In Session: Playin’ with Fire

ALBANY – A lot of times when interviews are conducted, I spend the majority of time discussing the artist or band’s latest endeavor, where we can see them next, and other various topics – sometimes the conversations are a veritable free-for-all in terms of content. However, when I sat down with Kim and Dan of Playin’ with Fire over the weekend, I knew it would be an interview steeped in emotion; filled with some of the realest, most raw interaction I’ve had at Nippertown to date.

When we think of the new year – for some January is just another month – a lot of us tend to romanticize it as another new beginning. For Playin’ with Fire, this new year brings with them the tremendously painful loss of a beloved band member, and figuring out how to go forward without him in the long run. Nevertheless, and rallying behind their mutual love for one another, as well as their shared love for Steve, Playin’ with Fire is going forth and releasing an album, Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open. Set for release on Valentine’s Day, and as a tribute to Steve, I was sent a track off the upcoming EP, “Thunderin’.” A solid track through-and-through, it makes me want to hear the rest of their album. You can hear the track by clicking the button below.

Thunderin’, off the upcoming album, Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open.

Continue reading to catch our interview with Dan and Kim from the band.  

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Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open, cover art.

Lucas Garrett: Thanks for sitting down with me tonight, Kim and Dan.

Dan Wray: Hi, Lucas. We’re kind of in a unique time, Lucas. We just lost a major member of our band; he passed away less than a month ago. You’re catching us at a time where we’re rebranding, kind of like we’re figuring out what we’re going to do. We’re going to be putting out an EP. We just recorded three very strong songs with John Chiara over at Albany Audio Associates. The songs have Steve singing background vocals and another one that we had recorded several years ago with Steve (“Wishes,” a song he wrote). We’ll put this out and we’ll make it a tribute to Steve. He was a lovely man, besides being a great musician and singer. You’re catching us at a time where we’re being reborn as a newer band and trying to figure out who’s gonna… who’s going to replace… We’re going to bring somebody in. They call us classic rock; we’re much more than a classic rock band.

What we saw in Albany is there’s not a lot of original music going on here. So, we write our own songs; we also bring in other songwriters who are very strong – it’s not just us. We look at other songs, people send us songs. We record them and we test market them. We used to do concerts outside in the park so we were safe (over last summer and with Covid closures). We test market all of these original songs and the reaction we got was very strong. So, we went in and recorded them. That’s what we’re doing right now, Lucas. We’re having it released as a tribute to Steve Wright on Valentine’s Day in February. We’ll send it to WEXT and the radio stations that we’re lucky enough that they’ve been playing some of our stuff, already.

LG: What’s the name of the upcoming EP?

KW: Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open. The name of the EP is actually one of the lyrics from Steve’s song, “Wishes.”

LG: There’s a huge market in this area for original music. I’m always more of a fan of hearing original content. If I want to hear, you know, classic rock, I have Spotify or whatever. But, I really appreciate original music.

Kim Wickam: We love playing all different kinds of music. We do a bit of Fleetwood Mac, Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Pink, you know? We play to the audience and what they want to hear. One of my favorite parts when we’re playing is when I look out in the audience and almost every single song people are singing along to. That includes our original music.  “Wishes” is a song that we just did a music video for. We went down to New York City – Steve, Dan, and I – and did this video. This song is about ten years old, I think. At one point we had all the fans come up on stage, and we were all singing “Wishes.” It was incredible.

LG: That’s a pretty good feeling, right there.

DW: That’s how we know that it’s translating. One of the things we’re up against, Lucas, is: there’s a lot of tribute bands, and God bless them. They’re great. They’re doing AC/DC. They’re doing the Stones. They do Led Zeppelin. People know what they’re going to get. When they come to see us, we’re going to give them the best show we can. We’re a performance – we don’t just stand there and play. We understand the value of performance. Kim is a great performer; there’s an engagement. Now, I know every band thinks they’re great. We know what our target audience is: people that like classic rock, who also like original music, and want to see a show. They want to see that you like the music that you’re playing.

KW: I know that you know Tommy V.

LG: Yes.

KW: I used to sing… be the lead singer in Ed Knight’s band, way back in the day. So, you know, they’re a great band, too. And I learned from Ed and Penny Knight the importance of putting on a great show!  We just want to, you know, go out there, and have fun and do the best possible show that we can do. Make a difference to our audience and ensure they have a memorable time and like I said, we’re very blessed to have guys like Andy Gregory, Chris Wienk, Art Fredette, Rob Smittix. All these guys – lovely guys. They’re so open to our music and it’s really very humbling.

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Playin’ with Fire, from left-to-right: Steve Wright, Al Kash, Kim Wickam, David Batchelder, and Dan Wray. Photo credit: Lori Washburn.

