By Calli Ferguson | February 16, 2023
“I think that’s the reason that any of us do it: It’s to play live.”
This past November, we went to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom show headlining Manchester rock band, Courteeners. It was an electric, memorable evening kicked off by their opening act: a local up-and-coming rock band called The Backfires. The group caught the whole crowd’s attention that night. (Check out our recap here).
Since they wrapped up supporting Courteeners for their East Coast tour dates, The Backfires have been busy selling out a show in London, recording new music, and gearing up for their next NYC concert coming up at Baby’s All Right on February 22nd.
Amidst all the anticipation, we got to sit down with Alex Gomez (lead vocals), Harry Ruprecht (lead guitar), Matt Walter (bass), and Max Wanduragala (drums) at Cafe Reggio to chat about their story, what’s next, live music magic, and they answered some questions for the groovement:
The last we saw you guys was at your awesome set opening up for Courteeners at Bowery Ballroom in November. What have you been up to for the past few months since then?
Harry: Courteeners were sort of a turning point for us in getting better as a live band. I think we really cemented how we want to sound. Since then, we’ve had two headline shows. We’ve done one in London, and we’re about to do one at Baby’s. The one in London sold out! And it looks like the one at Baby’s is gonna sell out, so we’re really excited.
Alex: And we recorded! Right after the Courteeners dates, we recorded a couple new songs. We were working with a producer out of Los Angeles. One is a song called “Joyride,” which we finished at the beginning of last year. It was the end of our set all last year and probably will continue to be. It’s a really fun song, kind of about going out in New York. And we recorded another song that we’re going to hopefully put out in the next couple of months as well.
Can you speak a little bit about your writing process for Joyride?
Harry: The bridge came first–years ago in my bedroom. I’d shown it to everyone, and we thought it was a cool idea. Then when I moved here, I was inspired to carry on with the idea and wrote the pre-chorus and chorus. And then I took it to Alex, ‘cause I couldn’t think of a verse for it. Alex helped me finish it, and then when I brought it to the room, we worked through it and made it sound like it does today. It’s quite a significant song for us because it’s given us a new sort of live sound.
Alex: The two songs we put out last year, we recorded right before everybody moved to New York. We hadn’t really been together in the same place for a couple of years because of Covid. When we got to “Joyride,” it was the first time that we’d been all playing together in a room five or six days a week in a really long time. It felt a lot more fun and energetic–more of what we were trying to capture as a live band.
Matt: We hadn’t really had that opportunity [to play the song live] for quite a while. After the EP, we recorded some singles, like “Blindsided” and “Reflections on My TV” .Those had come out of our creative vacuum where they hadn’t really been played live. They just feel different than the new songs we would release because we’ve been able to workshop.
Alex: They’re written for live, rather than for any other context.
Harry: That was the thing that sort of stuck. We’d go through the set and realize, Wow, that one feels so much better in a room. We just really felt like that had an energy to it.
Alex: When we started playing shows last year, we had these songs that we hadn’t ever played live. We had to kind of change it, or figure that out, for a live setting.
Rewinding a bit: Can you take us back to how you started playing music together?
Matt: Well Alex and I went to high school together in Washington DC.
Harry: Then Alex moved to London for a year of college. His school partnered with me and Max’s school. We met and Alex said, “we should start a band.” Max, Alex, and I started going to rehearsal rooms, working on songs that Alex had written at the time, and started playing live. We didn’t have a permanent bass player so, when it came to recording, Alex was like, “let’s get Matt in.” We recorded our first EP in January of 2020.
Alex: I remember we were in the studio, and I had seen on Twitter that there was this flu-like virus. Then obviously, two months after that, everything went to shit. I think in a way it was kind of helpful for us because we were already separated by school. By the end of it, Matt had finished school, Harry had finished school, I was still finishing school.
Harry: There was basically an opportunity for me and Max to move to America.
Matt: We could all be in the same place. As opposed to trying to release something and then not being able to play shows. Which is what, I think we all agree, is our favorite part.
Do you guys remember the first show you played live together?
Harry: The first show we played all four of us was in Brooklyn at The Well. There were probably 15 people there…including us. We rehearsed for one day.
Harry: Even though we’d been writing together and being a band essentially. The live performances would be like Alex and me, and then one of these guys. But we’ve come a long way since then! We’ve done a good 60 shows together now.
Matt: In 2022 alone, probably!
Do you guys have any dream venues that you would want to play?
Matt: A couple. Alex and I grew up in DC, so I would say the 9:30 Club. I remember being a kid and going there and being like, this is sick.
