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Interview: House Fire

Sivani |
November 2, 2013 | 6:39 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The cover of House Fire's brand new EP, "Days End."
The cover of House Fire's brand new EP, "Days End."
The Beginnings:

Luke, Aman and James are thrown into a band for their freshman Thornton performance class. They are strangers, but the first music they play in college is the music they play together.

Soon, Aman starts to bring in songs he works on in his songwriting class, and the three of them begin to stay later and later after rehearsal to tackle original material. Two months later, Aman ropes in his friend Nick, thus completing the band of four. They are now seniors at USC, with graduation looming just around the corner...

This is House Fire.

Aman Alem - Vocals, guitar.

Major: Popular Music

Luke Schunk – Bass.

Major: Neuroscience

Nick Chuba – Guitar.

Major: Jazz guitar

James Brownstein – Drums.

Major: Popular Music


An alternative rock band based in Los Angeles, California, House Fire just released their first ever EP, “Days End,” over a month ago. You can listen to it here, or on Spotify – and if you’re feeling particularly wild, you can even buy it off iTunes here.

The band evokes an indie rock vibe of similar vein to one of my other favorite Southern Californian groups, Young the Giant. House Fire’s brand of music stands apart from the generic, contrived indie rock sound that often tends to overwhelm the college music scene. Instead, House Fire’s music is just as their name suggests – spontaneous, lively and heartfelt.

How good can some random college band be? I hear you ask. Well, I asked myself the same question, and it turns out the answer is: Pretty damn good. If you can appreciate some quality alternative rock music – and honestly, who doesn’t listen to alternative rock of some form? – then this is band worth checking out. I promise.

You can read my interview with House Fire below, where we talk about a crazy live show experience, the tricky process of putting together an EP while in college and overall, how awesome it is to be in a band with your best friends.

The Interview:

How did you come up with the band name, House Fire?

James: We didn’t have a name for a long time – the first couple of shows we played we were just like, “to be determined.”

Luke: And we were throwing around a ton of names.  One of the names we threw out was “In June.” Because their – well, this wasn’t the only reason – but their three birthdays (gesturing to Aman, James and Nick) are in June. So we were going, oh, that’s kind of cool sounding… Then we were like, it’s also kind of lame sounding… (laughter) So we didn’t go with that.

And then Aman – this was a month long span where we were trying to find a name – and Aman had thought he’d told us, earlier on, “House Fire,” and thought we had rejected it. And then a month later he’s like, why didn’t you guys like House Fire? And we’re like, wait – what? (laughter) And he was like yeah, remember when I told you about that? And we were like, no. 

And then we sort of thought about it… and it didn’t necessarily come from anything, but then we thought about what it is. House Fire… it could be a really sad event, like your house burns down, but it could also sort of symbolize new beginnings, coming from ashes… and we liked that imagery. 

James: Yeah… with band names, I feel like any band name is gonna sound really stupid until your band is good, and then it’s like, that’s an awesome band name. (laughs)

I know what you’re saying… but I think “House Fire” is good in its own right, too.

James: Yeah, it actually works. I like the name, and the sound, too.

Nick: Definitely better than “In June.” 


So how does the songwriting process work?

Aman: Mostly I’ll come up with ideas and bring them to rehearsal, so we can then kind of try them out.

Sometimes lyrics, sometimes music, sometimes we start everything together…

A lot of songwriters I know are like, you have to write the lyrics first! They’re so important! And they are important, but I’m influenced more by the music itself, so… that’s why it works for us too, as a band.

Nick: Sometimes he’ll have almost a full song, but then when he hears it with the band, we’ll change it because it sounds so different. And so we’ll change things around…

James: Also, we’ll come up with our own ideas too.

Nick: Yeah, we’ll all come up with our own parts. But the bulk, the core of the song he (Aman) usually has.

So it’s collaborative. 

Nick: Definitely.

James: There’s been a couple of times where we just sit down with nothing and then come up with something, and that is… almost the best way to write.

Luke: You know the song “Milward Drive” on the EP? That one, he (Aman) almost had chords, and lyrics, all the way. But with something like “Naked,” that started with – you know that intro bass line? (hums bass line) I just brought that in for rehearsal one day, and they were like, oh, that sounds pretty cool, and so we literally built the song starting from that. So, you know, two pretty different ways. 

What was the hardest song for you to write on the EP?

Luke: "My Love." 

(laughter as all agree)

We’d been writing that since freshman year. And we would play it at shows and it just… I think that song – even though it really doesn’t sound like it – it actually takes a lot of musicality. You really have to get the feel right.  And so we would play it freshman year and we didn’t quite have the parts down, so we actually ditched it. We didn’t play it for a year -

James: I think we didn’t play it all sophomore year probably, right?

