refined, as much as they could be raw and seemingly roughly hewn, just like the man.
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): Bob Dylan is definitely my favorite songwriter. He never settled for a style and continued to be true to himself throughout his career, despite losing some fans along the way. His rawness and honesty come through in his singing and to me, that is really what makes a good song a great song.
Sandi: How do you come up with songs and arrangements? What cues trigger the movements?
Sometimes a songwriter brings a fully arranged tune to the band, but we often let the band’s natural dynamics shape a rough idea of a song into something uniquely Fireside. This usually happens while we’re learning the song, or in the studio. As far as cues, we usually come up with musical messages that signal a movement on stage. But sometimes it’s just eye contact or the kick of a foot that gives the signal!
Sandi: What instruments, picks, strings, pickups, etc. do you use?
Joe Cicero (guitar): I use BlueChip picks (TP-48), D’Addario XT phosphor bronze (medium gage 13-56), K&K pure mini bridge plate pickup, and on stage I play a Preston Thompson mahogany dreadnought. I met the Preston Thompson crew at Wintergrass in Seattle. They had a booth with some guitars setup. I came over after one of our sets and played a few, we all hit it off, they sent me a mahogany dreadnought to try out and it’s the same one I have to this day. They’re making some of the best guitars in the business.
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): I use a Beard Guitar made by Paul Beard in Maryland. Some of my favorite dobro players, including Jerry Douglas, uses a Beard. I custom ordered this from Paul a few years ago and have been very pleased. It’s a sunburst birch body and is very pretty! I use a Bluechip thumb pick and ProPik fingerpicks, and always use D’Addario strings!
Sandi: What do you use for instrument and voice effects pedals? How do you use them?
Joe Cicero (guitar): I use a ToneDexter into a Line 6 Helix. The Tonedexter is to get a more acoustic sound from my pickup, the Helix is basically just for effects (I use it in a different capacity when I play electric guitar at home).
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): I always have a tiny delay effect on my dobro, just to give it some ambiance and warmth. I love using distortion once in a while, which gives it an electric guitar type of sound! It’s really fun to make an acoustic instrument sound electric for certain songs. I also use an envelope filter which is basically an auto-wah, which gives it a super funky vibe!
Sandi: Any good road trip stories?
Joe Cicero (guitar): This one time, we played a late show somewhere in NC, and we were supposed to stay with some friends that lived in the area. We got to the friend’s house about 3 or 4 am and the door was locked, all the lights off. So we spread out trying to find a key or open door, checked the front door, side door, back door, the place is locked down like Fort Knox. So we regroup behind the house where the van was parked.
All of a sudden, a VERY angry man begins yelling at us, “What are you doing here?!” (There were some other words thrown in there that I’ll leave to your imagination). Turns out we had the wrong house. We were at our friend’s next-door neighbor’s house. We apologized profusely and went about 15 feet down the road to our buddy’s house. Their driveways were side by side and we could see the neighbor watching us like a hawk as we unloaded the van. Not sure he really believed the “we’re a bluegrass band” story that I’m sure many red-handed thieves have tried time and time again.
The next day our buddy went over and apologized on our behalf and gave the man a Fireside Collective CD as a peace offering, he wasn’t mad at all and laughed about it. So now we have a good story, and we’re a little more careful about reading the address on the mailbox when we pull up to our destinations.
Photo by Jace Kartye Edited by Charles Millar
Sandi: Can you tell me one to three LarryFest Moments? This can be something inspiring that happened, something funny, something specific that happened at LarryFest that made your festival memorable.
Joe Cicero (guitar): When we go to new festivals we never know what to expect, especially with bluegrass festivals. Sometimes it’s more of a subdued, sit-down audience. As we were driving through the fest with all of our gear I was looking around. I saw lots of tie-dye shirts and beers in hand, I thought, “That’s a good sign.” Then we pulled up to the main stage and saw Sideline burnin’ it down and the crowd going WILD, with all the lights in the trees. I thought to myself, “Yep, we’ll fit right in here.” We had an absolute blast! Thanks to everyone at Larryfest for having us, we hope to be back soon!
Tommy Maher (resonator guitar): I loved arriving and seeing everyone at their campfires, conversing and playing music. It felt great to see that after so many months of uncertainty. And seeing everyone dancing amongst the lit-up trees was a treat! Whenever we play a festival for the first time and see a crowd take us in like that, it means we’ll probably be back!
New Frontier Touring
Mountain Song Productions
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