Alex: My first rock show was at the 9:30. It’s like a 1,200 cap venue, similar in size to Webster Hall. I remember being in there, seeing this band and I was like… that is the coolest thing.
Do you guys remember the first concerts you saw?
Matt: I saw Morrissey when I was like nine in Richmond. Which was funny, because for the second half of that tour, Courteeners were opening.
Max: I’m not sure if it’s the first one, but the one I have a solid memory of is Stevie Wonder in Hyde Park. That’s the one I always remember, but it was probably just like some random band in a pub…
Alex: My first real rock shows were Catfish and The Bottlemen
What would you say is your favorite thing about playing live?
Alex: Playing shows every night is really, really fun. But I also liked the routine of going to a new place and talking to new people, playing a show, being out till one or two in the morning and then figuring out where you’re sleeping that night.
Harry: The first time we played Mercury Lounge, people had come and had never been to a rock show before, and they were like, “that was the best thing I’ve ever seen.” It was quite a rewarding thing.
Alex: It’s cool because it was the first time we played Mercury Lounge. It was last February and things were just starting to open up in the city. People were really starting to go out again. It was a really, really fun experience.
Do you have any pre-show rituals or routines?
Harry: I listen to a certain playlist I’ve got going. Try and have a little relaxing morning. Max always walks alone.
Max: Yeah, that’s just normal, though. If you’re gonna be playing drums for two hours, you probably should.
Harry: We have a little mantra. In The Beatles’ song “I Am The Walrus,” in the beginning, it says “I am he as you are he as you are me and we were all together.” So we say that before we go on…in a more aggressive way than I just said it.
Alex: Last year, for the headline shows, we would come out to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” which I think was fun. Though I want to do a different song for the Baby’s show.
Max: I like a lot of old British stuff. The Smiths. I love The Stone Roses. Especially for drums and a really cool rhythm section. More recently, Fontaines DC, IDLES – I think they’re doing a really good job of what they’re doing. The drumming is interesting.
They’re opening for your Baby’s show, yeah?
Matt: Yeah, we like their music a lot too
Alex: It’s funny, they reached out to us, and I think you [Matt] had seen their show last spring.
Matt: Yeah I played in a band with one of their touring guitar players, and I went and saw them play at Mercury Lounge. And then they reached out to us. I listened to their EP loads last year.
Alex: You saw them and then I started listening to them. All summer I was listening to this one EP of theirs.
Harry: It’s really cool to see other rock bands.
Matt: And to be inspired by them, too.
Alex: I feel like Mercury Lounge always has a lot of really cool stuff going on. We did a set of shows with this band from Nashville, The Criticals, in September. We’d seen them play Mercury Lounge like two weeks before that. On Harry’s birthday! I remember seeing that show, and it was really, really good. It’s fun to see other young bands that are really, really talented and walking away feeling inspired.
Harry: It’s nice to have a network with them, because you’re all in the same position. We’re all struggling to get somewhere, so it’s really nice to have people that can support you, and you can travel together. It’s also a weird lifestyle because you start at like 6 pm and end at 2 am. So it’s nice to have other bands who are in the same position. Especially in New York, cause there are so many.
How are you feeling about Baby’s?
Matt: We’re really excited. It’s fun, because we haven’t done a headline show in the city in a while. I feel like we’ve come a long way as far as people being engaged with the music that we’re making.
Alex: It’s super cool. When we played London, people were singing the songs–like properly–for the first time at any one of our shows.
Max: Yeah, the last show I saw before I came over here to be with the band was Courteeners in Manchester. I was like, wow this is great. Then, I came over here and then we got [asked to support them]. Pretty surreal.
Is there anything that you guys hope that people take away from your shows?
Harry: I think just to feel uplifted. We’re trying to connect with people and relate to people. Our songs are sort of about everyday things.
Alex: When you go to a rock concert, it’s the alternative to going to a club or something. I think that there are a lot of people our age in the city who…going to clubs and stuff isn’t what’s fun for them, right? If going to a rock show does it for them, and we can help be part of that, that’s really cool and special.
What do you think is so infectious about rock music and live rock shows that keep people coming to concerts?
Harry: When I go, it’s that I can see the people doing the thing. And the connection between the band members is something I’ve always been inspired by.
Anything else you want groovers to know?
Harry: Joyride’s coming out February 21st! And the show at Baby’s All Right on February 22nd! Follow us on everything! And more singles coming this year…We’re also trying to play 100 shows. Some of the bands that we’re inspired by play 200 a year!
The Backfire’s are playing Baby’s All Right February 22nd. Tickets are going quick, and it’s going to be amazing, so snag ‘em while they’re hot.