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Inside the Spiritual Arcade of Fire-Toolz

Web Of Influences

Angel Marcloid discusses the influence that shaped her creative universe, like Rush, 80s jazz fusion, nü-metal, and playing in rec halls as a teen.

By leah


About four minutes into “! [CODENAME_JEREMY],” the Fire-Toolz remix of Pearl Jam’s 1991 tearjerker, there’s a sax solo. On her latest full-length, this year’s I am upset because I see something that is not there, there is a song called “I Couldn’t Have Been BoRn At ThE wRoNg TiMe Because I Was Never Even Born LOL!” that starts out all misty vaporwave before Fire-Toolz’ characteristic metal-esque vocals kick in, the instrumental ultimately opening up the pit for a funky lil’ jazz riff. When we did our video call for this interview, the Chicago-based artist was in between work and domestic tasks. “Master a record, let the dog out. Mix a record, make lunch. Back and forth like that,” she tells me, her image lit up by psychedelic rainbow reflections created by the light-bending film on her bedroom windows. This is, she claims, how most days go for her. 

“I have never been bored my entire life,” Marcloid proclaimed in an interview we did four years ago. “I have no idea what boredom is. I have no idea what it’s like to not know what music to make. There are not enough years in my life to make all the music I want to make.” Perhaps this accounts for the wild fusion of genres that abounds within the Fire-Toolz world. (Marcloid has made music under the names Angelia Marcloid, Angelwings Marmalade, Dementia And Hope Trails, DJ Eyebrow Ring, False Flag, Inappropriate King Live, MindSpring Memories, Pregnant Spore, and Nonlocal Forecast — the latter, along with Fire-Toolz, are the remaining active monikers.) Prog, industrial, jazz fusion, new age, noise… these are just words assigned to musical ideas that Fire-Toolz pulls from.

Although Fire-Toolz certainly has a signature sound, and it is easy to recognize a Fire-Toolz song when it hits, Fire-Toolz records are consistently full of surprises. This is the joy of Fire-Toolz: The music is like going to a spiritual arcade! Which heartstring will this turn tug? What hardcore poignancy will I find around this corner? If this all sounds crazy then I don’t know what to tell you. You just need to listen to “Soda Lake With Game Genie,” with its secret pain-bursting rain, oozing spiky gelatin, and new beatitudes—or “Smiling At Sunbears Grooming In Sunbeams,” which is the most moving song about a cat I have ever heard in my life.

Fire-Toolz and I spoke about the elements that came together to form the Fire-Toolz universe, including her equal love of “crazy electronic music” and prog-rock, her eclectic cast of collaborators, and her youth full of house shows and parachute pants.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What was the first album or song that you remember making a big impression on you artistically?

The first time I heard a full album that transported me to an entirely different universe was Dream Theater’s Images and Words. That’s a really important album for me. The guitar solos and the synth patches that were being used affected me emotionally the most. Certainly they’re all virtuosos, and the drumming and the technical skill is out of this world—that’s what anybody would say about Dream Theater. But for me, it was how emotionally moved I was by the melodies and chords, especially the more ballad-like songs. 

Were there any subcultures or scenes you were into when you were younger?

I did not fit in with anybody until my mid-teens. I was playing music in a band, and I was the youngest member. I grew up in Maryland, about 20 minutes south of Annapolis in a smallish town. Annapolis had a music scene at the time that I was really involved in. I was 14 and playing with 18, 19, 20-year-olds. So my crowd from 14 to 19 was much older people mostly at small shows—house shows and rec halls and churches. Nü-metal was happening and there was a lot of crossover into goth, and there was the rave crowd, too. A lot of parachute pants, brightly-colored hair, lots of jewelry, makeup. I felt very at home.

Is there anyone who helped you develop as an artist, aside from the people in the bands you were playing in?

My father wasn’t a musician, but he was very supportive. He would take me to concerts and get me into music. I was born in the mid-80s, so arena rock and hair metal and glam was happening at the time. My dad liked a lot of guitar rock and prog. My parents would show me the good bands in that crowd (we weren’t really into Poison). My parents didn’t influence me skill-wise, but they definitely showed me a lot of good music. To this day, the stuff they got me into shows up in the way I make music.

I had spurts with drum and guitar lessons. With drums, most of that was learning to read music and become more well-rounded by learning a little bit of jazz and a little bit of classical. I hated all that. I wanted to play Metallica. And in order to play Metallica, I would listen to the records and just play it at home. Nobody was teaching me that. Guitar lessons were a bit more useful because I learned more music theory that way. But with drums, it was just so natural.

