Last weekend at Carolina Rebellion I had the immense pleasure of meeting AJ Channer, vocalist for Fire From the Gods, in the flesh. Having adored the band’s latest album Narrative, I might have swooned a bit. Aside from being an extraordinarily versatile vocalist, AJ is tall, he likes the beach, and he has a fascinating accent. This kid is doing great things and is moving toward the unimaginable. We talked about what that might be, musicians that are worth listening to, and how he prepares for tour.
Check out my review of Fire From the Gods album Narrative, here.
I listened to Narrative, and it was just fantastic.
And I saw the video for “End Transmission,” that’s such a cool video. I was wondering if you could talk a little about the vision you had for that and how it all came to be.
Richie, our drummer, wrote the music for “End Transmission.” Richie writes a lot of our music. He’s just super cool like that. But it started out being about, like, fulfilling your destiny and like, being charitable and giving, and being loving and extending yourself. But it took a turn – I guess for the worse – once I started drinking in the studio, and then I just started freestyling and just coming up with this idea and then this concept of being better than myself and the only way you can – and this is a reoccurring theme of Narrative – the only way you can really be better for yourself is not with the outside influences, but really looking inside yourself inwardly and then taking a step out. You know, kind of astral projection-like, and looking back at yourself and saying, is this the person you want to be? and become the hero.
Not become someone else’s hero, but become the hero of your own narrative, of your own story. Be your own hero. Rescue yourself. And a million miles away, it was just basically like you know the only way I can do that is I’ve gotta be away, detach myself from the world and the things that are holding me back from being better and finding myself and so you know that’s where the idea came through like with space, you can go anywhere on Earth and still be on Earth and still be planted in your physical body. But if you’re flying through space like the character is in the video, the only way he’s gonna do that is through means of astral projection and becoming something different and being better and being more superior as to the person you were before and the idea of being close to satellites.
I wanted to call the song “Celeste,” but the producer’s like, “You know, you give the song a girl’s name, it kind of sounds like it’s a love song.” That makes sense. So “End Transmission.” Cut the cord. Just stop the transmission then and there and get lost.
I love it. I love it. So how do you fly through space, what’s your secret?
Smoke weed. I don’t know, sometimes man, I used to daydream a lot as a kid. I think most kids do, but I just did so much daydreaming because I always used to envision myself doing something else and being somewhere else and being better than what I had, and not in a “grass is greener” sort of way like I need a new life; it was more or less like I wanted to do something extraordinary, and what better thing than to be flying through space?
I love space, I love the idea of what’s out there, the expanse. I love science fiction so I like the idea of what else is out there for us. You see what I’m saying?
Yeah, the possibilities.
Yeah, the endless possibilities that possibly exist.
What was the first album that you added to your music library?
You know man, I grew up in a very musical background. My dad produced reggae, and so old records were always around and there was reggae music always around and hip hop and stuff, so I always had music around but the first record – well, man, like I told homeboy inside, I stole it. I probably stole it. It was The Clash. It was London Calling.
Yeah, so that was like the first record I think I ever bought for myself. And then I bought, I had a bunch of rap tapes and R&B tapes and mix tapes from back in the day. But my first CD, that was London Calling.
That’s not a bad one.
Well what about your first live music experience? You must have been pretty young, I’d imagine.
Yeah. I used to go to a lot of reggae festivals as a kid, because my dad rapped and worked with a lot of artists. And knew the artists. He used to be a promoter as well so he booked a lot of reggae festivals and such, so I met Beenie Man as a kid, I met Busta Rhymes when I was really young. So I used to see like Bunny Wailer and stuff like that so I’ve seen so many, man. Buju Banton, you know what I’m saying. So those were some of my first live music experiences.
So even when my mom, you know, she’d go to church and we’d see some famous gospel singer and I was always like, Yeah, that’s it! I want to be a live performer. I wanted to perform music. Didn’t know how. Didn’t know which avenue I was going to take, I just knew I wanted to do it. And when I found heavy music I was like, “Oh, this is the shit!”
That’s awesome. What’s your vision, what’s your dream? Right now you’re shooting for the stars. What’s the stars for you?
I just want to continue working. I just want to put out as many records as you possibly can, and just stay – not relevant – but just stay active as a band and stay working and keep producing and I don’t want to try and top Narrative but I just want to put out good and interesting music.
If you could cover any full album of any artist, any band, who would it be?