LG: It really is. I find I keep saying this to various people, but, for me, the pandemic has shown a lot of ugliness in the world, but it’s also shown the best. There’s a lot of wrong in this area – that I won’t really get into. There’s a lot of wrong, but there’s a lot of right, here, you know?

DW: We do.At the beginning of this thing- the pandemic; we figured what are we going to do? We can’t play out. So, we did these called Driveway Sessions; all acoustic.

KW: And, in my driveway.

DW: And we kept releasing like a song a week. WEXT picked up on it and so did Alive at Five; the Albany events. They said, “We want you to start a challenge for other bands.” Safe distancing, you know? ‘Cause we were six feet apart. We sent it out to other bands that we challenged.

KW: So, we had Erin Harkes, and Thomasina Winslow, and a couple other people, too, but those were the main people that we challenged. We all did “Soulshine.” That was the song that we chose.

LG: That’s a nice song.

KW: Yeah, it’s a beautiful song. One of my favorites.

LG: If I may be so bold in asking – and I know that it’s a hard question. When we make music, for whatever you’d want to call it, it’s a very intimate process; whether you’re together in an actual relationship, or whatever. You cannot be in a band and make music with other members of the band – especially if you act like a family – without it becoming very intimate. There’s no way around that. I cannot imagine having to go through what you’re going through right now. How do you plan on navigating even going about replacing someone like Steve?

DW: It’s very difficult because Steve and Kim had a long friendship and were together for many years… I joined the band about five or six years ago. And, I realized I was lucky to be with them. Blessed to be with this type of a band– really – that had strong empathy and they cared about each other. Stevie became what I call a true friend. And, I’m getting a little emotional because this guy – whenever I needed something to do or talk to somebody, aside from music – he was there. I lost a piece of myself with Steve Wright. It’s going to be impossible to put that spirit back in the band, but we’re going to find somebody. We’ve decided, of course we’re going to keep the band together.

KW: Family, that’s one thing we are… Thirty years ago I lost a dozen of my friends on Pan Am 103, and I quit music for over ten years when that happened. I automatically thought to myself, “Well, how can I ever go on?” I thought to myself – Lucas, I have to show you this [gestures to her necklace], on the day that he died, this came in the mail. On the day that he died, this came in the mail, and his wife handed it to me. It’s a microphone. She’s shaking and she handed it to me, and she said, “Kim, I opened it up and I knew the moment I opened it that he meant it for you for Christmas.” That just proves to me that he’s telling me that we need to go on. I’ve had many of his close friends send me cards, and they’ve said, “Kim, please don’t let the music stop. Please don’t let the music stop.”I’m like, I don’t think that he would ever want me to let the music stop.

I plan to actually enter his song, “Wishes,” into the John Lennon songwriter contest. We’re going to do that in honor of him because he was his favorite musician – ever. The music can’t stop; he was so proud of this band. He founded the band sixteen years ago, and I was so lucky to join it fifteen years ago. There’s no way in hell with all the talent we have in this band; with all the drive and just the pure love for each other, there’s no way in hell we’re not going to let this band go on. It’s going to go on, and it’s going to be elevated because there’s no way that I’m going to let this band go anywhere but up… In his memory. It’s going to be an even better band and we’ll make that happen.

DW: We’re having a band meeting with Kim, myself, and Al Kash, the drummer, who’s an integral part of this, next week to decide on these issues. You know, we’re going to audition people. We already have gigs booked in the summer time. Mostly outside things. Some club dates. We don’t know what’s going on, so we’ll see.

KW: We will figure it out.

DW: But, we already have dates booked, but not until the springtime ‘cause we have to reorganize here.

LG: I can’t imagine what you’re going through and I’m very sorry for your loss.

KW: Thank you.

DW: Thanks.

LG: Especially at a time – it’s definitely worth mentioning that… It can never happen at a goodtime, I do not mean that. But, it really seemed like things were starting to pop. Last year, you got nominated, Kim, for songwriter of the year [Thomas Edison award].

KW: Yeah, I got nominated songwriter of the year and I was just so grateful. Shocked, actually, because Dan is an incredible songwriter; many of his songs are on our albums. Steve has been writing songs ever since I met him, and sending me lyrics almost daily. I’m like, “Why hasn’t one of them been nominated, yet?” Haha. So, I framed it in my mind that it wasn’t me that was nominated, it was my band that was nominated. My song was developed by my band and made into the song I always wanted it to be. They put in so much time and it was Dan and Stevie who actually forced me to bring this song out of retirement and make it the title track of the CD “Closer Than We Know” which we released in 2018.

DW: We all went to the Eddie’s Award show. I come from a different background; I came from New York City. My peers were the Ramones, Kiss, Talking Heads; played with all of them.