Luke: Right.

James: Or most of junior year.

Luke: And then finally, when we started to think about the EP, we sort of brought it back, and we really liked it. And we were able to sort of pull it off better – that’s what I think.

James: And we also reworked the format of the song. That song has just evolved so much from since we first started it.

And also, what was funny about the song was that when we stopped playing it, our friends that knew our set kept asking why we’d stopped playing that song. 

Aman: And they were frustrated.

James: Yeah, we were just like – we don’t like this song anymore. But we realized that if people kept asking us to play it, for some reason…. Yeah, people liked it at a time when we didn’t really like it. 

So “My Love” evolved a lot from then to now.

James: Yeah, definitely. And then it was our first song that we released as a single, and that was kind of crazy considering that it was probably the last song to make it to the EP. 

Were there lots of songs you thought you’d include on the EP that you cut? How did you put it together?

Luke: We did have to cut a couple of things, but I think we had a pretty good idea of what was - I don’t want to say better, but - what we wanted to include on it. 

We got rid of this one song called “Take Me Out of Here,” which is a good song, but I think it wouldn’t have fit as well with the vibe of the EP. And even if that wasn’t even a conscious choice, now that I look at it, it was a good one.

James: There have also been songs over the years that, you know, we wrote, and we’d play for a couple of shows, and then decide we don’t like it and kind of never play it again. (laughs) So there’s been a lot of songs that were written over the years, that technically did make the EP, but when it came down to the actual pre-production of the EP, I think there was really only…  maybe there were 5 songs taken out that we were actually considering.

Do you use live shows to gauge people’s reactions, then?

Aman: That’s not the purpose of our live shows…

But it’s a side effect.

James: Absolutely.

Luke: There’s this one song - I especially thought it was so cool, called “Michael,” it’s this really weird song in terms of its structure - it just went all over the place. We would play it, and I would just be jamming so hard and then look out to the audience  - and there’d be like, just one person, slow clapping. (slow claps) So we cut that song, but I liked it.

James: No one ever liked it that much, even though we thought it was the greatest thing. (laughs) 

Aman: I wrote it, and then I was like ahhh… I don’t like this anymore.

James: Oh wait – same thing kind of happened with “Red.”

Aman: We’ve got a bunch of songs that we just need to revisit.

Nick: I think some of them - there’s something good in them. That’s what happened with “My Love.” It wasn’t really finished. But what we had, and what we thought was good about it wasn’t coming across to the audience – they weren’t clapping as much – but like, I knew there was something good in that song. I feel like “Red” is a good song…

So those songs, like “Red,” might pop up on future records? 

Nick: Yeah, hopefully.

James: We revisit ideas a lot.

Coming back to the live shows - have you got any weird or funny stories?

Nick: Yeah, I have a funny story. We were playing – you know the Pink House? The Pink House is way off campus, like beyond DPS’ realm. We were playing there, and anyone could just come in. We were packed into this tiny little garage… I was playing and this homeless guy had somehow worked his way to the front. And I kind of get into it sometimes, so I just went like that (motions playing his guitar while head banging) and just head butted him. 

Luke: (laughs) And he fell on you.

Nick: (laughs) He fell on me, it was really weird. And then I didn’t play for like, 10 seconds. 

Aman: Also that night, because it was so packed, and I don’t know why, the audience was so rowdy – 

Nick: They were just so drunk. (laughs) 

Aman: They all kind of lost control, because there wasn’t any barrier between us and the audience.

Nick: There was no stage, we were just there on the floor.

Aman: Yeah, in a corner. And the audience kind of came forward, and he (Nick) got head butted, and I… someone went right into the mike, and I think I kind of chipped my tooth a little bit.

Luke: And the power went out in the middle of the set. So the drums were the only things that were going, and I was fumbling back with some wires, trying to get it going – ‘cause we were playing this cover, and I knew if we had to start it again it was going to ruin the whole vibe of the cover. It was a surprise - “The Sweater Song” by Weezer. And so the power went on, and we just got back into the verse and the chorus… 

James: We just kept playing even though the power went out. (laughs) 

You just kept going, like nothing happened?

Luke: All the lights were off, all our amps were off… 

Nick: And it was a shitty place to have no lights. 

James: I think the guitar went out, and I was still playing on drums. Then the power came back and I think it was an unspoken rule that we were just going to start on the second verse or something – we all just went right into it.