Ah! Oh, man! God, that’s so hard, I hate when people ask these, because it just makes me feel like I’m betraying some of my love for certain music.
You can have multiple answers.
I think it would be The Art of Drowning by AFI, because I just love Davey Havok; Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses by Atreyu; and Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine. Or may like even like… damn, that’s hard. You’ve got me thinking now…
You’ll have to get back to me on that one.
What’s the most recent album you added to your music library?
Oh, I haven’t bought music in years. But I’ve been jamming like a lot of the newer bands now, like I’ve been jamming to stuff like I Prevail, just listening to some of the newer younger bands coming up. I really dig this band called My Enemies and I, who I think are killer. They’re like a nu metal band, they’re dope. Yeah, I’ve been just listening to all these new bands.
What’s your source for music?
Spotify and friends, and see what everyone else is listening to.
Besides Austin, where do you spend your time?
New York City. I’m from New York City, so I try to be in New York as much as possible. I lived in the UK for a little bit, and I lived in Africa so I try to get overseas a little bit. But now that I’m so consumed with Fire From the Gods, like the only traveling I do is when I’m on tour.
Tour is pretty strenuous. What do you do to prepare for that?
Every day is different. There’s obviously the formula: you play a show, you load in, you play a show, you load out, you chill. But just get your mind ready for it just mentally. I listen to a lot of music, I do my warmups. We do a lot of activities, like we play soccer. If we’re near a beach we definitely try to go to the beach and decompress a lot, you know, and just hang out, enjoy each other’s company. Instead of just working working working and being mean to each other because we’re trying to load in and load out and if we have a bad set, you know, so we just like to chill, man, just keep it easy, very easy going.
I’ve gotta ask you about your vocal development. How did you learn how to do what you do?
I think with most metal singers and hardcore singers, it’s trial and error. It’s like you just start, you wanna scream and you’re ripping your vocal cords, you’re going through a lot of trial and error and I did the same thing. I just built it up over time and when I joined Fire From the Gods I was in other bands where there wasn’t much clean singing, and I always wanted to sing. And Fire From the Gods afforded me that opportunity. So I took a bunch of lessons and stuff, to prepare for writing Narrative and preparing for just being on the road. I’ve got these vocal tapes that have really helped build strength, and my warmups. Over time I feel like I’ve gotten better but there are those days when it’s a little rough, when I’ve probably, like, smoked a little bit too much or drank a little bit too much, then you put yourself through the wringer.
It’s not too much, it’s just not enough water.
Yeah, exactly, it’s like my vocal coach, she’s like, “Just drink more water. If you’re going to drink three beers, have two waters.”
What is an artist or band that you think more people should know about?
You know, I listen to a lot of, like, I think there’s a lost art for blues nowadays, there’s a lost love for blues, so I listen to a lot of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, and so I just think people probably should give a little more credit where credit is due when it comes to singers and these artists. …Muddy Waters and stuff like that, you know, I listen to a lot of that kind of stuff. I think that there’s not too much appreciation for that anymore, which is kind of weird, you know?
Yeah, it’s almost like people have kind of shirked the predecessors.
Of course!. Hip hop’s not really worth much a damn these days, so I can’t really attest to that. I can’t really be like, Oh, I listen to hip hop, and someone should listen to this rapper I don’t think so. You know what I’m saying?
Yeah, it’s not what it used to be.
Last question: fuck, marry, or kill.
Fuck, marry, or kill?
Fuck, marry, or kill. Dolly Parton, Courtney Love, Ivanka Trump.
Okay, Dolly Parton… Who else?
Okay, kill Courtney Love, for sure. Not interested in Courtney Love bullshit. Marry? Dolly Parton.
Okay, so you’d fuck Ivanka?
Yeah, she’s alright. Yeah, the daughter? YEAH! She’s cute! Yeah, yeah, yeah, not Ivanna, Ivanna’s terrible, I’ve seen Ivanna before. But Ivanka, yeah. Ivanka’s hot. She’s a good-looking girl.
And then go home to Dolly?
Yeah, Dolly’s something else.
I kind of agree with you there. Who wouldn’t want a wife that has a roller coaster?
Yeah, and that sings and has that lovely smile and that lovely Southern accent and just that pleasantness about her.
Later the same day I saw AJ perform. His stage presence was out of this world. AJ and the rest of Fire From the Gods will be hitting up both Atlanta and Charlotte this summer (and an astonishing number of other places). This is one of those bands whose live performance holds a poignancy that you just don’t get with a recording. Go see them.