Five Iron Frenzy

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Five Iron Frenzy
Five Iron Frenzy in July 2019
Background information
OriginDenver, Colorado, U.S.
GenresChristian ska, ska punk, alternative rock
Years active1995–2003, 2011–present
LabelsFive Minute Walk, Asian Man
Associated acts
  • Reese Roper
  • Micah Ortega
  • Dennis Culp
  • Andrew Verdecchio
  • Leanor Ortega Till
  • Nathanael "Brad" Dunham
  • Sonnie Johnston
  • Scott Kerr
Past members

Five Iron Frenzy is an American band formed in Denver, Colorado in 1995. Best known for playing ska punk music characterized by an offbeat sense of humor and prominent Christian themes, Five Iron was one of the pioneering figures of the Christian ska movement which emerged with ska's mainstream revival in the 1990s. Since 2000, the band's music has shifted away from ska to embrace stronger alternative rock and pop punk influences, though continues to feature Christian overtones despite several members' changes in religious beliefs.[1]

Five Iron experienced their greatest commercial success during the late 1990s as part of the American ska revival, touring prolifically within both Christian and secular markets, where the band gained a cult following for their energetic live shows typified by humorous stage antics which often drew attention to various social causes and charities.[2][3] By the early 2000s, Five Iron had independently sold a total of almost one million albums, though a number of factors eventually contributed to their break-up in 2003.[4] After an eight-year hiatus, the band reunited in 2011 to resume intermittent touring, launching a coincident Kickstarter campaign to finance a new album which raised a then record-breaking $207,980.[5] The resultant album, Engine of a Million Plots, was released in November 2013.

Five Iron is often noted for the broad tonal range of their lyricism, covering subject matter both spiritual and secular in manners both serious and satirical.[6] Many of the band's songs are firmly rooted in Social Gospel convictions, often exploring themes of Christian hypocrisy and fundamentalism, manifest destiny and the injustices done to Native Americans, and faith-based criticisms of capitalism, consumerism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, homophobia and even the Christian music industry, as well as more traditional and uplifting songs of praise and worship.[7] The band is also known for their comic songs which rely on droll self-deprecating and self-referential humor, absurdist non-sequiturs and frequent references to pop culture and geek culture.


Formation and early years (1993–1996)[edit]

The origins of Five Iron Frenzy began with the band Exhumator, a Denver-based Christian industrial thrash metal project which featured future Five Iron vocalist Reese Roper, guitarists Micah Ortega and Scott Kerr, bassist Keith Hoerig and drummer Andrew Verdecchio.[8][9] As punk rock and ska had begun making a popular resurgence in alternative music in the early 1990s, the members of Exhumator soon began shifting their attention away from metal, and, largely influenced by bands such as Skankin' Pickle and NOFX, formed Five Iron Frenzy as a ska/pop punk side project in early 1995.[10] The name "Five Iron Frenzy" was a band in-joke, conceived during an occasion when the members' "paranoid" roommate brandished a golf club in self-defense out of an unfounded fear of being mugged.[11]

Five Iron Frenzy's first show, hosted at a church coffeehouse in April 1995, was as an opening act for Exhumator. According to Reese Roper's recollection of the event, the audience responded to Five Iron's music better than they had ever responded to Exhumator's, and realizing that everyone had more fun playing ska punk than metal, made the decision to dissolve Exhumator in favor of Five Iron that very night.[10] Over their next few shows, the band gradually recruited a horn section consisting of trumpeter Nathaniel "Brad" Dunham, trombonist Dennis Culp and Micah Ortega's cousin, saxophonist Leanor Ortega.[12][13]

Almost instantly, Five Iron became a prominent presence in the Denver music scene. The band opened for Tooth & Nail Records artists MxPx for their third show and played over sixty shows during their first eight months, soon becoming a staple of every major ska show in the Denver area, opening for such nationally successful touring bands as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Less Than Jake.[10][14][15] Although Five Iron's initial intent was to stay local and help develop their own scene, in June 1995, the band traveled to the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois to play an impromptu set before several prominent Christian alternative bands and record labels, including Ghoti Hook, Crashdog and Alex Parker of Flying Tart Records.[16][17] The band has since partially attributed their early success to this stunt, as they would return to Cornerstone the following year sponsored by a record label.[9][18][19]

