Photos Cameron Flaisch
Oftentimes, the best things happen without a plan and are born of the blues.
Some of the best music comes from a dark place, only illuminated a fire lit by an innermost passion. The light offers others direction when they too become lost on life’s journey. It is then that musicians become our saviors and let us know that we can share more than we segregate. Whether it is the strum of a string or the hum of a familiar hymn, we stare into their souls and we are comforted by their art. Music has a way lets us know that we are not alone. It connects us and calls us back to our roots. In the end, we all are kith and kin, relatives born from the notes on a staff.
Meet multitalented musicians and songwriters, Austin Earp and Haley Smith. They are Kindred Fire, a band who has diced up different genres like bluegrass, rhythm and blues, rock, blues and Motown, tossed them in a metaphorical pot, and stewed them into what Earp calls ‘Swamp-Stomping, Roots Rock’ music.
Earp and Smith were friends in college over ten years ago. They both played music but never in the same room. Chance, circumstance and life happened, and they started playing together a little over two years ago.
“It was kind of one of those things where we started jamming for therapy. We were both going through a bunch of life stuff,” says Smith. “We put a little tune on social media and people liked it more than we thought. We then decided to play at some bars and our fan base started to grow. We really didn’t have any intent on being a band, it kind of just happened organically.”
Since then, the band has been performing live shows all over the Southeast. They also released a five-song EP (extended play record) during November 2019. “The plan is to get back into the studio and release a full length album this year; we’re just not sure about a date yet,” Earp explains.
When pulling back the curtain, folks will find that this is more than just music to the duo. Most of us will see difficult times and go through life’s storms. Earp and Smith will let you know that they are no different.
“With music, it is different than just saying something. There is a feeling behind it, an aura” Smith says when describing how words in a song are different than words anywhere else.“All the pieces of how you feel are bundled into one big piece of work. You are not just saying words. How they are coupled with guitar sounds and the rhythm of the song sets the mood. The lights on stage and the energy from the crowd are important. All of those different things create the aura, they create the feeling. For me, I was going through a lot of stuff at that time of my life. You can talk about it, but to be able to feel it out was a completely different situation.”
Not only has the music been helpful to Smith, working with Earp has been equally, if not more helpful than she could have imagined.
“I was in the music industry before and I quit. I got really burned out. But sometimes just talking about your problems isn’t enough. Making music with Austin is like being with my brother and being with my best friend. I really don’t have to elaborate about what I’m thinking. Being able to put everything on a plate, leave it there and walk away was exceptionally healing for me during our first year playing together. Then it became something I felt I needed to do all the time. First, because it is good for my heart and but it is also good for other people who were also feeling the same things that I felt. They may not know how to release it. But they can listen, and they can feel it at the time. So yes, I feel that playing in this band has been extremely therapeutic.”
Earp echoes her saying, “I’m not very good at expressing my feelings verbally; I’m really kind of like an emotional robot to most people. And then, there are those feelings that are so intense that words don’t really cut it, and those feelings just spill out into a song. That is satisfying, especially when it starts happening and then you get on a roll. When working with someone else on music, and you both find the vision or the sound that you want to pull off, it all feels so natural. My favorite part of it all is the creative process of it. When everything comes together and just clicks, it is satisfying. It doesn’t always happen that way. The chemistry isn’t always there. I’m grateful to be working with someone I know and trust, and brings it to a deeper level when we get into the songwriting.”
“And its satisfying that people like it,” Smith says with a smile. “That’s just like the gravy.” Earp says nearly completing Haley’s sentence.
“It could have been one of those things where all we did was jam and write, and no one cared about it. but what’s really been interesting about the whole journey has been that once we did start making all of this public, it very quickly started to be something where more and more people listened to it,” Smith says as she continues to describe origins of Kindred Fire. “Usually when you’re a musician, you’re grinding, and there’s still a grind with this. However, what’s really interesting is people were gravitating towards us, labels, tours, and all of that, gravitating towards us.
“And yes, it was the music, but also the story behind it,” Smith continues. “We’re not just out there making pop songs and talking about how much we love or don’t love our significant others; there are stories within the lyrics of our songs. We write about where we come from. People identify with that, so our music is more of an experience. Most people don’t just hear our songs, like the music and nod their head to it. We feel like where we are now is more of a cherry on top of a career in music. We are so excited that there are people who have been in the industry for a very long time and telling us that they want to do something with us because what we do is really special to them. Of course, we think our music special. But for someone else to say that…hell yeah! That’s really awesome.”
Smith explains that people can be a musician, or a songwriter, and still be unsatisfied. But she will tell anyone that she is overwhelmed with how grateful she is to finally see the breakthrough and she couldn’t imagine sharing the experience with anyone else but Earp.
