The Refrain Inter view: Fire By Night

Fire By Night is a modern rock band based out of Phoenix, Arizona. The project was initially created by long-time friends Chris Cleland (guitar and vocals) and Kailee Vander Maten (lead vocals) in the summer of 2018. The duo’s powerful storytelling is accentuated by mournful, tearing vocals and heavy-hitting guitar riffs. They were recently joined by the young powerhouse drummer, Faith Powell, and together, they seek to help others feel heard, recognized and understood. Their style is influenced by the likes of Crazy Eighty Eight, Lower than Atlantis, and Biffy Clyro.

We had the chance to ask Fire By Night a couple questions as part of The Refrain Interview Series. Check it out Below.


Refrain Music Blog: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You have a new single out now. What’s it called?

Fire By Night: Our new single is technically called “Ghost of Elysium Past”, but we referred to it as “Ghost” so much, that just became the official name for it.

RMB: What is the song about, in terms of lyrics?

Skip: So “Ghost” is a bit of a funny song to me. I wrote it about this really amazing platonic conversation I had with a girl that I was very into at the time.  We talked about the dreams we had for our lives and bounced ideas back and forth on how to make dreams become a reality, and just carried on into all hours of the night. She was part of a touring music group, and I was providing housing for them at a friend’s cabin in Flagstaff, AZ. I took them to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon the next morning and whatever feelings that were ignited during the previous night’s conversation swelled as she looked out at the Canyon (“the angel rays go with her eyes.”)

I explain all of that because every line in the song has 2-3 meanings, with the primary line at the end of the chorus: “Now I’m just part of the (w)hole.” I was only part of what made her trip to Arizona a memorable one. I was only one small blip of a memory in her life. Shortly after she and her music group left, she said she wanted to refocus on her team and things in her life and stopped talking to me, so I’m also part of the hole that was once an encouraging friendship. In a more literal sense, I hope I am always remembered by her as “that guy that took her to see the Grand Canyon,” thus being part of that giant hole in the ground. She is now married with at least one kid, I’m very happily married, and I genuinely hope everything is going well with her, but for me, she is part of the (w)hole. I will always remember that night and the following day fondly, and happy memories “haunt” us in a way similar to the bad ones sometimes, so that memory will haunt me as the Ghost of Elysium Past. In other words, the memory of a perfect night.

Also as a funny aside: the music video for the single was shot at the same cabin where all of this took place.

RMB: Is this single part of an album?

Kai: No, this single is not a part of an album. However, we are currently in the process of writing our first full length album.

RMB: How does this single differ from your previous work?

Skip: Whereas some of our other work has been centered around specific emotions such as anger (Enemy, Parasite), Depression (Obsessions), or fear (The Quiet Kind), “Ghost” focuses more on relationships between friends and making memories, in general. It was written from the standpoint of remembering a great moment rather than processing an emotion, and while it is still a very emotional song, it was written when I was already in a healthy mental and emotional space and had made my peace with what had happened.

RMB: What’s the story on how it was recorded?

Kai: This song was recorded in increments. Basically, we had a bunch of material ready to record so we scheduled out a few days for Faith, Skip and I (Kai) to go in and record vocals and drums for 4 different songs. We all recorded the material for “Ghost”, then Skip recorded his guitar parts in his own studio and sent them to our mastermind producer, Jose. Jose then pieced everything together and then we were set to go! For me, the process was super quick and I ended up recording everything I needed for “Ghost” including double tracking and whatnot in about an hour. After that, my part was kind of done and I just got to sit and wait patiently for the finished product! From start to finish, the process took a much longer time, though.

Skip: To back up what Kai said, “Ghost” was not necessarily a challenging song to record, but shortly after recording the drums and vocals for the song, I moved to San Diego and Kai moved to Seattle, so we had to finish the recording while living in 3 different states and balancing all the changes happening in our individual lives. It was a strange thing recording the guitars by myself in my home studio without anyone else around to joke with between takes or asking if they liked the previous take. In some ways, it took a little bit of the magic away from our typical recording experience, so we’ve been discussing the possibility of recording when we’re all together moving forward.

RMB: Tell us a little about the band. Who all is in it and how did you form? How long have you been together?

