"Just punk enough"

The "just punk enough" tagline on Night On Fire's MySpace page might be in jest, but it's also telling.

The local trio — singer/guitarist Toby Brown, bassist Adam Kowalski and drummer Travis Hollifield — certainly have attitude, but their anthemic singalongs and hooky riffs are not what most people expect from a punk band. However, singer/guitarist Toby Brown says that melody was what first drew him to the Southern California punk scene of the late '80s, and bands like The Descendants and Bad Religion, which he cites as two of his biggest influences. Their sound is essentially a tribute to what punk used to be.

Community spirit: Small house shows are punk band Nights on Fire's bread-and-butter, says bassist Adam Kowalski. Photo by Maren Close

"To me, being punk-rock or being punk-influenced doesn't mean you have to negate melody," Brown says. "You can have both, and a lot of the early bands did. There came a time after that where you just had bands that were four chords and screaming, and that became what punk is. And I think that's what a lot of people equate punk rock to, who aren't into it. But to me, melody is a big part of it. I like to write stuff that's catchy vocally. I want it to be something you might find yourself singing along to later.

"But," he is careful to note, "it needs to have a certain pace, a certain balls to it. I guess you could say there's a heaviness to [punk rock] that still appeals to my 18-year-old self."

Brown is apparently not alone in that regard. Since hitting the Asheville circuit less than a year ago, Nights on Fire have wasted no time integrating their more polished brand of melodic aggression into the tight-knit local scene, performing with local hardcore and punk bands, and booking a growing number of house shows, which bassist Adam Kowalski calls their "bread and butter."

"That's where we play the best and perform the best, and have the most fun," he says. "When everybody is right there in your face."

"I told the guys that if we didn't play any clubs, just played house shows for the rest of our bands existence, I'd be into that," adds Brown. "You play in this tiny living room, and if you get 30 people there it's a packed show, and everybody has a really good time. To me, that's the spirit of what we're doing. It's just so much more fun. Or at least it feels a little more like a community or a scene."

That's not to say that a sense of community is otherwise lacking in the Asheville punk scene. Despite the sonic differences, Nights On Fire has been accepted into the family with open arms.

"The punk rock scene here in town, everybody supports everybody," Kowalski says with unmistakable sincerity. "It's a really beautiful thing. I'm very, very, very grateful to be a part of this music scene.

"I've made more die-hard, tried-and-true friendships in the three years that I've been playing in this music scene, than I have with people I've known my whole life. And I think that speaks volumes about the people playing music in this town."

Now, having established a local presence, Nights On Fire is gearing up to take their retro-punk on the road. In June, the band sets out on a nine-day stint through the Southeast, ending in Durham with fellow Asheville rock outfit The Campaign 1984. In planning the mini-tour, Nights On Fire not only connected with a number of like-minded regional acts, the band also stumbled on a major break. 

During the booking process, Kowalski — who Brown calls the band's "social networking guru" — coincidentally made contact with several bands on Death To False Hope Records, a digital distribution label based in Durham. They liked what they heard, and soon Nights On Fire was contacted with an offer.

In less than a month, the label has posted four Nights On Fire demos for download, gotten the band on the radar of regional radio programmers and secured mentions on a variety of punk blogs and Web sites. Soon, they'll have even more to work with, as a proper Nights On Fire recording is nearing completion. The record, Brown explains, will consist largely of re-recorded versions of the demos, but should be more representative of the band.

"Those demos that we have were pretty much just me down in the basement. So this will be us doing it as a band in a good studio. And we're working with Evan Bradford. The guy's got a great ear, and he's got a great studio setup. So we're just going to push out seven songs and try to get it ready before we do our little mini-tour in June. We wanted to get something that Death To False Hope could do the digital release for, but then we want to be able to have CDs we can actually sell on the road."

Death To False Hope has offered promotion, and lots of bells and whistles, Kowalski says. And for a band poised to make a name for itself, that's meant business.

"It's been a huge help already. We've had over 1,000 hits on our MySpace page in less than a week. Somebody's looking at us. I'm not sure who it is, but people keep looking, which is nice to see."

[Dane Smith can be reached at rocknrolldane@gmail.com.]

who: The Campaign 1984, with Nights on Fire and The Enemy Lovers
what: Punk, pop, rock
where: Stella Blue
when: Friday, April 23. (16 and up show. 8 p.m. doors / 9 p.m. show. $8 / $10)


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