Kick Out the Glam

Friendly Fire rocks the rock and talks the talk -- radio, that is

"Stealing us blind like a kid in a candy store/Pickpocket president breaking in your piggy bank/We socked away all that money for a rainy day/They socked right back with a wink and a wank."

"The political angle is a big part of what motivates us," Stunner concedes. "I don't feel love songs. I don't want to write about 'boy chasing girl' or anything like that. And I like the juxtaposition of a serious message with a more comical delivery."

Indeed, whereas the more self-important political bands use the stage for tired sloganeering, Friendly Fire puts the rock first, making the message go down as smooth as scotch. Besides, it's hard to feel intimidated by a band that has the phrase "Glam me a beer!" tagged on the bass drum.

The face of South Florida Glam: Friendly Fire's Kristal Van Hart (left), Stunner, and "Dirty" Dave Johns gun down the Billabong
Colby Katz
The face of South Florida Glam: Friendly Fire's Kristal Van Hart (left), Stunner, and "Dirty" Dave Johns gun down the Billabong

So in Friendly Fire's context, political glamis no oxymoron -- unlike the band's military misnomer of a name. But there is another, more used-up term the trio consciously avoids.

"The term punk rockhas been used and abused so much, so we chose glam," Johns says, noting the distance between the punk bands he grew up with (like the Dead Boys) and those who throw around the term today (like the ever-sappy Good Charlotte).

Johns should know. Each of the 23 safety pins affixed to his black necktie represents a different year he's been involved in the punk scene. That all started in 1982, when he played with the Abusers, who later morphed into the Rock City Angels, South Florida's almost-famous glam-metal group, which featured a young Johnny Depp. When Johns was in the Abusers, though, Depp played guitar in a poppy rock band called the Kids -- a band the Abusers loved to abuse.

"We used to heckle Johnny's band at shows," Johns recalls. "We thought they were poseurs -- real pretty boys. Of course, I had no idea he'd end up being a huge star."

It was sometime in 1992 when Johns met Stunner through a classified ad the guitarist placed in Rag magazine. They soon formed the Forsakers, a punk group that lasted only six months. The two remained involved in a few more similarly short-lived projects, one that introduced them to KVH, another that was a classic-rock cover band. After a year of grudgingly rehashing other people's tunes, Stunner was almost ready to hang up his ax for good.

A decade later, inspiration came in the form of a pudgy, over-excited rock'n' roll teacher. Johns and company saw Jack Black in School of Rock and found a new reason to keep on keepin' on -- and to form a new band. Friendly Fire's songs are shout-along rockers tailored to cut through the popular news media's incessant babble. There's no need to be a tribute band anymore: If Johns wants to give a history lesson, musical or otherwise, FriendlyFireNetwork.com reaches young minds from Aventura to Australia.

Stunner notes that updates to the network -- run from the living room of his Pompano Beach home to some 900 hits a day -- will come less frequently while the site undergoes a redesign. When the site fully bounces back this fall, Friendly Fire will have its debut CD, Left Right Uppercut, ready for consumption -- just in time for the East Coast tour it's planning.

Listening to Stunner describe Friendly Fire (and the long, fractured history of his previous projects), you get the sense that the band is something of an unborn child. He takes great pains to make sure the baby grows to its full potential -- and doesn't suffer a premature fate the way his previous projects with Johns did. The two have had their hearts broken so many times, they were hesitant to come back to the scene.

"It was really hard to get into it and really believe again," Stunner says.

Believe, baby. With the Friendly Fire Network steadily growing, its School of Rock is looking for a new class to graduate.

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