A Few Minutes with… Playin’ With Fire on Their New Release, “Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open”

ALBANY – Featuring chime-y guitar chords, wall-of-sound production, and incorporating elements of sounds from a record straight out of the eighties, Playin’ With Fire released their latest effort, Dream With Your Eyes Wide Open on Valentine’s Day. A posthumous release for one of its band members, Stevie Wright, the album serves as a way forward for the band.

Exploring sonic textures that fans of Blondie, Talking Heads, and Pat Benatar – to name a few – will be able to pick up on, the songs heard throughout offer something reminiscent in nature. For this listener, the best track on the record is far-and-away the tune, “Wishes.” The intro is vastly different than the overall song once it gets going, and the tune is more acoustic in nature than the rest of the album.

Knowing the history of the band – Playin’ With Fire recently endured the loss of its founding member, Stevie Wright – the lyric “Friendship is fragile” stuck out quite a bit. Lastly, Connor Armbruster guests on violin and does a beautiful job.

I reconnected with the band to discuss the release. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: The last time I talked to you, you were almost done with the album, Dream with Your Eyes Wide Open, and now you are. Let’s talk about the album; thanks for sitting down with us.

Daniel Wray: Here’s the album; there’s a picture of Stevie (Wright) on the back.

LG: For those that may not know, he was a band member of yours who passed away.

Kim Wickham: The first three tracks on the CD are the last ones he ever sang on. The fourth track, “Wishes” – which we’re calling the bonus track – is a song that he wrote many years ago. We’ve been singing it with the band for literally years; usually, we close out the show with it. All of our fans know every single lyric in the song; they usually sing it with us. Stevie always dreamed of having violins added, so we had Connor Armbruster who is a relative of Dan’s…

LG: Fantastic player.

KW: Yeah, he’s a fantastic player

DW: He did a multitrack violin, so it sounded like an orchestra. Really great to watch him work.

KW: He came on and was gracious enough to do that for us in honor of Stevie. That’s where we came up with the bonus track. We’re putting this out there and we’re so happy to create music that people connect with and love. Through test-marketing these songs over the summer, we feel our fans connect with these songs a lot.

LG: Posthumous releases are hard on the heart and hard on the brain. How are you guys doing with that; releasing the material now that Stevie has passed on?

DW: When we were in the recording studio; definitely listening to Steve sing “Wishes…” Emotional experience; absolutely got to us. We’re not the deepest empaths in the world, but to hear him do that, I just realize he’s not here. With Connor putting the violins on there, we just looked at each other and just realized this was something special. It was difficult, but we just had a band meeting about where we’re moving forward. We’ll be doing some of Steve’s songs that he had done in the past; Kim will sing them.

LG: Let’s talk about your creative influences. Whom do you pull from when you make music? What are some of your influences that you like to include?

KW: My influences are Anne Wilson from Heart. I love Stevie Nicks; I love Pink; I love Olivia Newton-John and Alison Moyet. Those are kind of the singers that I really attach myself to and I love. I also have influences in musical theatre – Les Misérables. I love that soundtrack and I’ve listened to the hell out of that.

LG: I think “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of the best pieces of music ever written.

KW: Absolutely. For performance, my influences are Michael Jackson and Elvis.

DW: The best rhythm guitarist in the world is Keith Richards; I love Keith. I love Jeff Beck. You can imagine trying to combine some of the best rhythm playing of Keith Richards with some wild Jeff Beck. I came out of the punk scene in New York. Blondie; Talking Heads… These are some guys that I’ve played with. They have songs that have lasted the test of time; “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Psycho Killer.”

The late Stevie Wright, co-founding member of Playin’ With Fire.

KW: We’re going to take a deeper dive into all the material we enjoy, as well as our own material. I just wrote two new songs. One of them is a really cool blues song, so we’re continuing in moving forward; honoring Stevie, but we’re going to make this version of the band the best version yet.

DW: We’re excited about it. We’ve been through the ten rounds; almost got KO’d by his passing. But we’re excited about the future.

LG: About the songwriting process; usually for me I start with a groove. I’m a guitar player primarily, but lately, I’ve been starting with a beat, then laying a bass line down. How do you write your songs? Is it more of a collaborative effort, or is it one person?

KW: We’re very blessed because we had Steve who was a very strong songwriter. He wrote more of the love songs. When I write my songs I typically start off with the lyrics. I get the feel of the lyrics and I base the song off the feel of the lyrics.

LG: How often do you re-write the lyrics? For me, it rewrites itself as the song goes along.

KW: I’m constantly re-writing it. Even after I practice it with the band, I’ll continue to change the lyrics around to fit the groove. Steve and I wrote a song around six years ago; I put the lyrics off to the side. I knew it had to be a blues song based on the lyric but I never could figure out what to do with it. I started doing guitar lessons with Thomasina Winslow. She gave me the assignment to write a song based on a blues progression. I said, “Huh, hold on! I think I have lyrics for that.” They fit perfectly into that blues progression. Now, we’re working on that song.

DW: I’m a riff player. Everything I play is going to be a hook. Some people write to lyrics but I listen to the music first. I listen for a groove; that’s how I write…

LG: Look at “Psycho Killer,” with that bass line… You instantly know what the song is. Or, Keith Richards with “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?”

DW: I use the same tuning that he does; he uses an open-G tuning.

LG: I love that tuning, it’s just a pain in the ass when you’re live. You don’t want to keep retuning your guitar.

KW: He brings ten guitars! That’s how he does it, haha! Dan will be playing a lot more guitar in this new version.

DW: We’re going to be doing a version of “Mission Impossible,” as if Jeff Beck played it. I’m so excited.

LG: I forget who composed that…

DW: Lalo Schifrin! We’re also doing “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers and “The Theme from Peter Gunn,” Henry Mancini. We’re doing songs people have heard from other places that make them think, “Wow, that’s interesting!”

LG: It’ll be songs that people know but don’t know how they know them.

KW: We’re very excited about David (Bacheldor) joining the band. We’re going to be the four of us and see how we go. I really think it’s going to be great. I hope everyone loves the CD as much as we do. I heard the violins on “Wishes” and tears started coming down my face.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

KW: We really appreciate your support. Thanks for all your help and to Jim Gilbert of Nippertown.

DW: There are some great things going to be coming out of the music.

LG: You can’t go through life and say that you aren’t broken. At the end of the day, it’s all about how we break, and how we continue that matters.

KW: Stevie would want us to go on.

LG: Have a great night, guys! Best of luck with your new release!

DW: Thank you!

KW: Thanks!

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