Kai: This is a very loaded question! The whole project started with Skip and I meeting up to write music together at Arizona State University after I got out of classes. At the time I was way more into singer/songwriter types of writing and Skip was into rock, so it was definitely interesting. Eventually, we decided to lean into rock music, and that was about the time that Jose joined us. We started another band called As For Me which… Flopped… To say the least haha. Towards the end of that era, we went through some band drama and decided that we were going to start fresh with the new name “Fire by Night”. So Skip and I have been working on this music project for a little over 4 years now, but Fire by Night has only been together for about 2ish years now. Our band now consists of Skip on guitar, Jose on bass, me on vocals, and our drummer Mac (Yes, the laptop).


RMB: Who are some of your biggest musical influences? 

Kai: We pull from so many different inspirations, but a few are Biffy Clyro, Jack White, OLD Panic! at the Disco, The Band CAMINO, and WILLOW.

RMB: What’s the one thing you are most proud of in your career so far?

Kai: Recently, we played at the Hearts on Fire Battle of the Bands in Arizona. There were a bunch of amazing artists and bands there and we ended up finishing in the top 3 so that felt like a win for us for sure. Along with that, we’ve finally begun to venture out of state and started playing shows in CA!

Skip: Honestly, I’m just proud we’re still around at this point haha. We’ve been through a lot of changes both together as a band and in our own personal lives. The fact that we come together every couple of months to rehearse for a day or two and play a gig shows a lot of trust and faith in one another, and a belief in the thing we started 4 years ago. The Battle of the Bands was awesome, playing 2 sold out shows was pretty rad, and that one time we sold enough merch to break even on a very expensive writing retreat (which was what we were doing when we recorded the “Ghost” music video) was one of the greatest feelings, but nothing beats the fact that we are just still making music together.

RMB: If you had to pitch your music to a potential fan in less than 10 seconds, what would you say?

Kai: If you like alt-rock, are a queer or trans person with religious trauma, hate the idea of working for corporate America, and have a heaping case of “gifted-kid burnout” with a touch of imposter syndrome, our music will be perfect for you!

Skip: Our music is a great way to get whiplash and feel things and feel safe feeling things.

RMB: What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that you think everyone needs to hear or that has meant the most to you?

Kai: Be. Patient. All good things come to those that wait. I think it’s easy as a musician to see these small-time artists hit it big on Tik Tok and then blast into fame and think that you’re failing because you haven’t gotten there yet. Truth is, that’s a super rare occurrence and a fragile foundation on which to build your music career. I would rather take it slow now, put in the work and the hours, build up a loyal fanbase, and then ride the long-term waves of that type of success than skyrocket into fame from nowhere and have my 15 minutes.

Skip: I feel seen by Kai. But also… Friendship isn’t some kind of exchange program. There are seasons of life and ups and downs and sometimes you have more to give and sometimes you have hardly anything to give (this can be money, time, energy, etc.) True friends, the ones that become our “chosen family,” are the ones that want to stick with you through all of it, even when they’re getting back less than how much they put into it. Showing someone you love them is the most important thing you can do, and truly loving someone means pouring into them without expecting anything in return, within reason. There’s a fine line between being loving to someone and letting them take advantage of you, of course, but the ones that love you in return will go out of their way to find a way to show it/make you feel it. Sometimes you have to be willing to be the first one to show love at risk of not having that reciprocated.


RMB: If you could go back in time, what’s a piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

Kai: This is also a very loaded question! I think I personally spent the majority of my time as a teenager/young adult trying to be the thing that I was ‘supposed’ to be. Whether that was cis, straight, or the ‘perfect Christian’, my entire life was focused on fitting into that mold that I just simply didn’t fit in. I’ve found freedom in being who I really am and if I could give old me a piece of advice, I would tell them that the truth really does set you free, even if it’s not the truth that the people around you want to hear.

Skip: Learn how to find peace and enjoy the little, mundane moments. Do things for the sake of enjoying them instead of always having to place the pressure of purpose on them. Sometimes achievement looks like getting out of bed in the morning.

RMB: What’s coming up next for your musical project?

Kai: I sort of mentioned this earlier, but we are currently working on our first full-length album! Before we release that, however, we do have a couple more singles coming out that we are super excited for. We are also looking to do our first tour this summer!


RMB: Anything you want to say to the readers?

Kai: I think all I want to add to all of this is that if you are reading this interview, know that you are loved. There’s so much wrong in the world that it can feel hard to even stick around at times, but know that even if we never meet you in person there’s a group of white guys who play rock music that love and care for you. As always, our DM’s are open to those that need to talk and if you are in a serious crisis and need someone, PLEASE reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. ❤

Fire By Night Is:

Chris Cleland – Guitar, Vocals
Kai Vander Matan – Vocals
Faith Powell – Drums

Connect With Fire By Night:

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