A man near the bar has shouted, "Let me buy you a drink!" at the band onstage. If you've been to shows at smaller venues, you've heard that rowdy but passionate tone before. The singer, 28-year-old bearded and ball-capped Adrian Amador, smiles and replies that he's driving later, but maybe one of the other three guitarists in his band, Fire Is Motion, could indulge the offer.
Hours later, as Amador hauls an amp down the street after the show, a friend calls back to the moment and they share a laugh. Then the friend, who Amador will eventually offer a ride back to New Jersey in the band's crowded van, illuminates something Amador hadn't realized at the time: "That was a T-Pain reference."
Fire Is Motion do not make music that would be mistaken for T-Pain's. That night, at a late-April gig at Elsewhere's Zone One in Brooklyn, they played with four guitarists, but some nights they have five. The band's Twitter bio reads simply "band with too many guitarists." It's a running joke Amador has immortalized online; one might even call it Fire Is Motion's #brand. It's also the only feasible method to adequately replicate live what their lean recorded catalog reveals: yearning, twinkly songs that fit snugly within contemporary emo revivalism. These are lush, densely atmospheric songs that chase the cosmos.
One of them just happens to feature Amador singing with Auto-Tune.
Amador conceived that song, "Day 2," during a weeklong writing exercise in 2014. But while the sparse, percussion-less original version remains purposely blurry, like an old smudged Polaroid, the live "Day 2" is photoshopped to perfection. Fire Is Motion play the new version, complete with an added funky groove and those glitchy, glimmering vocals, at nearly every show. This makes sense, as it's a banger. "Day 2" also has the distinction of being the exact point in their set when they begin upending expectations of what a five-guitar band might actually sound like.
"We were starting to play some shows, but our sets were always pretty short at the time, probably like 15 minutes. At band practice one day I was kind of just like, it would be cool if we played one of these songs that's just totally different," Amador explained before the show. "Our friend was filling in at a couple shows, playing drums, and he had a pedal that kind of did the Auto-Tune thing. We were just like, oh, that's really funny. Ever since then, we were just like, we're always going to do this now."
The band's origin story hews a lot closer to the svelte "Day 2" demo than its dynamic stage version. In 2011, angling to get a song on a music blog, Amador took an acoustic guitar and a MacBook up to the attic of his parents' house and recorded the first-ever Fire Is Motion song, "Smile, It Makes This Easier." It was also the first song Amador, then in his early 20s, ever wrote by himself. "The goal was for me first to just write and record a song where I sang on it, and then the other goal was to just send it to them and see what would happen," he said.
It worked. He chose a lyric from a Cap'n Jazz song and created Fire Is Motion's Bandcamp page. He even got fan mail asking about his recording set-up, which made him laugh. "He's like, 'It sounds like you're playing guitar in a room.' I was like, I literally played guitar in a room, so this is perfect." And then? "I just stopped doing anything with it until like 2013."
But Amador kept playing, mostly in local bands in Union and nearby Elizabeth, including with his longtime friend Avery Salermo. She'd been writing music since age 13 as an outlet for her turbulent upbringing, something she calls "a rough situation." "[Family members] were just very much trying to influence me to be like this one thing or whatever, and I'm just like, I don't really want to be a church-going, feminine person. This is annoying. I hate this," she said. Instead, she channeled her discontent into the spunky indie rock of her band Strawberry Jam, which Amador heard about through a friend.
"I checked it out. I was just like, 'Who is this person?' It was so awesome," he said. Salermo, who perhaps hadn't ever heard him lay it out like this before, smiled. "Oh, that's sick," she said.
Though they've known each other for a decade, Salermo, 26, didn't officially join Fire Is Motion until 2015. It takes a few tries to lock in the exact year; Amador likens his explanation of the band's history to a Quentin Tarantino narrative — nonlinear and sprawling. At certain points, he pauses to recall which iteration of the band he's referring to (their Facebook page lists 12 additional members who've contributed through the years, as well as "you").
When Amador finally revisited Fire Is Motion and sought to expand it, he needed a second creative brain. He found it in Salermo. The two became Fire Is Motion's twin pillars, with Adamo as the central creative force and Salermo as his essential editor. Both sing and play guitar. Salermo occasionally takes lead vocals both by design ("Maybe I can be courageously afraid," she offers solo on set opener "Yesterday's Coffee"), and out of necessity, like when Amador suffered an unexpected acid reflux flare-up before a show. "Working together for as long as we have, I have no shame just being extremely straightforward with him," she said. "I really just don't sugar-coat it."
You can hear it on Fire Is Motion's excellent but too brief 2017 EP, Still, I Try, the culmination of years of hard work. Translating that live, though, requires some tact. This is where the many guitarists come in. "As I started finishing or trying to finish the songs, I kind of little by little assembled more people," Amador explained. "I played a show by myself and I was like, 'This sucks. I wish Avery was in the band.' And then I played a show where I was the only guitarist, which is weird, and then one bass player and a drummer. I was like, 'This is still not as cool.'"
Eventually he found another guitar player, then another — and the cycle continued despite logistical hiccups. Amador recalled a sound engineer at a small New York venue recoiling at their stage setup: "He's just like, 'I don't even have enough mics to do that!'" Despite what the mere sight of 24 strings may evoke, Fire Is Motion venture far from Shred City, U.S.A. acts like Diarrhea Planet, aiming for the grandeur of Amador's heroes in Broken Social Scene. ("He has to say it at least twice in every interview," Salermo quipped.) Amador obsesses over textures and moods, and he feels best about songs that work both acoustically (like the band's recent NPR Tiny Desk Contest submission) and bombastically (the same song cranked to 11).
It's been 18 months since Still, I Try's release; considering the years it took to distill its five songs into their finished forms, new Fire Is Motion material may still be quite a while away. But in the meantime, they keep gigging, sharing the stage with bigger bands like Wild Pink and Ratboys, and learning what they can.
"We just don't stop getting excited about stuff, whether it's a small thing or a big thing. The friends that we made along the way — it's kind of just always how the band functions. We're going to be friends with whoever, really," he said. Not missing a chance to bring back the bit, he continued: "If you want to play guitar in our band, we're down."
Salermo offered a quick clarification: "They're welcome to audition."