Who was the first person in the music world who put you on? You were self-releasing music and had your own label for a while, I know.

So much of what I did for so long was DIY. It’s not because I had any particularly super-punk ethos. I just had to do everything myself or with my bands for a long time. The label I’ve been releasing music under for the past six or seven years, Hausu Mountain, they have a good PR force. That’s what got me into The Wire, VICE, Bandcamp Daily, Pitchfork, and all that stuff. I could never do that on my own. I did run a label, but it was just a little cassette label releasing noise tapes. The band [I was in] in my late teens and early twenties toured a lot, but they were all small shows and self-booked. But now I’ll run into people who are like, “Are you Fire-Toolz?” That’s never happened before. I don’t think I started getting my name out there too much until the mid-2010s.

Do you feel like you’re part of any kind of music scene or community outside of music now?

The kind of music I make with Fire-Toolz, paired with some of my other projects, puts me all over the map to some degree. There are corners of so many different genres that I’m included in: black metal, vaporwave, experimental noise, progressive metal, progressive rock. And jazz, too. Jazz fans like me. I have a foot in everywhere, but I don’t have two feet in anywhere. That’s a huge blessing. It also comes with some downsides because I’m always alienating somebody unless they’re, like, incredibly open-minded. I get a lot of comments like, “I don’t like the vocals, but everything else is good.” Or they’ll be like, “I like your heavier songs, but I don’t really like these weird noise songs.” I mean, what do I expect anyway, making stuff like this? It makes sense.

Who do you see as your musical peers?

I have a good friend who makes crazy hyperpop, Faye Fadem of Trust Fund Ozu. She’s an incredible drummer and grew up playing in prog bands. We can relate because we like all this crazy electronic music, but Rush is way up there as one of our favorite bands. And we both have a similar amount of skill on the drums. I mean, she’s much better than me in some ways, but we can talk about drums, we can relate about drums. And then I have peers who are mostly in jazz. The YouTuber Adam Neely is kind of an acquaintance of mine. I’ve mastered some of his music. I mixed a few songs of his a while ago. And I have a lot of peers that are totally engulfed in vaporwave. I was doing pretty much strictly noise music from like 2009 to 2014 or so, and I still have friends from that crowd. I have peers pretty much everywhere.

Is there an artist that you feel is a touchstone for the music that you make now?

Rush has always been my favorite band. Rush always shows up in my music in interesting, subtle ways. When it comes to jazz fusion and smooth jazz and that whole world, the 80s stuff is a huge influence on me. There’s this band called The Rippingtons. They’re as good as their name sounds. That’s what really reeled me into the smooth jazz world. And that led me into other more obscure artists who put out five records in the 80s and early 90s and then disappeared and are now teaching college or whatever. 

Are there any artists who have told you that your music has inspired or influenced them?

One of the most exciting things about what I do is people I look up to have approached me and been like, “I love your music.” Toby Driver from Kayo Dot told me he was really into it. Chris Walla who used to play in Death Cab for Cutie—their first three or four records or I absolutely love and I grew up on them, so the fact that he complimented my music, I was like, “What is happening?” Dan [Lopatin] from Oneohtrix Point Never admires my music. Chris Richards of Q and Not U is a friend of mine now. There’s Johnathan [Ford] who played in Roadside Monument. Tim Kinsella from Cap’N Jazz. The vocalists of Wheatus and Eve 6. Geoff Rickly from Thursday tweeted about Fire-Toolz not long ago. It’s just unreal. Thursday was huge for me growing up. I’ve probably seen them like ten times. All of these artists, their music doesn’t sound anything like mine. That illustrates something kind of profound about having my foot in all these different scenes. It’s just so cool.

Are there any younger artists working today that you see as kindred spirits artistically and who you want to put on?

Somebody I really wanna prop up who’s been doing music for maybe a decade is Lipsticism. Her name is Alana [Schactel]. I mix and/or master her music here and there. I love what she’s doing. It’s somewhat dancey, really dreamy and psychedelic. Very blissful. You could probably call it Bliss Pop. I released a single that she sang on [“Race For Titles”]. She’s definitely a kindred spirit. And STCLVR. It’s really harsh industrial music with a little bit of dark wave. I’ve mixed and mastered a bunch of his music. He has a lot to offer the music scene and I’m tired of seeing him and Alana get swept under the rug constantly. I really wanna get more people to listen to both of them.

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