As their local popularity grew, Five Iron solidified a "mission statement" that they would play half regular venues and half Christian venues to reach both secular and Christian audiences.[10][15] By the summer of 1996, the band had released their first recorded material - a 7" single entitled It's Funny, But Not Very Creative, which featured two original songs and a tongue-in-cheek punk rock cover of Amy Grant's 1985 hit "Everywhere I Go" - and were entertaining offers from several major Christian record labels including Tooth & Nail, Alarma and Brainstorm Artists International before ultimately signing with 5 Minute Walk Records.[9][13][13][20][21] In September, Five Iron recorded their first studio album Upbeats and Beatdowns, which was released later that November.[13]

National success (1997–1999)[edit]

Following its low-key independent release in November 1996, Upbeats and Beatdowns was given a national re-release in April 1997 on 5 Minute Walk's newly-founded sub-label SaraBellum Records, whose titles were distributed by the Warner Music Group. Upbeats and Beatdowns proved an early success for Five Iron, peaking at number 39 on Billboards "Top Contemporary Christian" chart and selling over 50,000 units by the end of the year, while the music video for the song "A Flowery Song" received a Dove Award nomination in the "Short Form Video" category.[22][15][23] Five Iron spent most of 1997 touring nationally, playing 150 shows across the country.[19] Many of these tours were held in promotion of various social causes and charities; notably, the band headlined what was called the "Rock Your Socks Off Tour" in October, for which attendees were asked to bring clean socks to each show for donation to local homeless shelters.[24]

In November 1997 the band released their second album, Our Newest Album Ever!. Following the success of their first album, the band felt that their success had been based at least partially on the third wave of ska in general.[25] According to Scott Kerr "The unfortunate reality is that good songs and good live performances have far less to do with our so-called success than our being a part of the 'flavor-of-the-month'."[25] Five Iron Frenzy sought to distance themselves from the ska scene while maintaining their artistic integrity. Dennis Culp portrayed their goal, stating that "The Police used a lot of ska, but they really weren't referred to as a ska band... they went far beyond ska."[25] For Five Iron, the method of achieving that goal was the creative process. On the first three releases Roper wrote most of the lyrics and Kerr supplied the musical portion. After Kerr left, the band began to explore a wider variety of musical influences, incorporating diverse influences such as Latin and swing music. Roper continued to write the lyrics, a task that he took seriously. He explained to 7ball in 1997 that "It's not like we try to sit down and write wacky songs. I take songwriting pretty seriously... I've been given this podium. I have a responsibility to tell the truth about things."[25]

Their most significant tour in 1998 was the Ska Against Racism tour, which raised awareness of and money for anti-racism causes.[19][26] Five Iron was the only openly Christian band on the tour, yet in typical style refrained from using their set as a platform to preach to the crowds.[27] Later that year, they embarked on the national SkaMania tour with The Insyderz and The OC Supertones. Five Iron found this tour was markedly different for the band in terms of interacting with both the audience and their tourmates because both of the other participating bands were Christian bands.[27] In 1998, songwriter and lead guitarist Scott Kerr left the band on friendly terms and started his own project, Yellow Second.[28]

Peak of popularity (2000–2003)[edit]

They reached the peak of their popularity around 2000, with the release of All The Hype That Money Can Buy.[14] With the release of Hype, the band continued to diversify their sound, incorporating calypso, salsa, and reggae.[9] Musically Hype turned out to be their most eclectic album.[29] The band toured internationally throughout 2000. Mid summer the band toured in South Africa,[9] and in December they played in Europe.[30] By the time of the release of their next album, the band had sold over a cumulative half-million albums worldwide.[29]

Culp's musical direction became prominent, although the composition duties were spread somewhat amongst band members. Production and engineering for every album was led by Masaki "Saki" Liu at his One Way Studio. With the release of Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo, FIF's sound leaned more towards horn-tinged hard rock than ska, although all of the original horns were still intact.[31] According to Keith Hoerig: "It's a rock record with horns, in the vein of Chicago and the Rolling Stones, who have horns all over their records."[32] 2001 marked a turning point for the band as their record contract with Five Minute Walk ran out, leading to rumors that the band would break up.[29] For a time they considered signing with a major label, but they decided to finish their career with 5 Minute Walk.[29]

