Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Leanor Ortega Till Of Five Iron Frenzy

Artwork for ‘Until This Shakes Apart.’ Courtesy of Earshot Media.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

A seven-year wait, a dedicated fanbase and $287,764 raised in a completely crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign was all it took for Denver-based ska/rockers Five Iron Frenzy to surprise everyone with their latest LP ‘Until This Shakes Apart,’ now streaming everywhere.

What least vocalist Reese Roper calls “the best thing we’ve ever made as Five Iron Frenzy,” the 13-track release serves as a testament to their fans’ devotion since their 1995 formation.

The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with tenor saxophonist Leanor Ortega Till about ‘Until This Shakes Apart’ and more.

Music Bugle – What do you attribute the band’s longevity to? 

Leanor Ortega Till – Honesty. We have very deep friendships with one another. We’ve only had one member change through the decades we’ve been together, so we’ve become very close friends and have found keys to writing and recording, according to each other’s strengths. 

Music Bugle – How would you describe Denver to someone who has never been there before?

Leanor Ortega Till – Denver is a small city with hopes to be a big city. The music scene has several styles, but there are definitely a lot of main players and these handful of musicians mix and match with each other often. Five Iron Frenzy has never fit the typical mold of a Denver band, because so many of our shows have been in other states and countries and our label was based in northern California. 

Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your musical style? 

Leanor Ortega Till – It’s always a challenge to fit horns into our songs in a way that doesn’t feel forced or like an afterthought. These challenges make for new and creative styles and song parts. We love to change up the vibe of the horns, depending on the song. Sometimes, we have upfront singable horn melodies and other times, the horns play a more atmospheric part of the song and add to the overall texture of the sound. I love knowing that there is a place for a tenor sax player in a loud and fast band! 

Music Bugle – How did you guys decide the band name? 

Leanor Ortega Till – A friend of ours was hiding a golf club in his coat and joking about using it in a fight. The joke was made that he would have a “five iron frenzy.” 

Music Bugle – What changes have you noticed are most prominent in the music industry after the last seven years? 

Leanor Ortega Till – The way consumers purchase – or don’t purchase – music. We went from being a well-sold touring band to a band that toured often and had some streams and hard copy sales to a band that plays occasional weekend fly-out shows and mostly streams music. Ska is also experiencing a comeback due to heavy nostalgia! 

Music Bugle – What was it like making ‘Until This Shakes Apart’? 

Leanor Ortega Till – Personally, I loved recording in Denver for this album. Five of us live in Denver and three band members don’t. Everyone except our lead singer Reese was able to travel to Denver to track and for the five of us who live in town, we were also able to add background vocals and some last-minute horn parts. The songs really benefited from our opportunity to add more parts as Scott Kerr – our main song writer – edited them. The downside was not being able to listen to the full finished album together and celebrate the achievement as a band. 

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Leanor Ortega Till – As an extreme extrovert, I am struggling during this time. I am fortunate to be able to work from home alongside my husband, while our kids are homeschooled mainly by his mother who lives with us, but it is not ideal longterm. I miss traveling and seeing dear friends that live all over the country and of course, I miss playing shows most of all with my best friends in the band. 

Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write? 

Leanor Ortega Till – Because I am not a main songwriter, I can’t answer this as well as others might be able to, but I will say that there have been some communication mishaps when it comes to the messaging of the songs. We work so well when we can see each other; be in the same room and express ourselves, but creativity, passion and support are hard to convey through emails and texts. Also, it is no easy task to fit well-researched and meaningful social statements in a short span of a punk-ska song. Overall, I think Reese was able to pack a punch in every song on the new album. 

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians? 

Leanor Ortega Till – Help, for sure! We have had so much fun getting to know our “fans” – friends – through the years we’ve been back. Now, we can see their comments on our band sites, we can see pictures of their families and get an idea of the types of lives they live. We are interacting more than ever and that makes seeing them when we play in their city more like a family reunion rather than an awkward once-in-a-lifetime fan/band encounter. 

Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately? 

Leanor Ortega Till – For several years, Five Iron Frenzy spent the month of January to plan and plot the calendar year. We would all meet together for a few days and dream big, then we would have an idea of the years’ events and downtime – when we would record, play internationally, take a break, etc.. This year, my calendar is blank for the most part. I am not sure what the future holds for next month, let alone the rest of 2021. Having to be open-handed with each day and remain optimistic with our collective and individual dreams is a daily struggle. These short, but powerful lyrics of a Brave Saint Saturn song that Reese wrote rings true in this season, “The bravest thing I have is hope.”

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