Nick: I’d picked out a window that I was gonna jump out of - 


Nick: For if it got like, too insane.

James: I’ve also had gear puked on at a show before…

Nick: Oh, yeah… that was a different gig. That was such a classic gig.

Luke: Yeah, but most of the time people at our shows are really great.

Nick: It was a great a crowd!

James: Yeah, that was the most fun I’ve ever had playing.

Luke: Yeah, I mean, we like it when it gets crazy. Even if it’s like oh, yeah, we got head butted –

Nick: No yeah, I’m into that kind of thing. I think it’s fucking hilarious.


Do you guys have a favorite song to play live? 

James: I like playing “Naked” the best. 

Nick: I think I like playing “Milward Drive” a lot.

Luke: I kind of like “My Love.”

Aman: Yeah… I like “My Love.” 

Luke: I mean, something about “My Love”… with how it builds up. That build up to the thing where it drops or whatever, it’s really fun.

Aman: It’s a fun feeling. 

When did you decide to make an EP? And how was the process like?

James: I kind of think it was our plan all along to release an EP junior year – back then it just seemed like an ample timeline…. 

Aman: And then we didn’t release it junior year… 

James: We didn’t.

Luke: We started recording it early on spring semester of junior year.

James: First week when we were back from break. And we did preproduction actually, before winter break. So we were just ready to go – but we thought we’d wrap it up by spring break, which was way too ambitious… 

Luke: Well, we were working with our friends, and it wasn’t like we were paying people for studio time – we had a pretty low budget.

Aman: The whole thing was recorded in someone’s garage, in someone’s living room, and in someone’s bedroom, so… we weren’t in…

Nick: Yeah, we weren’t working in studios, and we were working on like a super, unbelievably low budget. Not just a low budget, (laughs) but the lowest possible budget.

James: Yeah, our friend Cary Singer (of band Mora Mora) produced it.

Nick: Like, when people can’t do – when something doesn’t work with their schedules – you can’t really get mad at them, because they’re doing it for so little money. We just had to do it whenever they had free time, so it took a long time.

Luke: We’d be doing vocal takes and harmony takes in this kid’s bedroom who lives up on Sunset. And there’d be these motorcycles going by, and sirens… So we’d have to be like – alright, cut that take, gotta to do it again. It was very not studio, but the way it sounds is really great. They did a really good job.

Nick: The people we worked with knew what they were doing.

James: I’d give a lot of credit to Cary, too – our friend who produced the whole thing – he had to deal with a lot of shit, and everyone’s schedules. (laughs) He put in way more hours into it than we could’ve ever expected, so that was awesome.

Alright. So, why is the EP called “Days End”? I know that phrase pops up in the lyrics of “My Love”…

James: Yeah! To be honest, I think we all decided we wanted to do a cool lyric from a song, potentially. And I just, one day, went through and listened to every song, and jotted down any cool lyric that stood on its own. We compiled a list of a bunch of ideas… 

Aman: After reading it, I felt that it really… kind of went along with the vibe of our band. Our name is inspired by violent new beginnings – when something ends, something else begins. So it seemed like the natural course.

Luke: And we were also sort of reflective on growing up, you know - the transition from high school to college is a big one. And then from college, we’re all about to graduate - you know, these days are behind you, days end. And then we sort of thought there was this ambiguity in it – like, the actual day’s end… there were just a lot of things that applied. We didn’t necessarily think of those before we thought of the name, but once we saw the name we were like, oh, that just works.

Did you guys ever decide what genre of music you wanted to do, or did it just naturally evolve?

James: I guess our genre has technically changed from when we were freshman… 

Nick: (laughs) Definitely.

Luke: And I think it’s still changing…

Aman: It’ll always be changing. 

James: I mean, if you look at the alternative charts, you know, on billboard right now, you’ll see so many different styles… the lines are becoming vague. 

That’s definitely true. I was just thinking, what happens if someone wants to go in one direction and the others don’t?

Luke: That happens. But it doesn’t really happen with genre

Aman: We could do something like that, and say okay, we need to fit into this type of box… but…

Nick: But if you try doing something pre-thought out like that, it generally comes out sounding false. And we’re trying to be as honest as possible while we’re doing this.

Aman: Yeah. You know, we didn’t ever put out flyers saying – We’re starting a band! We’re auditioning guitars! – It just kind of happened. We didn’t want our music to sound or feel unnatural.

What are your musical influences?

Luke: James likes 2 Chainz… 

Nick: He introduced us to 2 Chainz, and we all listen to him now.