In late 2001 the band embarked on the "Electric Youth" tour with Relient K, John Reuben, and Ace Troubleshooter. On this tour again the audience was asked to bring socks for donation to local homeless shelters, and to make them into sock puppets for audience participation. On this tour the audience numbered about 1,200 per night,[33] creating what was referred to as the "world's largest sock puppet choir."[34] Socks were also judged afterward in a "Sock Puppet Pageant" of sorts, with prizes given in various categories.[32] The tour's name is a tribute to Debbie Gibson, who wrote an album by the same name.[29]

"We decided to do this [tour] rather than just quit suddenly, because we wanted to say thank you to our fans and say goodbye as well."

Keith Hoerig on the band's final year.[6]

In early 2003 Five Iron announced their impending breakup via their website.[35] They dedicated their final year to their fans, playing at many major Christian music festivals and releasing Cheeses...(of Nazareth), a collection of joke songs and B-sides, and their final studio album, The End Is Near. After clarifying that instead of "breaking up" they were "quitting," they embarked on a national tour entitled the "Winners Never Quit Tour" with Bleach, Holland, and Cameron Jaymes. They played their final show on November 22, 2003 at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado. The night before the show Denver received a heavy snow, many fans wondered if the show would be canceled.[31] This show had an attendance of over 3,600 people[36] and was widely released in 2004 as the double disk set The End Is Here, alongside The End Is Near.

Post-breakup (2004–present)[edit]

Persistent rumors about a reunion, were always denied by the band as the former members moved on to other projects. Reese Roper was involved in a short lived project called Guerilla Rodeo,[6] (that also included fellow FIF member Sonnie Johnston), Ace Troubleshooter's John Warne and Josh Abbot, and the OC Supertones' Ethan Luck. The band recorded a three-song EP before the members moved on to other projects. Roper then signed under his own name as Roper and released the album Brace Yourself for the Mediocre on 5 Minute Walk Records. Roper also presided over the band Brave Saint Saturn, a studio side-project featuring several other FIF members telling the story of stranded astronauts. The project started in 1995 as a Five Iron side project and has released three albums. Their long-awaited third album,[6] Anti-Meridian, was released September 15, 2008. Reese Roper played an acoustic set at Soulfest 2008.[37] In 2005, Five Iron Frenzy received national exposure when their song, "Oh, Canada" (which referenced William Shatner), appeared on the TV series Boston Legal.[38]

On September 16, 2009 it was announced through Facebook that the DVD titled 'The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy' would be released in winter of 2010. A website was launched as well.[39] According to the Asian Man Records website, the DVD was released to pre-orders March 19, 2010 and became available in stores in April 2010. The DVD contained a 3-hour documentary filmed and edited mainly by Reese Roper, composed of interviews with the band members and live performance and tour travel footage.[40]

During the fall of 2011, the band's website went live with a countdown to November 22,[41] which was the eighth anniversary for the band's final show at the Fillmore in Denver. Since the production and release of their documentary many members of Five Iron Frenzy had already been discussing a reunion.[42] Roper and Ortega Till began hinting at an announcement.[41] On November 22, 2011, the band announced they were writing new material and working on a new record, and gave away a free song titled "It Was A Dark And Stormy Night" with the file name "Hope Still Flies".[43] In order to fund the new record the band started a Kickstarter hoping to raise $30,000 in 30 days. That goal was reached within the first hour of launching and the band ultimately raised over $200,000.[41][42][44]

Keith Hoerig was the only member of the band to decline taking part in the reunion and his position as bass player was filled by Scott Kerr, returning to the band for the first time since he left in 1998. The next two years were spent working on the new album and playing select live dates. The band played their first reunion show on April 28, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.[citation needed] Engine of a Million Plots was released on November 26, 2013.[45]

Religious affiliations and changes in faith[edit]