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Playin’ with Fire, from left-to-right: Steve Wright, Al Kash, Kim Wickam, David Batchelder, and Dan Wray. Photo credit: Renee Fahey.

LG: You’re saying a lot of my favorite bands, man!

DW: Well, I opened for Talking Heads, or they opened for me. I can’t remember, but this is back in the 1970’s, ok? But, over the years I’ve learned a lot of things about the studio; I bring experience to this band. But, the talent in this band makes it so easy in the studio to do stuff, ‘cause they’re so good. I met Al Kash at an open mic at Pauly’s Hotel. I turned around, I’m playing a song, and I’m like, “Who the hell is this guy? He’s amazing.” And I said, “I need your number.” He goes, “No, I need your number;” they were looking for a guitar player at the time. I realized that this is a really great group to join. What I found out, too, Lucas? There’s a lot of great musicians up here.

KW: There really are.

LG: I think Upstate New York… People that aren’t from around here that when they think of music, a lot of people think Nashville, or Chicago, or LA, or something like that. But, there’s a lot of goddamn amazing talent right in our backyard.

DW: I’ve met some of the most amazing players and I’ve done studio work with some of the heavyweights, and the guys that are here? The best I’ve ever played with, you know? Saxophone players, keyboard players, band members. It’s astounding. It’s astounding.

KW: Mhm.

LG: Kim, you were talking to me a couple days ago how you thought that some of the lyrics in your new song were sent to you by Steve?

KW: Yeah, it was. I had a song that I wrote four years ago. It was stupid; I actually put it off to the side, but I always liked a few of the lyrics in it. I brought it back out during the pandemic and we started practicing it outside and the whole band came together. Again, it was missing something. Thomasina Winslow, who’s my guitar teacher, she suggested a chord change in the middle of the song; the bridge part. And, then, it still was missing something. The other night I had my guitar, and I’m just strumming it and I was like, “Oh, my god! I need a piece of paper!” I’m throwing paper around because all of the sudden I had a lyric in my mind. I wrote it down and I started playing it. Do you want me to tell you what it is?

LG: Yes, please go ahead.

KW: [singing] Now these years, they fly on by/And we ask ourselves, “Why do we cry?” Through the stars, they send down a light/And they let us know they’ll be fine.

So, that’s my lyric and it fits right into my song. I think it’s Steve telling me that he’s fine.

DW: He’s ok. Everything is alright.

LG: That’s some pretty powerful stuff.

KW: Yeah, that’s going to be the last verse in my song. That verse. Now, we’re going to get together and work on it. Steve had actually just written two other songs that we almost had ready to try out at shows, but, unfortunately we never…had the chance.

DW: Right before he passed away, we did a Christmas party. Two days, not even. A day and a half.

KW: Yeah, a day and a half.

DW: We practiced for it and he showed us his latest song. It was pretty cool. Then, all of the sudden, she calls me up (Kim) and tells me, “Sit down. You need to sit down.” And I go, “Oh, what the hell?” “You need to sit down. Steve’s gone.” “What?” The point being – I don’t want to make this whole thing about Steve’s death – he had an impact on us. That’s what people should know; we lost a piece of ourselves here. In traumatic situations you either pull together or you come apart. We’re going to pull together.

KW: We’re going to pull together for him.

LG: More on that note, how do you plan to go forward in this year? What can we expect from Playin’ with Fire this year?

DW: Our release date for Steve is going to be on Valentine’s Day. Four song EP. I’m going in on Monday to add violins to a song. Gonna mix it and it’s going to be packaged and we’ll send it out to the radio stations. I gotta tell you, there’s some pretty strong songs on there – very good – that people are going to like.

KW: That song, “Thunderin’,” that we shared; I love that song. I love singing it and it’s actually written by David McGrath. He’s one of the songwriters that work with us.

DW: Then, in April-June, we’ve already got dates booked for different shows. Right now, we’re just trying to see what’s happening with these clubs because is all still up in the air. We do very well with these big outdoor shows in the parks. We anticipate we’ll be doing that.

KW: We’re just hoping for more gigs like that. We’re hoping for more studio time, more writing original music. New  venues, more and more fans!

DW: We’re going to lead with the EP, and then we’re going to do live shows; that’s where you sell your merchandise, too. We even have hot sauce that we sell! Playin’ With Fire Band “Hot Licks Sauce.”

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about tonight?

DW: We’re moving forward and we’re really excited about this EP. It’s worth mentioning how many great musicians we’ve worked with over the years: Sonny Speed, Josh Greenberg, David Batchelder, and Connor Armbruster. They are all incredibly talented people.

LG: Thanks for your time!

DW: Thank you! It was a pleasure talking with you, Lucas!

KW: Thank you so much!

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