Aman: Yeah, and we thought about getting a new drummer…


James: Every song that I’ve written is a direct reflection of 2 Chainz. (laughs) But yeah, I think we all have really different tastes in music, and actually I think that’s what makes our sound really cool. Like I, personally, listen to a lot of metal, rap songs, stuff like that. Then Nick’s into a lot of electronic stuff I just can’t even understand. Like underground electronic music.

(Nick laughs) 

Aman: It’s so complicated. 

Luke: There are definitely bands that I would say we all respect a lot… Even though we do all come from different places – and I think that’s really valuable – there are certain bands… like Radiohead. Even though every band would probably say that.

Nick: There’s great stuff that we all probably like. You can’t ignore certain things.

James: I think any of us would agree that Radiohead have been a strong influence…

(all agree) 

Nick: Probably my favorite rock band.

Luke: It’s up there for me too.

Has music been an important part of your lives since you were children? 

Nick: Well, I started playing when I was 10. But I played jazz before, so I’ve always been into jazz and stuff like that…

James: I’ve played drums since I was 6, when I started taking lessons. 

Aman: I was in choirs since I was 7. But I originally didn’t really think I was going to study music at all… I was told by pretty much everybody – including all my music teachers – if you can do anything else, do that. (laughs) So I was gonna study physics, and then I took some time off and I was like, fuck it – music for me.

Luke: I’d say one of my biggest musical influences at a young age was that my dad was a musician – an amateur musician – I mean, he actually has a career as a doctor. But yeah, he plays piano and writes songs. I remember in my living room – he used to play these songs and I would run around the piano. And I was this tall (gestures with hands) so I could fit actually under the piano. I just remember all the reverberations, you know. It’s really cool, I think that music really had an influence on all of us – probably since I was 2 or 3 years old. 

Nick: Yeah, my parents were always into music so… I had good taste.

Luke: And then I got the obligatory first grade piano lessons… I actually have a big classical piano for my room. 

Aman: Sometimes at the end of rehearsal he’ll play piano.

James: Yeah, if you go on our Facebook page, you can see a little video of him playing piano. Aman took a secret video without him knowing.

How do you guys get inspired to write music? Do you ever feel like you don’t have anything to write about?

Aman: It’s like… it’s weird… it’s what keeps me sane. Honestly, going to our rehearsals is a huge release for me and writing is a huge release for me. It’s gotten to the point where I have to do work for a class, but I’ll put that off to just write. And, you know, what’s going to be the tangible result of writing a song? Who knows? When you do your homework, you get good grades, hopefully. But I would rather write a song…

Because a song is its own reward. 

Aman: Yeah. I totally agree.

James: I think right when we write the first song, we go through kind of a block period where we don’t book shows on purpose just so we can write and not rehearse. Those are always the most exciting times for me. I really like the process of it – seeing what we come up with.

Luke:  I would definitely second what he said about it being a release when you go to rehearsal. You’ve just been doing this so long, and it’s sort of so – well, not that we’ve been doing it that long, but it feels like a while. (laughs) It’s just really refreshing and really nice to go in and see 3 familiar faces, and not only 3 friends, but 3 people you can play music with – it’s a really good connection. To be able to get lost in the music after a stressful day, as cliché as that sounds, is very refreshing. 

James: It seems almost more in previous years than this year, just ‘cause my schedule is a little bad this year – but there’d be days where you’d have classes straight up until 9 o’clock and you’re so stressed out, and then you have rehearsal from 9 to 11. But it just flies by, those 2 hours – like, that should be a long night but… that’s the part of the day we kind of work towards.

Aman: I think we got very lucky because you can’t always play music with your friends.   

Nick: That’s definitely true.


Aman: It’s just like living with your friends, you can’t always do it. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, and I think what’s unique about the way we started playing music together is that we were also becoming friends as we were playing together…

James: At the same time – that’s interesting. (laughs) We became friends once we started playing music together. 

Aman: Yeah, I think our friendship really has…

Evolved with your music? 

Aman: Yeah. It’s kind of… the same.

Are you guys planning on making a music video for any of your songs? 

Nick: We’re thinking about it. We just need to figure out the logistics of it. 

What song would you do first?

James: I think, honestly, whatever we come up with the best visual for. I think, personally, what we discussed is that… we like all the songs on the EP. And I think whatever concept makes for the best video is what we’ll choose.

Aman: “My Love” is definitely up there, and maybe after that “Naked” or “Alien.” But we kind of go back and forth –

Nick: “My Love” kind of lends itself to a cinematic kind of thing, so… 

James: I think that’s something that could get done within a couple of months. 