As a predominantly Christian band, most members of Five Iron Frenzy are involved in Christian ministry to varying degrees: notably, singer Reese Roper is a licensed pastor for the Alliance of Renewal Churches and the co-founder of Denver's non-denominational Scum of the Earth Church, of which saxophonist Leanor Ortega-Till formerly served as the Women and Arts pastor. In a 2016 interview, Ortega-Till listed the rest of the current lineup's denominational make up as including Calvinist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Church of Christ and Assemblies of God.[40][46]

In 1998, Scott Kerr chose to leave Five Iron Frenzy after renouncing his Christian faith. According to Kerr, he had begun experiencing doubts in high school which eventually came to a head during his time touring with Five Iron. In an attempt to reconcile his faith, Kerr fervently studied Christian apologetics - which he ultimately found "not persuasive and, at worst, intellectually disingenuous" - as well as works by David Hume and Bertrand Russell before deciding to leave Christianity.[10] Though Kerr recalls the band accepting his revelation and decision to leave, Roper remorsefully recalled souring the relationship between them by him "pushing Jesus on [Kerr] when he needed me to just be his friend", which later served as the lyrical basis for Five Iron's song "To Start a Fire".[47] Kerr continues to identify as "not a Christian", and upon re-joining Five Iron in 2011, wrote an explanation for his reunion with the band which partly read:

Andrew Verdecchio experienced a similar loss of faith during the early 2000s, following the death of his father and the events of the September 11 attacks. Verdecchio largely recalls the comments of conservative commentators Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blaming the cause of the attacks on homosexuals for driving a wedge between himself and Christianity, leading him to seriously question his beliefs and role within a Christian band.[10] Like Kerr, Verdecchio attempted to study apologetics "because I didn't want to not believe it", though said "the more I read these books and tried to convince myself, the less convinced I was".[10] Upon renouncing his faith, Verdecchio requested to carry out one more tour with the band before quitting, upon which they decided to disband afterwards as Five Iron did not wish to replace him.[10] Verdecchio still identifies as an atheist, though continues to fulfill his role as Five Iron's only official drummer.

Leanor Ortega-Till has also spoken about having struggled with severe doubts for a two-year period which caused her to try to avoid fans, though was ultimately able to "bounce back through her faith" and remains a practicing Christian.[10][49]


Studio albums


List of side projects[edit]

  • Yellow Second - included Kerr and Verdecchio; their third album, Altitude, was released on Floodgate Records in 2004; broke up in late 2005.
  • Roper - Reese Roper also played in a band called Roper that put out one full-length album entitled Brace Yourself For the Mediocre. This album came out in Oct 2004 .
  • Brave Saint Saturn - Brave Saint Saturn (stylized as braveSaintSaturn, brave saint saturn or BS2) is a Christian rock band formed in Denver, Colorado in 1995. The band is a side-project of former members of Five Iron Frenzy started by Reese Roper. The band calls their music style "astro-rock," although Roper has stated that this "doesn't mean anything." The trilogy of albums are meant to artfully represent early life, adversity, and death.[52]
  • Hearts of Palm - Leanor Ortega Till currently plays saxophone for Denver-based nine-piece pop ensemble Hearts of Palm, formerly known as Nathan and Stephen.[53] Their sound can be described as eclectic and anthematic indie-pop.[54]
  • The Hollyfelds - Bassist Keith is currently playing with his wife Eryn in the country / folk band The Hollyfelds .[55]
  • The Fast Feeling - electronic rock band featuring Leanor on vocals, with Scott, Andrew, and Matt Langston of Eleventyseven.[56]


Current members

  • Reese Roper – lead vocals (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Micah Ortega – guitars, vocals (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Andrew Verdecchio – drums, vocals (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Nathanael "Brad" Dunham – trumpet (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Dennis Culp – trombone, vocals (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega Till – saxophone, vocals (1995–2003, 2011–present)
  • Sonnie Johnston – lead guitars (1998–2003, 2011–present)
  • Scott Kerr - guitars, bass, vocals (1995–1998, 2011–present)

Former members

Touring musicians

  • Seth Hecox – guitar (2013)



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Further reading[edit]

Relient K refers to Five Iron Frenzy in their song "Five Iron Frenzy Is Either Dead or Dying" in their EP The Vinyl Countdown and album The Bird and the Bee Sides.

External links[edit]

Related projects[edit]