“We are able to write the music that we want to write. I was in the industry and I couldn’t do that before. I don’t really know how to explain how satisfying it really is; I can’t keep emphasizing it enough. It’s just one of those things where you wake up and you’re extremely grateful that you have a passion in your life.”
Kindred Fire wants people who come to their shows to feel and experience their songs, and take a part of their art home.
“From the time you get out of your car and come to our show until the time you get back in the car to leave, we hope to provide a show experience that you will not forget. We love to see the crowd hoopin’ and hollerin’, and then there are parts of the show that makes people feel something else. We hope to encourage others to go create and collaborate with other people the same way that we have, in whatever it is they want to do,” says Smith. Earp follows up with “Yes, we want to inspire people as much as possible.”
A key to success for Kindred Fire is letting everything happen organically and being completely open and honest with each other.
“A lot of times in the industry, people want you to come out with a song and you have a quota to meet as a songwriter and things like that,” Smith explains. “But with us, we are going to do this until we get we are getting really irritated with the work. Then we’re going to stop. And we’re going to chill, and then we are going to come back to it. It is about just letting things happen. Every week we have a songwriting session. One day we may both be on our games and other days not so much. Being able to say to each other the it is okay and not try to force something out is key. Everyone wants to hear the real you anyway.
“Artists over think crap all the time, and often, they are their own biggest critic. There are such things as false truths about yourself and what you have created. Having someone to trust, someone standing just a little bit outside of your situation, can really put everything into perspective. So, some of the thoughts that artists have are not actually reality. We are able to be transparent with one another and not worry about hurting feelings. We have the reassurance that we are not going to lie to each other. If Austin has an off night, after the show, I’m gonna ask, ‘Bruh, what happened?’” Haley says before Austin interrupts her.
“She’s good at that,” he says with a laugh. “But I sometimes need that push. As someone who creates, a lot of times you get in your own head and you either don’t know when to walk away and leave something alone. That is what is so cool about our relationship. Obviously, you’re going to be vulnerable if you are writing what we are writing with someone else because you’re putting your whole self right out there, even before the audience hears it. That’s a level of vulnerability that not a lot of people have. And when you have that honesty, but you also have a person who is not going to BS you, it makes the process easy and comfortable. The critique is always constructive criticism and always offered in an honest way. We want to be the best that we can be and we’re both open to the criticism from each other.”
When speaking to their songs, both Earp and Smithy have a favorite song that happens to be their most heart-touching song.
“My most heart touching song is a song we wrote called ‘Make Believe'”, Haley says. “This song is the most vulnerable that I’ve ever been while writing. It speaks to heartbreak, crappy men, the struggles of being a young woman with parental issues, and what all of that can do to a woman in her life. I’ve always been private and always handled my stuff alone. So, writing that song – and I really don’t think that I ever intended to sing it out loud – has been a therapy session for me. The song has helped me realize that I’m not alone, as there are so many other women that have gone through the same thing. I found out that those experiences doesn’t make any of us less valuable.”
Earp’s song is a song about his wife called “Busy Woman.”
“That song came easy and it just happened,” Austin says. “One day of writing, and boom. It was done. They don’t come easy that often. “Busy Woman” was just a point of authenticity where something bubbled up inside of me and spilled out into music.
“That was one of those moments where you hear a song and you don’t forget where you were,” Smith adds, “and it hits you. It is a really special song and very true to who his wife is.”
The band members share a favorite song, one of their latest releases called “Valentine.”
“I used to sing lead in all of the songs, so we wanted to balance things out a little bit more,” Smith says. “I hadn’t ever really written rock music; I just went to his concerts with his rock band and watched him scream a lot (Earp laughs). I started writing a song that I believed Austin could really sing. The style I used was a little bit more Bluegrass. But when he interjected his vocals, it was a crazy marriage of a vision that I had. Bringing him in and asking him to be a part of creating it made that song so much better than what I imagined it would be.”
“The sum is greater than its parts,” Earp says of their collaboration on “Valentine.”
“You have an idea, but it’s never gonna be what it could be when you’re working with someone in that open kind of way. That’s the magic of it.”
Kindred Fire is looking forward to 2020 and continuing to work together. They also want to continue to have an effect on their fans and the community.
Now, they are having to make decisions about new opportunities and who they potentially would want to partner with. They also plan to have a spring tour, participate in various festivals, and of course write a lot of songs for a full length album.
However, they are sticking to the script and working to make sure that nothing is forced. They are also very grateful for where they are at in their music careers.
A little birdie recently advised them to enjoy this time of discovery and prepare for what could soon become a more rigorous schedule, because things could very well be different soon. They have been told that people are going to know who they are, and they should remember what it was like to build up to the expectations they are likely to exceed. And with their preparation for whatever the future holds, they were advised to hold on to their principles.
“The name Kindred Fire comes from us being kindred spirits,” Smith says, “and we are both passionate about something similar. Our mission is not just to create music, but to live that life.”