What artist or band, in your wildest fantasies, would you be opening for?

Aman: Oh man…

James: I would say Kings of Leon, because I’m obsessed with them.

Aman: I thought you were gonna say 2 Chainz.

James: (laughs) Honestly, to me it sounds almost equally as fun to open up for a band that I really respect as to headline a show. I think that’s just such a cool opportunity, to play before your idols.

Where do you guys see the band going after you graduate – what are your future plans? 

James: That’s where it gets tricky ‘cause you have to bring into it a lot – like, alright, now we’re graduated, in the real world. I think we’ll keep it going, obviously, but we need to sustain a living at the same time… But I really don’t wanna do anything else, except for this.

Aman: Also, someone was talking to me about this – it’s been kind of easing my mind – that it’s also harder to rehearse while you’re in school.

Nick: It is really hard.

Aman: You think that you’re going to get out into the real world and never have time for anything, but school is really a 24-hour type of thing. And we’re all really lucky, just the fact that we can manage to get once or twice a week to rehearse is something, so… I’m excited to graduate.

Nick: Yeah, because with school you have homework after class, and things continue into the nighttime. When you have a job, it ends at whatever time and then you know – depending on what job you have – it won’t seep into your nighttime. So then we can always rehearse.

James: Even with holding a 9-5 job, it’ll seem so easy - for finding time - compared to when you’re in school.

Nick: And when you’re in a band, even if you’re tired after your job, being in a band… it’s like, when you have to be with other people and you’re all kind of helping to make a song, it’s a lot easier than writing a song by yourself, if you’re really tired after a long day. Being in a band, you guys help each other to have the energy to go on.

Right – you guys can motivate each other.

Aman: I think we definitely want to tour. 

Luke: That’d be cool.

James: (laughs) Yeah, if we should get the chance.

Aman: Yeah, yeah… if that worked out, that’d be awesome.

James: Someday. Who knows. We’ll play festivals…

That’s the dream…

James: (laughs) That’s the dream.

Aman: That is the dream.

James: As any band would say.

Well, I will definitely be coming to see you guys when you play at Tommy’s Place on the 21st.

Luke: Can I ask what your favorite song is off the EP?

It’s actually really hard to choose – I love every song. I mean, I was surprised. I was like, oh, let’s download their EP – but they’re just a college band, how good can they be?


But it turns out I really like you guys. The EP was great. 

James: I know a lot of my friends from home – like my parents’ friends and stuff – when they hear that I’m in a band, they think it’s a hobby, or something we don’t take seriously… They don’t realize how much time we put into this. (laughs) And you know, we take it really seriously. So I think there are a lot of people who were shocked that it’s not just a garage demo recording.

Yeah. I mean… I feel like I could hear your music being played on the radio.

Luke: That’s the trick. I mean, I think that it’s just… tough. There are a lot of artists – and I’m not making a judgment on us – but there are other good artists who have incredible radio-ready music and the trick is, how do you make the jump to that point? And I think that nobody really knows the exact way to do it, or else, you know, we’d be doing it. 

I think you just need to slowly build an audience, a fan base, and at the same time keep doing things that are important to you as a musician. Your goal can’t be to get famous, you know what I’m saying? Because that’s not going to work. Your goal has to be to keep making good music, keep making your songs better, and that’s when it’ll work out.

Aman: Make great music, and people will enjoy it. You know, I do this a lot for myself, and then also because I think maybe the most important thing I could share are my songs. Sometimes, I get down on myself about not going into physics or whatever - something that feels more conventional and, you know… how can I really help with music? I think that everybody has that feeling of wanting to do something meaningful. 

I think music is a very noble profession.

Aman: Which kind of reminds you that other people feel that way, too. That’s something I’ve always appreciated as a human being. I figure if we can do that, then the fan base will come, and success, however we see that, will also come.

You also need to think about the business side, too. That’s where you have… help.


Having a team of people focusing on the business stuff really helps you think about just creating the music.

Right, it’s helpful to have someone else take care of all that stuff.

Aman: Yeah… so right now, we have to do that.

Nick: Yeah no, we don’t really have an agent fielding our offers


*** *** ***

But they might have one soon. And let’s face it - we’ve all got a little hipster hiding inside of us. So if you feel at all inclined to give these guys a listen, I’d urge you to go ahead. The sooner you do, the better you ensure that you have something to brag about in a few years’ time when House Fire isn’t just “that college band.”

Keep up with House Fire on their Facebook page here.

Catch them playing live at Tommy’s Place, USC on the 21st of November.

Reach staff reporter Sivani here.



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